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Here’s a Look Back at the “4-Door Coupe”

After years of trying, automakers have finally got the 4-door coupe right. About 15 years ago, the Mercedes Benz CLS became the first well-known option in the “4-door coupe” segment. Since then, many others have come and gone: some, like the Aston Martin Rapide, were standouts, and others, like the first-generation Porsche Panamera, were a bit more questionable — but now it’s finally to the point where I think today’s offerings are spot-on, and I’m going to explain why.

Mercedes Benz CLS

Mercedes Benz CLS

The original CLS, the W219, was based on the W211 E-Class platform and debuted way back in 2004. While it was based on a regular sedan, it was marketed as a 4-door coupe and spurred an entire segment of vehicles. The second-generation W218 CLS arrived in 2011 and brought with it a shooting brake (model code X218) that was based on the gorgeous Mercedes F800 concept from the 2009 Geneva Motor Show. Mercedes also added all-wheel drive for the second generation, as well as a CLS63 AMG model. The C257 CLS, which Doug just drove, is the third and current generation model. It’s still quite pretty, but I agree with Doug: it’s starting to look a bit common.

That’s because other automakers caught on to Mercedes’ game and brought the heat. Here are the other players in the market in roughly the order in which they appeared.

Volkswagen CC

Volkswagen CC

Germany brought us the second iteration as well, but this one goes down as one of the least expensive. The Volkswagen CC, originally called the Passat CC, debuted at the 2008 North American International Auto Show. CC means Comfort Compact, but other than the sweeping roof line, it’s basically a Passat in every other way.

BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo

BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo

While Mercedes was showing us the second-generation CLS at the 2009 Geneva Motor Show, BMW also showed us the BMW Concept 5 Series Gran Turismo under the same roof. And boy was it ugly. Dubbed the 5 Series GT, it was the first version of the “new” 5 Series to debut — and it was initially sold alongside previous generation E60/E61 5 Series sedan and wagon models. The 5 Series Gran Turismo is no more, mercifully, but lives on in the 6 Series Gran Turismo, whose styling has improved only marginally.

Porsche Panamera

Porsche Panamera

Porsche could have been first to the market, as the Porsche 989 was a 4-door sedan concept developed between 1988 and 1991 — but, unfortunately, Porsche never brought it to production. It’s said that the sales slump of the front-engined 928 were partially to blame, but regardless, Porsche was playing catch-up in the segment when they started to develop the Panamera. The first-generation Panamera debuted in 2009 at the Shanghai Motor Show and arrived in showrooms in 2010. It will also go down in my book as one of the ugliest high-end production cars of our generation. Porsche ensured that both the front and the rear of the Panamera made you think “911,” which was a big problem. From the front, it didn’t look too bad — but from the rear, it was a mess. The proportions were all wrong, and unfortunately that generation lasted through 2016. Mercifully in 2017, the second-generation model hit showrooms — and I can personally say that I think it’s absolutely gorgeous! And it even comes in a Sport Turismo version, which is German for “wagon.” I think.

Aston Martin Rapide

Aston Martin Rapide

Aside from the original CLS, things weren’t looking all that great in the late 2000s. The Panamera and the BMW 5 Series GT weren’t too handsome, and the CC was a Passat. Thankfully, Aston Martin soon came to the rescue with the Rapide. Also debuting in 2009, this time at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the Rapide was absolutely gorgeous from the start. It was built on a stretched version of the Aston Martin VH platform, which underpinned, well, just about all of their cars. The second-generation Rapide arrived in 2013 and continues to be one of the prettiest sedans on the market, perhaps ever. Plus, older Rapide models are getting cheaper, which is nice.

Audi A7

Audi A7

Essentially just a fastback version of the C7-series Audi A6, the A7 nailed it from the beginning of its production run in 2010. It’s one of the prettiest cars on the market for the price, and candidly, it’s on my list of potential future cars. Within two production years we had an S7 — and within three, we had a mighty RS7. Other than Aston and Mercedes, Audi is perhaps the only automaker to have really gotten it right from the beginning — and that trickled down into the A5 line with the Sportback that was finally introduced in the U.S. in 2018. Interestingly, Audi sent A5 Sportback models to most other automotive markets outside the U.S. way back in September 2009!

BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe 

BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe

The 6 Series Gran Coupe is a beautiful vehicle, and it joins the 6 Series GT in the brand’s lineup. Visit the BMW lineup now, and you can buy both a 6 Gran Turismo and a 6 Gran Coupe. Prices for the latter start at over $10,000 more, but it’s worth it. The 4-door Gran Coupe line at BMW, which you can get as a 4 Series or a 6 Series, are quite attractive. An M6 Gran Coupe is an amazing vehicle, and it represents one of the best implementations of the 4-door coupe concept I’ve seen to date — some proof, along with the Audi A7 and the latest Porsche Panamera, that this segment has finally found its stride.

What’s Next?

Interestingly, this has been a European thing so far. Brands like Lexus, Infiniti, Acura and Genesis haven’t decided to delve into the swooping roof line sedan market. Also, there have not been many non-luxury automakers that have attempted the 4-door coupe layout. A solid case may be made that the Tesla Model S and the Kia Stinger fit this model, but that’s about it. Perhaps they deem it too impractical, as you do lose some rear headroom, which can be critical in competing with rivals. However, I have to imagine that a 4-door coupe profile added to the current generation Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, as a separate model, would encourage some buyers to visit their showrooms. Heck, add rear wheel drive into the mix and I’m interested!

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  1. The first modern four door coupe was not the CLS, appearing at the auto shows in 2004, released as a 2006 in 2005.  It was preceded by the Citroen C6, debuted at the Geneva show in 1999, and in production in 2005.

  2. With more people ditching sedans for crossovers, I think that within the next 10-20 years all/most sedans will have turned into 4-door coupes and “sportbacks” like the Buick Regal has.

    • That’s not the worst thing in the world.  If we can convince people that wagons are good again, I’m happy with that.

  3. I wouldn’t call the BMW GT cars a 4-door coupe at all. It’s a liftback sure but it’s not meant to look like a coupe. It’s more meant to look like a normal car with the practicality of a wagon.

    • True, the line is starting to blur.  Cars like the Stinger, Tesla, and even the Panamera now have liftbacks vs. trunks so it’s starting to get hard to tell them apart. 
      Regardless, the BMW GT cars are uuuuuugly! (IMO)

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