We’re taking real European coupes, no funny “four-door coupe” nonsense. Just two doors and a rakish roof. Maybe with four seats, sometimes a pair. Whereas the American market and domestic manufacturers are all about the SUV, the Europeans are masters of the coupe. Hey, even the word is French; it means “cut,” and over there, it’s pronounced "coo-pay." Our lineup of great Euro coupes here stop just short of out-and-out supercars. These models are attainable to more people than Silicon Valley billionaires or casino owners. They’re the kind of cars you’d want to drive rather than just keep in the garage. That’s what makes them great.
Many new cars these days have sophisticated computer-controlled suspensions for previously unimagined levels of comfort. And electrically assisted steering is the new normal, despite its numbness in most applications. So the Alfa Romeo 4C blows through the car landscape like an invigorating, oxygen-rich gust of fresh air. It doesn’t have any power steering, the cabin is noisy, the ride is stiff, and the turbocharger’s pops, whooshes and whistles are clearly audible from the two seats set just in front of the 1.75-liter four-cylinder engine. Which makes the 4C as wild to pedal as it is to behold. Throw in a low-slung, lightweight body along with rear-wheel drive and the result is as visceral as modern motoring could possibly be. This is the car spearheading Alfa Romeo’s return to the United States, and frankly, there aren’t enough of them on the roads.
Photo by FCA Media
We all know about eye candy and arm candy, but if there’s such a thing as road candy, the Aston Martin Vantage is it. This is the company’s smallest coupe, but it’s hardly short on presence. Or power. The entry-level engine is still a 420-hp V8, and the V12 option (isn’t it wonderful that such an option even exists?) develops 565 hp accompanied by a brutal fanfare from the exhaust pipes. Going to the Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Strip or merely the local mall, every trip is an unforgettable experience.
Now in its third generation with the arrival of the 2016 model, the TT started out as a brilliant design that really established Audi as a benchmark for styling. Sadly, it wasn’t that great to drive, although a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive could be coaxed into the fun zone every so often. Generation Two addressed a lot of those enthusiast issues but somehow forgot to be quite as striking in the looks department. Generation Three is attempting to get everything right by being as innovative as possible in terms of design and tech, while also bringing some serious driving chops to the table. As always, those two rear seats are great for taking G.I. Joe and Barbie out for a spin, otherwise they’re not much use at all. But who cares? The better news is that this model is lighter than the previous two.
Photo by Audi
What used to be the 3 Series Coupe received a name and number change and has become the 4 Series. So now we have the 428i (240 hp), 435i (300 hp) and the brilliant M4 (425 hp). The first two are available with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the M is rear-drive only. Even driving the relatively humble 428i is still an undeniable thrill. There’s something about a BMW chassis that flows around bends and instills confidence at every turn. Oh, and just to top things off, it’s a well-equipped premium car. The M4, meanwhile, could be all the performance machine that most people will ever need.
Photo by BMW
So the Europeans invented the term “coupe.” They also invented the notion of a “Gran Turismo” car, or Grand Tourer. This is often shortened to “GT.” It usually means something sleek and elegant, usually for just two people and a modicum of luggage, with plenty of power for covering long distances with style and authority. Which sounds just like the BMW 6 Series. Yes, there are four-door Gran Coupe 6 Series models, but let’s concentrate on the two-door 640i (315 hp) and 650i (445 hp) that are both available with all-wheel drive as an alternative to their standard rear-drive setup, and the rear-drive-only M6 that enjoys 560 hp. All three engines provide effortless cruising with an enthusiast edge; the M6 amplifies that power and edge.
A European’s Gran Turismo car is often referred to as a “gentleman’s express” in jolly olde England. This jolly new Jaguar uses a lot of light-yet-strong aluminum in its construction, comes with the options of all-wheel drive and a monumental 550-hp supercharged V8, and looks the bee’s knees (as the Queen might say). The F-Type’s well-balanced handling talents are enough to make a potential Porsche 911 buyer think twice and Jaguar also offers the kind of crackling, barking exhaust soundtrack that can turn stiff upper lips into uninhibited broad beams. This is also one of the few electric steering systems that can provide decent feel.
This all-new coupe shows that Mercedes-Benz isn’t just a maker of comfy conveyances. Not that the GT S is uncomfortable, it’s just more focused on the serious business of going fast. Driving at speed can be huge fun, but it’s really not so enjoyable if there’s no absolute trust in the vehicle’s dynamics, construction and braking system. More by judgement than luck, this is where Mercedes-Benz excels. The GT S is a technical masterpiece that can rival anything this side of an Italian supercar and wields its 503 hp (developed by a twin-turbo 5.0-liter V8) with complete precision.
Photo by Mercedes-Benz
This car takes the idea of a grand tourer to its most luxuriously logical conclusion. There used to be a CL coupe based on an older version of the S-Class. This model is the same concept with a more logical naming system and a plethora of cutting-edge technology from the three-pointed star’s awesome flagship sedan. This is the kind of car to drive from one ocean’s coast to the other and still feel fresh. And that won’t be just because of the ionized and fragranced air conditioning. Intelligent cruise control, driver assistance and active safety features, and a serene cabin will all help to lighten the load. Plus, 449 hp from the S550 or a continent-crushing 621 hp in the S65 AMG model.
There’s a growing number of Porsche enthusiasts who will choose a Cayman over the iconic 911 without even thinking twice. They prefer the idea of an engine placed in the middle of the car rather than at the end. It means a better balance. And everything else about the Cayman meets Porsche’s stratospherically high standards. So the suspension tune is perfect, the steering direct and the general level of engineering is exemplary. All that used to hamper the Cayman in the past was not enough power, but the new GTS version makes a healthy 340 hp, just 10 horses shy of the “entry level” 911 Carrera.
Arguably the greatest European coupe of them all. It’s certainly the benchmark. Right from its early days, the 911 has appealed to those who really love driving, to feel everything the front tires are doing, to revel in the glorious and highly individual wail of the flat-six engine. And to get into the peculiar “slow in, fast out” rhythm of this rear-engined/rear-drive chassis when going through the corners. The ride and handling are far more benign these days, and there’s also the option of all-wheel drive. The 911’s interior is far from the bare-bones examples of its earlier versions, but there’s still that feeling that most of the (appreciable) purchase price has gone into the engineering rather than any tech toys. Anyone who has ever cared about driving should at least try a Carrera S. Then the Turbo. And then the hardcore GT3 RS.
Photo by Porsche