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AOL Autos Pick Best Coupes for $25K

Published Jul 9th 2007, 10:37pm by

By Jonathan Gromer, AOL Autos
Two doors are sexier than four. The smooth lines of a coupe make the majority of car buyers think of freedom, performance and youth. These are very important words in an age where classic descriptives like "station wagon" have been banned from marketing lingo in favor of phrases like "sport wagon." But what about life's little reality checks such as groceries, tall passengers and safety?

That's why we chose 10 coupes that are both sexy and in some way practical. Each one of these extraordinary machines, while all great choices, showcases a different strength for your everyday needs. Every coupe listed, with a small game of hardball at your local dealership, should cost you $25,000 or less for most trim levels. Forget signing up for a gym membership. Just park one of these rides in your driveway for a little rejuvenation.

Performance:

Ford Mustang V6 ($19,250 - $25,695) || Get a Quote Here
You want acceleration. You want to drop your foot on the gas and be instantly compressed into the skin of your driver's seat as you swear your car is leaving a trail of distorted light behind you Star Trek-style. Those looking for the visceral thrill of rear-wheel drive handling and potent muscle at a bargain price need look no further than the Ford Mustang.

The Ford Mustang coupe comes packaged with your choice of two different power plants, a 210-hp 4.0-liter V6 that delivers 240 lb.-ft. and a 4.6-liter V8 that twists the tires with 300hp and 320 lb.-ft. of torque. You can't go wrong with either choice, but we prefer the Ford Mustang GT coupes because they come with the gutsier V8 and add necessities like an anti-lock braking system and traction control. The Ford Mustang GT's stabilizer bars also add a little more refinement to surprisingly good handling, particularly to the rear suspension that prides itself on tuning rather than modern componentry.

Though the Ford Mustang coupe receives excellent crash safety test scores from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and respectable scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the IIHS notes that all Ford Mustangs manufactured after May 2007 have been further modified to reduce the likelihood of a door opening in frontal offset crashes. You can find out when a car was manufactured often by checking the label mounted around the latches of the driver's side door.
MINI Cooper ($18,700 - $21,850) || Get a Quote Here
You want handling. You want your everyday car to take turns like a go-kart with quick turn-in, little body roll, Roach Motel-grade-road-stick and all. Your best bet is the MINI Cooper coupe.

For 2007, the MINI Coopers emerge from moderate modifications with an improved power-to-weight ratio and driving technologies like Automatic Stability Control + Traction Control migrating from the optional list to standard for both models.

Fortunately, while the 'go' has been improved, there's less 'kart' in the formula. The base MINI Cooper's handling feels more taut, and even the normally harsh combination of the MINI Cooper S with the optional sport suspension and run-flat tires produces a much more pliant experience that's friendlier on the seat.

Both are every bit as fun to drive as their predecessors. Since you no longer have to grit your teeth as you commute over shoddy pavement to enjoy razor-sharp handling, we recommend springing for the extra oomph of the MINI Cooper S and adding both Dynamic Stability Control and the sport suspension.
Safety:

Honda Civic ($14,810 - $21,090) || Get a Quote Here
You want your coupe to be prepared for the worst in order to protect you and the ones you love. That means six airbags and a frame built like Fort Knox. The crowd-pleasing Honda Civic coupe garners the highest ratings for safety of all the coupes we surveyed in the $25,000-and-under bracket.

Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Honda Civic coupe the highest ratings possible in their respective frontal impact tests. This is very important, because the NHTSA's test is extremely demanding on the vehicle's restraint systems, whereas the IIHS' tests put more stress on the vehicle's structure. The Honda Civic also aced the IIHS' side- and rear-impact tests, while scoring a respectable four-out-of-five-star rating for front seat passengers and a five-star rating for rear seat passengers in the NHTSA's side-impact tests.

Mix in the Honda Civic coupe's consistently high resale values and reputation for reliability, and you've got a very attractive package. Every Honda Civic coupe comes with an anti-lock braking system, six airbags, active head restraints and Electronic Brake Distribution. We'd opt with the EX for its four-wheel disc brake setup or even spring for the Si for its Vehicle Stability Assist system with traction control. Besides, the Si's bona-fide sport compact credentials guarantee a giggle-filled nimble and potent driving experience.

