Sedan's first recorded use as a name for a car body was in 1912. The name comes from a 17th-century development of a litter, the sedan chair, a one-person enclosed box with windows and carried by porters.
Variations of the sedan style of body include: close-coupled sedan, club sedan, convertible sedan, fastback sedan, hardtop sedan, notchback sedan and sedanet/sedanette.
The current definition of a sedan is a car with a closed body (i.e. a fixed metal roof) with the engine, passengers, and cargo in separate compartments. This broad definition does not differentiate sedans from various other car body styles, but in practice the typical characteristics of sedans are:
- a B-pillar (between the front and rear windows) that supports the roof
- two rows of seats(p134)
- a three-box design with the engine at the front and the cargo area at the rear
- a less steeply sloping roofline than a coupé, which results in increased headroom for rear passenger and a less sporting appearance.
- a rear interior volume of at least 33 cu ft (0.93 m3)
It is sometimes suggested that sedans must have four doors (to provide a simple distinction between sedans and two-door coupés). However, several sources state that a sedan can have two or four doors.(p134) In addition, terms such as sedan and coupé have been more loosely interpreted by car manufacturers since 2010.
When a manufacturer produces two-door sedan and four-door sedan versions of the same model, the shape and position of the greenhouse on both versions may be identical, with only the B-pillar positioned further back to accommodate the longer doors on the two-door versions.
A sedan chair, a sophisticated litter, was an enclosed box with windows used to transport one seated person. Porters at the front and rear carried the chair with horizontal poles. Litters date back to long before ancient Egypt, India and China. Sedan chairs were developed in the 1630s. Etymologists suggest the name of the chair very probably came through Italian dialects from the Latin sedere meaning to sit.
The first recorded use of sedan for an automobile body occurred in 1912 when the Studebaker Four and Studebaker Six models were marketed as sedans.
There were fully enclosed automobile bodies before 1912. Long before that time the same fully enclosed but horse-drawn carriages were known as a "brougham" in the United Kingdom, "berline" in France and "berlina" Italy (the latter two have become the terms for sedans in these countries).
It is sometimes stated that the 1899 Renault Voiturette Type B (a 2-seat car with an extra external seat for a footman/mechanic) was the first sedan, since it is the first known car to be produced with a roof.
However, a sedan is typically considered to be a fixed roof car with at least 4 seats. Based on this definition, the earliest sedan was the 1911 Speedwell, which was manufactured in the United States.(p87)
In British English, a car of this configuration is called a saloon. Hatchback sedans are known simply as hatchbacks (not hatchback saloons); long-wheelbase luxury saloons with a division between the driver and passengers are limousines. An equivalent term for Sports sedan in the United Kingdom is "super saloon".
In other languages, sedans are known as berline (French), berlina (European Spanish, European Portuguese, Romanian, and Italian) though they may include hatchbacks. These names, like sedan, all come from forms of passenger transport used before the advent of automobiles. In German, a sedan is called Limousine and a limousine is a Stretch-Limousine.
In the United States two-door sedan models were punningly called "Tudor"; by extension, Ford used "Fordor" for four-door sedans.
In the United States notchback sedan distinguishes models with a horizontal trunklid. The term is generally only referred to in the marketing when it is necessary to distinguish between two sedan body styles (e.g. notchback and fastback) of the same model range.
Several sedans have a fastback profile, but instead of a trunk lid, the entire back of the vehicle lifts up (using a liftgate or hatch). Examples include the Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, Audi A5 Sportback and Tesla Model S.
The names "hatchback" and "sedan" are often used to differentiate between body styles of the same model. Therefore the term "hatchback sedan" is not often used, to avoid confusion.
There have been many sedans with a fastback style.
Hardtop sedans were a popular body style in the United States from the 1950s to the 1970s. Hardtops are manufactured without a B-pillar leaving uninterrupted open space or, when closed, glass along the side of the car. The top was intended to look like a convertible's top but it was fixed and made of hard material that did not fold.
All manufacturers in the United States from the early 1950s into the 1970s provided at least a 2-door hardtop model in their range and, if their engineers could manage it, a 4-door hardtop as well. The lack of side-bracing demanded a particularly strong and heavy chassis frame to combat unavoidable flexing. The pillarless design was also available in four-door models using unibody construction. For example, Chrysler moved to unibody designs for most of its models in 1960 and American Motors offered four-door sedans, as well a four-door station wagon from 1958 to 1960 Ambassador.
In 1973 the US government passed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 216 creating a standard roof strength test to measure the integrity of roof structure in motor vehicles to come into effect some years later. Production of hardtop sedan body style ended with the 1978 Chrysler Newport. For a time roofs were covered with vinyl and B-pillars were minimised by using styling tricks like matt black finishes. Stylists and engineers soon developed more subtle solutions.
Mid-20th century variations
A close-coupled sedan is a body style produced in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s. Like other close-coupled body styles, the rear seats are located further forward than a regular sedan.(p43) This reduced the length of the body, so close-coupled sedans (also known as town sedans) were the smallest of the sedan models offered.
A two-door sedan for four or five passengers but with less room for passengers than a standard sedan. A Coach body has no external trunk for luggage. Haajanen notes it can be difficult to tell the difference between a Club and a Brougham and a Coach body as if manufacturers were more concerned with marketing their product than adhering to strict body style definitions.
Close-coupled saloons originated as four-door thoroughbred sporting horse-drawn carriages with little room for the feet of rear passengers.
In automotive use, manufacturers in the United Kingdom used the term for a development of the chummy body where passengers were forced to be friendly because they were tightly packed. They provided weather protection for extra passengers in what would otherwise be a two-seater car. Two-door versions would be described in the US and France as coach bodies. A postwar example is the Rover 3 Litre Coupé.
Produced in the United States from the mid-1920s to the mid-1950s, the name club sedan was used for highly appointed models using the sedan chassis.(p44) Some people describe a club sedan as a two-door vehicle with a body style otherwise identical to the sedan models in the range. Others describe a club sedan as having either two or four doors and a shorter roof (and therefore less interior space) than the other sedan models in the range.(p44)
From the 1910s to the 1950s, several United States manufacturers have named models either Sedanet or Sedanette. The term originated as a smaller version of the sedan, however it has also been used for convertibles and fastback coupes.
Models which have been called Sedanet or Sedanette include: 1917 Dort Sedanet, King, 1919 Lexington, 1930s Cadillac Fleetwood Sedanette, 1949 Cadillac Series 62 Sedanette, 1942-1951 Buick Super Sedanet and 1956 Studebaker.
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The principal volumes of the traditional sedan can be split into separate compartments or boxes: the hood/bonnet is the first box; the passenger compartment the second, and the trunk/boot the third - i.e. it's a 'three-box' car.
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