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How to buy the best coupe

Looking for a coupe, but don't know where to start? We'll help you.

Top picks

Mainstream Coupe: Honda Civic Coupe

The Civic earns our praise for its mix of practicality, driving dynamics, efficiency and available technology.

Mainstream Sports Coupe: Chevrolet Camaro

This brand-new pony car is better than it's ever been, and with the right option boxes ticked, it'll give you a great drive without feeling punishing when the going gets slower.

Premium Grand Touring Coupe: Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe

All the comfort, convenience and technology of a Mercedes' flagship, distilled down into a two-door form.

Premium Sports Coupe: Porsche Cayman

Mid-engined driving bliss, without delving into the realm of being unaffordable.

Exotic Grand Touring Coupe: Rolls-Royce Wraith

It's plush, it's quiet and it's still quite powerful. The Wraith embodies the experience you'd expect (or demand) at this price point.

Exotic Sports Coupe: Lamborghini Huracan

A naturally-aspirated 10-cylinder engine, traditional Lambo wedge styling and heaps of on-board tech...what's not to love?

Coupes, defined

People will always be on the lookout for a sleek-looking car that is just a bit more exciting than a sedan. So why wouldn't you buy one? They're not just machines meant to help you through a mid-life crisis, after all.

For the purpose of this buying guide, we'll assume that a coupe has two doors and either two or four seats. There won't be any playing into "four-door coupe" marketing gimmicks that some automakers are utilizing at the moment (we're looking at you, Mercedes-Benz and BMW). If it's got two doors, not four, it's a coupe.

There's more to the coupe segment than just Bentleys and Mustangs. You can have your coupe in wildly different styles, sizes and price ranges. You can get one that sips gas, or one that chugs like a frat boy on a Friday. No matter your budget, there's likely a two-door that fits the bill.

Segment overview

If we categorized coupes by size alone, we'd have some very strange bedfellows -- six-figure luxury behemoths sharing a pillow with economy cars, that sort of thing. Thus, the segment must be broken down in a different way. Arranging the cars into price-based castes makes the most sense. Our segmentation starts with mainstream cars -- affordable coupes that can be either economical (Scion tC) or ready for a good time on a back road (Ford Mustang).

Even though its doors are attached backwards, the Rolls-Royce Wraith has two doors, thus it's a coupe, even though it's the same size as some more practical sedans.

Josh Miller/CNET

From there, we move to premium, which covers entry-level luxury cars, nearly all of which hail from Germany or the United States, the Lexus RC being the big exception. Finally, at the tip-top, we have the exotic segment, the bedroom-poster material that often costs as much as a house.

We then bisect the three categories into sporty and not-so-sporty variants. In the premium segment, for example, the sportier side covers purpose-built fun-machines, like the Jaguar F-Type and Porsche 911 -- cars that might sacrifice some amenities like trunk space or interior volume for power, loud exhausts and a focus on performance.

"Coupe" is a vague descriptor. Currently, there are some 50 different new coupes for sale, from the Kia Forte Koup (MSRP: roughly $16,000) to the Ferrari LaFerrari (MSRP: north of $1 million). The other 48 or so span the gap between top and bottom, in terms of both size and price.

If you have little need for anything beyond two seats and a steering wheel, you might not mind the Subaru BRZ's 83.4 cubic feet of interior volume. On the other hand, claustrophobic buyers might enjoy the Rolls-Royce Wraith, which touts 111.5 cubic feet of room to move around.

Not all rear seats are created equal

Coupes don't need a back seat, although many do have them. Of course, having a back seat doesn't mean it's suitable for adults.

Not that you can see it, or use it, but the Subaru BRZ does technically have two rear seats.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

For years now, the Porsche's 911's rear seat has been mocked for its ability to barely accommodate a child, and the Subaru BRZ as well as the Scion FR-S fall prey to the same comments. The BRZ's rear legroom is measured at 29.9 inches, but without the front seat slid all the way forward, that number is closer to 2.99 inches.

