This debate has split enthusiasts into two camps for over a decade. On one side, naysayers protest sticking the coupe label on a four-door model is a trend that needs to be checked rather than cultivated. On the other, fans argue quibbling over semantics is petty and carmakers are free to call their models whatever they want, even if it defies historical nomenclature by bending a definition.
Whether you refer to it as a coupe, a fastback or something else, what’s certain is that the body style is here to stay because it lures younger buyers into showrooms while being more profitable than an SUV. Here’s how it all started, where it stands in 2020 and where it’s going in the coming years.
AMC Eagle SX/4 (1980)
One of the earliest, most obscure and rarest examples of the SUV-coupe is the AMC Eagle SX/4 introduced for the 1981 model year. It was essentially a lifted Spirit upgraded with four-wheel drive hardware shared with the Eagle, which was an evolution of the bigger Concord. AMC hoped making a small, cheaper version of its crossover would help it return to profitability but the SX/4 never caught on.
The term SUV-coupe hadn’t been coined at the time so AMC marketed the Eagle SX/4 as “the sports car that doesn’t always need a road.” It was the second-most-affordable Eagle variant (the Gremlin-derived Kammback was cheaper) but buyers gravitated towards the bigger, more expensive models. AMC stopped making the Eagle SX/4 after the 1983 model year to focus on the better-selling models.
Suzuki X-90 (1995)
SUVs with two doors weren’t rare during the 1990s but the one of the few that deserved the coupe label was the Suzuki X-90. Unlike other tiny off-roaders, such as the Vitara it was based on and the original Toyota RAV4, its body was shaped like a three-box coupe. It was undeniably more stylish than utilitarian, though that didn’t prevent Red Bull from buying a fleet of X-90s to promote its energy drink.
Red Bull must have been the X-90’s biggest fan. Most historians agree approximately 10,000 examples of this pocket-sized SUV were built during a production run that lasted merely from 1995 to 1997.
Gaining ground – literally and figuratively (1990s
Suzuki’s X-90 faded away faster than anyone expected but it helped the SUV-coupe gain ground (literally and figuratively) during the late 1990s and the early 2000s. Nissan introduced the Trail Runner concept (pictured) in 1997 and Toyota later fired back by unveiling a design study called Rugged Sports Coupe at the 2001 edition of the Chicago auto show. Neither was ever a serious candidate for production but they helped carmakers gauge how the market would react to a sportier, less functional SUV.
BMW X6 (2007)
Designed by a Chris Bangle-led team, the original BMW X6 cleaved the public’s opinion in half when it was unveiled in 2007. Some lambasted its in-your-face style while others absolutely loved it. Those willing to look beyond its silhouette discovered a quick, powerful SUV with better handling than its mass suggested. It was closely related to the X5 but BMW managed to give it its own personality.
The X6 is in its third generation as of 2020 and it has more rivals than ever before.
Acura ZDX (2009)
Honda-owned Acura started designing the ZDX after noticing many of its customers parked an SUV and a sports car in their garage; its stylists aimed to combine both body styles. Released in 2009 as a 2010model, the ZDX was developed in America for the American markets on a platform shared with the MDX. Its controversial styling limited its appeal and sales were lower than expected.
Acura axed the ZDX in 2013 after selling about 7000 units and chose not to replace it. In hindsight, it might have been ahead of its time. Executives hinted a second-generation model (which might wear a different name) could join the company’s range in the early 2020s but haven’t confirmed it yet.
Honda Accord Crosstour (2009)
Honda planted its flag in the SUV-coupe segment when it released the Accord Crosstour in 2009. Launched for the 2010 model year, it arrived as a taller and swoopier evolution of the popular Accord vaguely positioned as a cheaper alternative to the Acura ZDX. This was not a recipe for success.
28,851 examples of the Accord Crosstour were sold in the United States during the 2010 calendar year, a figure the model never again got anywhere near. Production ended in 2015 but unsold examples lingered on dealer lots until 2017, when the final five units finally found a home.
BMW X4 (2014)
We can’t blame BMW for shrinking the X6. It sold well all around the world and it enjoyed a monopoly on the segment it helped create so releasing a smaller, cheaper model made perfect sense. The first-generation X4 arrived at the 2014 edition of the New York auto show with an X6-like design and a more affordable price tag. It was a winning formula; BMW sold nearly 200,000 units from 2014 to 2018.
The X4 is in its second generation as of 2020.
Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe (2015)
Mercedes-Benz gave the BMW X6 its first direct rival since the Acura ZDX’s demise when it released the GLE Coupe in 2015. Starting with the GLE, which was born as the M-Class, the company made the roof line more rakish and tweaked other design details to achieve a more muscular appearance. Showing up late to the party allowed Mercedes to learn from BMW’s mistakes. It notably carved out more head room for the rear-seat passengers, which is a weak point in every SUV-coupe on the market.
Like the GLE, the Coupe is in its second generation (pictured) as of 2020.
Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe (2016)
Mercedes-Benz didn’t want to corner the X6 while letting the X4 run free. It turned the GLC into a four-door coupe at the 2016 edition of the New York auto show and launched it for the 2017 model year. Several variants of the GLC Coupe are available including a fire-breathing AMG-tuned model with a V8 behind its three-pointed star and, at the other end of the spectrum, a fuel-sipping hybrid model.
