Now that SUVs are mainstream, the four-door coupé has been rising enough to deserve our attention. Is this car body going to be the next market obsession?
Dealing with cars requires juggling emotion and reason all the time. We have to analyze production costs, sales records, market history etc. whether we make, sell, or use them. Nevertheless, we all love to follow a good market trend. Sport-utility vehicles are the best and most recent example of that behavior; the fact that they are big, heavy, and fuel-thirsty has not stopped them from taking over the market.
The thing with trends is that they are not eternal. The SUV one may seem so for purist car fans, but that is never the case. Sooner or later, there will always be a new company, model, and/or body style that steals the thunder; something that attracts all the looks and encourages competitors to release similar products of their own. Once it triggers that sequence of events, the market has officially moved to a new trend.
Four-door coupé – early steps
The teardrop shape is a basic principle in aerodynamics. Automakers have used it countless times so as to minimize drag and make cars more efficient. Then again, it is easy to see that it conflicts with cabin space, so there have been many adaptations. The four-door coupé style is one of them; the roof line descends as a straight line up to the end to simulate the teardrop’s rear half. It is a variation of the Kammback design.
The technology available in the past made companies essentially pick their battles; they would restrict the sloped roof line to coupés to avoid problems with rear-seat headroom. The few attempts to face the issue would fall into two categories. Either the maker had to mitigate the design, like in the Volkswagen Passat; or go all the way at the expense of obtaining limited appreciation, which was the case of the Renault Safrane.
Over time, that style and the notchback version went out of fashion. People who wanted trunk space went to sedans while fans of sportiness chose regular hatchbacks. Things would only change in 2004, when the Mercedes-Benz CLS became the first four-door coupé. It took an intermediate spot in the lineup, between the conventional sedans E-Class and S-Class; the trick was to give the style a new market interpretation.
What was the difference?
Automakers used to derive the fastback style from two-box cars like hatchbacks. The needs for maximum internal space and minimal external size would harm their visual balance; they would look bulky like the Opel Ascona CC. The CLS, in turn, comes from sedans. Its roof line flows from the cabin to the trunk much more smoothly, making the transition barely visible. Mercedes-Benz created the “four-door coupé” label.
The new interpretation gave non-sporty four-door coupés a new chance in the market. BMW and Audi responded with the Gran Turismo and A7, while Porsche made things sportier using the Panamera. Volkswagen and Honda took the recipe to the mainstream segments with the Passat CC and the Accord Crosstour. Those two ended up not selling much for specific reasons, but helped establish the market niche nonetheless.
We are talking about four-door coupés only now because the SUV craze took place more firmly at that time. The 2010s went by with all makers adapting their lines; we saw the concept of car change as a result. BMW even made those two trends flirt in 2007 with the BMW X6. However, everyone was too invested in regular SUVs that they ended suppressing fastbacks. Nowadays, it seems that the scenario has changed.
New chapter for the four-door coupé
We have already written that SUVs have entered a new phase. In short, they are no longer one body type that has attracted spotlights; their style has permeated the whole car market and changed our standards. There are family-oriented SUVs, rugged SUVs, no-frills SUVs and several other types. Following that train of thought, we can say that they are no longer a trend. Therefore, there is finally room for a new trend.
The four-door coupé aims to join the coupé’s charming style with the practicality of the sedan’s four doors. Some of them have become a casual counterpart to the sedans in their lineups, like the updated CLS and the Volkswagen Arteon. Others simply want to break their segment’s status quo while adding practicality; that is the Honda Accord‘s case, which managed to absorb only the good parts of its Crosstour version.
As younger car buyers enter the scene, demands from the industry change. We have already written that long wheelbase design, for example, has been changing to suit the latest luxury cars. It is only natural for companies to reinvent body styles once they notice that people want something different. Now, while the four-door coupé was still rising in the 2010s, some recent events have everything to make them prosper.
The modern EV is a four-door coupé
SUVs have changed car parameters mostly for being a hot-selling trend. Electrification, on the other hand, has technical reasons to do the same. Electric powertrains are completely different from combustion ones and that takes a toll on the car’s design. When it comes to sedans, Mercedes-Benz’s head of design once said that it is impossible to make the three-box shape look good with the typical battery pack of an EV.
The four-door coupé has emerged as an interesting solution because it dissimulates the additional height brought by the batteries. It would be possible to write an entire article on that topic; for now, we can just say that the new design brings EVs closer to the design standards with which we are familiar. This is very important to maximize their sales potential and, as a result, their viability in the market over time.
While German automakers have released many four-door coupés lately, Stellantis has become a strong generalist representative. The Peugeot 408 has embraced a stylish variation while the Citroën C4 now has two of them. The regular one has a truncated rear fascia that resembles that of hatchbacks; the new C4 X, in turn, features a four-door coupé design comparable to what the pioneer Mercedes-Benz CLS uses.
What can we expect from now on?
Four-door coupés have the emotional appeal of being the current trend and the technical one of favoring electric propulsion. We can only expect to see more of them on sale as the industry goes further towards electrification. The luxury market already has several models; now it is time for generalist makers to create direct rivals to the few options that already exist. If sales respond well, that will certainly happen soon.
Besides that, prepare yourself to see new variations of that body style; from compact sedans like the C4 X to grand tourers like the Porsche Taycan. The Toyota Crown, which appears next to this paragraph and on the top of this article, is another good example. It reached a new generation with both a fastback design and a four-door coupé version. The former has a sporty character while the latter focuses on elegance.
Now that you know about the rise of four-door coupés, keep an eye on how things will go; especially now that SUVs are finally leaving the spotlights. Over the next years, we may see many other models available around the world. Do you think that this body style is capable of creating a whole new standard among urban cars? Or would you say that they are just a short-lived trend which is going to disappear soon?