The coupe market is a far cry from what it once was. It used to be that you could get a two-door variant of almost any four-door sedan, be it a Subaru Impreza, Toyota Camry, or a Nissan Sentra. Now, coupes are vanishing from the market, and the term is being watered down by "four-door coupes" that offer some of the style with a bit more practicality.
But don't worry. There are still traditional coupes out there, and some of them are still reasonably affordable. Following are all of the options available for under $30,000, arranged in alphabetical order. Note that we intentionally left out two-door hatchbacks in favor of vehicles with traditional trunks.
Chevrolet Camaro: $26,900
Chevrolet offers Camaros with two different engines, both for under $30,000. For the low price of $26,900, you can hop in a turbo four-cylinder model making 275 horsepower. That's pretty sweet, but we'd opt for the bigger 3.6-liter V6 that packs 335 horsepower. It's more expensive, starting at $28,395, but that V6 is loads of fun.
The V6 also sounds great with the optional dual-mode exhaust, and fortunately, it's an option that just slips under the price cap. It won't leave room for much else besides one or two appearance items, but you'll appreciate it every time you put your foot down.
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Dodge Challenger: $28,285The biggest of the modern American muscle machines also carries the highest starting price. The Dodge Challenger SXT's base price of $28,285 doesn't leave much headroom under our $30,000 price cap for extra goodies. It only comes with a 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 and 8-speed automatic. Last time we tried a Challenger with this engine (a more expensive, AWD GT model), we found it made a good noise and was acceptably powerful. But there's no getting around the fact that its the least powerful V6 of the American muscle coupes, and it propels the biggest body of the trio.
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Ford Mustang: $26,085
For the rest of the model year, there are two powertrains for the Ford Mustang that come in under our $30,000 mark. The cheapest, at $26,085, is the V6 model, but it goes away at the end of the year. But don't fret, for the more powerful and torque-laden turbocharged four-cylinder will continue to be available after the refreshed model arrives.
The 310-horsepower EcoBoost Mustang doesn't cost too much more at $27,095. It also allows just enough room to add the Performance Package, which includes a limited-slip differential, some interior trim, summer tires, bigger brakes, and sportier suspension. You can probably guess that this is the Mustang we would order for our hard-earned $30k.
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Honda Accord: $25,000
If you're looking for a coupe sized similarly to the American machines, but prefer practicality to performance, you can't go wrong with the Honda Accord. Sadly, you can't get get the smooth, powerful V6 model for under $30,000. But we've found that even four-cylinder Accords, two-door or four-door, can still be enjoyable to drive.
Naturally, we'd pick one with a manual, which restricts choices to the base model LX-S and EX. We'd probably spring for the slightly pricier EX, which starts at $27,125 and adds a sunroof and power seats.
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Honda Civic: $20,025
The Honda Civic represents the second cheapest coupe on this list. For $20,025, you'll get a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine making 158 horsepower. It's a rev-happy little engine that is quite enjoyable with the typically slick Honda six-speed manual.
As fun as the normal 2.0-liter is, we would probably opt for the turbocharged 1.5-liter engine with 174 horsepower. Especially now that it's finally available with a manual transmission. It doesn't add much more money at $22,450, and it comes with extra features such as a sunroof, fog lights, bigger alloy wheels, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
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Kia Forte Koup: $20,740
For only a bit more money than the Honda, you can pick up a Kia Forte Koup. The extra money will net you a bit more power than its comparable Japanese competitor. The standard 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder makes 173 horsepower, and the turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four belts out 201 horses.
We like power, so we strongly recommend opting for the turbocharged SX model. It costs only a little more than the naturally aspirated version at $21,540, and it's also the only one that's available with the six-speed manual. While it isn't the sportiest machine around, it's powerful enough to have some fun, and it's well-equipped with a healthy dose of style.
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Smart Fortwo: $15,400
The cheapest coupe on our list is also likely the least appealing to the typical coupe consumer. Let's be honest, the Smart Fortwo doesn't exactly have the sleek, sporty shape we imagine when we hear the word "coupe." It's also got a hatchback, but it also has a tiny little trunk area, so we figured we may as well include it. That being said, it has a certain unique style, and the price can't be beat. Unless you add used coupes to the mix.
If you want a Smart Fortwo, we again would recommend ordering one with the manual transmission. However, Smart finally offers an acceptable automatic, so that option isn't off the table. You'll want to act fast to get one, since Smart will reportedly end production of US-spec gas-powered Fortwos this April. After that, you'll only be able to lease an electric model.
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Subaru BRZ: $26,315
With the Subaru BRZ, we come to the fourth rear-drive coupe on the market under our price cap. The BRZ starts at $26,315 and it nets you a flat-four-powered four-seat sports car. It makes 205 horsepower and comes standard with a limited-slip differential.
The standard, bare-bones BRZ is all you need to have loads of fun. But if you absolutely need a bit more performance, Subaru offers the leather- and Alcantara-trimmed Limited with a $1,195 performance package. It adds different wheels, Brembo brakes, and Sachs shocks, and just slips under the price limit at $29,660.
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Toyota 86: $27,140
Rounding out our list is the BRZ's near-identical twin, the Toyota 86. With its name change from Scion to Toyota, the 86 also received some styling tweaks. Like the BRZ, the 86 comes with 205 horsepower sent to a limited-slip rear differential. Also like the BRZ, it's a hoot to drive.
Toyota doesn't offer the same performance package as Subaru, but it does have a variety of TRD accessories to improve sound, looks, and performance. They aren't necessary to have fun, but if you so choose, you can order the car with TRD exhaust, intake, lowering springs, sway bars, and brake pads for $29,924. Just don't order anything else. However, your money might be better spent on an aftermarket supercharger or turbo to supplement the car's low power output... provided that you're willing to sacrifice your warranty.