Can't afford to run a supercar? Porsche Cayman too twee? Step this way, sir…
By PH Staff / Thursday, December 10, 2020
The two-door performance coupe could once lay claim to being king of the road. Certainly from a working man's point of view. When America had the Ford Mustang and we the Capri, there was nothing guaranteed to get a blue collar fluttering quicker. And while subsequent generations of BMW M3/4 and Mercedes C63 AMG has made the collar assuredly white, the coupe's popularity endured for a decades.
In 2020 the concept is under slightly more pressure. With wholesale electrification looming, manufacturers are being forced to pick and choose where their development dollars go, and it's quite possible that it'll be be niche models like the coupe that feel the squeeze. The good news is that the segment has always been quite flexible; indeed, where coupes stop and sports cars start is up for discussion – some of the contenders we've squeezed in here could've easily qualified for previous rundowns.
Still, there is a distinct breed, usually derived from saloon or even hatchback underpinnings. And who'd want either of those if you can have a swanky two-door alternative? Less expensive than all-out supercars while still more energetic than a true grand tourer, the sports coupe has remained a richly desirable thing. We run through the best out there right now, for Shed money and for six figures. There's still a coupe out there for all!
Up to £2,500…
- Toyota Celica
In the age of the GT86 and the GR Yaris, it's easy to forget that another Toyota sports car duo ever existed. But for many years the MR2 and Celica were Toyota's two-seat troupe, fun, good value and proof that the manufacturer did care about more than four-wheeled appliances.
Both MR2 and Celica remain cheap; the former has lived a long time in the MX-5's shadow, and the coupe – in its final form at least – lacked the WRC glamour of its predecessors or the rear-wheel drive craved by purists. 15 years after production ceased, however, and the Celica looks a great first coupe. There remain plenty of the standard 140hp cars in budget and, every so often, one of the VVTI-L cars emerges, the Celica that screamed to 8,000rpm and made 190hp in the process.
It was good enough for Lotus to use, and is here for a tiny percentage of an Elise asking price. And while nobody will suggest a front-engined, front-wheel drive Toyota will match a mid-engined Lotus, the Celica was praised in period for agility and incisive dynamics. For so little money, what could be better?
Up to £5,000…
- VW Scirocco
It's now almost a decade and a half since the Volkswagen IROC concept made its debut, and comfortably more than 10 years since the production Scirocco hit the roads. For something as relatively humble as a front-engined coupe built on Golf architecture, the Scirocco has always cut something of a dash. Certainly one that belies, nowadays, a £5k asking price. And with the conventional coupe from a mainstream manufacturer now looking unlikely to return, the old VW holds a certain appeal.
The most desirable Sciroccos are those using the Mk5 Golf GTI's engine, with 200hp and handling good enough to save the hot hatch icon. You'll do well to nab one of those for £5k, though the Scirocco is no less stylish a coupe with the smaller turbo engine or even the 2.0-litre diesel.
Our money would likely go on the 1.4 petrol; modestly powered, yes, but plenty more hi-po alternatives are to follow in the list. Debadged and with the optional big wheels, nobody will be any the wiser that this boasts just the 125hp – we won't tell if you don't…
Up to £10,000…
- Nissan 350Z
This is a bit more like it, right? Out with front-wheel drive and four cylinders, in with big, brawny V6 and rear-wheel drive. For 50 years the Z car appeal has been Nissan's take on the American and European coupe heroes; some have been more successful than most, but nobody argued with the reworking presented for the 21st century. The 350Z was handsome, fast, great to drive and good value as well.
Now all those points remain true, with rarity thrown into the mix too – these cars first arrived in the UK back in 2003, remember. But a good one will be a reminder of why the 350 was such a hit, and they are available for less than £10,000. Though a car like this will incur the higher road tax charge, it is a later 308hp 350Z and hard to ignore in this specification for £8,750.
So even though a Z for the 2020s won't make it to Europe, that availability of the 350Z softens the blow somewhat. If a lot of modern coupes seem a bit limp wristed, the Nissan will see you right. Or, for a little bit more money, you could try our next coupe contender…
Up to £15,000…
- Vauxhall Monaro
The early 2000s really were a great time for cheap coupes. Alongside the Monaro and the Nissan 350Z, there was the Mazda RX-8 and BMW Z4 to choose from as well. Plus the Alfa Romeo GT and Audi TT, too, for the style conscious…
It was the enormous Vauxhall though that captured the hearts and minds of all who drove it, entertaining in a way that only V8 coupes really can. While the Monaro would not scythe through switchbacks like the Mazda, it could hold its own dynamically, and the sheer performance it offered for minimal outlay ensured plenty of fans over here.
Similarly to the Nissan, coupes like the Monaro are becoming ever harder to justify – even as a used purchase. They always cost a lot to fuel and tax, with a chunky kerbweight placing additional stress on consumables. That said the old V8 will outlive the sun, and it's a lot easier to look favourably on hefty running costs with a cheap purchase price; this car is one of the later, more desirable 6.0-litres that replaced the 5.7 in 2005, sympathetically upgraded and on offer at £13,495. Which, for this much car and this much entertainment, doesn't seem much at all.
Up to £25,000…
- BMW M3 (E92)
A list of best coupes without BMW featuring would be like a rundown of best local takeaways without a curry house. Yes, it's predictable and, yes, you probably know what to expect, but that doesn't mean it isn't very good indeed. The good BMW coupe recipe is a simple one: smooth, powerful engine goes at the front, drive goes to the rear, handsome body is draped over the top. There's a reason why so many are sold…
So, naturally there's an M3 in this list. Nowadays, just a few years since the demise of the V8 M3, the very best examples – low mileage, BMW approved – are available for £25,000. There are decent example at less than £20k, and that looks like a lot of BMW coupe for the money. Values are slowly starting to climb, too, as demand for the great old engines and understated style of not so long ago increase.
