2001-2002 Sport Coupe Comparison Test

2001 Ford Mustang Coupe

(4.6L V8 5-speed Manual)

  • Comparison Test
  • Editors' Evaluations
  • Consumer Commentary
  • Top 10 Features
  • Final Rankings and Scoring Explanation

Between surfing the Web for the latest Star Wars Attack of the Clones rumors (Dear Mr. Lucas: please have Jar-Jar die in the first scene. Thanx) and getting Orange Mango Zoom smoothies from the local Jamba Juice, we somehow manage to test hundreds of cars per year. Some are absolute snoozers, like minivans. Others are high-powered machines capable of breaking speed limits and the occasional sound barrier. Somewhere in the middle lie sport coupes.

The cars in this comparison test might not be as thrilling as Porsche 911s or Corvette Z06s, but they do represent performance for the real-world car enthusiast. To us, a sport coupe should provide the following:

  • A fun-to-drive disposition. As their name indicates, sport coupes should have a sporty element to them. This means lively handling and peppy acceleration. Otherwise, we'd have a Chevrolet Monte Carlo in the test.
  • Attractive styling. People buy these cars to get noticed. Cute is fine. Aggressive is fine. Edgy is fine. Bland is not.
  • Practicality. Unlike sports cars, sport coupes are used as daily drivers. They should have a decent interior, useful controls and storage, and a ride quality that isn't abusive.
  • Good value. Sport coupes should offer maximum bang for the buck.

We created a list of sport coupes consumers usually cross-shop and ended up with six cars from America, Europe and Japan. These were the Acura RSX Type-S, Honda Prelude SH, Mercury Cougar V6, Mitsubishi Eclipse GT, Toyota Celica GT-S and Volkswagen GTI GLS 1.8T.

We should clarify that while the title of this test is "Sport Coupe," most of the vehicles are actually hatchback designs. Of the six, only the Prelude is a sport coupe in the strictest sense of the word.

We also included the Chevrolet Camaro Z28 and Ford Mustang Bullitt GT for an indirect comparison. Heralding from the golden age of muscle cars with their brawny rear-drive V8s and low-tech suspensions, these cars provided an interesting backdrop to today's more modern and sophisticated machines.

As with other comparison tests we conduct, we assigned a crack team of Edmunds.com editors to determine which car we think is the best. We evaluated each car based on price, feature content, performance, a 20-point evaluation and subjective ratings of which cars our editors would put in their own garages as well as which they would recommend to others.

Over the course of two weeks, our editors racked up hundreds of miles and got intimately familiar with each vehicle. In addition to our normal test loops on public roads, we also booked time at Willow Springs International Motorsports Park, a road course located about an hour's drive north of Los Angeles. Using the smaller and more technical 1.5-mile Streets of Willow track, we were able to further push the performance envelope of each vehicle in a safe, controlled environment.

So, enough blabbing. Read on to learn the good, bad and ugly details about each car. We also recommend checking out our supplementary video coverage to see these entertaining coupes in action. Enjoy!

Sixth Place - 2001 Mercury Cougar V6

The nice thing to say here is that the Cougar is a good car but that the other five cars are simply better. And while that's true, a higher finish would have almost certainly come about if Mercury had decided to offer the Cougar S for 2001.

The Cougar S would have been equipped with the 200-horsepower V6 from the '98-'00 Ford SVT Contour. Ford's media-only Web site even lists the car's complete specs for 2001. But for some inexplicable reason, Mercury decided to kill production of the car at the last minute.

That left us with the second-string Cougar V6 for this test. While this 2.5-liter V6 is the second-biggest engine of the front-drive cars, its rated power of 170 hp at 6,250 rpm and 165 lb-ft of torque of 4,250 rpm can only be described as adequate. In our acceleration tests, the Cougar trailed every other car with the exception of the VW GTI. Zero-to-60-mph acceleration took 7.9 seconds, and the Cougar cleared the quarter-mile in a loping 16.0 seconds at 85.9 mph.

Driven on city streets, the Cougar's extra torque compared to the four-cylinder cars' can be appreciated, and a nice muted V6 roar can be heard when the throttle is mashed down. But there's never a feeling of urgency or sportiness. The engine is slow to rev, making for more difficult heel-and-toe downshifts, and the shifter for the five-speed transmission balks occasionally at being put into or pulled out of gear. Somebody at Mercury needs to give this powertrain a few double espressos from the Coffee Bean.

With all six cars parked next to each other at the local supermarket, the average grocery-buying mom would never guess that the Cougar is a bit of a slug. Not everybody will like it, but the exterior styling is certainly distinctive thanks to the car's angular lines that came about from Ford's short-lived "New Edge" design theme of the late '90s. Our test car stood out even more thanks to the Zn appearance package. (Zn is the elemental name for zinc on the periodic table; those Mercury guys are so clever.) The Zn Appearance package includes special yellow paint, a rear wing, an obviously fake hood scoop and 17-inch wheels. As one of our editors said, the Cougar is "sort of cool-looking, and certainly there are other cars in this test that look worse."

Inside, the Cougar's generally attractive cabin comes with a commendable amount of equipment, though much of it must be ordered as an option. Our car's leather sport seats, six-disc CD changer, sunroof, side airbags and metallic trim pieces were all part of various packages or upgrades. Lifting up the rear hatch reveals a narrow and high liftover, making the loading of luggage more difficult. But once accessed, the Cougar's cargo is expansive, providing 24.0 cubic feet of space with the rear seats folded down.

Up front, we found the power front driver seat (the Eclipse is the only other car to offer one) to have soft cushioning and thick bolsters. Accessing the rear seats is easy thanks to a passenger-side front seat that slides forward and returns to its normal position when pushed back. Adults sitting in back will find that the seats provide good thigh and back support, though headroom is noticeably lacking. Storage space and the cupholders are barely adequate, making it hard to transport your Evian water bottles, cell phone and other assorted items. Visibility is another sore spot due to the small side mirrors and elevated rear wing.

Taken to its limits, the Mercury can't keep up with the more athletic cars in the test. This isn't because it handles poorly; it's actually rather neutral and grips well once the soft suspension allows the body to settle while going around a turn. But the body structure doesn't seem as rigid as the other cars, and the suspension consists of rather simple struts both front and rear. There's also very little communication going on between the driver and the car via the steering wheel and the seat. Even the brake pedal is rather squishy in feel.

The lack of communication (in addition to the horsepower deficit) certainly hurts the car at the racetrack. For a driver to wring the most out of a car, he or she must know as much as possible about how the car is handling and how much grip is available from each tire. The Cougar is fairly predictable, but that couldn't help it from being the slowest car in the group. It's average lap times were more than 2 seconds behind the class average. If you're familiar with racing, you'll know that 2 seconds might as well be an eternity.

The Mercury does have a few things going for it. Its base price is quite affordable. So, as long as you don't mind skipping features like antilock brakes and side airbags, you can actually have a V6-powered sport coupe for under $20,000. And even loaded up like our test car was, the Cougar is still thousands less than the other cars in the test. The à la carte ordering also allows you to get the exact features you want, rather than getting stuck with paying large amounts for all-inclusive packages.

But in our opinion, it's worth paying the extra cash for something else. In both our personal picks rating (what we would personally buy) and our recommended rating (what we would tell a prospective buyer to consider) the Mercury earned the lowest scores. The Cougar lacks a proper engine, and therefore a proper spirit. It's a rather forgettable car, actually, and perhaps that's why Mercury has thoughtfully scattered six different Cougar emblems throughout the interior to remind you. Quite simply, it's just not very much fun to drive.

SECOND OPINIONS:

Editor-in-Chief Karl Brauer says:
This was my least favorite of the sport coupes, which is tough for me to say because I liked the Cougar more than I expected. It was proof that an SVT version would have been very cool indeed. The styling works, the seats are comfortable and supportive, and the steering provides the right amount of weighting. Even the shifter and suspension worked, though the car's heavy nature caused it to roll and plow in the corners more easily than I'd prefer.

What really hurt the Cougar was its engine performance. For a V6, it lacked the sort of mid-range and high-rpm punch I expect from a sport coupe, though strong low-end torque was appreciated. As I said, an SVT version with more horsepower and a stiffer suspension would have solved the vehicle's main problems, putting it much higher on my list. C'est la vie.

Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
Much like the Eclipse, the Cougar is hardly what I would consider a "sport" coupe. With so little grunt under the hood and a suspension that soaks up rather than sticks to the road, the Cougar is better as a long-distance cruiser than a true canyon-carver.

The V6 is smooth in its delivery, but lacks the guts needed to get the car moving with any amount of urgency. Likewise, the shifter is slick through the gates under normal conditions, but vague and rubbery when used aggressively. The suspension does an admirable job of controlling the car in sweeping turns, but quick changes of direction reveal somewhat slow reflexes.

Glaring yellow paint scheme aside, the Cougar is a reasonably enjoyable car to drive for those who favor comfort over performance. Whether or not a shot of horsepower would cure this shortcoming is hard to say, but for now the Cougar is just a mild-mannered cruiser and not much more.

Associate Editor Liz Kim says:
Did I really drive this car? It left no impression on me. Except, perhaps, the nice sticker on the rear hatch with a graphic representation of the stick figure in the rear seat getting crushed by the hatch with a big "don't do this!" red line through it.

The Cougar is an interesting looking vehicle; it does possess feline features, as its name aptly suggests (does the Eclipse resemble an astronomical condition? The Prelude a movement of a symphony?).

What makes this vehicle forgettable are its driving characteristics. The 170-horsepower V6 is decent enough but can hardly be called peppy or powerful. Steering's slow, heavy and numb and gear engagement is rubbery. The suspension can't seem to sort out the road properly, and its heavy load is borne with a grimace. Nothing terribly bad, mind you, but it certainly doesn't stand out in the mind as either a sporty or comfortable vehicle.

Stereo Evaluation - Mercury Cougar V6

Ranking in Stereo Test: Eighth

System Score: 5.5

Components: The Cougar can be equipped with the same six-disc in-dash changer found in the Mustang, but comes with different speakers. Large drivers are mounted high in the doors and above the rear armrests.

Performance: Bass response is firm, but long tones tend to drown out the treble. That's OK, because the high notes don't sound very good. Flutes and keyboards aren't bad, but cymbals and chimes crack under pressure. Speaker placement causes a "dead zone" above the dash, so the left and right channels battle for attention rather than blending to form a sonic image.

Best Feature: Six-disc in-dash CD changer.

Worst Feature: Poor sound quality.

Conclusion: A center channel or some satellite tweeters would help fill in the blanks. Nice head unit, though. — Trevor Reed

Fifth Place - 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT

There are readers out there familiar with the history of the Eclipse, but it's worth regurgitating here. When the car debuted in 1989 as a 1990 model, it completely rewrote the rules for sport coupes. Here was a car with a 195-hp turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive and an affordable price.

Mitsubishi couldn't seem to make money off the Eclipse, however, so for the 2000 model year redesign it altered the focus of the car in the hopes of attracting a broader base of buyers. Out went the double wishbone suspension; in came MacPherson struts. The turbocharged engine was replaced by a V6 from the Galant family sedan. Curb weight increased. Sport took a back seat to sales.

Credit is due for Mitsubishi. The changes worked. Sales jumped, and of the front-drive cars in this test, the Eclipse is on pace to be the bestseller for 2001. This doesn't mean that we have to like it, however.

Our test car came in GT form, which means a standard 3.0-liter V6. Compared to the sophisticated engines in the Celica and the RSX, the V6 is rather average with its single cam per cylinder bank and lack of any sort of variable valve timing. But it does have one thing every American can appreciate: torque. There's 205 lb-ft available at 4,000 rpm, 74 lb-ft more than the Celica puts out.

The torque, along with the 200 hp at 5,500 rpm, makes this engine the broad-shouldered athlete of the test. The exhaust emits a wonderful snarl as the engine pulls smoothly from idle to redline. The shifter has a chunky feel to it, which split the opinions of our drivers. Some thought it meaty while others said it felt flimsy. Regardless, the smooth clutch engagement and high torque output make the Eclipse an easy car to drive around town. It's also well suited for highway cruising, as the tall gearing of the five-speed transmission has the engine turning just 3,000 rpm at 80 mph. At the same road speed, the Prelude is turning almost 1,000 rpm more.

