For those who covet coupes, style and performance take priority over rear passenger room, ease of entry/exit for said passengers and maximum cargo capacity. Sexier lines, a more intimate cabin and a more responsive driving experience easily trump those admittedly practical, but rather unexciting concerns. And for those drawn by such charms, there are plenty of choices out there ranging from affordable but still entertaining, to extravagant yet still enticing.
Those shopping this budget range are typically looking for eye-catching style, good fuel economy and best-friend reliability. And the Honda Civic coupe is still hard to beat. The Civic's sharp steering, agile handling, solid build quality and steadfast reliability appeal to a wide range of buyers, young and old alike. Should you just be looking for basic transport with some style, you have the DX and LX trims. Want leather and a moonroof? Get the EX. And if you want to increase your heart rate without sweating it out at the gym, consider the overtly sporty Si, with its zippy, high-revving engine and cat-quick handling.
If the idea of driving something a little more nostalgic in styling strikes a chord with you, consider the Mini Cooper. Inspired by the original 1960s version, the modern Mini still boasts the handling of a go-kart and cute looks that cause onlookers to smile. Its small, boxy shape and sports-carlike moves (along with the added thrill of turbocharged performance in the S version) make it not only a hoot on curvy roads, but also an ideal city vehicle. However, those same characteristics that endear it to so many also make it less desirable for those with more practical concerns -- there's not much room in back for passengers or packages, and the firm ride may be too much for some folks.
In this price range, you'll find more coupe flavors to choose from, whether it's style, performance or luxury you seek. Earning big accolades right out of the gate is the new Hyundai Genesis coupe. Wearing sexy sheet metal that effectively gives away the car's sporting intentions, the Genesis coupe has all the must-haves for sport coupe purists: rear-wheel drive, a finely balanced chassis and a choice of a turbocharged inline-4 or a spirited V6 (with more than 300 horsepower's worth of spirit). Minor quibbles involve a somewhat heavy clutch and a shifter that's not as precise as we'd expect, given the car's strong showing in other areas. However, the Genesis coupe's attractive pricing, sporty performance and commendable build quality make this one hot Hyundai.
If a traditional American sport coupe is more your cup of 93 octane, then the Ford Mustang will likely corral your heart. Though the V6 version, with its old-tech engine, is more show than go and is clearly outgunned by the new base Camaro, know that the 'stang also offers its cool retro style along with (in GT form) a muscular and melodious V8 and a tuned suspension that give this pony car performance befitting a quarter horse. Available features such as a glass roof, Ford's Sync system and a back-up camera make this stallion easy to live with.
Perennially attaining and fully deserving of top-ranking status, the BMW 3 Series remains easy to recommend in the luxury sport coupe segment. Offering a choice of turbine-smooth inline-6 engines, the 3 Series can be had with rear- or all-wheel drive, the latter a good choice for driving enthusiasts who live in inclement parts of the country. The entry-level 328i offers more performance than its 230-hp rating suggests, while the twin-turbocharged 335i is a rocket. Of course, being a 3 Series also means having sports-car chops on a twisty road along with a compliant suspension and decent room for four adults. There's not a single good reason why the 3 Series dominates this segment; there are many.
If you like the idea of German engineering along with looks that set your car apart from the crowd, consider the Audi A5. With an elegant body highlighted by a curvaceous character line and a set of proportions that would do an ancient Greek sculptor proud, the A5 has no problem fetching admiring glances. And the beauty continues under the skin, where you'll find an artfully crafted cabin, a well-balanced chassis and a choice of eager engines in the form of a turbocharged four-cylinder and a vigorous V6. It may not be quite as quick as its countryman rival, but what the A5 lacks in blinding speed it makes up for in style and presence.
The new Mercedes-Benz E-Class coupe gets our nod this year, and is one of the best examples yet of Mercedes returning to the form of its glory years. This remarkably solid and luxurious coupe hits on all fronts, delivering real performance in a spacious and practical two-door that just reeks of quality and longevity. Though not a sports car in the pure sense, the E-Class coupe's tight chassis, supple suspension and B-pillarless cabin design create an airy perch from which you can enjoy most any road.
Speaking of pure sports cars, the Porsche Cayman is our second segment pick for 2010, as few machines at any price point can deliver the unadulterated back-road performance of Porsche's least expensive coupe. This midengine two-seater provides near empathic feedback and a chassis so balanced it can make anyone feel like a talented pilot. The Cayman coupe's six-cylinder boxer engines provide a stunning soundtrack along with surprising fuel economy, and the hatch design and second trunk up front create a truly practical performance machine.
Our two 2009 picks return for 2010. Audi's R8 combines the gorgeous sheet metal of an exotic with Teutonic reliability to make an enviable dream car. The lust factor gets upped considerably for this model year with the availability of a 518-hp V10, and the additional power plant only adds to the R8's appeal. We've been smitten by this all-wheel-drive two-seater since its debut in 2008, and though we still prefer the manual gearbox to the lurchy automated R tronic tranny, we can recommend it again this year with either the standard 420-hp V8 or the short-lived V10 option.
Porsche's 911 returns for 2010 as one of our top choices, as few cars can combine its incredible performance with its daily-driver practicality. The 911's easily accessed and sumptuous cabin concedes nothing in terms of comfort and visibility to its near-supercar performance abilities, providing current conveniences such as iPod connectivity, Bluetooth and navigation features. Porsche's PDK automated-manual gearbox can make the daily grind even more livable, as its self-shifting mode will shame many automatics, while providing the manual control enthusiasts crave when the road begins to entertain.