Four-door sedans and crossovers, analysts report, are the vehicles of choice for younger drivers today. They’re roomy, sensible, suitable for carrying a group of friends in comfort. Who’d want a cramped, low-roofed two-door coupe, sporty in nature or otherwise, when plenty of more practical vehicles can be found at dealerships?
Quite a few buyers, it seems, because the number of coupes that remain in production is quite substantial. Serious sport-performance coupes, milder-mannered examples, luxury models -- each seeks an audience that values style and enticing body lines, as well as thrifty running and practical considerations.
Sometimes when evaluating automobiles, a long test drive isn’t needed. You can make a determination within the first few minutes; and that near-instant appraisal often holds true after a longer experience.
So it is with the Lexus RC, which earned an eager nod of approval, accompanied by a gratified grin, almost before leaving the parking lot. At a glance, the RC resembles a number of sporty coupes. Open the door, and its premium quality is immediately evident. Start ‘er up and you notice the superior noise suppression. Slip into gear, hit the road, and its roadholding talents leap to mind.
Few cars driven lately have yielded such a feeling of sheer confidence. You can be certain that the RC coupe will remain solidly, self-assuredly, precisely on course.
Add a surprisingly controlled, comfortable ride, and this is a coupe to savor. The turbo-four RC 200t is best for fuel economy, but I’d have a hard time resisting the RC 350 F Sport in which I spent ten marvelous days.
For many years now, the 3 Series has been the BMW model worth yearning for, due to its appealing blend of comparative affordability, nimble handling, and enthusiastic performance. Not to mention its German heritage and a sense of sophistication that doubtless makes some other makers of sport-minded automobiles envious.
Maybe it’s time for the “3" model designation to give way just a little, however, so I’m nominating the more recently launched 4 Series. Not that it’s a difficult decision, since the 4 Series is essentially the two-door version of the current 3 Series sedan.
Three versions are offered: 428 with a 2-liter four-cylinder engine, 435 with a 3-liter six-cylinder, and of course, the M4, packing an inline six that whips up 425 horsepower. BMW’s M3 has long been a favorite performance model, so transferring my affection to the M4 isn’t a problem. All-wheel drive is available to replace the standard rear-drive -- not a bad idea in the snowbelt, in particular.
Like the revived Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge’s Challenger is a retro-styled performance-based coupe that almost uncannily resembles its muscle-era predecessor, last offered in 1974. Introduced in 2009, the modern-day Challenger, again rear-drive, retains much of the allure of its long-ago ancestor. That includes availability of a Hemi V8 -- a higher-tech update of Dodge/Chrysler’s performance engine of the 1960s and early 1970s.
Convertibles aren’t part of the contemporary Challenger story, so all examples have solid roofs. Performance stretches from comparatively mild with a V6 all the way to outlandish with the angrily-named, raging Hellcat, with a couple of V8 stops in between -- including a Scat Pack. Now, names like that call up recollections of the original muscle coupes from the Dodge boys.
Engine sounds also are reminiscent of the past. So is the non-gentle ride, along with rather heavy steering feel. One pleasant feature: a back seat that’s doesn’t squeeze its occupants into submission.
What more can be said about Porsche’s 911? For scads of serious sports-car fans, it’s simply the epitome of driving pleasure and passion. Or if not quite Number One, mighty close.
In traditional form, the early 911 was a rear-drive coupe with a rear-mounted, air-cooled “flat” engine and a manual gearbox. Introduced half a century ago, the 911 represented German technical excellence coupled with one of the most recognizable profiles in the automotive world. Even folks who know or care little about cars may be at least tentatively familiar with the 911 and its role as a high-performance icon.
Continuous improvements over the decades resulted in all-wheel-drive “4” models, water cooling, turbocharging and automatic transmissions, as well as steady increases in engine output and handling characteristics. Today, 911s come in a variety of flavors, coupe or convertible, and $84,300 buys a “basic” 911 Carrera with 350 horsepower. Alternative choices rise to S and GTS models, all the way to Turbos and GT3 editions. My choice: a base Carrera with the sweet-shifting manual transmission.
So, how do you take a car with back-seat limitations and turn it into something different? You could lengthen the body. A number of automakers have done that, on vehicles in various categories.
BMW’s MINI division took the opposite approach when seeking to launch a variant of its popular Cooper hardtop. Why not eliminate the rear seat entirely, transforming the familiar four-passenger hardtop into a two-seater? End result: the MINI Coupe, one of the uncommonly shaped, emphatically noticeable small cars on the market.
Fitting the basic MINI with an almost bubble-like roof gives the car an entirely new personality, capable of attracting and delighting the eyes of many a passerby -- much like the original revived MINI Cooper did back in 2002. Trouble is, not many get a chance to examine one, because they’re so vastly outnumbered by regular-body MINIs. Drivers who like to be noticed and are ready for a new car might take a peek -- provided that a back seat is never needed.