Near-Luxury

 

Nissan Altima Coupe ($20,490 - $24,890) || Get a Quote Here
You want the trappings, build quality and hushed muscle of a luxury car, but you don't want to spend an exorbitant amount of money. Check out the 2008 Nissan Altima coupe. What Nissan began as a peppy compact car has matured into a midsize performance machine.

The first coupe in the Nissan Altima line gets its inspiration from the Infiniti G35 coupe. In step with the Nissan lineage, the new Nissan Altima coupe is big on spirited acceleration and a sporty ride, especially the 270-hp 3.5 SE model with its included sport-tuned suspension. The 2.5 S, powered by a 175hp inline-four, delivers a more relaxed ride, but is far from road-slouch territory.

Following the Infiniti G35 coupe's lead, the swooping lines of the Nissan Altima coupe make it arguably the sexiest midsize coupe in the market. Then there's the interior, which also walks in Infiniti G35 coupe's shoes with very comfortable seats that offer more sport bolstering than the Nissan Altima sedan. Everything from the center stack to the door-mounted controls exhibit a very solid, well-constructed feel.

If your budget has the headroom, there's a multitude of luxury options available for both trims. These options begin with basics like leather seating and stretch up to a Bluetooth hands-free communications system, a rear-view camera parking system and a nine-speaker Bose audio system.

 

Storage Space

Chevrolet Monte Carlo ($21,700 - $28,425) || Get a Quote Here
You've got grocery shopping nailed. Once a month, you haul the family down to your local Sam's Club and buy ludicrous quantities of everything from produce to condiments, because that's the real way to save money on food. But you want to do it in a coupe.

Check out Chevrolet's Monte Carlo coupe. Touting a very livable 16 cu. ft. of storage space in the trunk, the Monte Carlo ties the other storage space king in our list of coupes, the Mitsubishi Eclipse, but has space for real people to fit in the backseat. As a matter of fact, the Monte Carlo coupe also strikes one of the best balances between rear passenger headroom and legroom of all the coupes we surveyed, offering rear-seat passengers 36.5 inches of headroom and 35.8 inches of legroom.

If sheer space is your priority, we'd suggest an LT model coupe, because it includes anti-lock brakes, 17-inch wheels and keeps the fuel-sipping 3.5-liter V6 of the LS. If you're a fan of front-wheel drive cars stuffed with big honkin' V8s, however, nothing but the 303-hp, 5.3-liter V8-equipped Monte Carlo SS coupe will do.

 

Mitsubishi Eclipse ($19,999 - $23,499) || Get a Quote Here
You need a car that can handle major shopping excursions and the occasional four-person jaunt, but you don't want to sacrifice anything in the looks department. Enter the Mitsubishi Eclipse coupe, which is technically a hatchback. The Mitsubishi Eclipse coupe, like the Monte Carlo, has a 16-cu.ft. trunk that could rival the hatch-area storage space of some compact wagons and SUVs on the market, while still delivering a satisfying driving experience and with youthful looks to boot.

The combination of front-wheel drive, a 162-hp four-cylinder engine and a starting body weight of 3274 lbs. makes the GS trim much more of a pedestrian relaxed driver for many, but upping the ante to the 263-hp GT delivers an enthusiastic experience. Just make sure you don't relegate adults to the rear seats for long trips, unless you don't like them very much.

Passenger Compartment Space

 

Volkswagen Rabbit & GTI ($14,990 - $22,220) || Get a Quote Here
  The VW Rabbit and the VW GTI are two separate cars with two very different personalities, but both are born from Volkswagen's Golf platform.

The VW Rabbit delivers excellent value for its price, coming standard with features like four-wheel antilock disc brakes, an eight-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system, cruise control, air conditioning and traction control. The VW GTI comes packaged for performance, eschewing the Rabbit's 2.5-liter 150-hp inline-five for a 200-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Filling out the VW GTI's performance proposition are included features like stability control and 17-inch tires.