One might think that the Eclipse's V6 would allow it to be the gold medalist of the acceleration Olympics. But that's not the case. Zero-to-60 mph takes 7.2 seconds and the quarter-mile happens in 15.7 seconds at 89.2 mph. Braking is likewise unimpressive, with the Eclipse requiring 128 feet to stop from 60 mph. The culprit? Curb weight is a good guess, as the Eclipse weighs a porky 3,053 pounds. For comparison, the flyweight Celica weighs in at just 2,500 pounds.

Extra weight is always the enemy when it comes to performance, and the Eclipse took it in the shorts when it came time for our editors to evaluate the suspension and steering. As one editor said, "[The Eclipse] has a floppy, insubstantial chassis that allows too much flex and body roll. Of the cars in the test, I had the least amount of confidence to push this car hard in the corners." On canyon roads, the Eclipse feels big and unwieldy in comparison to the lithe Celica and RSX. The steering has a quick enough ratio for enthusiastic cornering, but it's overly light in feel and communicates virtually nothing to the driver about tire grip.

The Eclipse's slalom speeds were high thanks to the wide Goodyear Eagle RS-A 215/50VR17 tires. But at the racetrack, the Eclipse's lap times were slower than everything but the power-challenged Cougar. It plowed merciless through the turns, and the front tires took a beating in terms of wear. The Eclipse clearly didn't like us, either. With ambient air temperatures near 100 degrees at the racetrack, it threatened to overheat after just two hard laps.

Suffice it to say, the Eclipse isn't meant to be a race car. In response, Mitsubishi PR people will likely yammer 'til they are blue in the face that their sport coupe is more of a touring car. And they are right. The badge on the rear says GT (Grand Touring), after all. And to the car's credit, the suspension does do a good job of soaking up road irregularities, and wind and road noise are minimal.

Less stressful boulevard cruising is this car's preferred environment. The front seats seem more domestic in their design, as they offer broad contouring, minimal side bolstering and slippery leather. The power driver seat (part of the Premium package) offers a wide range of adjustment including height, tilt and lumbar. Note to potential passengers: always yell "shotgun" before entering. Any adult over 5-foot 4-inches will have her head rubbing on the rear hatch's glass, and there's a significant lack of foot room, legroom and thigh support.

The rear seats are easy to fold down, and the Eclipse does hold a maximum of 16.9 cubic feet of cargo. But (we seem to be using this word a lot) the hatch opening has a high liftover point, and an intruding rear suspension and a plastic divider on the floor make loading big items more difficult. Up front, Mitsubishi uses low-grade plastics for much of the dash, and many of the controls and displays are haphazardly and illogically placed. The Premium package includes leather seats, but there aren't leather inserts in the doors as is usually the case with leather packages. Even the gauge cluster is a tacky sticker-like design that's more suited to a Revell plastic model than a $24,360 car.

Overall, we're not impressed with the Eclipse. For the 20-point evaluation category of this test — the part where each editor rates the car on everything from engine performance to cupholder design — the Eclipse earned an average score of 58.5 percent. Not only is this the worst evaluation score of the six cars, a casual check of other previous comparison tests we've conducted reveals that this is one of the lowest scores any car has ever earned.

The Mitsubishi might be OK for somebody wanting a comfortable and stylish two-door to punt around in and nothing more. But if that's the case, why not just buy a Toyota Camry Solara? Consider your decision long and hard before settling on an Eclipse.

SECOND OPINIONS:

Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
Unlike its predecessors, the current Eclipse is nothing more than a boulevard cruiser. Its suspension is just too mushy for spirited driving, although when pressed it does ultimately yield decent grip. Like the Cougar, the Eclipse feels big from the inside, giving the driver a feeling of detachment from the road. If rough, broken pavement is standard issue where you live, the Eclipse will serve nicely.

The engine is surely one of the car's strong points. The smooth power delivery of the strong V6 is a pleasant departure from the zippy four-cylinders that dominated this group. From the sound of the exhaust note to the broad powerband that never quit, this drivetrain is easily one of the best of the bunch.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the dated interior that made you wonder if it was actually a 2001 model. From the featureless gauge cluster to the odd stereo configuration, the interior is an ergonomic mess. There isn't an ounce of thoughtful design anywhere.

Overall, the Eclipse isn't a bad ride for someone who has to deal with poor roads and inclement weather on a consistent basis. But for those looking to keep the sport in their sport coupe, the Eclipse falls short.

Photo Editor Scott Jacobs says:
This car has good power, and a great exhaust note, but it really loses out on its design. I'm not a fan of the exterior styling cues, especially the raked body panels. The only exterior design I really like is the fuel filler door. They're going for a taste that isn't mine. I'm not going to say it's ugly, but it certainly isn't that appealing to me.

The interior suffers from the Celica's dilemma. Cheap plastic abounds. If there is one thing that I can't stand, it's cheap interior materials, and this is full of it. I found the seating position to be a little odd for me; I could never feel comfortably settled down. I was constantly shifting around to get comfortable. I don't think the Eclipse is a bad car, it's just that the design isn't appealing to me.

Associate Editor Liz Kim says:
The first thing I noticed when I approached this car is that it had a real metal fuel door, not a stupid plastic one like on the Spyder I drove last year. I was about to comment favorably upon it, when my colleague said, "Yeah, that's a dealer-installed option." What a silly trick to pull. But Mitsubishis are like that — they seem OK from the outside, but look closely and you've got a bunch of problems. Fit and finish is the worst of the group, save for the Camaro. The rear seat is a torture chamber — even my head butts up against the glass. Interior materials are cheap, and the dash looks like a jigsaw puzzle with so many disparate pieces. And that top-of-the-dash stereo display? Nonsense.

The drive? Although the powerplant is torquey and lets you know it's a V6, the car is pudgy and soft. It has to carry around massive amounts of weight, and the suspension's not up to the task. It's no fun on canyon roads with body roll and wallow. For me, this car has very few saving graces. Bottom of the heap.

Stereo Evaluation - Mitsubishi Eclipse GT

Ranked in Stereo Test: First

Score: 8.5

Components: A four-disc in-dash CD changer with a tape player uses a highly visible display pod on top of the dash. The only center channel speaker in this comparison is atop the pod and is complemented by tweeters in the side mirror patches. Strong woofers in the doors are helped by large speakers below the rear armrests. High-end Infinity components help this stereo system hang with those made by Bose and Mark Levinson.

Performance: The placement of the drivers is superb, which makes for an exciting soundstage across the entire dash. The refined speakers have no trouble recreating a live orchestra in the cabin, and there's plenty of accurate bass available thanks to a clean and powerful amplifier that peaks at 240-watts.

Best Feature: High-mounted display.

Worst Feature: Six discs would be better.

Conclusion: Sounds wonderful with any type of music and helps keep your eyes on the road. — Trevor Reed

Fourth Place - 2001 Honda Prelude SH

If this test paralleled the original Survivor TV show, the Prelude would be codger-like Rudy. It's old, not much of a looker and nobody in America seems to like it. Sales have dropped so low that Honda has decided to kill its premier sports coupe for 2002 silently rather than come up with another redesign. No farewell parade, no salute to the car that has debuted so many of Honda's advanced technologies. This is too bad, as the other five upstarts in the test could learn a thing or two from the seasoned veteran.

Of the four-cylinder cars in the test, the Prelude's 2.2-liter is the biggest. This gives it an advantage in grunt, with 156 lb-ft of torque being produced at 5,250 rpm. At low speeds, the extra torque goes toward moving the Prelude's relatively heavy 3,042-pound curb weight. But once it's rolling and the tach spins past 5,000 rpm, the VTEC variable valve timing system activates, and the Prelude accelerates with gusto. The engine and exhaust notes are more mechanical in sound than the other cars', but the power is there with 200 hp being developed at 7,000 rpm. We recorded a 0-to-60-mph time of 7.2 seconds with the quarter-mile flying by at 15.6 seconds at 90.1 mph. These aren't stellar numbers, but they are good enough to beat out the two V6-powered cars as well as the GTI.

Our test car was the Prelude SH that, among other things, comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission and the Automatic Torque Transfer System. ATTS, by monitoring driver inputs, actually redistributes power to the drive wheels, thereby altering the Prelude's yaw (turning) rate. By applying more torque to the outside wheel and making it rotate faster than it would normally in a turn, ATTS adds an additional steering assist, in much the same way a tracked-vehicle such as a tank or bulldozer, turns.

From the average driver's perspective, ATTS is like your appendix: an interesting but nearly useless feature. During normal driving — commuting, Dairy Queen runs, basically any time the car is going straight — ATTS is silent. Even when the Prelude is taken out to romp and play on canyon roads, ATTS is barely noticeable unless the driver is keen to its operation. So what did that extra $2,500 pay for again?

All becomes clear on the racetrack. It is here that the Prelude SH shines. With most front-drive cars, applying too much throttle too quickly when exiting a corner unloads the front suspension and causes the car to understeer. Enter ATTS. Hit the gas past the apex of a corner and the Prelude simply pulls itself around. Being able to accelerate through turns pays big dividends, as this allows the Prelude to carry more speed on the straights. It also gives the car a much more neutral handling bias, and our editors said that driving the Prelude almost felt like driving a rear-wheel-drive car. Despite having a curb weight and horsepower rating similar to the Eclipse (not to mention 49 lb-ft of torque less), the Prelude was more than 2 seconds faster per lap. Its fastest lap, a 1:26.0, was the second-quickest lap time of any of the front-drivers.

Of course, it wasn't just ATTS that allowed the Prelude to do so well. The suspension — composed of double wishbones both front and rear — is more softly tuned than the RSX's or Celica's, but it still provides excellent stability and enhances driver confidence. The steering, while not as quick as those two cars, is precise and enjoyable, too. On the freeway, the Prelude produces minimal wind and road noise. So does the Eclipse, and both the Eclipse and the Prelude seem designed to be primarily touring machines. Yet somehow Honda's engineers have come up with a way to give the Prelude an excellent balance between comfort and performance.

Yes, those Honda engineers sure are smart. But it would seem that very few of them ever got interior decorating degrees. The Prelude is the only 2001 Honda product to have an old-school interior. After going loco with the '92-'96 Prelude, the current car is full of bland black plastic and uninspired angles. The climate control features manual sliders and small buttons, and the audio head unit is a simple single-DIN unit with teensy controls. As one editor put it, "I feel like I'm in Darth Vader's bathroom."

The actual quality of the interior materials is high, with soft-touch plastic for much of the dash and even the lower footwells. And though the Prelude doesn't come with leather or even much driver-seat adjustability, our editors ranked the front seats second-best in terms of comfort. Outward visibility is also excellent.

Not so excellent is rear-seat comfort. Rear passengers are in for a long ride, as there are no headrests, and there's a significant lack of legroom, foot room and thigh support. This is assuming, of course, that people will want to sit back there after going through the hassle of sliding the passenger seat forward, releasing the seatback and tripping over the lower part of the seatbelt.

Overall, the Prelude is an outstanding sport coupe that provides comfort, sportiness, superior build quality and a reputation for excellent reliability. The only thing missing is value. With a price over 26 grand, the Prelude is the most expensive car of the six. Here are some tips: 1) ATTS is nice, but if you're not going to a racetrack anytime soon, just go with the regular Prelude. 2) If you're buying around the end of calendar year 2001, you should be able to get a good deal on a Prelude, as dealers will be looking to offload them. 3) No 2001s? No problem. The Prelude hasn't changed much since 1997. Find a used Prelude in good condition, save a bundle of cash. Any of these options will get you a great car.

SECOND OPINIONS:

Editor-in-Chief Karl Brauer says:
One word kept coming to mind as I drove the Prelude: balance. When it comes to being a jack-of-all-trades and a master-of-none, the Prelude wins. It's not the quickest sport coupe, but the large 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine offers excellent low-end torque, while the valvetrain provides that trademark VTEC high-rpm rush. Shifter action isn't as fluid as the RSX's, but it still has relatively short throws and positive engagement. Brakes were confident, while the suspension provided a smooth ride on public roads and a controlled ride at the track.

