Today I’m going to talk about the oxymoronic existence of four-door coupes. Or ‘Gran Coupes.’ Or ‘Executive Über Coupes’ as I’m sure the psycho engineers at Quattro GMBH say (I really hope they say this). In as few words as possible (only kidding, this one should run long), I’m going to try to narrow down the origin of this term, and discuss the best uses of it to date.
Chapter One: A Collins-Free Genesis
The Genesis of the of the four-door coupe was a sloppy one, mostly because it didn’t involve Phil Collins. Ten years ago, my father and I first began to notice the beginning of this phenomenon, in the form of the original Mercedes W219 CLS-class.
Say what you will about how this particular design has aged, but at the time, we thought it was beautiful. A long, sleek, curved, German luxobarge with the poise of a wildcat and the color variety of an aluminum wildcat. “There’s another one of those Mercedes banana things!” we’d shout as one passed on the street.
When I finally got around to looking up the ‘benz banana,’ I noticed that Mercedes was marketing it as a Four-Door Coupe. “That’s interesting,” I thought to myself, before making sure that the Webster definition for ‘coupe’ was still “A Two-Door automobile.”
So what happened at Mercedes in the early aughts that caused them to alter language itself and use an obvious oxymoron to sell its newest fruit-inspired sports sedan? Here’s what.
Around 2004, Mercedes wanted to diversify their product line and make an exciting, high-end car for people who thought the E-class and S-class were for squares. These were people who wanted the style of cars like the BMW 6 Series and the SL Mercedes, but maybe had a family or something and so felt like they needed a proper 4-door. These potential buyers were usually businessmen + women, so they wanted to stand out in the office parking lot filled with BMW 5ers, Audi A-whatevers, and that one guy with a Porsche 911. Fuck that guy.
So Mercedes came up with the banana. Sales were on the higher side of meh, but there was clearly a market. BMW was losing market share.
Chapter II: Challengers Approach
It took a while for Audi and BMW to figure out that the CLS was a serious competitor for their sport sedans. In that time, Mercedes refreshed the CLS and gave it a more modern visage and a muscular back end. It looked less like a banana and more like the child of an S-Class and a ‘69 Camaro. It was mean. It was ready for the new competition. It was still very silver.
Audi was the first out of the gate when they came out with their own take on the giant-executive-luxury-sport-sedan, the A7, in 2010, six years after the CLS. It was time well spent. the A7 is bloody brilliant.
Full disclosure: The A7 is one of my favorite cars of all time. The lines, the stance, the sheer presence of the thing is mind-blowing. I love that it comes in a non-metallic grey. I love that you can get it in a psychopathic RS7 variant. It’s the purest example of modern audi design out there, second only to the Bauhaus TT.
The problem is, nobody can convince me that the A7 is a coupe. Maybe the CLS was poised like a coupe, but the A7 is a big ol’ sedan. It’s even got a hatchback, which puts it into an entirely different segment, with scary, grotesque things like the 5 Series GT and the Honda Crosstour, a vehicle so far removed from the concept of ‘style’ that I’m convinced that Honda commissioned Will I. Am. to design it.
But I’m pretty sure Audi still marketed this thing as a coupe, or as having ‘coupe styling.’ which is simply not true. Would BMW have a better option?
In 2012, BMW came out with the aptly-named 6 Series Gran Coupe, a name that evokes grandeur, largeness, and coupes with two extra doors.
I love the 6-series Gran Coupe. Pictures do not do its beauty justice, and you have to see one of them in person to understand the hype. Because seeing such a long, low sedan/coupe/whatever isn’t just unusual, it’s...... refreshing. In a world of high, truck-style seating positions and stubby hoods and tall hatchbacks that blow over in a crosswind, it’s great to see the cars at the forefront of sedan design taking a stab at going sleek and low.
BMW is following up the 6 GC with a 4-series gran coupe — and with the Mercedes CLA well into its second year of sales, it seems that the concept of low four-door ‘coupes’ has taken hold and their place in the luxury car market is undeniable.
I have more questions than ever, though: Will these designs replace conventional sedans? Is this just a fad? Will we all be driving tall Honda crosstours in a couple years? Will I be forced to poke out my eyes? (the last two questions are the same.)
In conclusion, I love that the Germans are trying to think outside the 3-box (see what I did there?) and push the boundaries of what a sedan can and should be. But as so often happens, nobody can agree on proper nomenclature and I have a feeling that ordinary consumers are very confused with all this talk of 4-door coupes, gran coupes, and executive uber coupes (isn’t that an app?).
These things clearly have a market segment, but they are so poorly defined that it’s hard to figure out exactly where they fit. Is the Tesla Model S a Coupe, since it shares basically the same profile as the A7? What about the Porsche Panamera? What do you guys think? What’s a 4-Door coupe? Do they suck? Has anyone driven one?