What is the Difference Between a Coupe and a Sedan?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Many definitions define the coupe as a two- or three-door model, while a sedan almost always has four doors. Actually there are four-door coupes, and two-door sedans, so the differences between a coupe and a sedan automobile may not always be quite clear. In reality, a coupe is strictly defined by its interior volume or space.

Sedans usually have four doors.
Sedans usually have four doors.

The real distinction between a coupe and a sedan has little to do with doors and are made clear by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), which standardizes definitions of the different types of cars on the market. Measurements of these cars are as follows:

Coupes can have two to three doors but its interior space is smaller than a sedan.
Coupes can have two to three doors but its interior space is smaller than a sedan.
  • A coupe has an interior space of less than 33 cubic feet (0.934 cubic m).
  • A sedan has an interior that is equal to or greater than 33 cubic feet (0.934 cubic m).
In many cases, families prefer sedans over coupes.
In many cases, families prefer sedans over coupes.

As a result, volume alone is the real difference. A two-door car with a large interior space is essentially a two-door sedan. Likewise, a four-door car with a small volume is a four-door coupe.

Nevertheless, many manufacturers call a car a coupe when they want to evoke a sportier concept for it. The term may even be part of the name, even though technically, the buyer is really getting a sedan. The Cadillac Coupe de Ville is a classic example of what is really a two-door sedan. It can be difficult for most people to determine what the car really is when the word "coupe" is added to the name.

Some people mistakenly think a coupe and a sedan are differentiated by whether the car has a hatchback. While it is true that many coupes have these rear openings, and are sometimes referred to as a three-door car, not all do. Some have a traditional trunk. Further, there are four-door coupes and four-door sedans with a hatchback, which are more properly called station wagons.

It is also not true that these cars can be distinguished by counting the number of seats. Some people define coupes as having merely front seats, and possibly a removable back seat. Actually, coupes can have two rows of seats or one. In contrast, the sedan always has two rows of seats, but the distinction between a coupe and a sedan can’t be made here because of the variation of rows of seats in the coupe.

The best bet is for people who want to know the difference to stick with the car’s interior volume, rather than worrying about what the car is named. When choosing a car, most consumers find that it doesn't really matter little what it is called. Usually what does matter is the car’s performance, space for passengers, and ease of use.

Many modern small and mid-sized compact cars are classified as coupes.
Many modern small and mid-sized compact cars are classified as coupes.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Chicks usually dig coupes more then sedans! So if you are single or want to pick up chicks; you need to go with a coupe! Sedans represent family vehicle and is usually more practical. Chicks don't like guys that are practical! They like bad boys.


The little deuce coupe had neither hard top or rear seat. I reckon it would have to be one of the earliest coupes.


Some people. What does your ability to measure the back seat (not the whole car like some on here are going on about) have to do with the "official" definition of a coupe? 33 cubic inches or less is a coupe -- more is a sedan. Standards are there for a reason, just like marketing is there for a reason. I see marketing has won again (sad, really).


Coupes and sedans are different types of automobile body shapes. A sedan is a car with a back seat, where the back seats have more or less the same room as the front seats. Also, it has a separate trunk. A coupe has no back seat or a smaller cramped passenger area and no separate trunk.


If there is a column behind the front doors, it is a sedan. If there is no column behind the front doors, it is a coupe. It's that simple.


So how would you describe a two-door sedan?


Interesting. I'm not sure whether the cubic feet thing is a great definition as it's a bit hard for the average person to measure this.

I think the pillarless door definition is better but would like to add that a coupe must have a 'boot' like a sedan. If it has a hatchback rear end then it's called a 'liftback' which I guess is a cross between a coupe and a hatchback.

i have owned 'liftbacks' with and without pillars and I have also owned coupes (which have been pillarless) and there is a fair difference between the two body styles.


The Beetle (Fusca, in Brazil) was called a sedan. It wasn't a coupe?


If a car has a hard roof, and two doors designed for human entry/exit, it's a coupe. If it has a hatchback, it's still a coupe.

If a car has a hard roof, and four doors designed for human entry/exit, it's a sedan. If it has a hatchback, it's still a sedan/wagon.

The MS3 is a sedan/wagon. The GTI comes in coupe and sedan/wagon forms. The Mustang is a coupe.


Many of the 60-70's GM four-door hardtop cars where called Sport Sedans. Those first few years of the Tempest and Cutlass models were called coupes and were post model cars.

With a post, they called them coupes. Those without the post they called Sport Coupes. Interesting info on interior space being the reason for coupe vs sedan title. Been dealing with parts on these cars for 18 years and had never read that before. lol


Comment 7 is absolutely right. That thing is called pillar less. Four door pillar less is considered a coupe. best example is Audi's A7.


Comments 7 and 8 are wrong. If a center post is present only determines if a car is a "hardtop" or not. If no post, it's a hardtop (unless it's a convertible; if a post is present it's not a hardtop.

With regards to the difference between a "coupe" and "sedan", that is defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE); a coupe is defined as having less than 33 cu ft. of interior volume, while a sedan has equal to or greater than 33 cu. ft. interior volume.

For example, the 1968 4-door Impala with no center post was referred to by Chevrolet as a sedan. Although the car was a "hardtop", it was defined as a sedan due to the size of it's interior volume. This is shown by Chevrolet literature of the period.


I agree with comment number 7. If you roll down the windows on a hardtop and there is no post, like on a convertible, it is a coupe. Number of doors does not matter. There can be two or four door coupes or sedans.


My uncle ran a body shop for 40 years. He said if you roll down both windows on one side of the car and there is no post that was dividing them, it is a coupe. If there is a post, its a sedan. A '65 Buick Electra 4-door is actually a coupe, although its a very large car.


are you saying that any car less than 33 feet in volume is a coupe? maybe it is but you can't go around measuring a car's volume can you? is an escort rs turbo a coupe?


Coupe has something to do with sportier look. Tana Nano, a coupe! damn it.


The tata nano is a stupid dump small hatchback car. it is not a coupe.


is every car having space less than 33 cubic feet called coupe??? you mean TATA "NANO" is coupe.....


How interesting - I always thought it was just the two door/four door difference. I've never heard the seat definition before.

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