We are now living in a golden age of the inexpensive coupe. Some of you may scoff at that fact, but with the Scion FR-S and the Subaru BRZ landing in the $25,000 range—and V6s such as the Ford Mustang, the Chevrolet Camaro and the Dodge Challenger priced at just slightly more—there may be no better time get yourself into a two-door. Even if the aforementioned rear-drivers are too pricey for you, options abound in the $20,000 range.
Today we compare front-wheel-drive econo coupes from foreign makers. The price ceiling will be $25,000, with only the 2012 Nissan
Altima 2.5 getting near it. The three other competitors cost less than $20,000 and are the 2013 Hyundai Elantra coupe, the 2012 Honda
Civic coupe and the 2012 Kia
Forte Koup. While the Nissan eclipses the other three on price, a new Altima sedan will bow in 2013, possibly making this a great time to pick up the current-generation vehicle.
Let's start with the engines. All three have four-bangers, ranging from a 1.8-liter in the Civic and the Elantra, to the relatively massive 2.5-liter in the Altima. The Civic's engine makes 140 hp, while the Elantra does a little better at 148 hp. The Forte Koup is next at 156 hp, and the Nissan tops them all at 175 hp.
Even though the Altima weighs the most at 3,080 pounds, it almost wins in the power-to-weight-ratio battle, with each horse carrying just 17.6 pounds. The Kia has the best ratio at 17.54, while the Civic carries the most at almost 19 pounds per horse—and Soichiro Honda spins in his grave like a MC14e. So the Altima should feel the fastest, and it does.
However, with the Nissan, you do pay the most per horse at $142. The Kia takes the cake in this category at just $115 per pound, the Elantra is second at $123, and then the Civic at $133.
The Elantra has the most interior space, at 95.4 cubic feet for passengers and cargo. The Civic coupe is the smallest inside with 83.2 cubic feet of interior space, the Altima is next with 89.3 cubic feet and the Forte brings up the rear with just 90.7 cubic feet.
So the Kia Forte Koup wins our bench-racing contest. It has the best power-to-weight ratio and the best cost-to-power ratio. It gets the silver medal for interior space. On paper, the Kia is the best value.
We asked a few of the Autoweek
editors which of the cars had the best exterior styling, and the Forte earned top marks, garnering two first-place votes along with a second and a third. The Elantra coupe was second overall in styling, while the Altima ranked third and the Civic again took home last place.
Regardless of what you choose, you will get more than 30 mpg and a good warranty. What you won't get is a real sports car. For that, you'll have to upgrade.