Oh, and did I mention the ATTS? If you've ever wondered how to make a front-wheel-drive car feel like a rear-wheel-drive car, Honda's Prelude offers the answer. By increasing outside wheel rotation in relation to the inside wheel when cornering, the system gave the sensation of almost powersliding the Prelude (a highly prized sensation for an old muscle car freak like me) around the track. Sure, it's got a dated interior design and questionable styling, but to me the Prelude is still one of the best cars in this class. Too bad the buying public — and now Honda — doesn't share my feelings. Good-bye, old friend. You will be missed!

Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
I'll have to admit to being quite surprised by the Honda's overall performance. Since its interior looks like it dates back to the late '80s, I half-expected it to perform with all the gusto of a decade-old car. A few quick runs through the gears, however, and the Prelude erased those fears.

The engine is soft down low but it wakes up nicely when the VTEC system kicks in to open the valves up a little. The shifter is light as a feather through the gates, perfect when you're mired in traffic but a little frail for serious canyon running. Same goes for the clutch.

The lack of true sporting intentions continues through to the suspension that, while easy to fling through the turns, ultimately gave up a little earlier than some of the more stiffly sprung members of the group. The torque transfer system certainly made its presence felt, giving the front driver a unique feel through the turns, but in the end it just couldn't make up for a suspension tuned to deliver a smooth ride around town rather than grins at the track.

There's little doubt that the Prelude would deliver years of faithful service with little or no hassle, but in the end, why pay so much for a car on the last legs of its existence when newer models offer just as much fun and reliability for a lower price?

Associate Editor Liz Kim says:
Yes, it's an aged design. No, the interior hasn't been updated since wearing high-tops with denim miniskirts was cool. Yes, it's an ugly piece of machinery. But I still couldn't help but feel affectionate toward the Prelude and its abilities. It does everything well; if not exceedingly, then with more than enough competence.

The shifter's pretty much perfect, the engine churns out plenty of power and the brakes inspire the confidence to pull some pretty daring tricks. The car feels nimble and tossable, but that never detracts from its solid demeanor. The ATTS really fooled me into believing that it was a rear-drive car. Everything's fit with care and thoughtfulness. It really makes me question whether some nameplates need to be artificially euthanized, when this is a perfectly good vehicle in need of a few refining touches.

Stereo Evaluation - 2001 Honda Prelude SH

Rank in Stereo Test: Seventh

Score: 6.0

Components: A single-CD player with tiny buttons and no tape deck is mounted low in the front console. Tweeters placed high in the doors create great separation of the left and right channels. The speakers in the doors and rear deck are helped by a distortion-fighting "Acoustic Feedback System."

Performance: With 120-watts and six speakers, this system seems outgunned for the comparison test, but great sound quality and imaging prevail. High-mounted tweeters provide warm highs that don't split when the cymbals hit. Although the magnets on the rear speakers say "20W," the bass response is impressive. Flutter is minimal on hip-hop tracks and classical instruments get tight and accurate representation.

Best Feature: Sonic cleansing keeps noise in check.

Worst Feature: Miniature controls.

Conclusion: This simple and clean-sounding system would score higher if the buttons were designed for human hands and the head unit were mounted higher. — Trevor Reed

Third Place - 2001 Toyota Celica GT-S

We've had a 2000 Toyota Celica GT-S in our long-term fleet for more than a year now. Some people on our staff like it. Others don't. But one thing is for sure: We are always evaluating the car in relative isolation. The Sport Coupe Comparison Test gave us an opportunity to find out how good Toyota's latest sport coupe really is. After all was said and done, the Celica surprised us with its competency and made us appreciate it even more. But as you can see from the third place finish, there's still room for improvement.

If action is what you want, you needn't look any further than the Celica. In the performance category of this test, the Celica earned an outstanding 95.8 percent score. Even the editors' evaluations of individual performance attributes read like a Hollywood awards show. Best suspension? Toyota Celica. Best Steering? Toyota Celica. Best brakes? (Dramatic pause) Toyota Celica. Would the lead engineer of the Celica's underpinnings please take a bow?

So armed, the Celica feels like the Jackie Chan of the group, going off mad-crazy kung-fu-style on the dim-witted Eclipse and Cougar. On canyon roads, this 2,500-pound welterweight tightly arcs through corners with minimal body roll. The steering is very quick and precise without being twitchy, and the thick three-spoke steering wheel rim fits naturally in your hands. Reducing speed is a simple matter of squeezing the powerful brakes; 60-to-0 stops take a mere 116 feet.

The Celica is at its best when being used (and abused) near its maximum limits. It thrives on being wrung out. This, oh so conveniently, is exactly the type of driving required for a racetrack. Powering out of turns, the Celica's Yokohama 205/50VR16 tires provide excellent grip. Of the six cars, the Celica feels most like a race car, and the lap times prove it. Its fastest lap was a 1:25.2, the only front-drive car to manage a sub-1:26 time. Its average lap time was also the fastest of the group. If this car had a limited-slip front differential (like the old Acura Integra Type R had), it would be nearly unstoppable.

The engine, a 180-hp 1.8-liter four, is best when used above 6,000 rpm. It is here that the VVT-i variable valve timing system changes over to the aggressive profile. The feeling is like having your very own little jet afterburner kick in. For maximum acceleration, and for the one-two shift in particular, care must be taken to keep the revs as high as possible. The engine's redline is 7,800 rpm, but a few hundred extra revs can be gained until the limiter kicks in. With practice, 0 to 60 mph can be done in 6.9 seconds, and the quarter-mile achieved in 15.4 seconds at 91.6 mph.

So this is the car to own if your route to work every day is an unpopulated two-lane twisty road. But for the rest of us in the real world of snarled traffic and rough roads, the Celica's bias for performance turns into a liability. The suspension, while not necessarily abusive, is certainly the stiffest of the group, making bumps and road irregularities that much more noticeable. Wind and road noise are high, and the engine can drone when on the freeway. Even the six-speed transmission is problematic. It's quick-shifting, but the action is notchy and it's easy to select a wrong gear unless extra concentration is applied. Even getting away from a stop is more difficult than the other cars because of a touchy clutch pedal and a lack of torque (a maximum of 126 lb-ft comes at 4,200 rpm).

If the Celica were limited to just these problems, it might have won this test. Alas, there are additional faults worth mentioning. First off, the Celica's cabin is a bit cramped. Rear-seat passengers are given little in terms of headroom, legroom and thigh support. Headroom is better up front thanks to the low-slung seats, but the driver's footwell is narrow and the seat itself offers minimal adjustment. Outward visibility is the worst of the group because of the thick C-pillars. Careful positioning of the mirrors is critical.

Interior materials are a letdown, too. "Plastic, plastic everywhere!" said one editor. Having the leather seat package is a must if you like to get touchy-feely with your car. Some controls, like the window and door lock switches, are illogically placed, but the climate and audio controls are well sorted. Interior storage is also better than average thanks to a large center console bin and a lidded cubby hole above the audio head unit.

The final nail in the Celica's third-place coffin is a lack of feature content. Of the 10 features we ranked as most desirable in a sport coupe, the Celica comes with only two — side airbags and antilock brakes. And both of those are optional. Compared to the Hilton-like GTI, the Celica is rather austere.

But hey, you can worry about creature comforts when you're married, drinking Metamucil and sweeping away smashed Cheerios that your children left in your minivan's interior. Sport coupes are for the young and the beautiful. Snag a Celica GT-S, drive it like you hate it, and you won't be disappointed.

SECOND OPINIONS:

Editor-in-Chief Karl Brauer says:
If the current crop of sport coupes were to be characterized as a group of high school kids, the Celica would be the cocky athlete with plenty of raw skill, but still a little rough around the edges. Engine performance is strong, but only as long as you keep it "in the zone." The body is certainly "cut," if a little gawky from some angles. The whole car has a quick, young feel to it, and it likes to scream when being pushed.

However, like most talented athletes, the Celica is extremely high-maintenance. The shifter that seems perfect at the racetrack becomes a nightmare in congested traffic, and the suspension that controls body roll so well in fast sweepers tends to bang over freeway expansion joints or pavement imperfections. Then there's the question of substance and the idea that it's what's on the inside that counts. Here we find lots of hard plastic, a useless rear seat, and excessive wind and tire noise at freeway speeds. Needless to say, the Celica is a great asset when going for the league trophy, but that doesn't mean I want to ask it over to meet the family.

Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
With a Celica currently in our fleet of long-term testers, driving Toyota's zippy little two-door only confirmed what I already knew. Essentially, the Celica is long on style and fun, but a little short on practicality and comfort.

Although loud as it approaches its lofty redline, the Celica's engine delights with plenty of power and quick responses. The shifter takes some getting used to, but with enough practice its choppy operation smoothes out and heel-and-toe downshifts become second nature. The suspension is phenomenal, with decent around-town manners and grip to spare at the track.

Inside, the Celica seems cramped for my 6-foot-plus frame, but the seats are comfortable, and all controls are logically laid out. Material quality leaves a little bit to be desired, especially when compared to the RSX, but it's hardly cheap. A few creaks and rattles from the rear hatch area made me wonder if all Celicas develop this malady after so many miles.

Boil it down and the Celica is pretty much the best all-around performer of the group. If that's high on your priority list, then go for it. Unfortunately, we can't spend all of our time on test tracks, so the Celica's tight accommodations and lack of refinement take their toll, but for some that's a small price to pay.

Associate Editor Liz Kim says:
I've had a love-hate thing going with our long-term Celica GT-S test car. On the one hand, I hate the looks, its unrefined nature, the cheap interior, its poor rearward visibility and the effort-laden shifter. I especially dread evening commutes in torpid traffic.

On the other, the powertrain is nonpareil, with a shrieking engine, a muscle-man suspension, point-and-shoot steering and incomparable brakes. During this test, the latter characteristics helped the Celica burrow its way into my good graces, as we drove it on canyon roads and the racetrack. This has to be the best performer, allowing the driver to rip up the pavement with confidence not gleaned from any of the other vehicles. From a pure performance aspect, this car has all the others whooped.

Of course, in real-life driving situations, this car has problems, which keeps it from being at the top of the list. They're really not too difficult to solve — you've got potential, Celica!

Stereo Evaluation - 2001 Toyota Celica GT-S

Ranking in Stereo Test: Sixth

Score: 6.0

Components: Eight speakers, 180-watts, a CD player and cassette deck come standard on the Celica GT-S. Controls rely on a large display that's great at night but washes out in sunlight. Tweeters in front of the door handles are joined by woofers mounted relatively high in the door panels along with similar speakers in the rear.

Performance: Highs sparkle and do not degrade until the system is maxed-out. Female vocals sound warm and are not drowned out by bass response. That's because although they sound good, the low tones are seldom in excess, and door panel rattles discourage cranking the bass knob.

Best Feature: High-quality tweeters high in the doors.

Worst Feature: Disappearing display.

Conclusion: This system sounds good, but the controls can be difficult to use and some folks will want more bass on tap. — Trevor Reed

Second Place - 2001 Volkswagen GTI GLS

When we tested the then-new GTI GLX VR6 in 1999, we found it to be a decent car. But it needed improvement, and our road test ended by saying Volkswagen "[could] have landed the new Golf on the fairway, within chipping distance of the green. But as it stands, the new Golf is stuck deep in the rough." Fast-forward two years, and there's a GTI sitting rather pretty in second place. Hmm. Must have been a pretty good approach shot by VeeDub.

What changed? In 2000, the wheezy 2.0-liter normally aspirated engine in the GTI GLS was replaced by a 1.8-liter 20-valve turbocharged engine. This engine is lighter than the VR6 and brings the car closer to what a GTI is supposed to be. For 2001, Volkswagen has made minor interior improvements and added a standard sport-tuned suspension and optional 17-inch wheels. While the differences may not seem like much, they significantly enhance the car while still keeping the things we liked about the '99 GTI intact.

Typically, Volkswagens cost a few thousand dollars more than their Japanese competition. In return, the usually offer better interior appointments and a more prestigious image. In this test, the GTI had the best interior and the most features of any car in the test. But instead of having a pricey sticker, it came with a budget price that even Sam Walton would love.

Here's just a sampling of what every GTI GLS includes as standard: a power sunroof; traction control; front, side and side curtain airbags; cruise control; antilock brakes; two years of no-charge scheduled maintenance; a full-size spare tire; one-touch up-and-down windows; a tilting and telescoping steering wheel; and heated side mirrors. Many of these features cost extra on the other sport coupes, or they are not even available. Even with the options of leather seating (with heated front seats) and 17-inch wheels and tires, the final price our test car came to $21,900 — that's $4,640 less than the Prelude. The only things conspicuously absent are a standard CD player (which is rectified for the 2002 model year) and half-decent cupholders.

