A coupé (/coo-pay/) (from the French past participle coupé, of the infinitive couper, to cut) is a car with a fixed-roof body style that is shorter than a sedan or saloon (British and Irish English) of the same model. The precise definition of the term varies between manufacturers and over time, but generally, a coupe will only seat two people and have two doors, though it may have rear seating and rear doors for additional passengers. The term was first applied to 19th-century carriages, where the rear-facing seats had been eliminated, or cut out.
In most English-speaking countries, the French spelling coupé and anglicized pronunciation // koo-PAY are used. The stress may be equal or on either the first or second syllable; stressing the first syllable is the more anglicized variant. Most speakers of North American English spell the word without the acute accent and pronounce it as one syllable: // KOOP. This change occurred gradually and before World War II. A North American example of usage is the hot rodders' term Deuce Coupe (DEWSS KOOP) used to refer to a 1932 Ford; this pronunciation is used in the Beach Boys' 1963 hit song, "Little Deuce Coupe".
Chevrolet, in an effort to lend a touch of class to its two-door hardtops during the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s, marketed them with the "Sport Coupé" moniker, using the original French pronunciation.
The term dates to the French language verb couper, translating as cut, referring to the fact that the body is separated by a cut-off wheel, or "cut in half". The coupé was developed from the berline by removing the rear-facing front passenger seats and shortening the passenger enclosure by a corresponding amount. The resulting shortened berline was called halbberline in Germany and berlingot or berline coupé in France. The term "berline coupé" was later shortened to "coupé". Normally, a coupé had a fixed glass window in the front of the passenger compartment. The coupé was considered to be an ideal vehicle for women to use to go shopping or to make social visits.
The earliest coupé automobiles had the same form as the coupé carriage, with the driver in the open at the front and an enclosure behind him for two passengers on one bench seat. By the 1910s the term had evolved to denote an owner-driven car with the driver and one or two passengers in an enclosure with a single bench seat. The coupé de ville, or coupé chauffeur, was an exception, retaining the open driver's section at front.
- Coupelet: A small car seating two or three with a folding top and full height doors with fully retractable windows.
- Coupe: An enclosed car operated from the inside with seats for two or three and sometimes a backward-facing fourth seat.
- Convertible coupe: A roadster with a removable coupé roof.
Through the 1950s opening-roof convertible automobiles were sometimes called drop-head coupés, but since the 1960s the term coupé has generally been applied exclusively to fixed-head models. Coupés generally have two doors, although automobile makers have offered four-door coupés and three and five-door hatchback coupés. Modern coupés often have the styling feature of frameless doors, with the window glass sealing directly against a weather-strip on the main body.
Definitions and descriptions
The International Standard ISO 3833-1977 defines a coupé as having a closed body, usually with limited rear volume, a fixed roof of which a portion may be openable, at least two seats in at least one row, two side doors and possibly a rear opening, and at least two side windows.
For use in styling, the term coupé refers to a "close-coupled" automobile in that the "couple distance" is the dimension "between the driver's hip joint when seated (which stylists call the "H-point") and the rear axle." Therefore, a "close-coupled" car is "one where the front seats are relatively close to the rear wheels, which naturally leaves little or no space for rear-seat passengers."
Alternatively, a coupé is often distinguished from a two-door saloon (US sedan) by the lack of a B pillar to support the roof. Saloon cars have an A pillar forward at the windscreen, a B pillar aft of the door, and a C pillar defining the aftermost roof support at the rear window. Thus with all side-windows down, a coupé would appear windowless from the A to the C pillars. These fixed-roof models are described as a hardtop or pillarless coupé. Though, to confuse things even further, there are many hardtop/pillarless two- and four-door saloons. Targa top, or just 'T'-top models are a variation on the convertible design, where the roof center section can be removed, in one or two sections, leaving the rest of the roof in place. Yet another variation on the convertible or drop-head coupé is the fully retractable hardtop. In this form the car has all the advantages of fixed-head vehicle but, at the touch of a button, the entire roof lifts off, folds and stows away in the trunk (boot). Though retractables were tried many years ago by Peugeot, in Europe and Ford, in the US, with the Fairlaine Skyliner, it is only in the 21st century that there has been an explosion in the popularity of this bodystyle.
Manufacturers have used the term coupé in several varieties, including:
- Club coupé
- A coupé with a larger rear seat, which would today be called a two-door saloon.
- Business coupé
- A coupé with no rear seat or a removable rear seat intended for traveling salespeople and other vendors who would be carrying their wares with them.
- Opéra coupé
- A coupé de-ville with a high roofed passenger compartment such that the owners could be driven to the opera without the need to remove their large hats. These often had occasional seats that folded for use by children or extra passengers, and allowed easy passage to the rear seats. These cars most closely approximated a motorized version of the original horse-drawn coupé. 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.
- Sports coupé or berlinetta
- A body with a sloping roof, sometimes sloping downward gradually in the rear in the manner known as fastback.
- Four-door coupé
- A luxury sedan with classic coupé-like proportions. The low roof design reduces back seat passenger access and headroom. The designation was first applied to a low-roof model of the Rover P5 from 1962 until 1973, but was revived by the 1985 Toyota Carina ED, the 1992 Infiniti J30 and finally by the first model 2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS, which stands in Mercedes hierarchy between the E and S class, and has the appearance of a classic coupé and sedan. The term was also used partly from marketing reasons. German press accepted the concept of a four-door coupé and applied it to similar models from other manufacturers such as the 2009 Jaguar XJ. Also, other manufacturers accepted it, producing recent competing models like Volkswagen Passat CC, BMW F06 and even five-door coupé, Audi A7. The organization ADAC on its website also adopted this concept. In Germany the definition of the coupé was finally divided into the classic coupé and 4-door coupé. This definition and concept of four-door coupé (instead of saloon) are evident in Germany, but they are not widely known in the rest of the world.
- Quad coupé
- Quad coupé is a marketing name for cars with one or two small rear doors with no B pillar.
- Combi coupé
- Combi coupé is a marketing term used by Saab for a car body similar to the liftback.
With the growing popularity of the pillarless hardtop during the 1950s some automakers used the term coupé to refer to hardtop (rigid, rather than canvas, automobile roof) models and reserved the term sedan for their models with a B pillar. This definition was by no means universal, and has largely fallen out of use with near-demise of the hardtop. Similarly, a Rover P5 saloon model came in a body style with a lower roof that was called a coupé. Technically, it was cut, as the original definition required, but it was not a shorter car body.
Today coupé has become more of a marketing term for automotive manufacturers, than a fact of the vehicle's design and technical makeup. The term has been ascribed to vehicles with two, three, or four doors, for their perceived luxury or sporting appeal. This is because coupés in general are seen as more streamlined and sportier overall lines than those of comparable four-door sedans. Hence a coupé would be marketed as a sportier vehicle than a two-door sedan.
While previous coupés were "simply line-extenders two-door variants of family sedans", some coupés have different sheet metal and styling than their four-door counterparts. The AMC Matador coupe (1974-1978) had a unique design and styling sharing almost nothing with the 4-door versions. 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.
Even two-door cars with a backseat are now being referred to as "sedans" in which the terms "coupe" and "sedan" are used interchangeably. Two-door sedans with front bench seating have phased out with the 1995-99 Chevrolet Monte Carlo being the last model to offer it.
However, two-door cars in general have fallen in popularity, with the popular exception of convertibles and two-seat roadsters. Sedans, pickup trucks and SUVs/station wagons have had fewer two-door models (especially ones with backseats) in recent years since the cost of four-door cars has gone down along with engineering to ease access to the back seat area.
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