We settle the coupe vs sedan debate once and for all in this comprehensive comparison guide.
If you’re like most people, you’ve heard of the terms sedan and coupe many times and know that they describe two different types of cars. You probably also know that one has four doors, while the other only has two.
While the number of doors is an important determinant, there are many other differences that set coupes apart from sedans. Unfortunately, automakers have blurred the lines between the two vehicle types with such reckless abandon that telling them apart is no longer as easy as it once was.
If you’re befuddled by their misleading marketing or are simply not familiar with sedans and coupes, this detailed coupe vs sedan comparison guide clarifies the key differences between the two body styles, highlights their advantages and disadvantages, and pits them against each other to set everything straight.
IN THIS GUIDE
Difference Between Coupe And Sedan
Coupes and sedans are often compared to each other because they are two of the oldest vehicle types. But in order to make a proper comparison between the two, we must first determine what sets them apart.
Our comprehensive sedan buying guide covers everything you need to know about sedans in detail, so head over there if you have any questions that this comparison guide didn’t address.
The evolution of car-design language in recent years has created a mashup of different vehicle body styles that have made it difficult to describe just exactly what a sedan is any more, so we’ll keep things simple by using the most technical definition there is.
In addition to having four doors, a conventional sedan has what the automotive world calls a three-box design. What that means is that there are separate compartments for the engine, passenger cabin, and cargo area (trunk), and you can’t easily access one area from another.
A long wheelbase (distance between the front and rear wheels) allows sedans to have two functional rows of seats, as well as a second row of doors for the rear passengers.
Popular examples of sedans include the Toyota Camry and Corolla, Honda Accord and Civic, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series, and Tesla Model 3.
If you want a more detailed understanding of what coupes, read our expert researched coupe buying guide.
Like a sedan, a conventional coupe has a three-box design with separate compartments for the engine bay, passenger seating area, and trunk. Unlike a sedan, it has only two doors, not four.
These cars typically also have a compact size, a sloping roofline, and two tiny rear seats, if any at all, since their short wheelbase and sloping roof make it difficult to accommodate rear seats that are as functional as the front ones.
Interestingly, not having rear doors means their two doors are usually longer and wider than the front doors on a sedan.
The coupe segment is made up of conventional three-box models, two-door liftbacks, and targas. Targas are coupes with a removable hard roof panel, while liftbacks have a single compartment for both the passenger cabin and cargo area and a roof-hinged cargo door that opens up upwards, technically making them hatchbacks.
Examples of three-box coupes include the Subaru BRZ, Toyota 86, Porsche 911, and BMW 4 Series, while the Chevrolet Corvette has long been a targa coupe. Models like the Toyota Supra have traditional coupe styling but feature a hatchback layout to improve practicality.
The Body-Style Confusion
The past several decades have seen automakers blur the lines between the different vehicle body styles, cross-pollinating some of their key qualities and playing fast and loose with their terminology to create new hybrid body styles.
For example, whereas a steeply sloping roofline was once a defining characteristic of coupes, it has since become a trendy design element that has been applied to an increasing number of four-door sedans, SUVs, hatchbacks, and even station wagons. The “four-door coupe” and ‘SUV coupe’ are byproducts of this experiment.
Marketers give disparate body styles a fastback look and call them a coupe to make them appear and sound sportier than they actually are.
Additionally, many four-door coupes are technically hatchbacks since they have a cargo area that isn’t physically separated from the passenger cabin and a roof-hinged, SUV-like rear liftgate. Yet, despite not having a three-box layout as traditional sedans do, these anagrams are essentially sedans, at least in substance.
The Tesla Model S and Audi A7 are examples of fastback sedans with a hatchback-like layout, while the Mercedes-Benz CLS-class — the model that started the ‘four-door coupe’ segment — has a separate and enclosed trunk that makes it a sedan in the most technical sense.
Here at AutoTribute, we consider all four-door coupes to be sedans, even if they are not called such or are technically hatchbacks.
Coupe vs Sedan: Pros And Cons
Now that you have a good idea of what sedans and coupes are, let’s breakdown the advantages and disadvantages of owning either one. You will find that both body styles are designed to suit different lifestyles.
Sedan Pros And Cons
Although sedans come in various sizes and offer different levels of performance, they are generally designed to be affordable vehicles that provide a comfortable ride for up to five passengers.
They have low ground clearance; two functional rows of seats; four doors that provide easy access to both front and rear seats; and, fastback models notwithstanding, less steeply-sloping roofs to maximize rear headroom.
