Pure marketing term or actual model designation?
One of the problems we face when writing about cars is model designations. Even one of the most common terms, supercar, doesn't have a solid definition. There's no sanctioning body giving a firm set of rules for any term, and there's plenty of grey area. Just look at the current C7 ZR1 Corvette and the discussion and arguments online about whether its a supercar or not.
However, it feels like the biggest creeper of a term is the four-door coupe. Over the past few years, we've seen a slew of 4-door coupes come to market but, to many people, it's a contradiction in terms because a coupe has two doors. So, where did the term come from and why are carmakers pushing it so hard?
The term four-door coupe isn't actually a new one and goes all the way back to 1962 and the UK automaker Rover with its second generation of the P5. The available coupe body style kept the four doors, but lowered the roofline by 1.5 inches and used thinner b-pillars. The idea remained dormant for decades, although some claim the third-generation Nissan Leopard from 1992 is a four-door coupe, but that's a tough sell. In reality, it was the 2005 Mercedes-Benz CLS that really started the ball rolling for the four-door sedan with a sloping roofline that we know today as the four-door coupe.
It was Mercedes marketing that called the four-door sedan with a fastback body style a four-door coupe in 2002 when the Mercedes Benz CLS appeared. Its key features appeared to be less legroom, headroom, and trunk space than the less expensive E-Class at the time, but with a slicker and sportier look. Since then, other manufacturers have caught on to the marketing success and tried their own fastback style four-door cars. Aston Martin took a swing with the Rapide while the original Porsche Panamera wasn't an immediate hit. Volkswagen even had a go with the CC, standing for Comfort Compact, but nobody was really fooled into thinking it was anything but a Passat with less headroom for rear passengers.
So far, the 4-door coupe has been a very European, and mainly German, thing with one remarkable exception that we'll get to. Mercedes has worked the formula to the point that its fastbacks aren't a horrific compromise for rear passengers. At the same time, BMW and Audi have started to also nail it down - particularly with BMW's 8 Series Gran Coupe and Audi's A7 and RS7. The jury is still out on Porsche's lengthy Panamera though.
The bottom line is that the four-door coupe is here to stay, although the term fastback is a lot easier to swallow. It's even harder to swallow when applied to crossovers. The four-door coupe is absolutely a marketing term, but at the same time is also descriptive.
There's no set definition, but there isn't one for many of the terms we use, including sports car, supercar, hypercar, or even muscle car. The original definition for a sports car meant it had two seats and no roof, but we couldn't like to tell you absolutely if a supercar has to be mid-engined or not, and people are still calling the Mustang and Camaro muscle cars despite the fact they are now really good at going around corners.
All we ask is for an agreement for everyone to use the term fastback sedan so we don't have to suffer the continued indignity of having to type four-door coupe over and over again. As for that remarkable exception? The latest generation of Honda Accord has that sloping roofline Honda wanted as they dropped the coupe model. Honda doesn't call it a four-door coupe though... but isn't it?