A coupé or coupe (from the French verb couper, to cut) is a car body style, the precise definition of which varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, and over time. Coupés are often sporty variants of sedan (also known as saloon) body styles, with doors commonly reduced from 4 to 2, and a close-coupled interior (i.e. the rear seat placed further forward than in a standard sedan) offering either two seats or 2+2 seating (space for two passengers in the front and two occasional passengers or children in the rear). Before the days of motorized vehicles, the word referred to the front or after compartment of a Continental stagecoach.
In Europe (including the United Kingdom), the original French spelling, coupé, and a French pronunciation (English koo-pay), are used. The stress may be on either the first or second syllable; stressing the first syllable is the more Anglicized variant. Most speakers of North American English, at this time, pronounce coupé as "coop" and spell it without the acute accent (coupe). This was a gradual change from the original French pronunciation occuring prior to WWII. A very North American example of usage is the hot-rodders' term Deuce Coupe ("doose coop") used to refer to a 1932 Ford.
In the 19th century a coupé was a closed four-wheel horse-drawn carriage, cut (coupé) to eliminate the forward, rear-facing passenger seats, with a single seat inside for two persons behind the driver, who sat on a box outside. Commonly, a coupé had a fixed glass window in the front of the body, protected from road dirt by a high curving dashboard. A Landau is a coupé with a folding top.
Through the 1950s opening-roof convertible automobiles were sometimes called convertible coupés, but since the 1960s the term coupé has generally been applied exclusively to fixed-roof models. Coupés generally, but not necessarily, have two doors, although automobile makers have offered four-door coupés and three- and five-door hatchback coupés, as well. Modern coupés often have the styling feature of frameless doors, with the window glass sealing directly against a weather-strip on the main body.
The SAE distinguishes a coupé from a sedan primarily by interior volume; SAE standard J1100 defines a coupé as a fixed-roof automobile with less than 33 cubic-feet of rear interior volume. A car with a greater interior volume is technically a two-door sedan, not a coupé, even if it has only two doors. By this standard, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, and Mercedes-Benz CL-Class coupés are all two-door sedans. Only a few sources, however (including the magazine Car and Driver), use the two-door sedan label in this manner. Some car manufacturers may nonetheless choose to use the word coupé (or coupe) to describe such a model, e.g., the Cadillac Coupe de Ville.
Alternatively, a coupé is distinguished from a two-door sedan by the lack of a "B" pillar to support the roof. Sedans have an "A" pillar forward at the windscreen, a "B" pillar aft of the door, and a "C" pillar defining the aftermost roof support at the rear window. Thus with all side-windows down, a coupé would appear windowless from the "A" to the "C" pillars. These fixed-roof models are described as a hardtop. Targa top models are a variation on the convertible design.
During the 20th century the term was applied to various close-coupled automobiles.
Manufacturers have used the term coupé in several varieties, including:
- Club coupé
- a coupé with a larger rear seat, which would today be called a two-door sedan.
- Business coupé
- a coupé with no rear seat or a removable rear seat intended for traveling salespeople and other vendors who would be carrying their wares with them.
- Opéra coupé
- a coupé with rear seats that are mounted in the sides of the body and fold downward for use.
- Sports coupé or berlinetta
- a uniquely styled model with a sloping roof, sometimes sloping downward gradually in the rear in the style known as fastback.
- Four-door coupé
- a sedan with classic coupé-like proportions. The designation was first applied to a low-roof model of the Rover P5 from 1962 until 1973, but was revived as recently as 2004 by the Mercedes-Benz CLS.
- Combi coupé
- a body type from SAAB combining the coupé lines with large loading capacity.
- Sport Utility Coupé
- an SUV with 2 doors and shortened wheelbase and body.
- Sport Activity Coupé
- an SUV with 4 doors and a sloping roof.
With the growing popularity of the pillarless hardtop during the 1950s some automakers used the term coupé to refer to hardtop (rigid, rather than canvas, automobile roof) models and reserved the term sedan for their models with a "B" pillar. This definition was by no means universal, and has largely fallen out of use with near-demise of the hardtop. Similarly, a Rover P5 saloon model came in a body style with a lower roof that was called a coupé. Technically, it was cut, as the original definition required, but it was not a shorter car body.
Today "coupé" is becoming more of a marketing term for automotive manufacturers, ascribing the term to any vehicle with two or three doors, and perceived luxury or sporting appeal. This is because coupés in general are seen as sportier than sedans; hence a coupé would be marketed as a "sportier" vehicle than a two-door sedan. As well, while previous coupés were "simply line-extenders two-door variants of family sedans", new "coupés" often have different sheet metal and styling than their four-door counterparts.