Performance sedans aside, most models have small, fuel-efficient engines and are cheap to maintain, repair, and insure, resulting in a low cost of ownership.
As for drawbacks, sedans are seen as sober cars and don’t have a sporty or fun image. Although cooler than minivans and wagons and many performance models are sporty and stylish, they are not the most exciting vehicles to be seen in.
Finally, being able to seat five passengers in relative comfort and having four doors for easy accessibility requires sedans to be longer and heavier than more compact vehicles, impeding their performance.
- Roomy passenger cabin for both front and rear passengers
- Easy accessibility to all seats
- Affordable and fuel-efficient
- Cheap to repair, maintain, and insure
- Sober and unsporty image
- Added length and weight impedes performance
Who Should Buy A Sedan?
While sedan sales have been on the decline as an increasing number of car buyers seek SUVs that provide more passenger and cargo room, sedans remain one the most affordable and efficient ways to transport five people.
For most individuals and many families, a compact or midsize sedan will provide enough passenger and cargo room and performance to go about the day with little to no hassle.
Coupe Pros And Cons
Coupes are not very practical — let’s get that blatant fact out of the way. After all, they have a short wheelbase and steeply sloping roof that makes little room for rear doors, functional rear seats, and a spacious cargo area.
Even though they have roomy front seats and wide-opening doors that make it easy for the driver and front passenger to get in and out of the vehicle, these cars are purchased for reasons other than practicality. People buy them for their appearance and performance.
Indeed, coupes are widely considered to be the coolest and oftentimes most exhilarating vehicles on the road, with many traditional sports cars and supercars serving as aspirational vehicles for many people.
Their sloping roofs and sleek lines exude a high level of style that is uncharacteristic of other types of vehicles, while their smaller size and lighter curb weight make them fun to drive.
Coupes, especially performance models, are produced in lower volumes and are, therefore, rarer than other vehicle types, making them more expensive to buy, repair, and maintain. However, they are more likely to become highly valuable collector’s items due to their exclusivity, desirability, and standout style and performance.
- Wide-opening doors make it easy to access roomy front seats
- Attractive design
- Fun to drive
- Sporty image, high coolness factor
- No rear doors
- Cramped and uncomfortable second-row seats, if any
- Limited cargo room
- High cost of ownership
Who Should Buy A Coupe?
Coupes are not ideal for families or people who require roomy rear seats that can be accessed easily. They make sense for drivers who tend to drive with only one other passenger or prefer the sportier look and drivability of two-door vehicles.
Sedan vs Coupe Comparison
Previous sections of our coupe vs sedan comparison guide discussed the defining features of coupes and sedans and the advantages and disadvantages of owning either body style. In this section, we compare them to help you determine the vehicle type that best meets your lifestyle requirements or personal preferences.
Seven criteria will be used for the comparison: Styling, interior space, cargo space, accessibility, performance, safety, price, and cost of ownership.
Style is a mostly subjective decision criterion, but few people will deny that coupes tend to have sleeker, cleaner, and more exciting designs.
Take the BMW 3 Series sedan and 4 Series coupe, for example. While they are both based on the same model, the 3 Series looks like a family hauler, while the 4 Series has a sleeker, more athletic profile.
The difference is even more noticeable when you compare sedans to purpose-built coupes such as the Corvette, Porsche 911, Tesla Roadster, and other two-door sports cars, all of which have dramatic designs that make the average sedan look plain-vanilla.
There is no question which body style offers the most interior room. Compared to most coupes, sedans generally have a longer wheelbase that allows them to accommodate two functional rows of seats and carry up to five passengers comfortably.
Conversely, the more compact size and steeply sloping roofs of coupes mean less rear passenger space and cargo room. More often than not, the rear seating area is too narrow to seat more than two passengers and too cramped to make those passengers feel comfortable.
Space can be so limited that some coupe models don’t even come with rear seats.
As longer vehicles, sedans offer more cargo space than coupes, making them more suitable for getting groceries or going on road trips.
But while coupes generally fall short in their cargo-hauling ability, some large models offer space that’s comparable or even greater than some midsize sedans.
The most obvious difference between a sedan and a coupe is door count. Sedans have four doors (a pair for each row of seats), while coupes have only two.
With sedans, the extra doors make it easy for rear passengers to get in and out of the car; with coupes, not having rear doors to work with means they’ll have to endure more climbing, bending, twisting, and squeezing to use the rear seats in any capacity.
