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A coupe (US) or coupé (UK) is properly a passenger automobile with a sloping rear roofline and two doors, although several four-door cars have also been marketed as coupés.

Etymology and pronunciation[edit]

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

In British English, the French pronunciation is anglicized as /kˈp/ (koo-PAY) and the accent is usually marked.[4] In American English,[5] the pronunciation is usually further anglicized to /kp/ (KOOP) as a spelling pronunciation when the word is written without an accent.[4][6] This change occurred gradually before World War II[7] and features in the Beach Boys' hit 1963 song "Little Deuce Coupe".


A coupe is 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 coupes" or "quad coupes".

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 coupe and sedan body styles, generally the coupe is sportier and more compact.[13][2][14]

The 1977 version of International Standard ISO 3833— Road vehicles - Types - Terms and definitions— defines a coupe as having two doors (along with a fixed roof, usually with limited rear volume, a fixed roof, 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).[13][2][17]

The definition of coupe 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]

Horse-drawn carriages[edit]

Example of a coupe carriage

The origin of the coupe body style come from the berline horse-drawn carriage. In the 18th century, the coupe version of the berline was introduced, which was a shortened ("cut") version with no rear-facing seat.[2][3][19] Normally, a coupe had a fixed glass window in the front of the passenger compartment.[20] The coupe was considered to be an ideal vehicle for women to use to go shopping or to make social visits.[21]


1948 Bentley coupé de ville

The early coupe automobile's passenger compartment followed in general conception the design of horse-drawn coupes,[22] with the driver in the open at the front and an enclosure behind him for two passengers on one bench seat.[23][24] The French variant for this word thus denoted a car with a small passenger compartment.[22]

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.[25][26] The coupe de ville, or coupe chauffeur, was an exception, retaining the open driver's section at front.[27]

In 1916, the Society of Automobile Engineers suggested nomenclature for car bodies that included the following:[26][28]

  • 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 coupe roof.

During the 20th century, the term coupe 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.[29][30]

Since the 1960s the terms "coupe" and "coupé" have generally referred to a two-door car with a fixed roof.[31]

Since 2005, several models with four doors have been marketed as "four-door coupes". Reactions are mixed about whether these models are actually sedans instead of coupes.[32][33][34] According to Edmunds, the American online resource for automotive information, "the four-door coupe category doesn't really exist".[35]


Manufacturers have used the term "coupe" with reference to several varieties, including:


A berlinetta is a lightweight sporty two-door car, typically with two-seats but also including 2+2 cars.[36]

Business coupe[edit]

A two-door car with no rear seat or with a removable rear seat intended for travelling salespeople and other vendors carrying their wares with them. American manufacturers developed this style of coupe in the late 1930s.[37]

Club coupe[edit]

1946 Ford V8

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

Combi coupe[edit]

1978-1987 Saab 900

Saab incorrectly used the term combi coupe for a car body similar to the liftback.[38]

Four-door "coupe"[edit]

A four-door car with a coupe-like roofline at the rear is not actually a coupe, but a sedan. The low-roof design reduces back-seat passenger access and headroom.[39] The designation was first used for the low-roof model of the 1962-1973 Rover P5,[40] followed by the 1992-1996 Nissan Leopard / Infiniti J30.[41] Recent examples include the 2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS, 2010 Audi A7 and 2012 BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe.[42][43][44]

Opera coupe[edit]

1937 Buick 37 46S

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[45][46] or a compartment to store top hats.[47]

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.[48][need quotation to verify]

Quad coupe[edit]

A quad coupe is a car with one or two small rear doors and no B pillar.

Three-window coupe[edit]

The three-window coupe (commonly just "three-window") is a style of automobile characterized by two side windows and a backlight (rear window). Front windscreens don't count. The style was popular from the 1920s until the beginning of World War II. While many manufacturers produced three window coupes, the 1932 to 1936 Ford is a particular favorite of hot rodders. The three-window coupe has a distinct difference from the five-window coupe, which has an additional window on each side.

Positioning in model range[edit]

1974-1978 AMC Matador coupe

In the United States, some coupes are "simply line-extenders two-door variants of family sedans", while others have significant differences to their four-door counterparts.[49] The AMC Matador coupe (1974-1978), had a distinct design and styling, sharing almost nothing with the 4-door versions.[50] 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.[51]

Coupes 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[edit]


  1. ^ "Coach Building Terminology". 2004. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e Adolphus, David Traver (March 2007). "Club Coupes - If you think you know what a Club Coupe is, think again". Hemmings Classic Car. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  3. ^ a b Haajanen, Lennart W. (2003). Illustrated Dictionary of Automobile Body Styles. Illustrations by Bertil Nydén. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. pp. 16, 18, 20, 50. ISBN 0-7864-1276-3. LCCN 2002014546.
  4. ^ a b c "coupé, n.3", Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1893.
  5. ^ "Porsche Actually Made a Video on How to Pronounce Its Name". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  6. ^ "coupé", Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Springfield: Merriam-Webster.
  7. ^ Mencken, Henry L. (1936). The American Language (4th ed.). p. 347. I have... heard... coop for coupé
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  14. ^ "Coupé". Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary. 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  15. ^ Technical Committee ISO/TC22, Road vehicles (1976), written at Geneva, Switzerland, ISO 3833-1977: Road vehicles – Types – Terms and definitions (ISO International Standard) (Second ed.), Switzerland: International Organization for Standardization (published 1977-12-01), Clause
  16. ^ "J1100: Motor Vehicle Dimensions - SAE International". Retrieved 20 April 2019.
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  18. ^ Weber, Bob (26 August 2017). "What is the difference between coupe and sedan?". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  19. ^ "Royal carriages". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  20. ^ Haajanen 2003, p. 50.
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  25. ^ Clough 1913, p. 89.
  26. ^ a b "What's What in Automobile Bodies Officially Determined". The New York Times. 20 August 1916. Retrieved 22 April 2015. Here it is, with other body types and distinctions, officially determined recently by the Nomenclature Division of the Society of Automobile Engineers
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  29. ^ Clough 1913, p. 33.
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  32. ^ "Car Review: 2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS 500". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
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  36. ^ "Porsche 960 : une nouvelle berlinette à moteur flat-8".
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