In case you didn't know, these afterthoughts masquerading as seats aren't just mean tricks being played on the tall and portly. In many cases, it's cheaper to insure a coupe if it has four seats rather than two. Even on larger coupes, like the Dodge Challenger and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe, the rear seats can feel cramped. But at least the insurance costs are cheaper than they could be, right?

Not every automaker includes those seats for show, though. For its 10th generation, Honda extended rear-seat legroom by more than five inches. Sadly, that car is not yet released, so we're stuck comparing the smaller, ninth-generation coupe.

Power versus fuel economy

Since coupes occupy such a large part of the automotive landscape, it makes sense that you'd be able to get a drivetrain in a wide variety of configurations -- with some limitations. Front-wheel drive is limited to inexpensive coupes like the Honda Civic, Kia Forte and Scion tC. Nearly every other coupe on the market, from the Ford Mustang to the Lamborghini Huracan, offers rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive or a choice between the two. Some cars, like the Audi TT, are available with all-wheel drive only.

BMW's space-age i8 is the only production coupe to sport a three-cylinder engine. We're counting the Smart ForTwo as a hatchback.

Josh Miller/CNET

This logic extends to motors, as well. You can score a four-cylinder in both inexpensive vehicles (Honda Accord) and more premium models (Cadillac ATS), especially as the trend of downsizing motors for efficiency's sake continues to grow. Six-or-eight-cylinder engines abound in this category, and you can have the engine located in the front (BMW 4 Series), back (Porsche 911) or middle (Porsche Cayman).

Only one coupe offers a three-cylinder engine -- the $141,000 BMW i8, which utilizes a three-cylinder motor as part of its hybrid drivetrain.

If you have a thirst for power, the premium and exotic segments will satisfy. Nearly every premium coupe -- Audi TT, Cadillac ATS, BMW 4 Series, Audi A5 and the list goes on -- has a high-horsepower variant. There's the 464-hp Cadillac ATS-V, the 425-hp BMW M4, and the 450-hp Audi RS5, to name a few. Mercedes-Benz offers its S-Class in two different high-performance flavors -- the eight-cylinder, 577-hp S63, and the 12-cylinder, 621-hp S65.

Fuel efficiency is similarly all over the map. There are several alternative-propulsion coupes on sale, although if you remove segment-topping exotic models, only a small handful remains. If you want to use your engine as little as possible, consider the extended-range-electric Cadillac ELR (it's basically a previous-generation Chevrolet Volt) or BMW's i8 hybrid sports car. If you want to consume gas like a black hole consumes matter, the 15-mpg-city Mercedes-AMG S63 Coupe will make that happen.

Tech and safety

Once again, since there are so many different coupes on the market, there exist a great number of unique technological bits scattered amongst the group. Whether you're going for a low-cost coupe or something that stretches into the six-figure range, you can set yourself up with some weird or otherwise interesting tech.

Down on the lower end, all but the lowest trim of Honda Civic come with LaneWatch. It's a side-mirror-mounted camera that projects what it sees onto your infotainment screen. Whether you're watching for bikers or making sure you're merging into a clear lane, it's a very helpful system. The Civic EX with LaneWatch starts at a shade over $20,000.

Chevrolet's Performance Data Recorder lets you film your track adventures, and the car will automatically add data overlays tracking your lap times, g-forces and more.

Tim Stevens/CNET

If you're looking more for creature comforts, you might be interested in the Audi TT's virtual cockpit. This moves the entirety of the infotainment system onto the instrument panel, integrating it with virtual gauges.

Technology isn't just limited to your average creature comforts -- some tech aims solely to enhance a car's performance side. Two of GM's three performance-oriented entries in this segment -- the Cadillac ATS-V Coupe and the Chevrolet Corvette -- can be equipped with a Performance Data Recorder. It uses GPS data, a 720p-resolution camera and other sensors to record your hot laps.

The V8-powered Mustang GT (roughly $33,000) comes standard with something called line lock. It's essentially a brake for the front wheels alone, and it's used for one thing and one thing only -- ripping big ol' burnouts.

