Unlike sedan buyers, coupe buyers tend to prioritize style over practicality. Sacrificing some rear passenger space for head-turning looks seems like a fair trade-off to these folks. Serious driving enthusiasts tend to prefer coupes, too, as two fewer doors means a tighter and lighter body structure, which translates into a quicker and sharper handling car. In spite of the simplicity inherent to two-door design, there's a wide range of personalities within the coupe class. With fuel-efficient hatchbacks at one end and thoroughbred sports cars at the other, you're bound to find a car that speaks to you.
Highly regarded in terms of driving dynamics and overall quality, the Honda Civic coupe line has something for everyone. The lower trims offer those aforementioned attributes, while the upper trims offer the option of leather-lined luxury (in the EX) and thrilling performance (in the high-spirited Si). Whether you're looking for stylish, economical and reliable Point-A-to-Point-B transportation or something to carve up the canyons with, Honda's Civic family has you covered.
A generous standard features list, a powerful (for this class) engine, high build quality and a solid reputation for reliability are the highlights of the Scion tC hatchback. Two trims are offered, a semi-stripped-down version aimed at buyers looking to customize their ride and the standard version that's packed with features. Even though it lists for well under this segment's price threshold, the higher of the two trims still comes equipped with a power sunroof, one-touch power windows and fancy wheels.
Also worth mentioning are the Saturn Astra and Smart Fortwo. The three-door Astra hatchback, which is basically a rebadged European-market Opel, sports high build quality, a handsome interior, and sporty, European-bred handling. The Smart Fortwo, engineered in concert with Mercedes-Benz, is the ultimate urban car. Measuring 3 feet shorter than a Mini from nose to tail, the teensy Fortwo hatchback can be parked just about anywhere and promises over 40 mpg in overall fuel economy.
For sheer bang for your buck, it's hard to beat the Ford Mustang. Whether you're looking for a peppy V6 commuter (base Mustang) or a pin-you-to-the-seat muscle car (Mustang GT and Shelby GT500), Ford's rear-drive pony car offers handsome retro styling, traditional rear-wheel-drive performance, an ideal ride and handling balance, and a number of option packages to personalize your ride. The GT trim offers perhaps the best value in the lineup with its powerful V8, tuned suspension and bargain price tag.
The Mini Cooper likewise offers retro styling, albeit in the form of a diminutive, space-efficient box that's ideal for city dwellers. Under this unassuming exterior lies go-kartlike handling that makes the Mini Cooper (especially in turbocharged "S" form) the car for driving enthusiasts. Equally adept at zipping around canyon corners as it is into tight parking spots, the Cooper also offers plenty of standard comfort and safety features.
Those looking for an alternative to pricey luxury/performance coupes should consider the redesigned Honda Accord coupe and all-new Nissan Altima coupe. With styling that looks more premium-brand than mainstream, available powerhouse V6s and handsomely finished cabins, both coupes give off the impression that you're getting more than you've paid for. The Accord coupe represents the more practical and refined choice, as it offers a better driving position and a more useful backseat. Although performance numbers are a wash, the Altima feels a touch sportier and might be more satisfying for enthusiast types. However, we'd advise you to skip the clunky manual gearbox in favor of Nissan's excellent continuously variable transmission.
Other choices in this segment deserve consideration. The compact Volkswagen Rabbit offers a spacious and upscale cabin, along with sprightly performance (especially in the GTI and admittedly pricey R32 trims). Volvo's smartly styled C30 hatchback comes standard with a powerful turbocharged engine along with Volvo's trademark supremely comfortable seats and safety features. With the RX-8, Mazda has a rear-drive sports car with true four-passenger capacity as well as a smooth and willing, if somewhat thirsty, rotary engine. Something of a dark horse in this segment is the Mitsubishi Eclipse, which offers little space for rear passengers but plenty for cargo thanks to its hatchback design. Although performance with the inline-4 is tepid, the Eclipse GT packs a strong V6, adding a lot of fun to the drive.
With each successive generation of the 3 Series, BMW manages to stay ahead of increasingly competent rivals. The latest 3 Series coupe once again offers an incredibly communicative chassis that offers an ideal balance of ride and handling, invigorating performance and superb build quality. As with other premium German marques, the option packages tend to quickly drive up the price, but even still, it's money well spent if you truly enjoy driving. Serious enthusiasts should take note that the M3 is back for 2008, and with its free-revving V8 and meticulously tuned chassis, this coupe represents a compelling performance buy.