While it was certainly a drag having to break out our old '80s tapes for the GTI (Frankie Goes to Hollywood, oh how we miss ye), the cabin is otherwise a great place to spend time in. The interior features a nice two-tone black and beige styling theme composed of high-quality materials. Even the plastics used for the buttons and switches are of high quality. At night, the gauge cluster and controls are illuminated with hip blue-and-red coloring. The aura of the interior, while not luxurious, is certainly premium. Unlike any of the other sport coupes, the GTI makes you feel like a somebody instead of a nobody.

Thanks to an exterior than remains, for better or for worse, true to the GTI's boxy heritage, both front and rear passengers are given plenty of room to stretch out. The front seats on our car offered supportive bolstering and included adjustments for height and lumbar. There are also headrests that articulate forward and a thickly padded armrest that can be raised and lowered.

In back, the best-in-the-test rear seat offers a headrest and a three-point belt for each position. While we don't necessarily recommend putting three people in back, at least the GTI gives you the option. Accessing the back seat is easy thanks to a passenger-side front seat that flips forward and a sliding lower mounting point for the passenger-side front seatbelt. Getting the rear seats to fold down is trickier, as the rear cushions have to be pulled forward and the rear headrests have to be removed before the seatbacks can be folded flat. Once done, the GTI can hold 18.0 cubic feet of cargo, the most in the test.

When it comes to performance, however, the GTI is less dominant. Its turbocharged engine, a 1.8-liter four, is the same size as the Celica's but huffs up just 150 hp at 5,800 rpm and 162 lb-ft of torque at 2,200 rpm. On the street, the 150 hp is not as big a detriment as you might think. There is some turbo lag below 2,000 rpm, but once you're past that, power delivery is smooth and linear. Compared to the Celica's hyperactive 1.8-liter engine, which needs to be revved to the wee of its life to get maximum performance, the GTI is much more calm when it goes about its business.

The GTI feels faster than it really is, however. Zero to 60 mph takes 8.5 seconds, and the quarter-mile arrives in a leisurely 16.5 seconds at 84.3 mph. There are more than a few family sedans out there that can embarrass the GTI at stoplights. It might be wise to wait until the 2002 GTIs arrive, as their 1.8-liter engines will feature a boost in power, from 150 to 180 hp.

When the roads turn twisty, the GTI again falls short. It's actually a reversal of the car's straight-line performance. When tested in the 600-foot slalom, an exercise designed to measure how well a vehicle can respond to quick driver inputs, the GTI posts high speeds and is actually faster though the cones than everything except the Celica and Eclipse. At the racetrack, the GTI's average lap times were mid-pack, significant in that it was spotting the other cars anywhere from 20 to 50 horsepower. But from a driver's perspective, the GTI isn't much fun to drive aggressively.

The difference here is that the GTI doesn't feel as tied-down and connected to the road as the RSX and the Celica do. The sport-tuned suspension is an improvement, but there's still too much body roll. Enter a corner and there's a slight delay between when you turn the wheel and when the car actually turns. At the racetrack, the GTI feels soggy and heavy. Only when the body is settled do the wide 225/45R17 tires do a good job of keeping the car stable. This is a car you will want to drive to the racetrack, not on the racetrack.

As a sport coupe used for the daily duties of the real world, the GTI excels. It's comfortable and packed with features. And if you wait until 2002, you'll get 30 more horses and a drop in price. We see little reason to go with the GTI GLX unless you want more upscale features that are only available on that model. The GTI GLS is our choice. But there's one more car out there that has even more horsepower. It, too, is a real-world sport coupe, and this one is also able to dice it up with jocks at the track.

SECOND OPINIONS:

Editor-in-Chief Karl Brauer says:
As Volkswagen was the originator of this market back in the early '80s, I almost felt obligated to give the GTI high marks. And when it came to comfort, content and functionality, those high marks were easy to offer. Three headrests and shoulder belts on a useful rear seat? Who would have expected that from a sport coupe? The one-touch up-and-down windows and plush interior materials impressed as well, particularly on a vehicle with the lowest MSRP in the test.

Then came the driving evaluations ... D'oh! There is too much suspension wallow and not enough low-end torque. The 1.8T is a great engine in terms of smooth power delivery in the mid- and high-rpm range, but at the track it kept falling out of its powerband, making quick lap times a real challenge. The floppy suspension added to its track woes, though the car is very stable once the suspension is loaded. Normally I'm a big fan of practicality over performance, but in the GTI's case it's a bit too functional versus just being fun.

Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
It's hard not to like a vehicle that offers so much for so little. From its tastefully appointed interior to the jumpy turbo under the hood, the GTI is a car that's just too fun to feel cheap.

The optional sport wheels on our test car were a nice touch, adding just enough sportiness to make the GTI look a little mean. Thankfully, the big donuts didn't translate directly into a harsh ride. Grip was plentiful on the streets, but the racetrack quickly exposed the GTI's soft underbelly. Considering that few consumers will ever subject their VeeDubs to this harsh environment I wouldn't consider it much of a drawback.

The interior is standard VW. Nothing fancy, just simple dial controls, minimal clutter and nicely contrasting colors. The fact that the rear seat is actually usable is an added bonus, and almost puts the GTI in another category.

Ultimately, the VW lost out to the more powerful RSX, but if I were about to put down my hard-earned money on a sporty new two-door, the GTI would be at the top of my list.

Associate Editor Liz Kim says:
During city driving, the GTI has all those niceties that endear a car to you. It's the most livable of cars in terms of day-to-day utility, possessing features that we'd expect in an entry-level luxury coupe — one-touch open and close windows, a sunroof that opens at the flick of a wrist, a tilting/telescoping steering wheel with stereo controls. The rear seats are most accommodating by far, and ingress/egress is facilitated through a seat that folds up and out.

There's plenty of trunk space, enough that we piled our testing equipment into its storage (it wouldn't fit into any of the others). True, the cupholders are the brainchild of a numbskull, but that can be forgiven in light of the nice materials that cover the cabin.

OK, so it isn't as fun to push through corners as some of the sportier cars, no thanks to a suspension that is more tuned toward comfort than cornering skills. But for heaven's sake, what other car in the test has traction control and a Head Protection System?

Stereo Evaluation - 2001 Volkswagen GTI GLS

Ranking in Stereo Test: Third

Score: 7.5

Components: A tape player with a blue-on-red display and large buttons comes standard on the GTI. A single-disc CD player and trunk-mounted six-disc changer are options. The optional Monsoon audio system uses a 200-watt amp with eight channels to power eight speakers. Coincidence? No; each speaker gets a custom feed. Tweeters are mounted in the A-pillars and woofers are found low in the doors. Those sitting in back get the same array, but without the VW Golf's rear doors, half of the woofers are hidden by the seat cushions.

Performance: The high-mounted tweeters provide good separation in all seats and allow cymbals and chimes to fill the small cabin of the GTI with crisp highs. Bass response is accurate, so instead of a mushy rumble, you will hear each thump of a bass drum.

Best Feature: Great tweeters — and backseat drivers get their own pair.

Worst Feature: No CD player. Isn't this 2001?

Conclusion: Just like the GTI, the Monsoon sound system is an overachiever. Too bad you have to upgrade to use a modern medium. — Trevor Reed

First Place - 2002 Acura RSX Type-S

When it comes to making sport coupes and hatchbacks, very few companies seem to "get it" more than Honda. Ever since the mid- to late-'80s, Honda has been the go-to automaker for fun-to-drive cars that are nimble, enjoyable and easy on the wallet. The Civic and Acura Integra are currently kings of the modern hot-rod movement and have a huge aftermarket backing. So should it come as any surprise that the Acura RSX is the winner of this test?

If you're not familiar with the RSX name, don't fret. This is the 2002 replacement for the Integra. It seems "Integra" didn't fit in with Acura's desire to have alphanumeric names for all of its products. While the name will be missed, the Integra itself was certainly ready for AARP membership and retirement to Orlando. The RSX is, thankfully, a better car in nearly every way.

We picked the high-output RSX Type-S for this comparison. The Type-S trim, among other things, adds a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Featuring the latest version of Honda's VTEC variable valve timing system (called i-VTEC), the Type-S engine manages to crank out 200 hp at 7,400 rpm and 142 lb-ft of torque at 6,000 rpm. This power is then routed to the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission.

The RSX dominated the acceleration tests, earning a 0-to-60 time of 6.7 seconds and going past the quarter-mile mark in 15.2 seconds at 92.7 mph. This is faster than any of the other cars (except the Mustang and Camaro, of course).

If the RSX has a nemesis, it's the Celica. Each makes 100 hp per liter from its advanced engine, and each has a six-speed. The RSX does have an advantage of 20 more horsepower and 16 more lb-ft of torque, but it's also about 200 pounds heavier.

Given the nearly equal power-to-weight ratios, the cars should have had nearly equal acceleration times. A likely explanation for the RSX's quicker times is the difference in shifter quality. The RSX's shifter throws are short and precise, allowing faster shifts. One item in our 20-point evaluation category rates transmission performance. The Acura earned the highest score; the Toyota earned the lowest.

The RSX's advantages end with acceleration, however. Sixty-to-0 mph braking takes 128 feet, a figure the RSX must unceremoniously share with the Eclipse as the longest distance in the test. Slalom testing is equally unimpressive; the Celica, Eclipse and GTI bettered the Acura's 64.9 mph speed. This is partially due to the RSX's average-sized 205/55R16 tires.

At the racetrack, the RSX manages to compose itself and put together lap times that are faster than most of the group's. Its horsepower and easy-to-drive nature allow drivers to string together quick lap sessions. The thick steering wheel rim has a small diameter, allowing for quick driver inputs. The flat surfaces of a racetrack are also kind to the Acura's suspension, and the car feels controlled and balanced as it carves through corners.

This is not necessarily the case on canyon roads, as the car's new compact double wishbone rear suspension has a difficult time absorbing bumps. This can cause an unsettling feeling for the driver when bumps are encountered mid-corner. We have noticed this problem on the Honda Civic, a car with which the RSX shares its basic suspension design. Driven over the same pavement, the older Prelude, thanks to its full double wishbone suspensions front and rear, manages to feel more secure and under control.

On city streets, this suspension-tuning quirk rarely shows itself, and the RSX manages to be an enjoyable, though not outstanding, companion. Our major gripe concerns the exterior styling. Yes, of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that jive, but that won't stop us from telling you we don't like it. One editor commented that when he looks at the RSX all he sees is "a Civic with unimaginative headlights." He further said that, "The car couldn't be more plain and featureless."

The cabin is certainly better. Thickly bolstered leather seats are standard with the Type-S trim, and they offer good support all around. There are no adjustable headrests, however, and a driver's armrest is MIA. According to the spec sheets, the RSX has the least amount of rear headroom. True enough, it is tight and any regular-sized adult will find his head rubbing on the rear hatch's glass. Legroom is adequate, though, and most of our editors thought the actual seats were comfortable. Accessing the rear seats is difficult as the passenger-side seat is hard to move out of the way.

Like other Acura products, nearly every feature is standard. This includes side airbags, antilock brakes, a six-disc CD changer, keyless entry, a one-touch up-and-down driver's window, auxiliary audio controls on the steering wheel, a power moonroof and automatic climate control.

Some automatic climate controls we've encountered are difficult to figure out, but not the Acura's. They are very easy to use, as are the audio system's controls. We also like the silver-faced gauges and the big glove box. We don't like Acura's following the Honda tradition of placing the cruise control activation and moonroof buttons on the left side of the dash, however. Some of us also think the plastics used for the dash and doors should be of higher quality given the car's "luxury brand" status.

Because of these faults, the RSX is perhaps not the home run some people would have liked it to be, considering the fact that Acura had from '94 to '01 to come up with an Integra replacement. But in the end, it is clearly the best front-drive sport coupe on the market. Like other Honda and Acura products, the RSX expertly blends performance, comfort and features into a package that costs less than most of the competition. If you're looking for a sport coupe that can do it all, the RSX will be happy to please.