When it comes to safety-related technology, it's a mixed bag. Newer (and more expensive) models will come loaded with all manner of active and passive safety features, including adaptive cruise control, lane-departure mitigation, traffic-jam assist and more. Mercedes' Distronic Plus package is perhaps the most advanced of the group. Cars that are closer to the end of their respective lifecycles (like the Civic, Genesis and a few Aston Martins) will come with some, but not all safety features currently on the market.

Tech can get weird, too. The flagship of the Mercedes-Benz lineup, the S-Class, packs a perfume atomizer connected to the climate-control system. On the Rolls-Royce Wraith, you can drop $12,000 for a headliner littered with fiber optics, lighting up like a clear sky at night.

Top picks: Mainstream, not lamestream

Because there are so many coupes out there, and because each size-based segment can field radically different vehicles, we're splitting everything up a bit differently. We're starting with mainstream coupes -- affordable, (occasionally) efficient models that provide a relatively inexpensive way to get down with two doors.

Honda Civic Coupe.

Honda

When it comes to practicality, Honda has it nailed with the ninth-generation Civic Coupe. It's relatively capacious, packs numerous safety as well as comfort features and has solid fuel economy. If you were leaning towards something sportier, we'd recommend the new Chevrolet Camaro. When equipped with magnetorheological shocks, it's composed on both back roads and highways alike, and you have three different engines (and power outputs) from which to choose.

For those that desire sporty driving on a budget, the Subaru BRZ best toes the line between having fun and paying a pretty penny for said fun, although you'll have to make do with a very tight interior.

Top picks: Premium's posh panache

Above mainstream, we have premium. This consists of your garden-variety, entry-level luxury models -- your fancy American and German (for the most part) metal.

Mercedes-Benz S550 Coupe.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET

If you're looking for more of a grand-touring type car, you can't go wrong with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe. Not only is it gorgeous to look at, it drives like a cloud atop a memory-foam mattress. You can load it up with nearly every cutting-edge safety system, to the point where the car damn near drives itself.

On the sportier side of Sears, we recommend the Porsche Cayman. This mid-engine sports car lacks the brutishness of the also-mid-engine Alfa Romeo 4C. In fact, it provides the best balance between on-road fun and on-track antics of the whole lot. It's a better value than the 911, and picky buyers can option the Cayman to include either everything or nothing.

Fans of pure noise will likely choose the Corvette or the F-Type for their V-8-based exhaust notes. The sound of an F-Type in traffic, with the dynamic exhaust opened up, is a tough act to top.

Top picks: Exotics, 'nuff said

Finally, at the tippy-top, we've got the exotics. These are the lustworthy cars you'll see being shared on Facebook and slapped up on bedroom walls. If you're spending as much on a car as others would on a house, it's an exotic.

Rolls-Royce Wraith.

Josh Miller/CNET

For the more standard, grand-touring style of exotic coupe, we recommend the Rolls-Royce Wraith. Not only is it the newest car -- most of Aston's lineup feels woefully old, and the Bentley Continental is still riding on a platform from 2003 -- it's also supremely comfortable. Plus, being a Rolls-Royce, you can have it outfitted however you prefer, so long as you're willing to pay for it. Neon orange paint with teak veneer? You got it.

When it comes to exotic sports coupes, however, there is no easy recommendation. Once you start reaching into the uppermost echelon of motoring, it's very much a matter of personal choice. You can pick a car that nobody can pronounce, like a Koenigsegg or a Pagani Huayra, or you can shoot for the moon with a seven-digit hypercar like the Porsche 918 Spyder.

If you want something that isn't complete insanity on the road, we'd recommend one of two cars -- the Lamborghini Huracan or the Ferrari 488 GTB. The Lambo provides a 10-cylinder wail free of turbochargers, whereas the 488 GTB's twin-turbo, eight-cylinder engine will leave you with a mountain of torque at every available moment. That said, we have the most experience with the Lambo, so that's where our recommendation goes.

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