More sports car than sport coupe, the Infiniti G37 boasts over 300 horsepower from its V6 engine. With a chassis to match its muscular engine, the G37 provides sharp handling and sleek semi-fastback styling. Other attributes include an array of high-tech yet user-friendly features and Infiniti's strong reputation for overall quality.
If a low-slung two-seater is what you're after, consider the Audi TT and Nissan 350Z. The TT (OK, it actually has four seats, but the tiny rear seats are not really habitable by anyone over 3 feet tall) is more of a grand tourer than sports car and boasts an artful design inside and out, a pair of feisty engines and the availability of all-wheel drive. The 350Z, on the other hand, is a pure sports machine. Though its cockpit doesn't come close to the finely crafted example of the Audi, the Z more than compensates with sizzling performance and handling as well as a relatively low price tag.
If you're looking for six-figure exotic-car performance for short money, the Chevrolet Corvette is the car for you. Even the "base" Corvette offers no less than a 430-horsepower V8 along with plenty of standard features and removable roof panels that allow partial open-air driving. Making this sports car a great choice as a daily driver is its impressive fuel economy, generous luggage capacity and comfortable cockpit. The fixed-roof Z06 version, which makes 505 hp is also available, should the base Corvette's claimed 0-to-60 performance of 4.3 seconds and top speed of 190 mph not be enough.
Porsche's Cayman offers a blend of all that is right with the legendary company. Coupling the midengine architecture of the Boxster with performance that rivals the pricier 911, the Cayman also boasts the typical Porsche strengths of flawless steering, racetrack-ready handling, powerful brakes and simple but elegant styling.
In the sports car arena, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the BMW Z4/M coupes. If you can warm up to the quirky styling, the Z4 (and its more muscle-bound M version) rewards the enthusiast with superb steering feel and handling, a lusty inline-6 and excellent build quality.
Should four- (or five-) passenger capacity be a must, a pair of candidates from Germany are worthy of inclusion on your test-drive list. Elegantly styled, the Audi A5 (and high-performance S5 sibling) is typically Audi, meaning it has a gorgeous cabin, solid performance and all-wheel drive. Mercedes-Benz fields the CLK-Class, which features rare hardtop styling (no window frames or B-pillars) and a satisfying blend of performance and luxury.
Entering the realm of exotics with its R8, Audi has done itself proud. Sporting a midmounted 420-horsepower V8, all-wheel drive and an all-aluminum structure with show-car looks, the R8 offers heady performance with daily-driver comfort. It may not have quite the blinding straight-line speed of some rivals, but the Audi R8 more than compensates with its roomy cockpit, upscale interior and easy-to-drive nature.
An easy pick in this segment, the Porsche 911 stands as an extremely well-rounded sports car. Perfectly weighted steering, a rock-solid chassis and powerful brakes all contribute to the great confidence the 911 provides its pilot when pushed hard. Yet this is not a rough-riding and cantankerous sports car. The 911 -- thanks to its refined flat-6 engine, compact dimensions, excellent sight lines and comfortable seats -- is as easy to live with during the work-week commute as it is exhilarating on your favorite twisty roads on the weekends. The base rear-wheel-drive 911 Carrera coupe should provide plenty of thrills for most enthusiasts, but those requiring more may consider any number of other 911 models, including the all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 versions, the insanely fast 480-hp 911 Turbo and the racetrack-prepped GT3 RS.
With performance and handling that makes it feel two-thirds its size, the BMW 6 Series (and its muscle-bound M6 sibling) also offers a quiet ride and a generous trunk. Some exterior details (such as the trunk's cut line) may make for raised eyebrows and the multifunction iDrive controller can be fussy to operate, but the cabin's classy style should have no trouble winning driver and passengers over. Though it may not have the BMW's practicality (due to small rear seats) nor its truly athletic handling, Jaguar's similarly priced XK-Series still makes for a stylish and comfortable cruiser. Only a fussy multifunction touchscreen interface and somewhat fishlike front-end styling mar this sexy feline.
If cracking (and most likely, soaring past) the six-figure mark is of no concern, the prestigious Mercedes-Benz CL-Class should more than satisfy the most power-hungry hedonist. With a choice of engines ranging from a much more than ample V8 to a twin-turbo V12, rapid acceleration and serene high-speed cruising are no problem for this hefty grand touring coupe. From within its impeccably finished cabin, the driver has every state-of-the-art safety, performance and luxury feature at his disposal. Thankfully, all the gizmos work transparently, with the net effect being speedy and effortless travel over most any type of road.