SECOND OPINONS:

Editor-in-Chief Karl Brauer Says:
I was afraid Acura would screw up the Integra when the company finally redesigned it, but I'm happy to report that my fears were unfounded...mostly. The RSX can lay claim to the best shifter in this class. It's also got sublime steering and a powerful engine with a refreshingly wide power band (did you hear that, Toyota?). Luxury has also been addressed so as not to betray those Acura badges. Automatic climate control was a welcome surprise, as was a six-disc in-dash CD changer and a one-touch up-and-down driver's window.

So what's with my "mostly" comment? The biggest problem I have with the RSX is its looks. While the Integra never made me think "Honda" when seeing one on the street, the RSX simply screams "upgraded Civic." I'm also not a fan of the rear suspension, which transmitted bumps into the cabin with a loud "thud" when driving on public roads. I still think it's the best sport coupe around, especially considering the price/content relationship. I just wish it offered a more upscale appearance.

Associate Editor Liz Kim says:
What a fun little speedster! The RSX really appealed to me, even though I felt like I was being unfaithful to the memory of the dearly departed Integra. Although I prefer the looks of the second-generation Integra, the RSX is still slick and much more appealing than the more edgy and polemical Celica. And the package is so much more livable than the Toyota's. The fit and finish is better, and the 200 ponies from the engine are much more accessible than those of the Celica's high-strung four-cylinder. The shifter's much easier to use, as well; it's more of a joy than a chore.

The only issue I have with the RSX is the weird rear suspension hop over bumps; I'm assuming that it has to do with the newfangled compact design. While it didn't upset the chassis too badly, this definitely wasn't a ride characteristic of the front-and-rear double wishbones of the Integra. Steering is perfect, but the Celica transmitted more road feel. Overall, however, it's gonna be the gold standard for sport coupes, and it's the one that I'd lay my money down on.

Photo Editor Scott Jacobs says:
The Acura is just so-so in my book. It does most things well, but nothing all that great. Like other editors, I wasn't too wild about the looks. The front end is sporty and good looking, but toward the rear, it seems to lose its sporty stance. It's like the designers got bored by the time they got to the back.

The interior is interesting, but just didn't hit its mark with me. I didn't find it as aesthetically pleasing as the GTI. The seats look awesome, but I found them a little uncomfortable from all the bolstering. The best quality of this car is the engine. It is powerful and responsive.

Stereo Evaluation - 2002 Acura RSX Type-S

Ranking in Stereo Test: Fourth

Score: 7.0

Components: The Acura/Bose system uses seven speakers including wonderful tweeters near the windshield and a dog of a subwoofer in the spare wheel. Running the show is a six-CD in-dash changer with a tape deck, large buttons and lights to aid CD loading.

Performance: The clean sound of the Bose tweeters reflects off the windshield to produce an intricate soundstage with few "dead" spots. Small woofers in the doors and larger speakers above the rear armrests provide decent amounts of clear bass. The Bose Richbass Woofer sounds special, but it's not. The space-saving enclosure squeezes a 6-inch sub inside the spare wheel hub, but the uneven output struggles through styrofoam and carpet to get into the cabin.

Best Feature: Tweeters that use the windshield.

Worst Feature: Wasted woofer.

Conclusion: Sound reproduction is accurate and exciting thanks to speaker placement, except for the annoying rumble coming from the fancy woofer in the back of the car. — Trevor Reed

Chevrolet Camaro Z28 vs. Ford Mustang Bullitt GT

We had a hard time deciding what to do with the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang. Should we include them in the mix and have an eight-vehicle comparison test? Let them duke it out against each other? Just blow it all off and go do doughnuts at the local mall's parking lot until the rear rubber burns off? These are the type of tough decisions that we face every day. Yes, we know. Our jobs are rough.

Ultimately, we decided to put the Mustang and Camaro in a room, close the door and, you know, see what happened. While their pricing and two-door formats fit the parameters of this test, it's too difficult to compare the Mustang and Camaro to the other cars when their designs and intended audiences are so radically different.

While we separated these cars from the rest of the pack, this doesn't mean that they are lepers. By all means, if you are considering a purchase of a sport coupe, you at least owe it to yourself to read up on these two cars. Who knows, you might decide that one of them just might be for you.

The initial plan for this test called for a basic Mustang GT but we were unable to get one due to scheduling conflicts. We ended up with the more expensive but more feature-laden Mustang Bullitt GT. This special-edition Mustang derives its name, obviously enough, from the notorious film Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen and featuring a 1968 Mustang GT Fastback. The Bullitt costs about $3,700 more than a regular GT. In return, it comes with minor visual tweaks, a lowered and a more stiffly tuned suspension, a bit more power and larger brakes.

Is the Bullitt worth the extra price? From a get-up-and-go standpoint, the $3,700 doesn't seem to add much. The 4.6-liter SOHC V8 makes 265 hp at 5,000 rpm and 305 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, an increase of just 5 hp and 3 lb-ft of torque over a regular GT. Of course, this is still plenty of oomph, and the Bullitt does produce more useable power in the midrange as well as a fantastic burbling V8 soundtrack thanks to specially tuned mufflers. But as has been the case with the Mustang over the past decade or two, it finds itself getting whooped when it stands up head-to-head against the Camaro.

The Chevy's 5.7-liter OHV V8 makes 310 hp at 5,200 rpm and a brutish 340 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Of the engines in this test, this is one you want if you have a fetish for sickening acceleration. NHRA-like power is available from idle all the way up to redline. Even in sixth gear and the engine turning below 1,500 rpm, the Camaro has the libido necessary to accelerate up hills. If you're at a stop, just keep the wheels straight, bring up the revs a bit and then release the clutch as you hammer the throttle. The Camaro blasts forth like Marshall Faulk breaking through a weak defensive secondary.

With our timing equipment at the ready, we found that the Z28 accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds and passes the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds at 105.4 mph. Yes, boys and girls, this is quite fast for a car that starts at just a bit more than $22,000. It is faster than any of the front-drive cars, and faster than the Mustang, too. The best we could get out of the Mustang Bullitt was a 5.9-second 0-to-60-mph time and a quarter-mile of 14.4 seconds at 99.5 mph. The Camaro also has the best binders; stops from 60 mph take just 116 feet, compared to the Bullitt's 125 feet.

So the Camaro has the muscle, but the Mustang typically has more grace. So what happens when the road gets twisty? To find out, we took these cars to Willow Springs Raceway along with the other sport coupes. The Vegas betting line (you can bet on anything in Vegas, right?) favored the Mustang. Because of its lowered suspension, Tokico shocks and subframe connectors, the Bullitt is arguably the best handling Mustang for 2001. And yes, we're including the SVT Cobra.

But after the tire smoke from the power slides cleared and the lap times were averaged, the Z28 sneaked out a slight edge over the Bullitt. Its average lap time was a 1:24.9 compared to the Mustang's 1:25.3. Round Two goes to the Bow Tie boys.

Now things get tricky. When asked which car they liked better on the track, our editors favored the Mustang. Why? It's certainly more fun to drive. It is more controlled, and it feels better connected to the pavement through its steering and suspension. The Camaro certainly has the ability to handle; it's just that it doesn't communicate well and therefore the driver has to just trust that the big 245/50R16 tires are doing their job properly.

Taken off the racetrack and placed on public roads, the Mustang continues to hold the advantage in ride quality and stability (though neither car is able to match the nimble feel provided by the Celica or the RSX). The Camaro, in particular, feels like a ham-fisted lout when asked to thread its way over tight canyon roads. The Mustang is more maneuverable, but both cars' solid-axle rear suspensions can be upset by mid-corner bumps.

In city environments, more of the Camaro's faults are revealed. Outward visibility is poor due to a long dash and hood and small side mirrors. Camaro drivers will also encounter front seats that lack headrests or any real head support. Our editors ranked them as the least comfortable of all the cars' in the test. We also were not impressed with the Camaro's controls or the quality of its interior materials. Both the window switches and the optional steering wheel-mounted audio controls have a toy-like feel that makes them hard to operate, and the gray cloth on our test car had a depressingly cheap look to it.

In terms of refinement, the Mustang is clearly better than the Camaro. It's interior, while still no match against cars like the RSX or GTI, isn't so obviously low-grade like the Camaro's. The Bullitt trim certainly helped the Mustang in this regard, as it adds nice retro touches like charcoal-colored leather seats, a '60s-era font for the gauges, and metal highlights for the shifter, pedals and doorsills. It is also the better-looking of the two cars thanks to its subtle but effective Bullitt exterior trim. What minor complaints there were revolved around the awkward clutch and shifter and a fussy power driver seat that kept blowing its fuse.

Looking at the final rankings reveals a landslide victory for the Mustang Bullitt GT. Despite being slower and more expensive (two adjectives that no sport coupe will ever want to be associated with), our editors unanimously picked the Mustang over the Camaro for what they would personally buy and what they would recommend to consumers. The Chevy is fun to punt around in for a few days, and Lord knows it's fast. But it's too unwieldy, too boisterous and not something you want to make a long-term commitment to. Wondering why the Mustang outsells the Camaro (and its Firebird sibling) almost three to one? Now you know.

SECOND OPINIONS FOR CAMARO:

Editor-in-Chief Karl Brauer says:
Like the Prelude, the Camaro is going away soon. But unlike the Prelude, I won't be missing this vehicle. While the car has hung on like a trooper despite GM's lack of investment in it over the past nine years, the simple truth is that it needs to either die or be redesigned. Apparently, it's going to do both. I still like the powerful V8 and competent brakes, but there's not much more to praise on this vehicle. The seats are absolutely horrid, the shifter is clunky (and still has that annoying 1-4 skip shift "feature") and the steering lacks adequate feedback. Trying to hustle it through tight canyon turns betrays its high curb weight and mediocre suspension tuning, though it remained relatively composed at the track.

Driving this car back-to-back with the others made me realize how far performance coupes have come. Interior design and materials, functionality, comfort and even cupholder placement have all improved tremendously in the last 10 years, though you wouldn't know it from driving a Camaro. With this car it seems like GM is saying "The car makes great horsepower so you must forgive all other sins." If all you care about are lap times, GM may have a point. But if you care about anything else, they're wrong.

Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
It's hard to knock a performance car that offers such an incredible powertrain for such a reasonable price. The LS-1 V8 is easily one of the best engines available in any production car right now, let alone one that costs just $25K. On the track, the Camaro proved to be every bit as fun as the Mustang, although the more cumbersome steering and slightly awkward proportions made for trickier maneuvering. The Hurst shifter was a welcome companion for quick shifts and the vise-like brakes made for extremely fast entrances into the corners.

On the street, the Camaro loses some of its luster as the poor visibility and shaky ride make for a less-than-thrilling commuter car. The cheap interior materials don't help much, and misaligned dash panels don't bode well for long-term reliability. There's barely enough room in back for a couple of toddlers, and the limited cargo space would be a burden for weekend getaways.

But like the Mustang, the Camaro isn't about practicality. It's a car you buy because you like the feeling of blasting down a freeway onramp at full thrust. For this, the Camaro rules. Unfortunately, those moments are all too brief, leaving the stellar drivetrain overshadowed by subpar ergonomics and poor build quality.

Associate Editor Liz Kim says:
When I first got into this bad boy (my first experience with an F-body), I was filled with contempt and ire. "Why the heck doesn't the ignition key go in, why is the interior so damn ugly, what the hell is wrong with the shifter?! And why would anybody buy this thing?" I had heard the usual admonitions of it being really large and heavy. However, after driving on our loop, the big lug had grown on me. You simply can't argue with that much horsepower. It was rumbling along the freeway at speed in fourth gear — I never really had to go into fifth, let along sixth, but I did just for kicks. And the exhaust gurgle — OK, I'm not really a fan, but I can see how it would be a symphony to a fan's ears.

And oh, how it rips down the road on a deserted strip of pavement. The engine belts to redline in a joyous aria, and the car warps to triple-digit speeds, leaving your innards permanently etched into the seat. Now, excuse me while I go frost my hair, buy some spandex outfits and date Joey Buttafuoco.