While the doors on a coupe tend to be bigger and wider than a sedan’s front doors, thus making life a little easier for front seat occupants, sedans offer better all-around accessibility.
Thanks to their lighter curb weight and shorter wheelbase, coupes typically offer better performance than sedans. The smaller and lighter a vehicle, the better it usually accelerates, handles, and brakes.
Models built from scratch for performance (two-door sports cars, supercars, etc.) take handling and acceleration to a level that few sedans can match.
Winner: Sedan (slight edge)
The bigger and heavier a vehicle, the more protection it provides its occupants in collisions against smaller objects. And the lower center of gravity it has, the less likely it will roll over during high-speed maneuvers.
Sedans and coupes tend to offer similar levels of safety because they are both small, lightweight, and low-riding vehicles. While they won’t fare well in collisions against large vehicles, their lower center of gravity makes them easy to handle at all speeds and less likely to rollover.
Coupes that are built on repurposed sedan platforms also offer similar levels of safety equipment as their sedan equivalent; however, purpose-built coupes may omit certain safety features to optimize performance.
In fact, low volume two-door sports cars are often not crash-tested by safety organizations such as the NHTSA, EuroNCAP, AsiaNCAP, and IIHS and, therefore, lack safety ratings.
Coupes are almost without exception more expensive than sedans, even if the coupe and sedan in question are based on the same model, have the same features, and are powered by the same engines. The BMW 4 Series, for example, costs 10 to 30 percent more than a BMW 4 Series Coupe despite both models being fundamentally the same.
Purpose-built coupes, particularly sports cars, can be exorbitantly expensive.
Cost Of Ownership
While coupes generally cost more to buy than sedans, maintenance and repair costs won’t be very different between the two body styles if they are based on the same model. That’s not the case with purpose-built coupes, however, since they usually have specialized parts that can make their maintenance and repairs very expensive.
But regardless of the type or make of the model, coupes are more often than not more expensive to insure than sedans. That’s because, on top of being more expensive to buy, repair, and maintain than sedans, coupes have a reputation of being owned by younger, more reckless drivers.
As a whole, sedans have a much lower cost of ownership than coupes.
Coupe vs Sedan FAQs
The answers to these questions highlight many of the key points discussed in this comparison guide.
What Is The Difference Between A Coupe And A Sedan?
People often oversimplify sedans as cars with four doors and coupes as those with only two doors. However, the whole sedan vs coupe dilemma extends far beyond door count.
As discussed in our guide, both body styles also differ greatly in their cargo capacity, passenger comfort, performance, price, and cost of ownership.
Are Coupes Better Than Sedans?
Whether or not one body style is better than the other will depend on your lifestyle needs and personal preferences. Coupes are more stylish and performance-oriented, while sedans are more practical.
If you prefer a car with a sportier design and an engaging ride and don’t have much need for a spacious rear seat and cargo area, a coupe may be the better vehicle. But if you need functional rear seats and extra cargo space or frequently drive with multiple passengers, a sedan would be the better choice.
Can A Four-Door Car Be A Coupe?
No. If a coupe is defined as a car with only two doors, then it would be inappropriate for a car with four doors to be called a coupe.
The past few decades have seen the release of a slew of stylish sedans billed four-door coupes. While a catchy name, ‘four-door coupe’ is a contradiction in terms.
Are Sedans Safer Than Coupes?
Coupes and sedans have comparable safety credentials, more so if they share a platform.
Unlike pickup trucks and SUVs, both types of vehicles have a low center of gravity that reduces the risk of rolling over during high-speed maneuvers. However, their small size and lightweight puts them at a disadvantage in collisions with larger, heavier vehicles.
On the other hand, many low-volume, performance-focused coupes are inherently less safe because they omit some modern safety equipment to maximize performance.
A common question many individuals ask when shopping for a car is “What’s the difference between a coupe and a sedan?” Indeed, knowing what constitutes a sedan or a coupe will help you determine the vehicle type that best matches your lifestyle needs or personal preference.
A big problem is that people tend to have very simplistic definitions of what these two body styles are. In case you didn’t know, it’s about more than just the number of doors they have.
Sedans are more practical vehicles, while coupes are style- and performance-oriented. If you prefer a sportier design and more engaging handling and aren’t too concerned with interior and cargo space, a coupe may be the right vehicle for you.
If, on the other hand, you need additional cargo space, have a family, or frequently ride with several passenger, a sedan will serve you better.
We hope that our coupe vs sedan comparison guide helped you with your car buying research. You can find other articles like it at AutoTribute’s car-buying page.