What’s the Real Difference Between a Sedan and a Coupe? Find Out Here
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When buying a car these days, the options are seemingly endless, and many of them are excellent. Vehicle design and manufacturing have undeniably come a long way over the years. Practically any vehicle on the market has a reliable powertrain and enough room for you to complete your everyday errands and trips.
But you’re spending thousands of dollars, so it’s an important choice. You want a vehicle that you’ll be happy with for years to come. Features like all-wheel drive, storage space, fuel economy, and available technology are important factors to consider when deciding to spend your hard-earned money.
One of those decisions is which body style fits you and your life best. Cars like the Honda Accord, the Toyota Camry, and others come in sedan and coupe versions, and each type has its pluses and minuses.
Sedans vs. coupes: Automotive body styles
Sedans and coupes, specifically, have been around since the dawn of the automotive age. Thanks to their obvious differences – sedans have four doors while coupes have two, traditionally speaking – it's relatively easy to tell one apart from the other.
But as decades have gone by and SUVs have risen in popularity, automotive design has changed and combined elements from various body styles into individual vehicles. As these body styles continue to evolve, differentiating one from the next can be confusing.
What if a car has four doors but has the low-slung, sleek lines of a coupe? What if an SUV looks like a combination of a sedan, coupe, and sports car? It's a different market than it was back in the 20th century, and it takes a discerning buyer to know the difference.
Sedans vs. coupes: Each body style explained
Sedans are four-door cars with separate compartments for passengers, engine, and trunk in the simplest terms. Because of these three distinct areas, sedans feature a “three-box design.”
Fun fact: In the past, automakers considered various two-door coupes to be sedans if they had a certain amount of rear-seat space.
Over the years, sedans have gained a more sensible, upright style than coupes, with taller roofs and more rectangular lines. Additionally, sedans usually have a longer wheelbase that allows passengers more legroom and comfort. The Toyota Camry has been one of the best-selling sedans for many years.
Coupes, however, have only two doors but still retain the “three-box design” of sedans, having separate spaces for the passengers, engine, and trunk. Over the years, coupes have gone the route of sportier performance compared to sedans, with various performance trims that sport features like suspension upgrades or more powerful engine options. And many coupes have no rear seats at all. A classic example of a sports coupe is the Ford Mustang.
A different take on sedans versus coupes comes from the Society of Automotive Engineers, which, according to their definition, classifies vehicles with less than 33 cubic feet of interior space as coupes. They describe sedans, however, as having interior space of at least 33 cubic feet.
As the automotive market has changed, consumers have sought the best of both worlds, looking for vehicles that are still livable day to day but offer an exciting driving experience, too.
That brings us to today, a time when automakers blur the difference between sedans and coupes even further.
2014 Toyota Camry LE (from $16,500)
Sedans vs. coupes: Today’s styles
Telling sedans apart from coupes used to be as simple as counting the doors, but automotive stylists have changed the rules to make sedans even closer in appearance to their counterparts.
In the past, a sloping rear roofline was a defining characteristic of coupes. It went along with the idea that coupes were sporty, with a bit more fun mixed in than a conservative four-door.
These days, designers incorporate the sloping rear roofline into many body styles, including four-door sedans and SUVs. As designers have imparted more exciting lines into four-door sedans, a new category has taken shape: the four-door coupe. An example of a four-door coupe is the Mercedes-Benz CLS, with its dramatic, flowing lines.
At first glance, four-door coupes appear to have sporty silhouettes and the athletic stance of sports sedans like the Audi A5. But when you look closer, there are still four doors for ample passenger room and increased cargo space.
Further mixing automotive body styles are four-door coupes that feature a liftgate incorporated into their sloping rear roofline. This feature effectively makes them hatchbacks, almost defying categorization. But you’ll appreciate the extra space when packing for a long trip or stocking up on groceries. An example of this body style is the Mini Cooper Countryman.
Sedans vs. coupes: Pluses and minuses
Generally, sedans have more space for passengers and rear seats that are easier to access. And with sedans usually having a longer wheelbase, there may be increased cargo space in the trunk.
In many coupes, the focus is on the front passengers and their seats, with little consideration to rear passenger space. The Toyota Supra is an example of a sports coupe that has no rear seating whatsoever.
Some coupes sport rear seats that are often cramped and uncomfortable and seem like little more than an afterthought. Also, backseat-bound passengers having to squeeze by folded front seats is inconvenient and time-consuming.
In the end, it depends on what the driver wants in terms of practicality, style, and performance. Practical sedans like the Honda Accord may not have the flair or performance that a specific buyer desires. But a sporty offering like the Ford Mustang may not have the everyday sensibility needed. If that's the case, it may be best to meet in the middle with something like the Subaru WRX STI sports sedan, which has plenty of room for passengers yet has the styling and excitement for zipping down the boulevard.
2011 Mercedes-Benz CLS 550 (from $21,500)
Sedans vs. coupes: Which should you choose?
In the past, choosing between a sedan and a coupe meant deciding between two clearly different vehicles. Today, with cars that combine the best elements of both, you can buy something that's both practical and fun. Again, a car like the Subaru WRX STI sports the styling of a European rally racer, but with four doors, it offers all of the practicality you need daily.
What if you decide to buy used rather than going with a new car? There’s nothing better than having a vehicle that's trouble-free, with routine maintenance covered for years to come. Shift offers best-in-class service contracts at a fair price without any sales pressure. You get the great price and value of a used car with the bumper-to-bumper protection of a new car.
Be it a sedan or coupe – or somewhere ambiguously in between – when you buy with Shift, you're sure to save big and thoroughly enjoy your used vehicle just as much as if it were new.
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April 15, 2022
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