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In 2003 Mercedes-Benz blew everyone’s minds when it took its E-Class and gave it a heavy haircut to look like a very long two-door coupe… but kept the back doors. This, of course, was the first-gen CLS. It was dubbed the “world’s first four-door coupe,” creating a new segment subsequently pissing off a generation of auto enthusiasts. Benz may have been first to use that phrase, but it was definitely not the first automaker to experiment with the idea of a coupe-like car design that has more than two doors.

Mercedes-Benz CLS Vision Concept (2003), a very low and sleek four-door passenger car.
The 2003 CLS Vision concept was pretty close to the production car. – Image: Mercedes-Benz

“It’s not a coupe! It’s got four doors!”

“It’s not a coupe, it’s got too much interior volume!”

“It’s not a coupe, it’s a sedan, just call it a sedan!”

Listen, I don’t give a fuck. All this shit is pointless semantics and marketing. Look at today’s crop of “crossovers” that legally are not classified as SUVs (cough cough, Hyundai Venue) but are obviously just tall cars. If Mercedes wants to call the CLS a four-door coupe, that’s fine. It’s not the first one though, and I’ll tell you why.

Why Did We Let Mercedes Think It Invented the Four-Door Coupe?
What exactly makes this a “coupe” again? – Image: Mercedes Benz

Japanese automakers were making four-door coupes since at least the 1980s, they just called them something else. 

There really are no hard and fast rules to what a “four-door coupe” actually is. Generally, it’s accepted that a four-door coupe is simply a sedan (or crossover SUV), but more stylish, rakish, and impractical. You buy a four-door coupe because it looks sportier or performs better (never mind that the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe is the heaviest out of all the 3 and 4 Series variants).

In Japan, they had the “Hardtop Sedan” which really, is the same concept as a four-door coupe.

Take this car for example, the Nissan Bluebird SSS hardtop:

Why Did We Let Mercedes Think It Invented the Four-Door Coupe?
Nissan Bluebird Hardtop, or um, four-door coupe. – Image: Nissan
Why Did We Let Mercedes Think It Invented the Four-Door Coupe?
Nissan Bluebird Sedan – Image: Nissan

Nissan took its Bluebird sedan, squashed the roofline, made the interior a little more sumptuous, and sold it on the market for a few more dollars than the regular bluebird. It’s gorgeous; the Maxima/Bluebird’s kind of meh proportions are transformed into a gorgeous boxy rakish 1980s shape. Hell, look at that completely open greenhouse and lack of full B-pillar! Try not to get hit from the side, though.

Nissan wasn’t the only one to have a hardtop rakish coupe thing — Toyota had a few, too. The Ceres (or Sprinter Marino, depending on which dealership you bought yours from) based on the Corolla used this style. Mitsubishi had the Galant-based Emeraude, Mazda had the Lantis, and technically the Honda Integra was a four-door hardtop sedan.

Why Did We Let Mercedes Think It Invented the Four-Door Coupe?
The Mitsubishi Emeraude is one slick looking four door coupe. – Image: Mitsubishi
Why Did We Let Mercedes Think It Invented the Four-Door Coupe?
Here’s a Toyota Ceres from the early ’90s. – Image: Toyota

All of those cars were nicer, sportier, more expensive versions of the pedestrian cars they shared most of their guts with, just like the CLS.

So, what was the difference between the concept of a CLS, and say, an old ass Mistubishi Emaraude? Honestly, I don’t know — it sounds entirely like semantics, the whole world is fake, car classifications are entirely made up and marketing related.

I do know that Mercedes lied to us, though. Japan made the first four-door coupes, not no damn Mercedes CLS. We’re hoping this helps correct the record.

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