Style and performance are often the top priorities for coupe shoppers. Sleeker and often lighter than sedans, coupes can offer sharper handling and a more responsive driving experience. That added agility can come at a price, as coupes tend to be more compact than their sedan counterparts, and consequently, offer less rear-seat and cargo space. But for those who crave two-door sportiness over four-door practicality, there's something for nearly every taste and price range. From simple and economical to ostentatious and extravagant, the coupe segment is not only the most fun, but also the most diverse.
A shopper in this price range is most likely looking for a balance of reliability, good looks and respectable fuel economy. Although there are many cars to choose from in this segment, the Honda Civic coupe once again makes our list as a top pick. Its combination of responsive driving dynamics and good build quality continues to make it a great all-around choice for shoppers in many stages of life. The Civic lineup includes an entry-level trim with all the basics, the EX with optional leather interior and the sport-inspired Si. So whether you're looking for no-frills transportation or an affordable daily driver that can also handle the back roads, there's a Honda Civic for just about any driving style.
Those looking for a nontraditional small coupe might consider the Mini Cooper. Its unique styling, toylike interior and sharp go-kart-style handling make it fun for zipping around town (especially with the more powerful S), and its diminutive proportions make it especially useful in dense urban areas. However, its tiny size prevents it from being a good choice for vacations or trips to the home improvement store. But there's no denying the British-bred coupe carries plenty of cachet, and you'll be sure to get envious looks from the Mini Cooper's many near-fanatical fans.
This price range normally includes a variety of midrange marques, with one notable luxury model just making it in under the wire: the BMW 1 Series. This rear-wheel-drive coupe offers the brand's famed precise handling, luxurious options and a choice of two marvelous power plants. The 128i features a 3.0-liter inline-6, which makes plenty of power for the average driver. Those who want extra oomph (to the tune of 300 horsepower) will be pleased with the 135i's twin-turbocharged version of the same motor -- although that choice bumps the car out of this price range. There isn't anything particularly luxurious about the seating, and storage capacity is limited, as the trunk is relatively small and the rear seat is cramped.
Those looking for more versatility might enjoy the Volkswagen GTI. A sport-tuned version of the VW Rabbit, the GTI uses VW/Audi's highly regarded 2.0-liter direct-injected turbocharged engine, better brakes and a stiffer suspension. And while it can't beat the BMW when it comes to power or cornering ability, the GTI's hatchback body style offers plenty of room for cargo, and the rear seat offers adequate space and relatively easy access.
This segment is typically where you'll find the luxury carmaker's flagship two-doors. We still recommend the BMW 3 Series, which remains one of the top-selling luxury coupes after more than a decade. The 328i and 335i use the same capable engines found in the 1 Series, and each is available with either rear- or all-wheel drive. The 3 Series is bigger and offers more overall space compared to its smaller sibling, and continues to reign supreme over the competition when it comes to handling excellence and personality.
If you're not one to follow the crowd, the Infiniti G37 coupe is a worthy alternative. Its 3.7-liter V6 is more powerful than either of the 3 Series' engines, and, like the BMW, is available in an all-wheel-drive version. An elegantly crafted interior and user-friendly, high-tech features help this dressed-up version of the Nissan Z successfully serve as both a sports car and luxury coupe.
While not quite into supercar territory, this segment is rife with high performers. It probably comes as no surprise that we've ranked the BMW M3 as one of our top choices for 2009. (Do we detect a pattern here?) The 414-hp V8 helps the M3 put down a 0-60-mph sprint in just 4.6 seconds with the manual transmission, and the optional dual-clutch gearbox offers fast, seamless shifting without the jerkiness of the M3's old sequential manual gearbox. And although some complain that the current M3 lacks the steering feedback of previous generations, the 2009 M3 offers a near-unbeatable combination of speed, exceptional handling and daily drivability.
For those who want a coupe in this price range that really looks like a sports car, the two-seat, midengine Porsche Cayman is one of our top choices. Fitting smack-dab between the entry-level Boxster and the flagship 911 in terms of both price and performance, the 2009 Cayman offers classic Porsche agility while providing just enough cargo space to nudge it into the "daily driver" category. Honorable mentions in this segment go to the Audi S5 for its dynamic handling and impeccably built cabin, and the Chevrolet Corvette, which boasts a wicked horsepower-to-dollar ratio.
Practically anything goes in this "dream car" segment that includes the likes of Aston Martins, Ferraris and Lamborghinis. But as glamorous as some of those coupes may seem, we think the 2009 Porsche 911 holds its own as one of the most finely tuned, well-rounded sport coupes on the market. The iconic 911 not only boasts superior craftsmanship in the engine bay (thanks to decades of racing development), but Porsche engineers have taken care to accommodate the daily driver with a luxe interior, high-tech entertainment and convenience features such as a touchscreen interface and optional iPod connectivity. In addition, Porsche's new dual-clutch PDK transmission offers track-worthy performance with imperceptible shift times and a jaw-dropping launch control feature.
If something a little more exotic is your style, we recommend the Audi R8. Aggressive yet refined, the R8 boasts a unique look thanks to styling cues like LED daytime running lamps and carbon-fiber sideblades. Interior fit and finish is remarkable, and the R8's midmounted 4.2-liter V8 makes a heart-pounding 420 hp and 317 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels via either a traditional six-speed manual or Audi's six-speed R tronic, the latter of which uses a single, computer-controlled clutch to shift gears. And while the R tronic offers daily livability in traffic, our editors find the transmission somewhat touchy and therefore prefer the manual gearbox.