SECOND OPINIONS FOR MUSTANG:

Editor-in-Chief Karl Brauer says:
Unlike GM, Ford continues to invest money in its pony car, with an associated payoff in the sales race. The Mustang has outsold the Camaro (and the Firebird, and the Camaro and Firebird, combined) for almost a decade. And this is in spite of the fact that it costs more than the GM F-bodies while offering less horsepower. So what gives? Superior comfort, better steering, a more rigid chassis, higher-quality interior materials and, last but not least, better build quality (though our test car had a problem with the power seat controls and blown fuses).

The Bullitt is the first in a line of "special edition" Mustangs planned for the next few years. It shows Ford's commitment to the model and gives owners the option of getting a Mustang that is a little bit different from the standard rental car version. This one has only slightly more peak power (though it has a noticeably broader powerband) along with slick wheels, improved suspension tuning and one of the coolest exhaust sounds this side of Maranello.

Sure, the Camaro is quicker in a straight line, but as our lap times show, the F-body gives up most of that power advantage when the road gets twisty. And when you aren't going for lap times or quarter-mile times, the Mustang is better in every way. If you spend more than 50 percent of your time on public roads instead of racetracks, it's pretty obvious which is the better car.

Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
After hours on end driving nothing but rev-happy four-cylinders and the occasional V6, getting behind the wheel of the Bullitt reminded me why they built big, burly pony cars in the first place. With rear-wheel drive, acres of torque and an exhaust note that matches any "premium" audio system I've ever heard, the Mustang was pure joy no matter how poorly the cheap plastic dash panels were aligned.

Out on the track, the Bullitt displayed a balance and poise that the Camaro just couldn't match. The miniscule horsepower gain over the standard GT barely registered, but the broader torque band certainly made itself known. On the down side, the shifter is still a little awkward with its long throws, and the brakes didn't inspire quite as much confidence as the Camaro's supreme binders.

Back in the real world, the Mustang again proved itself a cut above the antiquated Camaro. Visibility was superior, the front bucket seats offered a greater range of adjustment and better comfort, and the rear seats were somewhat usable if not comfortable.

Then again, some would say that these cars aren't meant to be around-town cruisers, that speed is all that matters and therefore the Camaro wins. But after a couple weeks with the two modern-day muscle machines, the Mustang proved that sometimes being good at everything is better than being great at just one thing.

Associate Editor Liz Kim says:
From its hood scoop to its red calipers, this car looks like it's been ladled with grade-A testosterone. The engine makes a naughty noise, and it feels so much more nimble than its American muscle competition. They're no match in terms of horsepower, however.

I was annoyed by our problem with the seat (the fuse kept going out), and even when it was working, like all Ford products, I could never get comfortable because the seat doesn't go down far enough. And what's with the power control mounted at the front of the seat? If you're unlucky to be stuck in traffic like I was both nights I had it, you'll curse the heavy clutch engagement, and fit and finish of the interior is no match for the Japanese cars (save for the ill-behaved Mitsu).

But get the equine out on a open highway and let 'er rip; the Mustang will be here long after the demise of the brutish F-bodies.

Stereo Evaluation - 2001 Ford Mustang Bullitt GT

Ranking in Stereo Test: Second

Score: 8.0

Components: A six-disc CD changer with a bright display and large buttons is mounted low in the front console. Four large 5.5-inch by 7.5-inch drivers mounted in the front doors and rear deck along with 2.5-inch mid-range tweeters in the side mirror patches have 460-watts peak power to play with.

Performance: Five sound settings (News, Jazz, Church, Hall and Club) and the placement of the mid-tweeters do wonders for this strong system, but it still sounds like a Ford stereo — just louder. Highs splinter at times and bass can be sloppy, but this happens at volumes the other systems cannot reach.

Best Feature: Adjustable soundscapes.

Worst Feature: Low-mounted head unit.

Conclusion: The MACH 460 has plenty of muscle (with even more available in 2002), and the speakers do a pretty good job of handling it. — Trevor Reed

Stereo Evaluation - 2001 Chevrolet Camaro Z28

Ranking in Test: Fifth

Score: 6.5

Components: A Monsoon system with 500 watts of peak power and a cassette player is standard on eight-cylinder Camaros. A single-disc CD player in the dash and a 12-CD changer are options. Buttons are large and include steering wheel-mounted controls. Two dome tweeters try to handle the highs. Four 6-inch speakers are in the doors and above the rear armrests, while 4-inch speakers provide fill from enclosures above the rear wheels.

Performance: Unfortunately, lots of speakers and tons of power do not guarantee great sound. The drivers do a better job of shaking the mirrors than reproducing music. Highs are plain and vocals sound flat, even with the aid of lousy soundstage presets (I turned them off). Bass is loud and pumps from six different locations, but the small speakers flutter when hitting deep notes.

Best Feature: Steering wheel-mounted controls.

Worst Feature: Not enough tweeters.

Conclusion: The stereo is powerful and Monsoon makes some good speakers, but the enormous dash space is wasted, making the lack of highs apparent. — Trevor Reed

Conclusion

OK. You want to buy a sport coupe. We've got eight of them here. Which one are you going to pick?

The back markers — the Mercury Cougar, the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Honda Prelude — don't have much going for them. The Cougar is slow and if production ended today, none of us here would probably notice. The Prelude is being killed, a rather unfortunate turn of events for an enjoyable car that has a long and prestigious history. Like we said in the Prelude's coverage, just buy a used one; you'll get the same car for less money. As for the Eclipse, a redesign can't happen soon enough. Too bad it's still two to three years away.

The remaining three front-drive cars each offer enough positive attributes to be recommended to consumers. The selection process is rather easy. If speed and superb driving dynamics are your primary desires, go with the Celica. If you want comfort and amenities, the GTI is your car. If you want a slightly diluted combination of both, drop by your local Acura dealer and plunk down for an RSX.

Compared to these six cars, the two American pony cars are loud, brutish and unrefined. Their rear-drive powertrains limit their usefulness in the snow and in the wet. Yet they cost about the same amount of money and offer vastly superior performance. Is a Mustang in your future?

We can't answer that, but we do recommend examining all of the options before settling. Read our test. Call your insurance company and find out how much each car will be to insure (the V8 cars will typically be more). Investigate long-term reliability and dependability. As the '80s GI Joe cartoon used to say, "Knowing is half the battle." Once you do this, a shiny new sport coupe will appear in your driveway.

Evaluation - Drive
Evaluation - Ride
Evaluation - Design
Evaluation - Cargo/Passenger Space

Evaluation - Drive

Engine Performance
Vehicle Score Rank
Acura RSX Type-S 9.0 1
Toyota Celica GT-S 8.3 2
Honda Prelude SH 8.0 3(t)
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 8.0 3(t)
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 7.5 5
Mercury Cougar Zn 5.5 6
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 9.8 1
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 8.3 2
Transmission
Vehicle Score Rank
Acura RSX Type-S 9.8 1
Honda Prelude SH 8.5 2
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 7.3 3
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 7.0 4
Mercury Cougar Zn 6.0 5
Toyota Celica GT-S 5.3 6
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 7.8 1
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 5.8 2
Braking
Vehicle Score Rank
Toyota Celica GT-S 9.8 1
Acura RSX Type-S 8.5 2
Honda Prelude SH 7.8 3
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 7.3 4
Mercury Cougar Zn 6.8 5
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 6.5 6
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 7.8 1(t)
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 7.8 1(t)
Suspension
Vehicle Score Rank
Toyota Celica GT-S 8.8 1
Honda Prelude SH 8.0 2
Acura RSX Type-S 7.5 3
Mercury Cougar Zn 7.0 4(t)
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 7.0 4(t)
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 5.3 6
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 7.5 1
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 5.3 2
Tires
Vehicle Score Rank
Toyota Celica GT-S 8.8 1
Honda Prelude SH 8.3 2
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 7.8 3
Acura RSX Type-S 7.5 4
Mercury Cougar Zn 7.0 5
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 6.0 6
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 9.0 1
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 7.3 2
Steering
Vehicle Score Rank
Toyota Celica GT-S 9.8 1
Acura RSX Type-S 8.8 2
Honda Prelude SH 8.3 3
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 7.8 4
Mercury Cougar Zn 6.0 5
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 5.0 6
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 7.0 1
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 4.5 2
Visibility
Vehicle Score Rank
Honda Prelude SH 9.3 1
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 9.0 2
Acura RSX Type-S 8.8 3
Mercury Cougar Zn 6.0 4
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 5.8 5
Toyota Celica GT-S 5.3 6
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 8.3 1
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 3.8 2
Fun to Drive
Vehicle Score Rank
Toyota Celica GT-S 8.8 1
Acura RSX Type-S 8.5 2
Honda Prelude SH 7.8 3
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 6.8 4
Mercury Cougar Zn 6.0 5
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 5.8 6
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 9.0 1
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 7.5 2

Evaluation - Ride

Seat Comfort Front
Vehicle Score Rank
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 8.8 1
Honda Prelude SH 8.3 2(t)
Toyota Celica GT-S 8.3 2(t)
Acura RSX Type-S 7.3 4(t)
Mercury Cougar Zn 7.3 4(t)
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 6.0 6
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 7.0 1
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 4.8 2
Seat Comfort Rear
Vehicle Score Rank
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 9.5 1
Acura RSX Type-S 6.8 2
Mercury Cougar Zn 6.5 3
Toyota Celica GT-S 5.5 4
Honda Prelude SH 5.3 5
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 2.8 6
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 6.0 1
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 5.0 2
Wind & Road Noise
Vehicle Score Rank
Honda Prelude SH 8.3 1
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 7.8 2
Acura RSX Type-S 7.3 3
Mercury Cougar Zn 6.8 4
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 6.5 5
Toyota Celica GT-S 5.0 6
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 7.8 1
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 7.0 2
Rattles & Squeaks
Vehicle Score Rank
Honda Prelude SH 9.5 1
Acura RSX Type-S 9.0 2
Toyota Celica GT-S 8.5 3
Mercury Cougar Zn 7.8 4
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 6.0 5(t)
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 6.0 5(t)
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 8.0 1
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 6.8 2

Evaluation - Design

Interior Materials
Vehicle Score Rank
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 9.3 1
Honda Prelude SH 7.8 2
Mercury Cougar Zn 7.0 3
Acura RSX Type-S 6.8 4
Toyota Celica GT-S 5.5 5
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 4.5 6
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 6.3 1
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 4.0 2
Climate Control/Stereo Design/Operation
Vehicle Score Rank
Acura RSX Type-S 9.0 1
Toyota Celica GT-S 8.5 2
Mercury Cougar Zn 6.5 3(t)
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 6.5 3(t)
Honda Prelude SH 5.5 5
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 5.3 6
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 6.8 1
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 6.5 2
Secondary Control Design/Operation
Vehicle Score Rank
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 8.5 1
Honda Prelude SH 8.3 2
Acura RSX Type-S 7.8 3
Mercury Cougar Zn 7.0 4(t)
Toyota Celica GT-S 7.0 4(t)
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 5.8 6
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 6.8 1
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 3.5 2
Exterior Design
Vehicle Score Rank
Mercury Cougar Zn 7.5 1
Toyota Celica GT-S 7.0 2
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 6.8 3
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 6.3 4
Honda Prelude SH 5.8 5
Acura RSX Type-S 4.5 6
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 9.5 1
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 5.0 2
Overall Build Quality
Vehicle Score Rank
Honda Prelude SH 9.0 1
Toyota Celica GT-S 8.0 2
Acura RSX Type-S 7.8 3(t)
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 7.8 3(t)
Mercury Cougar Zn 7.3 5
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 6.0 6
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 4.5 1
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 3.0 2

Evaluation - Cargo/Passenger Space

Entry/Exit
Vehicle Score Rank
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 10.0 1
Acura RSX Type-S 8.0 2(t)
Mercury Cougar Zn 8.0 2(t)
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 6.8 4
Toyota Celica GT-S 6.5 5(t)
Honda Prelude SH 6.5 5(t)
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 7.0 1
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 4.5 2
Expanding/Loading Cargo
Vehicle Score Rank
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 9.8 1
Acura RSX Type-S 8.8 2
Toyota Celica GT-S 7.3 3
Mercury Cougar Zn 5.3 4
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 5.0 5(t)
Honda Prelude SH 5.0 5(t)
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 5.6 1
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 5.5 2
Storage Space/Cupholders
Vehicle Score Rank
Toyota Celica GT-S 7.3 1
Acura RSX Type-S 7.0 2
Honda Prelude SH 6.8 3
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 6.3 4
Mercury Cougar Zn 6.0 5(t)
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 6.0 5(t)
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 5.8 1
Ford Mustang GT Bullitt 5.0 2

