Screw You, Carmakers, You Don't Get To Ruin The Word 'Coupe'

I had a disturbing exchange with our fresh-faced young intern, Mack, yesterday. We were discussing the new Porsche Cayenne Coupe, a vehicle that is not, in any way, a coupe. I mentioned this, to which Mack responded “Yeah but at this point shouldn’t we just accept that the traditional definition of that word is gone?” Immediately the restraints in my work-pod tightened and I was given a jolt of calming electricity because my bio-readings spiked with rage. No, Mack, we’re not just going to give up on “coupe.” The fight’s not over, you car-marketing hacks.

Now, I’m not angry at Mack—some time with the goat they keep in my work-pod to act as my companion helped with that. What I am is a little alarmed. Alarmed that car companies and their marketing agencies have so browbeat their perversion of the concept of a coupe into our global automotive discourse that wonderful, intelligent people like Mack find themselves saying things like

“But the Mercedes CLS came out 15 years ago. At some point we have to accept carmakers aren’t going to stop using the term because most people like the idea of their car being a coupe but want 4 doors.”


The only reply to this, Mack, is fuck them. We don’t have to accept shit.

Plus, I don’t think general people out there really think of their four-door sedans or SUVs as “coupes” and I’m not even sure they think about it at all. But I do.

Some marketing jackass with a soul made of some cancelled Fyre Festival tickets is behind the debasement of the once-descriptive and understandable word “coupe” (or even “coupé,” if you’d like), and there’s absolutely no reason we have to accept this.

It’s not like coupe is some sort of vague, ill-defined term. We know exactly what a coupe is, and we have for decades:


A coupe is not a four-door SUV or crossover with a sloping rear. At best, those vehicles may be considered fastbacks, though, really, that design is just a tall hatchback design.

The word “coupe” comes from the French word “couper,” which means “to cut” because a coupe was a sort of “cut down” version of a car: smaller, leaner, lighter, sportier, shorter, and, significantly, less doors. As in two where the non-coupe version of the car would have had four.


A car like the Mercedes CLS, despite being a sleek and lovely car, is not a coupe. It’s a four-door sports sedan. It doesn’t have to be a coupe. Mercedes already makes coupes, like that AMG C63 coupe there, which is absolutely a coupe.


There is no good reason why the same word should be used to describe those two significantly different body styles. If you thing this isn’t a big deal, remember that the same marketing brutes also want to call these vehicles coupes:


That’s not a fucking coupe.

It’s big, it’s got four doors, it’s got a high ride height on bulky wheels—it’s the diametric opposite of everything a coupe is supposed to be.


I’m sticking with Mercedes here, because in some ways they’re the most egregious coupe-abuser, but this certainly shows up in other brands. But that vehicle up there, the Mercedes GLC300 Coupe, is not, in any way, a coupe.

The fundamental reasoning these things even get called “coupes” isn’t even right. Usually, the justification for the dilution of the “coupe” name is that these vehicles have sloping rear rooflines. But a sloping rear roofline isn’t what defines a coupe! That’s what defines a fastback.


I mean, sure, coupes very often have sloping rear rooflines, but that’s not what defines a coupe. Here’s a fastback and a coupe from the same company, as an example:


You can have a fastback coupe, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

But look: all this is just nitpicking compared to the big issue here: we don’t have to let marketing dipshits who work for big car companies decide what words mean. Words that describe cars are literally the very tools of my trade, and I’m not going to just hand them over to a company for advertising purposes.


Sure, eventually, usage does dictate grammar and what words mean, but that doesn’t mean we just give up and roll over when a word is being used incorrectly. If you care about words, then words are worth protecting, despite whatever assaults may be thrown at them.

Look at the defense of the word “literally,” for example. Is anyone happy letting people say things like “my head literally exploded” if there’s not a mess of blood and skull fragments and bits of brain all over the place to back it up? No. Most of us are not.


So, carmakers, take your not-coupe “coupes” and shove them right up the exhaust manifolds of your colons. We’re not giving up this word without a fight, and I’m not calling that new smaller Porsche Cayenne a “coupe” unless you actually take off two doors and really try to make it a coupe.

If it helps any of your carmakers feel less bad about it, you should know we also don’t write Mini in all caps like they want us to, because that’s stupid and screw that.


This isn’t over.

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About the author

Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)