Audi Q8 (2018)
Audi chose to channel its two-door heritage in a different way than its rivals. Instead of putting an A7 on stilts, it took the Q8 in a boxier directly loosely inspired by the Quattro coupe that dominated the rally scene in the 1980s. The end result looks sportier than the Q7 without being a Xerox copy of the X6. It’s quicker than its 2.3-tonne weight suggests, too. The 600 hp RS Q8 (pictured) is the quickest SUV around the Nürburgring track, beating the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the Lamborghini Urus, both related cars as it happens.
Land Rover Range Rover Evoque (2011)
Land Rover took the commonly-accepted definition of a coupe to heart when it introduced the two-door version of the Range Rover Evoque in 2011. The company didn’t settle for merely welding in a pair of door seams; it lowered the two-door model’s roof line to achieve a sportier look, too.
Land Rover retired the coupe model after the 2017 model year but the four-door and convertible variants soldiered on until 2018. The second-generation Evoque introduced in 2018 is exclusively offered with four doors and there’s little evidence that a two-door model will return to the range.
Lamborghini Urus (2017)
Unlike most supercar brands, Lamborghini has a true, go-anywhere SUV on its resume. The LM 002 it made in small numbers between 1986 and 1993 looked like an Italian Hummer, had the off-road capacity of a Jeep and a V12 engine borrowed from the Countach. This recipe would undoubtedly sell well in the 2020s but Lamborghini decided to take its first SUV of the 21st century – the Urus – in a sportier, more street-oriented direction. We’re still waiting to see how Ferrari will respond.
Audi E-Tron Sportback (2019)
SUV-coupes powered by an electric drivetrain were a ubiquitous sight at auto shows during the 2010s. Many talked about bringing their design studies to production but Audi beat its peers and competitors to the punch when it introduced the E-Tron Sportback at the 2019 Los Angeles auto show. It’s an evolution of the E-Tron with a fast-sloping roof line and powertrain improvements that extend its driving range. The two SUVs ride on the same platform and are built in the same factory in Brussels, Belgium.
Audi announced a sportier, more powerful version of the Sportback equipped with three electric motors will join the range in 2020. Autocar drove an early prototype at Audi’s test track in Germany and concluded that giving each rear wheel its own motor paves the way for ultra-precise torque vectoring.
Audi Q3 Sportback (2019)
The second-generation Q3 spawned Audi’s smallest SUV-coupe in 2019. Called Q3 Sportback, it follows the same formula that created other entrants in this segment by swapping practicality for style. It’s a little bit longer, shorter and narrower than its more family-friendly sibling and its front end receives a handful of body style-specific tweaks. Both variants are very similar under the sheet metal meaning the range-topping RS Q3 model packs a magnificent turbocharged, 400 hp 2.5-liter five-cylinder.
Mazda MX-30 (2019)
Mazda entered the electric car segment with a model that’s far closer to the commonly-cited definition of a coupe than anything offered by its competitors. The MX-30 introduced in 2019 features a coupe-like roof line, two full-sized doors and a pair of rear-hinged half doors like the ones fitted to the RX-8.
Its electric motor draws power from a relatively small 35.5kWh battery to develop 143 hp and 195lb ft of torque, and it offers motorists about 130 miles of driving range. That’s not much, not when the electric Hyundai Kona goes nearly 280 miles on a charge, but Mazda explained it chose a smaller battery to reduce emissions during the MX-30’s entire life cycle.
Porsche Cayenne Coupe (2019)
We’re surprised it took Porsche this long to enter the SUV-coupe segment. It took the veil off the Cayenne Coupe in 2019 after years of rumors, leaks and speculation. It’s closely related to the third-generation Cayenne under the sheet metal, as you’d guess after hearing its name. That means it’s luxurious, correspondingly expensive and quick enough around a bend to defy the laws of physics.
Porsche told Autocar it waited until it was certain the coupe transformation came without compromise to give the model the green light. The first and second generations of the Cayenne were not developed with a fastback-like body in mind; only the third was, hence the delay in launching the model.
Renault Arkana (2019)
Renault became the first French manufacturer to jump into the SUV-coupe segment when it released the Arkana on the Russian market in 2019. It’s closely related to the Russian-spec Kaptur under the sheet metal, which itself is derived from the Dacia Duster. There are no plans to sell the Arkana in Europe as of writing but a very similar-looking model built on a more modern platform will go on sale in select European markets in early 2021. Expect Renault’s rivals to fire back in record time.
Citroën C4 Aircross (2020)
Spy shots confirm the next-generation Citroën C4 Cactus will wear a fastback-like roof line. Expected to make its debut in 2020, it will receive a large serving of the quirkiness the French carmaker is known for and it will be available with an electric powertrain. Official details about the model are few and far between but we believe it will fall in line with Citroën’s other SUVs by adopting the Aircross name.
Volkswagen ID.4 GTX (2021)
Volkswagen will enter the electric SUV segment when it introduces the ID.4, a model built on the same flexible MEB platform as the ID.3. It will arrive as a family-friendly, Tiguan-like soft-roader but it will quickly be joined by a shapelier model tentatively called GTX. We expect it will look a lot like the ID.Crozz concept (pictured) introduced at the 2017 edition of the Shanghai auto show.