2002 Acura RSX Type-S

"I bought an RSX Type-S two weeks ago, after test driving the Prelude, WRX, and Eclipse GT. My last car was a Plymouth Laser RS Turbo with an auto transmission. About four weeks ago, the Laser's turbocharger failed at 124K, and it trashed the engine. So I had to make up my mind on my next car quickly. I prefer the exterior of the RSX over the others, plus the WRX's interior would have been a step down compared to my previous car. Acura's high reliability rating is important to me, since I plan to keep the car at least seven years. I wanted the 200-horsepower Type-S, so I had to decide that I could learn to drive a six-speed in commuter traffic. When I test-drove the Type-S, I found it was easy to shift. I've driven the Type-S over 1,000 miles, and I'm very happy with it — it's fun to drive, once out of the traffic. The only option I got was wheel locks. The other options seem overpriced to me. I bought a silver windshield shade to prevent the black interior from getting too hot." — debjacobson, "Acura RSX (2002)," #338 of 433, Aug. 13, 2001

"I've had my RSX-S for a week now, and I absolutely love the car. I don't think I can add much to this forum by simply repeating all the positive reviews that I generally agree with and that most of you have probably read, e.g. great engine, high quality interior materials, great handling, supportive seats, etc.... OK, I can't help but add that the stick shift is absolutely the best. Very precise, very quick, very short. By far the best I've ever used. Also, in terms handling I expected less and was pleasantly surprised. Pushed the car a lot in corners, and as far as I could tell there was no under steer — it was very neutral. I think the body is very sturdy. Definitely feels more uncompromising over bumps compared to my old 1997 BMW M3 (lease ended last year). It may not be just as fast in corners as the M3, but the body stiffness and the quick heavy steering make the RSX-S more precise and tossable and fun than the M3 (the old one, at least). Actually, it feels more like a single-seater cart than a street car.... Things to watch out for.... Stereo: The Bose stereo on my Maxima is much better the Bose in the RSX-S. Actually I thought the woofer in the trunk was not working and brought the car back to the dealer. It turned out it was working. The bottom line is — the stereo sound is clear, but fairly weak, and the bass is pitiful compared to my Maxima. Front-passenger Legroom: I may just be too picky here. The legroom, generally, is great. However, you cannot rest your feet comfortably on the passenger side, because the space under the dash gets very narrow, so if your heels are on the floor there is no space for your toes.... Trunk Isolation: Like the Integra (I used to have a 1990 GS hatchback) there is virtually no sound insulation from the trunk. If you have cargo in the trunk that rattles, it sounds as if it is right next to you in the cabin.... Road Noise: I think it's mainly to do with the stock Michelin tires...." — sgrd0q, "Acura RSX (2002), #197 of 434, July 12, 2001

"I was very intrigued by the Benz C230, but by the time I added what I wanted to it (automatic transmission, moonroof), the sticker price was up in the 28-29K range. Besides, a rear-wheel-drive car in upstate New York is asking for trouble. I bought a base RSX. Just drove it home today actually." — carlovee, "Mercedes-Benz C230 Vs Acura RSX (2002)," #5 of 34, July 27, 2001

2001 Honda Prelude

"I bought the Prelude a couple of months ago but I did drive the WRX first. It was fast, fast, fast. There is no question about that, but I needed a car with a little more polish, and the WRX just didn't fit the bill. Like someone else said, the WRX did not feel like a $25K car, the Prelude did. Also, I wasn't sure if I could see the WRX in my driveway four years from now, but I'll always be damn proud to own a Prelude. I don't know many cars that inspire loyalty as much as the Prelude did; I know people who have '80s models sitting dead in their parking lots after 12 or 15 years of use because they can't bring themselves to junk them or sell them.... As for driving experience versus the 'lude, both the RSX and WRX are much quicker and feel a lot lighter. The WRX felt a lot more agile than the Prelude but the RSX did not. By no means was it bad but I think I'd be more confident in aggressive driving in the Prelude. The WRX interior sucks, loose switchgear, poor ergonomics, and the visibility wasn't quite what I was used to at the time. The RSX interior was much more lux than the Prelude, but in retrospect, the Prelude seemed to get everything right whereas the RSX has some ups and downs. The Prelude has better visibility, better styling, seems to have a better stereo despite being hush-hush-Honda-OEM versus hey-I'm-Bose, a better dash waterfall and a more business-like interior. The Prelude is the car the "Men in Black" would drive if they drove Asian 2+2 coupes. I will not take the $$$ hit to trade in a fifth-gen Prelude for a WRX or an RSX, but instead will save the money and enjoy it until my spot on the M3 list arrives in a couple of years. I recommend the same to others. The RSX and the WRX are both steps up, which is to be expected since the Prelude is basically a 5+-year-old car at this point. The fact that it still outdoes these two wonderful coupes in some ways speaks volumes about the Prelude's overall package, and it's a shame that wonderful platform will sit idle from here on out. I think the WRX and RSX are great cars but they are not enough of a step up to make me want to pay to part with the Prelude. That M3 on the other hand...." — sphinx99, "Honda Prelude—Affordable Coupes Part 3," #375 of 451, July 14, 2001

"...I own a 2001 Prelude and love its excellent handling (doesn't mean comfort), high revs and sporty look and feel. High revs mean noise, but that's the way it should be." — racerzrx7, "Honda Prelude—Affordable Coupes Part 3," #71 of 451, Jan. 2, 2001

"I have owned several Hondas, an '81 Civic Wagon, '91 CRX Si, a '96 Integra GSR and a '99 Prelude. I bought all of them new. The CRX was the best car I have ever owned.... I bought the base model Prelude with a five-speed tranny because I wanted the extra five horses the manual has over the auto (200 vs. 195 bhp). I also didn't want the trick suspension the Type-SH comes with. I guess I bought this car too late in life. No doubt about it, it is a great car to own, if you're about 22, single and short. Living in a large city (Houston) with dreadful traffic, the five-speed (though sweet) has been a poor choice. In the city, I rarely get out of third gear because of the heavy traffic, so the constant shifting and clutch work grows tiresome. Inside, the front seats are comfortable (firm & supportive) in a grippy/sturdy black fabric.... Switchgear and instruments are clear and have that great quality feel to them. Considering the Prelude's price, it would be nice to have had automatic climate control. The air conditioning and heat perform well, although the switchgear design is an older looking slider design. Getting into and out of the car isn't easy for my 39-year-old body. The driver seat comes with a manual height adjuster, which I have found to be useless since headroom is lacking no matter how I adjust the seat. With the five-speed, if you have anything other than a small can in the cup holder(s), the drink will be in the way of shifting the gears. I always end up putting the drink between my legs! ...The base stereo CD sounds great to me! The option list for this car is limited. It comes standard with what I consider the basic 'luxury' items, power windows, locks, mirrors, and moonroof. You can't get leather, the previously mentioned automatic climate control, garage door opener in the visor and side airbags.... Handling is this car's forte. Its ride is above par for a small sporty car, and it feels stable on most road surfaces. Road noise is fairly limited and much less than in our Integra.... I love to 'VTEC' my car...the feeling of being thrown back into the seat when it kicks in is nearly orgasmic (I said, nearly).... A few quality issues have surprised me with my car. The weather stripping around the windshield is constantly coming out of place. I have taken it to the dealer on more than one occasion. All they do is put tape on it and let it sit in the sun, which never works for long. My 'H' on the back trunk feels like it could fall off at any minute.... Rattles began cropping up shortly after I bought it. This is the first Honda I have ever owned that has rattled this bad.... These are all minor nit picks that have added up to a somewhat less than stellar experience in the 25 months I have owned the car. I hate to say it...but it's been my least favorite Honda I have owned...." — jkidd2, "Honda Prelude—Affordable Coupes Part 3," #112 of 451, Jan. 17, 2001

2001 Mercury Cougar

"I just hit 4,200 miles on my 2001 Cougar and have seen no problems. It's a great ride. I highly recommend getting the V6 manual. The power is greatly noticeable between the automatic and manual transmissions. Test-drive both of them to see for yourself." — smc7, "Mercury Cougar," #617 of 617, Sept. 5, 2001

"Well, a Mercedes it ain't, but on a twisty section of road, it does a pretty good imitation. As far as long distance driving (Interstate-type) the Cougar is comfortable for me, has enough power to provide passing ease, and is pretty smooth overall. You may want to think of it as sport touring, rather than big car touring.... General reliability on mine has been good, just a few little things like the lumbar support and hatch operation (needed the right springs)." — gustafsc, "Mercury Cougar," #551 of 611, May 10, 2001

"I picked it up on Saturday and have loved every minute with the Cougar C2. It is a great car! I just love the handling, looks, comfort, and room. Everyone loves how it looks and wants rides in it. 'Course, they also want to drive it and that will never happen!" — ksuwildcat001, "Mercury Cougar," #579 of 611, July 11, 2001

2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT

"I am the proud owner of a Saronno Red 2000 Eclipse GT (five-speed). I should also point out that I have owned every generation of the Eclipse line... a '91, '96 and now the 2000. As far as reliability is concerned, I never had any problems with any of the cars aside from regular maintenance (clutch replacement, brakes and regular engine maintenance).... The new Eclipse is a blast! It is very comfortable and drives like a dream. It's almost as much fun to drive just cruising around as it is driving fast. The engine provides plenty of power (V6) at all ranges... it is a real driver's car. The car also feels very solid and planted on the road. You feel like you're always in control and the car feels very substantial... even roomy.... I do have to tell you that if you go for the Eclipse... go for the V6 GT — it's not that much more than the four-cylinder GS, and I think you get the most for your money. Bottom line, if you want a refined sports coupe...a car with a great ride, plenty of power, great package of options and who's Diamond Star Motors Clubs are renowned throughout the country for camaraderie and support... go for the Eclipse." — skat1, "2000 Eclipse vs. 2000 Celica," #5 of 25, Oct. 3, 1999

"I have had my silver loaded GT now for four months. No problems, I also have a '90 Plymouth Laser (11 years), [which has] had many problems. I paid $26K for the new one — $36K after loan value added in ($620 a month). I love the new sound of the engine. No rattles or noises, and I am picky. The dealer is fantastic in support (for the Laser — that's why I went back for a new one). The 2001 top end after the 3,500-mile break-in is about 120 mph (the Laser with 127,000 miles will still do 135 mph — with turbo, it's quicker). Can't beat the handling on lake roads. I haven't made it slide yet and I have tried. The anti-lock brakes saved a crash last week, but it sounded like I was sliding on gravel. The owner's manual said it should sound that way. As long as they worked is all that counts. I got the car with no down payment, no interest, no payments for the first year. The trick is to pay it off in one year." — darrellaharris, "Mitsubishi Eclipse," #14 of 29, April 21, 2001

"...I am a proud owner of a white GT. It drives great, has plenty of power, the nifty Sportronic shifter is really nice, lets you drive it as either an automatic or manual. Main thing about this car, though, is it's a blast to drive! ...The V6 on the Eclipse has good torque pretty much over the entire band.... [And] the Eclipse has functional rear seats...." — jason33, "2000 Eclipse vs. 2000 Celica," #4 of 25, Oct. 3, 1999

2001 Toyota Celica GT-S

"I'm a proud owner of a 2000 Celica 2000 GTS, hot red with all the extras. I bought it with my Nasdaq profits, and I find driving the car is as exciting as my day trading. While most people compare 0-60 speeds, I enjoy the acceleration from 40 to 80 on expressways. Also, the eight-speaker sound system rocks, and the bass can be heard by all the surrounding cars. I get many compliments and requests for joy rides, especially by the attractive female type. After four months of owning the GTS, I still get excited when I start the engine. I do not enjoy the small backseat. I hardly use it, but when I picked up my sister and her two children from the airport, it was tough (but possible) fitting two car seats in the back. The kids complained about having no room to swing their feet, and their window view was small. But then, rear-seat comfort isn't why I bought a car like this." — mt_kilimanjaro, "Toyota Celica (Hatchbacks)," #17 of 574, Nov. 19, 2000

