What is the distinction between a sedan vs coupe? Most people know the answer: a sedan has four doors, and a coupe has two.
The number of body types, known as body styles, that passenger vehicles come in has expanded over time, much like the diverse music genres that play through our speakers these days. Sedans and coupes are two of the oldest body styles in the automotive world, and distinguishing between them used to be as simple as distinguishing between classical and rock music. But not any longer!
The evolution of car design language and the recent rise of SUVs have resulted in a mashup of body styles, which is confusing. We currently divide the market into eight basic segments at Auto42: sedan, coupe, convertible, hatchback, station wagon, SUV, pickup truck, and van. Even these seemingly straightforward segments, however, contain ambiguities.
What exactly is a Coupe?
A coupe is commonly considered a closed-body, two-door car, often sporty. A coupe typically has two or four seats in a 2+2 configuration, which means that there are only two seats in the back, smaller than average. To sit comfortably in a 2+2-style rear seat, you must be either a small child or an adult with no legs.
A coupe is technically a fixed-top car with lesser than 33 cubic feet of rear interior volume. A car with less than 33 cubic feet of rear interior volume typically has only two doors, so the term “coupe” is commonly associated with two doors.
There are, however, a plethora of vehicles available with only two doors but more than 33 cubic feet in the back. While their manufacturers may refer to them as coupes, they are two-door sedans.
The Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, Mercedes CL-Class, Chevy Monte Carlo, and, surprisingly, the Mazda RX-8 are all examples of two-door sedans.
What exactly is a Sedan?
Sedans are typically larger, four-door, closed-roof vehicles that can comfortably seat four or five people. A sedan can be identified by its fixed B-pillar between the front and rear windows.
A sedan is technically any closed-roof vehicle with a rear interior volume greater than or equal 33 cubic feet. This makes me wonder if the recent self-described “four-door coupes” are, in fact, coupes. The Lamborghini Estoque, the Aston Martin Rapide, and the awkward Porsche Panamera are examples.
Okay, we know the technical distinction between a coupe and a sedan. So, what now? I’m still going to refer to a two-door car as a “coupe” and a four-door car as a “sedan.” I recommend that you do the same.
Automobile body styles
Using vehicles such as sedans, coupes, convertibles, hatchbacks, station waggons, SUVs, and trucks, distinguishing between automotive body styles was once relatively simple.
Sedans and coupes, in particular, have been around since the beginning of the automobile era. Because of their obvious differences – sedans have four doors, whereas coupes have two – it’s relatively easy to tell one from the other.
However, as the popularity of SUVs has grown over the years, automotive design has evolved and combined elements from various body styles into individual vehicles. As these body types evolve, distinguishing one from the next can be difficult.
What if a four-door vehicle has the low-slung, sleek lines of a coupe? What if an SUV looks like a cross between a sedan, a coupe, and a sports car? It’s a different market than it was in the twentieth century, and only a savvy buyer can tell the difference.
Sedan vs Coupes: An explanation of each body style
Sedans are four-doors with separate compartments for passengers, engine, and trunk in the easiest terms. Sedans have a “three-box design” because of these three distinct areas.
Fun fact: Previously, automakers considered different two-door coupes to be sedans if they had a certain amount of rear-seat space.
Sedans have evolved into a more sensible, upright style than coupes, with taller roofs and more rectangular lines. Sedans also have a longer wheelbase, which gives passengers more legroom and comfort. For many years, the Toyota Camry has been one of the best-selling sedans.
On the other hand, Coupes have only two doors but retain the sedan’s “three-box design,” with separate spaces for the passengers, engine, and trunk. Coupes have opted for sportier performance over sedans over the years, with various performance trims offering features such as suspension upgrades or more powerful engine options. Furthermore, many coupes have no rear seats at all. The Ford Mustang is a classic example of a sports coupe.
The Society of Automotive Engineers has a different perspective on sedans versus coupes, classifying vehicles with less than 33 cubic feet of interior space as coupes. On the other hand, Sedans have at least 33 cubic feet of interior space.
As the automotive market has evolved, consumers have sought the best of both worlds, looking for livable vehicles daily while also providing an exciting driving experience.
That brings us to today when automakers blur the distinction between sedans and coupes even further.
