Although the segment is dying, the choices have never been better.
The sporty coupe is a dying segment. All automakers know that, and only a select few are doing their absolute best to keep these cars alive. Doing so requires bringing something new to the table while retaining the original formula of affordability and fun to drive factor. It’s not easy. But fortunately there are five coupes out there you can comfortably buy for less than $35,000 that are also a hoot and half to drive. Rear seat passengers may not have the most legroom, but it’s the driver that counts most, right?
First up is the only FWD car here, the 2018 Honda Civic Si coupe. Also a sedan, but not everyone is ready for full-time family life yet. This latest Civic Si coupe offers a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder with 205 hp 192 lb-ft of torque. Sadly, the previous gen's VTEC engine is a goner, but the new turbo four is a worthy successor. A six-speed manual is the only gearbox offered, and Honda is awfully good at doing nice, tight manuals. The suspension has also been reworked. The springs and anti-roll bars have been stiffened for a firmer, sportier ride. The 2018 Honda Civic Si also happens to be one of the best bargains out there today. With a base price of $24,100 (not including destination), it’s literally impossible to go wrong here.
If you’re willing to spend $35k or so, here's a great choice: the BMW 2 Series coupe. This is the quintessential BMW, whose origins date back to the 2002 and original E30 3 Series. The current 2 Series is what BMW used to be all about: well-engineered, fun to drive cars with a premium look and feel. The 2 Series, specifically the 230i, still checks those boxes. Power comes from turbocharged 2.0-liter producing 248 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, with power sent to the rear wheels through a standard six-speed manual. An eight-speed automatic is optional, and is the only gearbox offered for the AWD xDrive trim. Like with any BMW, checking the box of extra features and packages adds up fast, but in the case of the 230i, we believe less is more.
Toyota and Subaru took a chance back in 2012 with the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ. The former is now the Toyota 86. RWD coupes with nearly useless back seats don’t exactly translate to stellar sales, but the automakers wanted to reach out to a younger crowd. It kind of worked. In any case, both received mid-life updates last year and return for 2018. Power, like always, comes from a 2.0-liter boxer four, now with 205 hp (which drops to 200 hp with the automatic transmission; stick with the stick) and 156 lb-ft of torque. There aren’t many optional features for either car, though the BRZ offers a Performance Package. A $25,595 and $26,255 base price for the BRZ and 86, receptively, means lots of fun can be had for little bank.
Is the Ford Mustang EcoBoost a muscle car or a sports car? Good question. Long debate. But we want to focus on the sheer bang for your buck the base Mustang offers. For $25,585, you can buy a Mustang with 310 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque – and that’s from a turbo 2.3-liter four-cylinder. The previous V6 engine has been discontinued. A six-speed manual is standard but the new 10-speed automatic, for $1,595, is a remarkable gearbox in its own right. The Mustang EcoBoost hits 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, if you opt for the slushbox. There's also the $2,495 Performance Package, which offers a limited-slip rear diff, larger brake rotors, rear wing, and more goodies that were once only found on far more expensive sports cars. Try not to have too much fun.
When there’s the Ford Mustang, there’s also the Chevrolet Camaro. It too offers a turbo four, but with an output of 275 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual comes standard while the eight-speed automatic is optional for another $1,495. We’ve always loved the Camaro’s exterior looks, and this sixth-generation model doesn’t disappoint. It looks menacing and more expensive than it really is. Speaking of which, your friendly Chevy sales person will kindly ask you to hand over at least $26,900 for a turbo four Camaro coupe, which is still darn reasonable. Of course, adding on the extras boosts the price tag, but if you have up to $35k as your disposable, you can afford to splurge a bit.
Honorable Mention: Dodge Challenger. Okay, so the Challenger may look like a coupe from the outside, but underneath it’s really a sedan. It’s built on a slightly modified platform that underpins the Dodge Charger sedan, so it’s not exactly a lightweight compared to the above offerings. But still, two doors are two doors in this case, and its base price is $26,995 for the Challenger SXT trim. Power comes from the excellent 3.6-liter V6 with 305 hp and 268 lb-ft of torque. The sole gearbox, for all V6 trims, is an eight-speed automatic. But thanks to its larger size, the Challenger’s rear seat is far more passenger friendly. Most will also agree that it has the most badass exterior design of the bunch.