Sedan Vs. Coupe: What's the Difference?
Hanna Kielar3-minute read
January 25, 2022
It can be tough to decide what kind of car to get, but at least you know the difference between car body types, right? But, in the reality of the modern car market, some types might be harder to distinguish from others.
If you're in the market for a new or used car, and you're torn between a sedan and a coupe, it can be helpful to know what these terms mean and what each type of vehicle offers.
To understand the difference between coupes and sedans, it's good to know what they have in common and what sets them apart from other styles. Coupes and sedans are both three-box body styles, which means they have an engine at one end, a trunk on the other end and a box in the middle for passengers. There can be a lot of variation on this basic form, but it's a useful starting place.
Most people think coupes and sedans are defined by their number of doors. Common knowledge suggests that coupes have two doors and sedans have four. According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, that’s actually not the case! The official distinction is derived from the interior size of the vehicle. A coupe has 33 cubic feet of passenger space or less, while sedans have more. Let’s dive in to learn more about these closely related body styles.
What Is A Coupe?
The coupe body style is typically on the small side, potentially offering sportier performance or better fuel economy than larger vehicles. They may have just two seats up front, or they may come in the 2+2 model, sometimes referred to as a plus two car, which means it also has two back seats. This is suitable for children or the occasional extra passengers, as the seating area is not spacious. The sportier models, such as the Audi R8, frequently have suspension upgrades, additional engine options and other performance hacks to take advantage of their lighter weight.
A coupe automobile usually has two doors, but not always. In 1962, the British automaker Rover introduced the Rover P5 Mark III and sold it as a four-door coupe for the rest of the ’60s. The styling was very sleek, with an all-leather interior and balanced side profile with four doors. The interior was still under the 33-cubic-foot threshold, however, which justified the sportier-sounding marketing.
Just to be clear, although there are some four-door coupes, not everything with two doors is in the coupe category either. Many convertibles, for instance, are technically the right size to be coupes and also have two doors. However, coupes and sedans both share the characteristic of having hard, immovable tops which means the convertible does not make the coupe-cut.
The coupe’s smaller, sportier build makes it an ideal choice for single adults without kids, or as a second car for families looking to have an alternative to larger vehicles. They're also attractive to people who want to save money on gas.
What Is A Sedan?
Sedans are hardtop passenger cars with more than 33 cubic feet of interior space. Some cars come in both sedan and coupe models. The sedan version of a coupe may be modified to have shorter doors and luxury styling upgrades that create a more comfortable, spacious experience for a greater number of passengers. An example is the Honda Civic, which offers a lighter coupe version that’s smaller and sportier, and a sedan trim that works better for families.
Just as with the coupe, the door-based definition breaks down a bit for sedans. The first two-door sedans were the 1911 Ramblers, built by the Jeffrey Company from 1897-1914. The sedan is often an attractive choice for families with children, especially in a four-door configuration, or people seeking ample head and cargo space.
What’s The Difference Between A Coupe And A Sedan?
To summarize, it comes down to the interior space of the vehicle. A Sedan has at least 33 cubic feet of passenger space, and will be bigger and longer than a coupe, while the coupe will be shorter with less than 33 cubic feet of passenger space.
The Bottom Line: Sedan Vs Coupe – Not Always Obvious
The dividing line between sedans and coupes isn't as clear-cut and easy to spot as a door count, but that's OK. What a car is called isn't really as important as what you're looking for in the total package. As a rule, it's best to look for the combination of performance, efficiency and luxury options you want, rather than the technical designation of what you're driving. As always, do your research before you commit to a particular model and make sure you understand what to look for when you're buying a used car.
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