Timothy Moore
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Difference Between Coupes and Sedans: Traditional and Technical

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It used to be that you could tell the difference between coupes and sedans simply by the number of doors on the car: coupes have two doors and sedans have four. Easy enough, right? Wrong. Just like with everything else in the automotive world, our beloved automakers had to complicate things, and now we’re living in a world of four-door coupes and two-door sedans.

So how can we tell the difference between coupes and sedans? Knowing the actual definition of each is a good start.

What is a coupe?

difference between coupes and sedans: civic coupe

2013 Honda Civic Coupe

Traditionally, we think of coupes as two-door, two- or four-seater cars (with the four-seater variants offered in a 2+2 configuration). On top of that, we tend to think of the optional backseats of a coupe as generally much smaller than the backseats of a sedan, meaning you can really only fit a child in the back—or a contortionist that can find somewhere safe to store his legs.

Au contraire. Forget everything you thought you knew about coupes. Done? Okay, good.

In reality, a coupe is just a fixed-top car that has less than 33 cubic feet of rear interior space. That’s it. That’s all it takes. That means a car with just two doors but miraculously more than 33 cubic feet of space in the back is actually—you’ve got it—a sedan. Why anyone would want a two-door sedan is beyond me, but to each his own.

So what is a sedan?

difference between coupes and sedans: civic sedan

2013 Honda Civic Sedan

If, after reading the previous section, you still think a sedan is just a larger, four-door car with five comfy seats in the back, easily identified by the fixed B-pillar between the front and back windows, man are you in for a treat. That’s right: a sedan is technically any closed-roof car offering rear interior space greater than (or equal to) 33 cubic feet.

You know what that means: we can actually have four-door coupes, as long as interior space is less than 33. Again, I have to wonder why anyone would want a coupe with four doors. The extra set of doors takes away from the sleek, sporty look that makes us all drool over coupes like we forgot how to close our jaws. Besides, if you’re driving a car with such little rear interior space, why the heck would you want doors to access the back?

Okay, so then what is the difference between coupes and sedans?

Unfortunately, it’s that magic number: 33. But in my humble opinion, that’s just a bunch of marketing baloney by automakers wanting to spin their sedan as a coupe or vice-versa. At the end of the day, I can climb into my two-door and tell myself it’s a coupe, without calculating just how much rear interior space I have. And I’m perfectly okay with that.

But which should I get?

It’s really up to you now that you know the difference between coupes and sedans (the technical difference and the difference that actually matters to car gurus like you and me). It all depends on what you’re in the market for.

A coupe is a great offering if you crave style—and have money. While sedan prices are all over the map, coupes tend to be consistently more expensive to buy, and to insure. (Insurance companies know that irresponsible, young drivers looking to pick up chicks cannot wait to get their hands behind the wheel of a coupe, while old farts with a family and a mortgage and the early onset of arthritis are much more likely to pick a sedan—and drive it well.)

On the other hand, sedans are great for families. They’ve got the interior space, the safety technologies, and the fuel economy (depending on size) that you’ll need. And hey, if you’re well on your way to a midlife crisis, there are plenty of luxury sports sedans to choose from.

Timothy Moore takes his leadership inspiration from Michael Scott, his writing inspiration from Mark Twain, and his dancing inspiration from every drunk white guy at a wedding. When Tim is not writing about cars, he’s working on his novel or reading someone else’s, geeking out over strategy board games, hiking with his pooch, or channeling his inner Linda Belcher over beers with his friends. See more articles by Timothy.