Coupes are about style and performance. This is not about being practical. There is no pretense of being concerned with rear passenger accommodations or maximum cargo space. This is about the feeling of an intimate cabin, a responsive driving experience and the appeal of sexier automotive design. For shoppers drawn by such charms, there are plenty of choices, ranging from affordable but still entertaining to extravagant yet still exciting. Our recommended models include traditional coupes as well as two-door hatchbacks.
Cars in this segment have it tough. They have to provide the high style and fun-to-drive demeanor that coupe drivers want, yet still deliver fuel-sipping efficiency that buyers on a tighter budget need. The new Hyundai Veloster fires on all four cylinders with its unique looks, generous standard features list and responsive driving dynamics. The Veloster's decidedly different body style features an asymmetrical three-door layout to ease passenger loading. This Hyundai is also none too thirsty, with both the automatic and manual versions earning a solid 32 mpg for the EPA combined fuel economy estimate.
Long a favorite in this segment, the Mini Cooper likewise packs plenty of style and personality into its instantly recognizable boxy body. The Cooper loves curvy roads and so will its drivers, who will enjoy its quick reflexes and glued-to-the-road attitude. The turbocharged Cooper S boosts the grin factor even more. As far as fuel economy, the standard Cooper with a six-speed manual earns an impressive 32 mpg in the EPA's combined rating.
The cheeky little Fiat 500 is similar to the Cooper, in that it's a modern yet still faithful incarnation of an old icon. It is also fun to drive, if not as quick and buttoned-down in the corners as the Mini, though it provides a smoother ride in exchange for its lesser athleticism. The 500 also provides plenty of room for its front occupants and, with the manual transmission, strong fuel economy with a 33 mpg combined rating (the automatic rates 3 mpg less).
Options really open up within this segment, as buyers have their choice of sensible front drivers, hot hatches, sports cars and muscle cars. The Ford Mustang offers strong performance, classic styling and solid build quality. Even the V6 provides plenty of giddy-up thanks to its 305 horsepower, yet it still rates 23 mpg combined. On the other hand, the GT's muscle-bound 5.0-liter V8 boasts more than 400 hp and a sound that'll have you shutting off the radio. Either way, user-friendly features and good sight lines make this horse easy to handle.
Offering both practicality and an entertaining drive, the Volkswagen GTI is hard to beat as a daily driver and weekend back-roads plaything. This efficient, square-rigged hatchback boasts a lot of space within its small footprint, making for a roomy rear passenger compartment and cavernous cargo hold. The GTI's spirited turbocharged engine rates up to 27 combined mpg while the Vee Dub's well-sorted suspension provides a supple ride along with respectable handling chops.
The Dodge Challenger is a perennial muscle car favorite, with its handsome retro looks and available rumbling V8s underneath the scooped hood. Still, the V6 is a viable choice, given the serious boost in power it received last year. Either way, the Challenger is a surprisingly comfortable and spacious coupe that's ideal for long-distance road trips. It's an American classic that has undeniable appeal to young and old alike.
For a more modern take on the rear-drive sport coupe, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe — available with a turbocharged four-cylinder or a vigorous V6 — is also worth a look.
With what could be the sexiest styling in the segment, the Audi A5 is nonetheless more than a pretty body. With a handsome cabin furnished in top-grade materials and a chassis that provides a comfortable ride and confident handling, the A5 coupe also provides the unexpected bonuses of standard all-wheel drive along with impressive fuel efficiency (up to 25 mpg combined) and peppy performance.
With its tempting combination of luxury, athleticism and refinement, BMW's 3 Series remains one of the top choices in this segment. The entry-level 328i is fast enough for most drivers, while the turbocharged 335i will delight even the most jaded of driving enthusiasts. Factor in the additional perks of available all-wheel drive and the ability to comfortably seat four adults, and it's easy to see why the BMW 3 Series enjoys such wide-ranging appeal.
A less expensive, albeit less roomy alternative to the 3 Series is its baby brother, the BMW 1 Series. This small sport coupe boasts engine fitments similar to those of the bigger and heavier 3, meaning spirited performance across the board. It also provides its driver with sharp handling and a forgiving nature. It may not be the most handsome thing to roll out of Germany, but it more than makes up for that with a fun-to-drive personality that rivals that of many pure sports cars.
Though it didn't make the top three this year, the Infiniti G coupe still deserves mention. Although it gives away some luxury and refinement to its German rivals, this sport coupe offers an engaging drive and a lot of performance for the money, making it a favorite among savvy enthusiasts.
Regardless of price, there are few sports cars that can equal the unmitigated driving enjoyment of the Porsche Cayman. With its finely balanced chassis, midengine architecture and ultra-communicative steering, the Cayman makes even an average driver feel like a talented pilot. Both the base version and more powerful "S" versions boast a horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine that provides a stunning soundtrack along with surprising fuel economy. The hatchback design and additional trunk up front lend some practicality to this performance machine.
Should a grand touring coupe be more your style, you can't go wrong with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. This impressively solid and luxurious coupe is a multifaceted jewel, delivering ample performance, passenger space and practicality in a package that exudes quality and class. Though not a sport coupe in the pure sense, the E-Class coupe's capable handling, compliant suspension and airy cabin design create a welcoming environment from which to enjoy any road.
If you still want more performance than what the E-Class (or a standard 3 Series coupe) provides but still require a functional backseat, then the BMW M3 is hard to beat. Sporting a fantastic 414-hp V8, the M3 is an exceptionally well-rounded coupe that combines a roomy cabin and a comfortable ride with thrilling performance and handling that bests many serious sports cars. Yet despite its ability to tear up a winding road, the M3 remains supremely docile, which makes it well-suited as an enthusiast's daily driver.
Another worthwhile choice here would be Ford's Shelby GT500. Thanks to notable improvements made to the suspension, brakes and engine over the last few years, this ultimate Mustang has blossomed into a well-rounded, ultra-high-performance sport coupe.
While there's little more than prestige at stake in this category when it comes to sales, carmakers offer their most inventive products here, representing powerful statements about the automobile and the nature of driving.
Maybe it's no surprise, then, that the Porsche 911 is our favorite, as its unique rear-engine configuration, huge range of models (two dozen) and iconic heritage set it apart from its rivals. Outstanding performance and innovations like Porsche's PDK automated manual transmission also earn our respect. Notable this year is the debut of an all-new 911 generation. This new car is a bit roomier and more advanced than the older car. For now, the new 911 is just offered as a regular coupe, but the remaining 911 models, including such standouts as the track-honed GT3 and all-powerful Turbo, continue to be offered as well.
Though its lineup is not nearly as extensive as the 911's, the Audi R8 is nonetheless another highly recommended coupe. The midengine R8 possesses the extravagant style that you expect from an exotic sports car, yet this car also lives up to the real-world standards of practicality, ride quality and comfort. It's also quite rare, which is a desirable attribute all on its own. That's especially true of this year's new GT model, only 90 of which are destined for the United States.
Honestly, when you're looking at cars at this level, there's not a bad pick in the bunch. Cars like the BMW 6 Series, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and Nissan GT-R are all stellar cars. But we'd be remiss if we didn't also mention the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. This ultimate performance Corvette is hard to beat when it comes to bang for the buck.