Arguably nothing better encapsulates traditional BMW appeal like the E92 era of M3: it's styled fairly modestly, the engine is sublime and the handling is just so. As an everyday proposition the S65 V8 was criticised for a lack of torque; in more occasional use it can be celebrated for its scintillating 8,300rpm redline. Not a car without its issues, but certainly not one lacking allure, either.
Up to £35,000…
- Ford Mustang
That the Mustang formula hasn't changed all that much in half a century shows what a good idea it was in the first place. Which isn't to say they've all been great – far from it. But both 60s' original and the very latest are singing from the same hymn sheet: there's a big V8, indomitable Mustang styling and an intangible sense of occasion that's quite hard to put your finger on. Driving a Mustang makes you feel good, and that sounds like a great attribute to have.
With our £35k budget, the world of right-hand drive, S550 Mustangs is your oyster: there are V8s, four-cylinders, coupes, convertibles, automatics and manuals available. Our pick would be something like this V8 GT, a manual car at a Mustang specialist with a piffling 6,000 miles.
Spend a little over budget and the 2018 facelift is available, bringing in more power for the V8 and an updated interior. Either way, the important point is that the right-hand drive Mustang experience feels just as authentic as you'd hope. There really is nothing else like it, which is why the Ford icon had to make the list.
Up to £50,000…
- Alpine A110
If another well meaning friend suggests soon that all new cars are the same, point them in the direction of the Alpine A110 and the Ford Mustang. They're both two-door, rear-wheel drive coupes for sale new at similar money, and they're both great in their own ways, but could hardly be more different. Hundreds of kilos and thousands of cubic centimetres separate them, yet A110 and Mustang comfortably justify their inclusion here. Not even all coupes are the same, let alone cars…
The Alpine genius is well known by now; it combines the comfort and dexterity that only comes with genuinely low mass, alongside the sort of everyday usability that having a large OEM build the project can provide. That it also looks great and boasts plentiful performance only furthers its case.
On arrival in 2018, the A110 served to make a BMW M2 look seriously overweight, a Porsche Cayman seem a bit dull and the Lotus Elise appear rather old. Despite its five star status across the board, the Alpine hasn't sold in huge numbers; that has at least ensured solid residuals, with early A110s retaining their value well. A car like this Legende is still almost £50k, but trust us on this: it'll feel worth every penny.
Up to £75,000…
- Mercedes-AMG C63 S (W205)
The current generation of C63 had a tough job on its hands in 2015; not only did it have to replace the W204 generation car, one of the most significant models in AMG's history, it also had to usher in turbocharged V8s. The hot-V 4.0-litre had made its debut in the GT, but that car didn't have so much heritage to worry about; the 6.2 had defined the original C63 – the car was named after the engine – and so the task was even greater. How did AMG fare? Well, a duff engine in a C63 Coupe wouldn't have made this list…
The hot-V was a triumph, not far off the naturally aspirated engine in response but packing even more power and torque. AMG even managed to make it sound great, which not every manufacturer has achieved with turbocharged V8s. The C63 it went into was excellent, too, combining technology with traditional appeal just nicely.
A few years down the line and the turbo C63 has dropped below £40k; however, the 2018 facelift brought some useful updates, including a much improved automatic, and is worth seeking out. This car is effectively brand new and comes with a healthy saving off list as a replacement nears; if rumours are true, that car will ditch the V8 entirely. So grab one while you can.
Up to £100,000…
- BMW M2 CS
It's very easy to be very cynical about the M2 CS. It's not that light and it's little more powerful than standard, though it is a great deal more expensive. And, if it follows the example set by its M3 and M4 compatriots, it will depreciate fairly rapidly and fairly significantly from its original RRP.
On the other hand, it might not. 2020 will surely be the hardest in recent memory to justify spending a lot of money on a car – leave alone a 2 Series Coupe – but the CS really does feel like an end of an era model. We know what the next M3 and M4 will be like, and it's easy to extrapolate from those cars what an M2 could be. And it doesn't look great, in any sense. The CS, though, pushes all the right buttons: it's reasonably compact, searingly fast and absorbing to drive. It feels like the culmination of everything that's been learnt in the lifetimes of both the M2 and F8x M3/M4, and that makes it pretty special indeed.
£90k special? That's trickier to be so sure on. Certainly the CS seems a less secure investment than it once did, but anyone buying a new car to make money on is always playing a very dangerous game. Better instead to focus on what the M2 is offering for the outlay, which could well be one of the great modern M experiences. It really is that good.
Sky's the limit…
- Bentley Continental GT
True enough, we covered the last generation GT in Grand Tourers – and naturally it deserved its position there. But we make no apologies for including the latest model here, because truthfully it is so much more than a Grand Tourer. Helpfully the car is based on the same platform as the Porsche Panamera – which makes it a large coupe in the traditional sense – but it also embodies many of the aspects you want in a modern coupe: it is fabulously good looking, brilliantly appointed, hugely fast and, yes, sensational to drive.
Given there's no price limit here, it would be very easy to go all in on a GT and spend £220k on something like this Number 9 Edition car; but truth be told the big Bentley remains at its most likeable with a V8 under its vast prow, and those cars are available from £160,000. It won't be precisely to your specification, but most that are for sale are pretty safely specced. And ever so slightly used means no waiting for a factory build, which means you can be out driving sooner. And then you'll probably never want to stop.
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