Both are excellent choices for their intended purposes. The VW Rabbit delivers practicality in a nicely finished package, while the VW GTI is a hoot to drive. But both also offer the best balance of space for driver and passengers of all the coupes we surveyed. Both vehicles offer a total of 41.2 inches of legroom and 39.3 inches of headroom for people up front. Back-seat passengers are treated to a very livable 35.3 inches of legroom and 38.5 inches of headroom.

Fuel Economy

Honda Accord ($20,475 - $27,500) || Get a Quote Here
While no other coupe here can touch the 27 mpg city/36 mpg highway fuel frugality of the MINI or the 25/36 city/highway mpg of the Honda Civic coupe, there are a few larger alternatives that will still stretch their legs to make sure that you don’t spend all your hard-earned cash at the local pump n' gouge.

The Honda Accord Coupe is one of them. If you stick with the 166-hp 2.4-liter inline four found on the LX and EX models, you'll see returns of 23 mpg on city streets and 31 mpg on highway pavement. Besides good fuel economy, Honda Accord LX models come with features like anti-lock brakes, six airbags, 16-inch wheels and a 6-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo.

Stepping up to the Honda Accord EX brings extras like a power moonroof, heated power side mirrors and an XM Satellite Radio receiver. Don't forget, both Honda Accord coupe models also come with a model name that has become synonymous with reliability over the last 20 years.

 

Toyota Camry Solara ($19,930 - $23,905) || Get a Quote Here
Always playing Hatfield to the Honda Accord's McCoy in the midsize car segment, the Toyota Camry Solara also boasts value, excellent build quality, reliability and great fuel economy when equipped with its four-cylinder engine.

Every available trim of the Toyota Camry Solara Coupe comes standard with a 155-hp 2.4-liter engine that delivers 22 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. Like the Honda Accord Coupe, the Toyota Camry Solara's SE trim comes with quite a few goodies, including six airbags, an AM/FM stereo with an in-dash 6-CD changer, 16-inch wheels and cruise control.

The Sport Coupe trim brings along performance touches like 17-inch wheels and a sport-tuned suspension, while the SLE Coupe brings a dollop of luxury with features like automatic climate control, a power moonroof, an upgraded sound system and a Bluetooth hands-free communications system. Since you'd have to upgrade to the V6 engine in order to get stability and traction control, the best choice among trims here is decided by your preferences.

Value

 

Scion tC ($15,000 - $16,400) || Get a Quote Here
You want the style of a coupe and all the creature comforts you can get for as little money as you have to spend. Check out the Scion tC coupe. Crafted by Toyota to appeal to a younger demographic, Scion has been faced with a good problem lately. Young people are going for their cars, but a much older demographic is picking them up, too. No, grandpa doesn't feel like cruising for chicks. Grandpa knows a good deal when he sees it.

Scion's two flavors of the tC coupe both come well-stocked with necessities like a four-wheel antilock disc brake system and air conditioning, plus unexpected luxuries like a panoramic moonroof and a 160-watt AM/FM/CD sound system that's MP3, Satellite-radio and WMA capable. Stepping up from the Spec Package, intended to be a blank canvas for customizers, to the standard Scion tC coupe brings additions like cruise control, 17-inch wheels instead of 16's and an engine immobilizer. Front seat-mounted side-impact airbags and side airbag curtains are optional. Fuel economy on the 161-hp 2.4-liter inline-four is a respectable 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway.

It's important to note that two other vehicles on this list also give the Scion tC a fierce run for its money in the value segment, the Honda Civic and the Volkswagen Rabbit.

For a Few Dollars More ...

 

Infiniti G35 Coupe ($33,450) || Get a Quote Here
How good can things get if you find an extra couple thousand dollars for your automotive budget? The Nissan 350Z, Mazda RX-8, Audi TT and the Chrysler CrossfireInfiniti G35 Coupe.
all represent unique and exciting balances of passion and practicality one price bracket up, but our personal favorite is the

The Infiniti G35 Coupe handles like a nimble athlete, hustles with a hushed growl at the drop of the pedal and comes suited with an appropriate complement of features for a luxury automobile. As with its kid cousin, the Nissan Altima Coupe, we'd recommend you do what it takes to get the sport suspension if you don't want the model with manual transmission. If you're going to overspend and regret it later, you might as well do it right.



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