"I own a 00 GT-S six-speed with 3,000 miles. I love my car. I purchased it because I wanted something with decent power and good gas mileage. Price was also a factor. I've owned at least 10 Trans Ams and Camaros. I love them, but the gas mileage is not good for a daily driver. I don't see how anyone can compare the Celica to either of these cars. They're not even in the same class. I will always own a Trans Am, but I would never compare it to my Celica.... When I decided to buy my first new car I looked at the Celica, Grand Prix, and Prelude. I really wanted a Prelude, but for the price, turned it down. I thought for $28,000 I'd buy a new TA instead. My husband really wanted me to get a Grand Prix Supercharged, because it was bigger. But I did not want another big car! And the gas mileage around town was only 18, which we argued over continuously until my mother purchased a Bonneville SSEi with the same motor and she's only getting 18. So I settled with the Celica — got it for $22,558 loaded with everything but side airbags and ABS.... So far, my Celica has pleased me except for some minor things, which I don't know if they are worth a trip to the dealer. The CD player skips (common complaint), the loose antenna (another common complaint), and I have a rattle in my dash somewhere. The only thing that concerns me is the other day when I started it (very cold day) the idling went crazy and started loping, then quit. All in all, I would recommend the Celica — for what you get it's worth the price." — transamgirl, "Toyota Celica (Hatchbacks)," #45 of 574, Dec. 7, 2000

"The steering on this car is really excellent! Brakes are wonderful also. And, I have found the inclement weather handling is very, very good! ...Man, this car is a cooker. Everyone is looking at it. I'm not used to that. You know what, the front does have a Ferrari kind of style to it, don't you think? The six-speed didn't take as long as I thought to get to know. I've been driving for one week, and have gotten comfortable. Of course, I'm still in the breaking period. I cannot wait for that 1,000-mile mark, so that I can try my best at some rapid downshifts...." — guitarzan, "Toyota Celica (Hatchbacks)," #66 of 574, Dec. 31, 2000

2001 Volkswagen GTI 1.8T

"I've owned a 2001 GTI 1.8T black with black leather for about a month now, and I absolutely love it. I test-drove both the VR6 and the 1.8T, and while the 6 had a great sound and noticeably more torque, I decided on the 1.8T for a few reasons. First, it's way cheaper. Better on gas. Easily upgradeable (40 hp with just a chip?!). Lighter. Yadda, yadda, yadda. The VR6 is a great car if you don't want to do a lot to make it faster, because it's going to cost you a gang of money to squeeze a lot more performance out of it. But for about three grand on the 1.8T, you can put a bigger K04 Turbo, chip, exhaust and a few other things on it to make it ridiculously faster. Also, the VR6 has goodies/gadgets you can't get on the 1.8T, but I don't miss them much. Automatic rain-sensing wipers, dark wood trim (nice!), auto climate control, but you can get the leather package including heated seats on the turbo, for about $1,000 more (that's what I got). And so far, I'm not missing the extra power. On the freeway, the car is excellent. The power is available at all times, and 110 is easily reached without even trying (although you can definitely hear the engine getting it's rev-on). Nobody passes me on the highway. On the street, the car also pulls nicely, and I've surprised many a lowered Civic or unsuspecting Mustang owner (is it because I don't have 'VR6' showing on the back?). That's another thing, they opted to keep the '1.8T' off the back of the GTIs, but kept it on the Golfs, so folks think you have 2000's 115-hp GTI. A real sleeper!" — bigsimmons, "Volkswagen GTI 1.8T vs. VR6," #141 of 168, Oct. 13, 2000

"I've just driven 1,000 miles in my new GTI GLS 1.8T and what can I say? The car lives up to all my expectations. And more! Though I really like the VR6 engine for its growl, I honestly think (and the auto mags attest to that) that overall, the 1.8T is a better fit for this car. My engine is stock, and will most probably remain that way. Still, it delivers plenty of power for my needs. The torque delivery at low rpm makes this engine feel much bigger and more powerful than it really is. Acceleration from a stop is a blast, and cruising at highway speeds is very, very comfortable — and quiet! (I know, I'm getting old, but I like being able to talk when I'm doing 'only' 80). The suspension is a good compromise for everyday use, and offers fine cornering, but race enthusiasts will definitely want to firm it up, and add some low profile tires (like the 17-inch tires offered as an option). I have the 'regular' 15-inch tires and though comfy, they don't do the car justice (but in NJ the roads really suck, so I'll leave the 15s on for now!). Oh... that traction control thing is really nice and works wonders on slippery roads. Option-wise... my car is black on black: I went with the cloth interior and the regular stereo; the cloth seats are really nice and supportive on the new GTIs (recaro-like) and the standard sound system does the job for me. I have the Monsoon on my Jetta and am not crazy about it (it tends to saturate with bass).... I am really, really happy about the car. People stop and stare and ask everywhere ('c'mon, it's only a Golf!').... When I was shopping, I also considered the Civic Si and the Integra GS-R. Both fine cars. Personally, I'm really happy about the subdued sound of the 1.8T, though. It does make commuting a lot more comfortable.... To me, the GTI is also more convenient with the hatch, and has an overall appeal which is more 'grown-up' than the Si." — alfaromeo, "Volkswagen GTI 1.8T vs. VR6," #108 of 168, July 31, 2000

"I bought a GTI 1.8T last year with the sport suspension, and there is a noticeable difference [when compared to the standard suspension]. It has bigger sway bars as well. The 1.8T is the best engine on the planet for under 20K. If I bought now, I would opt for the 17-inch wheels and better tires." — josky, "SPORT SUSPENSION ON GOLF GTI," #89 of 90, Jan. 10, 2001

—Edited by Erin Riches

We spent 14 days probing each of these vehicles and came up with 10 features we feel that cars of this caliber must either possess or offer in order to compete. Some are minor and some are important. In the end, the Volkswagen GTI came closest to having all of them.

Top 10 Features

Top 10 Features
Vehicle ABS Brakes Easy entry rear seat 17-inch wheels One-touch up/down driver's window Power driver's seat
Acura RSX Type-S S N/A N/A S N/A
Honda Prelude SH S N/A N/A N/A N/A
Mercury Cougar Zn O S O N/A O
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT O N/A S N/A O
Toyota Celica GT-S O N/A N/A N/A N/A
VW GTI GLS 1.8T S S O S N/A
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 S N/A N/A N/A O
Ford Mustang Bullitt S N/A S N/A S
Vehicle Keyless entry Side air bags Multi-disc in-dash CD changer Satellite steering wheel controls Tilt/Tele-scoping steering wheel
Acura RSX Type-S S S S S N/A
Honda Prelude SH S N/A N/A N/A N/A
Mercury Cougar Zn O O O N/A N/A
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT S O O N/A N/A
Toyota Celica GT-S N/A O N/A N/A N/A
VW GTI GLS 1.8T S S N/A O S
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 O N/A N/A O N/A
Ford Mustang Bullitt S N/A O N/A N/A

Key:
S: Standard
O: Optional
N/A: Not Available

ABS Brakes
From both a safety and performance standpoint, antilock brakes are a critical feature to have on a sport coupe. ABS is available on all of the cars in this test, but some automakers make it optional, while others make it standard equipment.

Easy-Entry Rear Seat
Purely by having two doors, a sport coupe implies that it's sacrificing utility in exchange for more performance. Two doors make a car look sportier and make the body structure more rigid. But these cars all have back seats. Being able to access them easily is important. Of the cars in this test, only the Mercury Cougar and the VW GTI had passenger-side seats that were easy to move out of the way to gain access to the rear seat.

17-inch Wheels
Sport coupes are supposed to look sporty. Many people buy aftermarket wheels to make their sport coupes look better. But wouldn't it be nice to have the option of getting 17s direct from the factory?

One-Touch Up/Down Driver's Window
Nearly every car these days with power windows has an auto-down feature for the driver's window. But very few offer an auto-up feature. In this test, only the Acura RSX and VW GTI came standard with this feature. The GTI has an auto-up/down feature for the passenger-side window, as well.

Power Driver Seat
Manual seats are fine, but having a power driver seat makes life so much easier. Unlike manual seats that often ratchet into specific positions, power seats can be fine-tuned to your particular taste of seating position.

Keyless Entry
This is another convenience feature that makes the ownership of a sport coupe much easier in the real world. The Toyota Celica can be equipped with keyless entry, but it's a dealer-installed option, meaning that it is vulnerable to dealer markup.

Side Airbags
Safety is just as important on a sport coupe as it is on a family sedan. Only the Acura and the GTI come with them standard. The GTI also has head-protection airbags in addition to its side airbags.

Multi-disc In-dash CD Changer
Having an in-dash CD player is nice. Having an in-dash changer is even better. This feature is becoming much more common with cars, and we really dig it. The RSX (in Type-S trim) is the only car to have it standard.

Satellite Steering Wheel-Mounted Controls
This is both a safety and a comfort feature. Taking your eyes off the road to change radio presets or to skip CD tracks is a distraction that commonly leads to an accident. By having these audio controls redundantly placed on the steering wheel, you can keep both hands on the wheel and quickly toggle between NPR and Howard Stern.

Tilting/Telescoping Steering Wheel
This is another feature that improves both safety and comfort. When driving hard, a proper driving position is a must. As people vary widely in size, a car that offers either adjustments for the steering wheel or the pedals makes it much more likely that a proper driving position can be achieved. Only the VW GTI offers this feature.

Final Rankings

Final Rankings
Vehicle Personal Rating (10% of score) Recommended Rating (10% of score) Evaluation Score (20% of score) Performance Testing (20% of score)
Acura RSX Type-S 87.5% 95.8% 73.5% 88.1%
Honda Prelude SH 58.3% 54.2% 76.0% 81.3%
Mercury Cougar Zinc 20.8% 20.8% 66.4% 57.7%
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 33.3% 29.2% 58.5% 74.6%
Toyota Celica GT-S 75.0% 66.7% 74.4% 95.8%
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 75.0% 83.3% 77.9% 49.2%
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 50.0% 50.0% 55.5% 94.8%
Ford Mustang Bullitt 100.0% 100.0% 72.4% 82.3%
Vehicle Feature Content (20% of score) Price (20% of score) Total Score Final Ranking
Acura RSX Type-S 60.0% 92.0% 81.1 1
Honda Prelude SH 20.0% 79.0% 62.5 4
Mercury Cougar Zinc 55.0% 94.0% 58.8 6
Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 50.0% 89.0% 60.7 5
Toyota Celica GT-S 15.0% 87.0% 68.6 3
VW GTI GLS 1.8T 75.0% 100.0% 76.3 2
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 48.0% 100.0% 69.7 2
Ford Mustang Bullitt 33.0% 90.0% 75.5 1

Scoring Explanation:

Personal Rating: Purely subjective. After the test, each participating editor is asked to rank the cars in order of preference based on which cars he or she would personally buy regardless of price. Scoring is calculated on a point system, and the scores listed are an accumulation of the opinions of all participating editors.

Recommended Rating: After the test, each participating editor is asked to rank the cars in order of preference based on which cars she thought would be best for the average consumer shopping in this segment. Scoring is calculated on a point system, and the scores listed are averages based on the opinions of all participating editors.

20-Point Evaluation: Each participating editor ranks every car based on a comprehensive 20-point evaluation. The evaluation covers everything from exterior design to cupholders. Scoring is calculated on a point system, and the scores listed are averages based on the evaluations of all participating editors.

Performance Testing: Each car is put through a battery of instrumented testing. For this test, we evaluated the vehicles via 0-to-60-mph acceleration, quarter-mile acceleration, 60-to-0-mph braking and speed through a 600-foot slalom. We were not able to test maximum road-handling grip on a skidpad because it was not available at the time we tested the vehicles. For each test, the car that obtains the best result receives a maximum score. The remaining cars receive scores based on how closely their results matched the top car. The final number shown is an accumulation of results from each test.

Feature Content: For this category, the editors pick the top 10 features they think would be most significant to the consumer shopping in this segment. For each car, the score is based on the amount of actual features the car had versus the total possible (10). Standard and optional equipment are taken into consideration.

Price: The numbers listed are the result of a simple percentage calculation based on the least expensive car in the comparison test. Using the "as tested" prices of the actual evaluation vehicles, the least expensive car receives a score of 100, with the remaining cars receiving lesser scores based on how much more each one costs.

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