1979 Mazda RX-7 two door coupé

A coupé or coupe is a passenger car with a sloping or truncated rear roofline and two or three doors (although several four-door cars have also been marketed as coupés).

Coupé was first applied to horse-drawn carriages for two passengers without rear-facing seats.[1] The term coupé comes from the French translation of "cut".[2]

Etymology and pronunciation

Coupé (French: [kupe]) is based on the past participle of the French verb couper ("to cut") and thus indicates a car which has been "cut" or made shorter than standard.[2] It was first applied to horse-drawn carriages for two passengers without rear-facing seats.[1] These berlines coupés[3] or carosses coupés ("clipped carriages") were eventually clipped to coupés.[4]

There are two common pronunciations in English:


A coupé is a fixed-roof car with a sloping rear roofline and one or two rows of seats. However, there is often debate surrounding whether a coupe must have two doors[8][9][10] or whether cars with four doors can also be considered coupés.[11] This debate has arisen since the early 2000s, when four-door cars such as the Mazda RX-8 and Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class have been marketed as "four door coupés" or "quad coupés".

In the 1940s and 1950s, coupes were distinguished from sedans by their shorter roof area and sportier profile.[12] Similarly, in more recent times, when a model is sold in both coupé and sedan body styles, generally the coupe is sportier and more compact.[1][13][14]

The 1977 version of International Standard ISO 3833—Road vehicles - Types - Terms and definitions—defines a coupé as having two doors (along with a fixed roof, usually with limited rear volume, at least two seats in at least one row and at least two side windows).[15] On the other hand, the United States Society of Automotive Engineers publication J1100[16][when?] does not specify the number of doors, instead defining a coupe as having a rear interior volume of less than 33 cu ft (934 L).[1][13][17]

The definition of coupé started to blur when manufacturers began to produce cars with a 2+2 body style (which have a sleek, sloping roofline, two doors, and two functional seats up front, plus two tiny seats in back).[18]

Some manufacturers also blur the definition of a coupé by applying this description to models featuring a hatchback or a rear door that opens upwards.[19][20] Most often also featuring a fold-down back seat, the third door or hatchback layout of these cars improves their practicality and cargo room.[21]

Horse-drawn carriages

Example of a coupé carriage

The coupé body style originated from the berline horse-drawn carriage. The coupé version of the berline was introduced in the 18th century as a shortened ("cut") version with no rear-facing seat.[3][22][23][24] Normally, a coupé had a fixed glass window in the front of the passenger compartment.[25] The coupé was considered an ideal vehicle for women to use to go shopping or to make social visits.[26]


The early coupé automobile's passenger compartment followed in general conception the design of horse-drawn coupés,[27] with the driver in the open at the front and an enclosure behind him for two passengers on one bench seat.[28][29] The French variant for this word thus denoted a car with a small passenger compartment.[27]

By the 1910s, the term had evolved to denote a two-door car with the driver and up to two passengers in an enclosure with a single bench seat.[30][31] The coupé de ville, or coupé chauffeur, was an exception, retaining the open driver's section at front.[32]

In 1916, the Society of Automobile Engineers suggested nomenclature for car bodies that included the following:[31][33]

Coupe: An enclosed car operated from the inside with seats for two or three and sometimes a backward-facing fourth seat.

Coupelet: A small car seating two or three with a folding top and full height doors with fully retractable windows.

Convertible coupe: A roadster with a removable coupé roof.

During the 20th century, the term coupé was applied to various close-coupled cars (where the rear seat that is located further forward than usual and the front seat further back than usual).[34][35]

Since the 1960s the term coupé has generally referred to a two-door car with a fixed roof.[36]

Since 2005, several models with four doors have been marketed as "four-door coupés", however reactions are mixed about whether these models are actually sedans instead of coupés.[37][38][39] According to Edmunds, an American automotive guide, "the four-door coupe category doesn't really exist."[40]


1961 Ferrari 250GT, a Berlinetta coupé


A berlinetta is a lightweight sporty two-door car, typically with two-seats but also including 2+2 cars.[41]

Club coupé

A two-door car with a larger rear-seat passenger area,[1] compared with the smaller rear-seat area in a 2+2 body style.

Hardtop coupé

A two-door car that lacks a structural pillar ("B" pillar) between the front and rear side windows. When these windows are lowered, the effect is like that of a convertible coupe with the windows down. This body style was popular in the United States and abroad from the early 1950s until the mid-70s, when proposed government regulations threatened to include roof structures protecting the vehicle in a rollover. In addition, automakers discovered a new market for profitable air conditioning when the rear windows were fixed.

Combi coupé

Saab used the term combi coupé for a car body similar to the liftback.[42]

A 1936 Packard One-Twenty business coupé

Business coupe

A two-door car with no rear seat or with a removable rear seat intended for traveling salespeople and other vendors carrying their wares with them. American manufacturers developed this style of a coupe in the late 1930s.[43]

Four-door coupé / Quad coupé

A four-door fastback car with a coupé-like roofline at the rear. The low-roof design reduces back-seat passenger access and headroom.[44] The designation was first used for the low-roof model of the 1962–1973 Rover P5,[45] followed by the 1992–1996 Nissan Leopard / Infiniti J30.[46] Recent examples include the 2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS, 2010 Audi A7 and 2012 BMW 6 Series Gran Coupé.[47][48][49]

Similarly, several cars with one or two small rear doors and no B-pillar have been marketed as "quad coupés". For example 2003 Saturn Ion and 2003 Mazda RX-8.

1976 VW Scirocco, a 3 door coupé

3 door coupé

Particularly popular in Europe, many cars are designed with coupé styling but a 3-door hatchback layout to improve practicality, including cars such as the Jaguar E-Type, Datsun 240Z, Mazda RX-7, Alfa Romeo Brera,[50] Ford/Mercury Cougar[51] and Volkswagen Scirocco.[52]

Opéra coupé

A two-door designed for driving to the opera with easy access to the rear seats. Features sometimes included a folding front seat next to the driver[53][54] or a compartment to store top hats.[55]

Often they would have solid rear-quarter panels, with small, circular windows, to enable the occupants to see out without being seen. These opera windows were revived on many U.S. automobiles during the 1970s and early 1980s.[56][need quotation to verify]

Three-window coupé

The three-window coupé (commonly just "three-window") is a style of automobile characterized by two side windows and a backlight (rear window).[57] The front windscreens are not counted. The three-window coupé has a distinct difference from the five-window coupé, which has an additional window on each side behind the front doors.[58] These two-door cars typically has a small-sized body with only a front seat and an occasional small rear seat.[59]

The style was popular from the 1920s until the beginning of World War II. While many manufacturers produced three window coupés, the 1932 Ford coupe is arguably considered the classic hot rod.[60][61][62]

Positioning in model range

1974–1978 AMC Matador coupe, unlike the 4-door models

In the United States, some coupés are "simply line-extenders two-door variants of family sedans", while others have significant differences to their four-door counterparts.[63] The AMC Matador coupe (1974–1978), had a distinct design and styling, sharing almost nothing with the 4-door versions.[64] Similarly, the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Stratus coupes and sedans (late-1990 through 2000s), had little in common except their names, with the coupes engineered by Mitsubishi and built in Illinois, while the sedans were developed by Chrysler and built in Michigan.[65]

Coupés may also exist as model lines in their own right, either closely related to other models but named differently – such as the Alfa Romeo GT – or have little engineering in common with other vehicles from the manufacturer – such as the Toyota GT86.


See also


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