The Australian Dictionary of Motoring defines a coupe as “a car body with two doors and a sloping roof, giving a sporting appearance”. But that was written in 2000, and that's a lifetime ago in car terms.
Here and now, coupes of many differing shapes are hot, irrespective of whether they fit traditional definitions. They make people happy, and that has become much more important for a crawling commute or a weekend waft into the countryside.
Perhaps the best example is BMW’s X6, the SUV with the coupe-style rear that was no beauty when it launched in 2008. But BMW persisted in providing an alternative to the upright X5, shifting the focus from sensible to stylish as early converts to upscale SUVs went looking for something more than just another high-riding station wagon with a blunt back end.
As the third generation of the X6 is being readied for the road it proves that, in spite the hulking chunkiness of the original, there are plenty of people who want their SUV with special sauce.
The SUV coupe has become a global sales star and the antidote to SUV sameness, spawning spin-offs and imitators around the world.
Mercedes-Benz has SUV coupes in all its sizes; Audi has even created a new set of names – where the Q2 and Q8 bookend the family-first Q5 and Q7 – for its contenders; and the Porsche Cayenne has just been morphed into a new coupe which will soon be coming Down Under to satisfy a growing queue and rival the new X6 as an early Christmas gift.
They are all satisfying a need, not for speed, but for something which fires a different, more aesthetic area of the brain.
Selling sporty appeal
Mazda tapped passion and performance when it created the original MX-5 back in 1989, a move that gave us the world’s all-time favourite sports car. Most people thought old-fashioned sports cars were dead for all time.
Audi used a retro-futuristic approach for its TT, with a shape inspired by 1930s record breakers, to create another unexpected hero.
More recently, out-of-the-box thinking and styling has led to another niche – the definition-defying four-door coupe.
This time it was Mercedes-Benz that put some much-needed style into its showrooms with the CLS and more recently the smaller CLA, while Porsche also did the job with its Panamera, a car that originally looked like a rear-ender between a pair of 911s with four doors inserted in the middle.
In the case of the upcoming X6, it has four doors, the roofline is curvier than a straight-edged X5 but is still no threat to a Ferrari 488, and its sportiness depends on your point of view. And the engine.
Still, the X6 sets the standard for SUVs with style, as people look for more emotion and something to take them out of the mainstream.
This time, there are giant kidney grilles and slimmed-down headlamps in a nose that swoops back into a more-rounded body. The effect is like a shark hunting for lunch, with the grille looking more like giant teeth than an air intake.
There is more taper in the tail, the glasshouse has been smoothed and slimmed-down more than before, and there is no chance that anyone will mistake it for an X5 in traffic.
It’s slightly bigger than it was, by about 20 millimetres, since it shares its mechanical platform with the latest X5 that’s been selling strongly since it arrived earlier this year.
It also has giant display screens in a cabin that’s more luxurious than before. It promises to be quieter and more cosseting, with sports-car grip in a model line-up that tops out with a thundering V8-powered M50i.
No-one really needs an X6, even if they have already had three X5s in the driveway (and that’s about the change point for the spin-off coupe). But more and more people want one.
When the X6 first hit, the smart thinkers at BMW predicted its production run would reach 150,000 vehicles. But the out-of-the-box buyers pushed that number to more than 280,000 and the rest of the car world joined a party which still hasn’t peaked.