Sedan vs Coupe: Modern Day styles
It used to be that distinguishing sedans from coupes was as simple as counting the doors, but automotive stylists have changed the rules to make sedans look even more similar to their counterparts.
A sloping rear roofline was a distinguishing feature of coupes in the past. It fit with the notion that coupes were sportier, with more fun thrown in than a conservative four-door.
Designers now incorporate the sloping rear roofline into various body styles, including four-door sedans and SUVs. As designers added more exciting lines to four-door sedans, a new category emerged: the four-door coupe. The Mercedes-Benz CLS, with its dramatic, flowing lines, is an example of a four-door coupe.
Four-door coupes appear to have sporty silhouettes and the athletic stance of sports sedans such as the Audi A5. When you look closely, you’ll notice that there are still four doors for extra passenger space and cargo space.
Four-door coupes with a liftgate integrated into their sloping rear roofline mix automotive body styles even more. This feature effectively transforms them into hatchbacks, defying categorization. However, the extra space will come in handy when packing for a long trip or stocking up on groceries. The Mini Cooper Countryman is an example of this body style.
Sedan vs Coupe: Advantages and disadvantages
Sedans, on average, have more passenger space and easier-access rear seats. Furthermore, because sedans typically have a longer wheelbase, there may be more cargo space in the trunk.
The focus in many coupes is on the front passengers and their seats, with little thought given to rear passenger space. The Toyota Supra is an example of a sports coupe without any rear seating.
Some coupes have rear seats that are often cramped and uncomfortable and appear to be an afterthought. Backseat passengers must also squeeze between folded front seats, which is inconvenient and time-consuming.
It comes down to the driver’s preferences in terms of practicality, style, and performance. Practical sedans, such as the Honda Accord, may lack the flair or performance that a particular buyer seeks. However, a sporty offering like the Ford Mustang may lack the necessary everyday sensibility. If that’s the case, it might be best to meet somewhere in the middle with something like the Subaru WRX STI sports sedan, which has plenty of room for passengers while also having the styling and excitement to zip down the highway.
Sedan vs Coupe: Performance
The coupe’s shorter wheelbase and lighter curb weight naturally improve the overall performance of this vehicle. When a vehicle weighs several hundred pounds less, acceleration and braking performance, for example, improve noticeably.
Sedans are heavier, but they make up for it with optional engine upgrades, such as those found on the Nissan Altima. You can opt for a larger V6 engine over a four-cylinder model if you want more power. Suspension upgrades that improve performance and handling are common in these larger, heavier vehicles.
Sedan vs Coupe: Exterior design cues
Removing two doors to create a coupe can drastically alter a car’s exterior styling and give it a more sporty appearance. The window frames (known as the B and C pillars) of the body adjust slightly to account for changes in overall length. As a result, the doors and rear windows are longer. The longer doors look great, but they can be difficult to use in smaller parking lots.
Unlike four-door sports cars, many sedans abandon the sporty look and feel in favour of a more luxurious appearance and feel. The shorter doors make it much easier for all passengers to enter and exit the vehicle, and the window and door pillar changes contribute to a more balanced side-profile appearance.
Sedan vs Coupe: Interior cosiness
The amount of space available in the backseat of coupes varies greatly between models. Some vehicles, such as the, have a smaller back seat that is tailored to the rear passengers’ comfort despite having a little less legroom. Riding in the back seat is made more comfortable by the moulded seats and integrated cup holders. Like many other two-door cars, this model lacks a middle seat, effectively limiting passenger space to only four occupants.
Sedans, such as the Honda Accord, make no concessions to passenger comfort in the front or back seats. The importance of head and legroom cannot be overstated. Furthermore, sedans typically seat five people due to a wider, bench-style seat with three seat belts.
A model line’s body styles typically share a basic engine, transmission, and braking components. Suspension components in sedans, on the other hand, maybe upgraded to accommodate the extra weight and length of this body style. Furthermore, if a coupe is marketed as a sportier sedan version, the manufacturer may provide additional performance upgrades.
Sedan vs coupe: Choosing the Right Vehicle
Choosing between these two popular body styles comes down to how the vehicle looks, feels, and drives. Look online to compare features, view descriptive photographs, and choose three to five sedans or coupes that meet your specific needs. Bring the entire family along for a test drive to see how well everyone fits inside.