You’ve likely heard about a bunch of exciting new cars called “Four Door Coupes” (aka four-door fastbacks) that have either recently hit the market or will be coming out in the next couple of years. These entries include the Tesla Model S, Jaguar XF, Porsche Panamera, Aston Martin Rapide, and Volkswagen CC, just to name a few. It seems like every major car company has one of these sleek cars slated to come out at some point in time
So you may ask, “Isn’t a four door coupe a contradiction?” The term confuses a lot of people. Since much of the general population refer to coupes as two-door cars, it’s easy to understand why this new term seems like a contradiction in words. The word coupe is of French origin (meaning “cut”) and refers to a horse carriage with a single row of interior seating and a separate driver row outside the carriage. The rear area was “cut” making it more compact. That means it has has little or no rear seat room. The Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE) refers to a coupe as a vehicle with less than 33 cubic feet of rear interior volume. That seems consistent with the original definition where the coupe only has one row and little room for another set of people – which is typically reserved for smaller two door cars. That sheds light on why people associate coupe with two doors.
The other likely reason why we associate two doors and coupes is the four door association with the term sedan. The term sedan is of Italian origin that’s literally means carrying chair (as in two people – front and rear – carrying another person on a platform that has a chair in it). When it was time to name the first four door multiple row car, it was dubbed the sedan, or saloon. By process of elimination, many companies started referring anything with two doors as a coupe. Which means that the number of doors never had anything to do with the term coupe.
Now I can stop here and everybody would be happy, right? A coupe is a two or four door car with a small rear area, right? Well, not exactly. Famous cars like the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Ferrari Scaglietti, or the Bentley Continental all have rear seat areas that exceed SAE’s guideline. none of these should be technically designated a coupe.
Confused again? Let me finally cut to the chase. When car companies refer to a Four Door Coupe, they are referring to the automotive designer’s definition of the word. In product design, there are three “boxes” (or areas) that, at a high level, can make up the configuration of a car. Those include the hood area, passenger compartment, and the trunk. A coupe a configuration is a design without a formal trunk and therefore is designated a “Two-Box” design… one box for the hood and one for the passenger compartment. Check out the box overlays on the Audi e-Tron concept car below.
Compare the above image with the sedan below (Toyota Avalon), which has a “Three Box” construction since a trunk visually stands out at the rear of the vehicle.
Finally, the minivan below is often referred to as a “One Box,” because the A-pillar (the vertical structure that attaches to the windshield and is in front of the driver) is pulled forward giving the design a minimized hood. minivans have no visible trunk (how ugly would that be?).
Hopefully, this explanation makes sense of the term Four Door Coupe, which is essentially a four door car with a Two-Box configuration (no trunk). For over a decade, car designers have long dreamed of the four door coupe as the trunk-less look gives it a much more streamlined and sporty proportion. The issue was always length and rear seat headroom of such a vehicle and became a engineer’s packaging nightmare. But with some clever engineering (i.e., lowering the rear seating position), we can now enjoy the sportiness typically reserved for two door coupes in a four door configuration. Let’s take a look at eight distinct Four Door Coupes, both on the road today or down the road in the not to distant future. Click on any of the colored links to get a better description of the car, including pricing, photos, and even opinions and reviews.
1. 2010 Mercedes CLS - this was one of the first of a new breed of four door coupes.
2010 Mercedes Benz CLS AMG
2. 2010 Hyundai Sonata – The Koreans get serious with design to match their reliability!
2010 Hyunda Sonata
3. 2010 Jaguar XF – The Ian Callum designed beauty has help revive Jaguar.
2010 jaguar XF
4. 2011 Porsche Panamera – the much anticipated Porsche four door fastback… but don’t call it a sedan.
2011 Porsche Panamera
5. 2010 Volkswagen CC
6. 2010 Honda Acccord Crosstour
7. 2012 Tesla Model S
8. Concept: Audi A7