July 20, 2012 | by Joe Phillips
Sassy small coupes

Nothing beats a pickup for butch points — or for moving furniture or trekking to the garden center.

Still, you don’t see many city slickers driving a Ford F-150, the best-selling vehicle in America,here in the District, where bike lanes out-number parking garages.

But a new crop of compact coupes are nimble enough to handle narrow streets, yet have decent cargo room in the rear (or at least clever stowage compartments up front).

There’s also the ogle factor, because coupe styling, especially on the three cars below, is always edgier than what you’ll find on a sedan or other vehicle.

MINI Coupe

MINI Coupe JCW Edition
$30,000
Mpg: 29 city/37 highway
Maximum cargo space: 7 cubic feet

For years, MINI has been bulking up its lineup. First there was the longish Clubman wagon, then the husky Countryman SUV. But now MINI is on a diet, with a cute lilliputian Coupe. It’s barely bigger than a Smart car or Segway. And whoa!, there’s not even a backseat, though cargo space is larger than in a regular Cooper hatchback. Available in three models, the test car I drove was the top-of-the-line John Cooper Works (JCW) Edition. A throaty 208-horsepower turbo takes this Coupe from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds. Navigating around potholes and slowpoke sightseers is a breeze, thanks to the BMW-engineered braking and suspension. For even better handling, a rear spoiler pops up at high speeds. There’s plenty of headroom, too, thanks to the bubble roof. But this isn’t a cushy ride (translation: your keister gets a real workout).

Volvo C30
$25,000
Mpg: 21 city/29 highway
Maximum cargo space: 20 cubit feet

Volvo C30

The Volvo C30 shares many of the same features as the MINI Coupe, including brisk acceleration, look-at-me styling and stellar crash-test scores. But there are plenty of differences, such as a quieter cabin, stellar blind-spot warning system and rear-seat passenger room. There’s also an all-glass hatch which, along with the optional sunroof, makes the C30 feel very roomy. And it’s hard to beat Volvo’s cascading, brushed-aluminum center dash, which is a true work of art. To me, the overall look and feel (both inside and out) is just more refined on the Volvo, though the MINI has better brakes, fuel economy and road grip.

VW Golf R
$34,000
Mpg: 19 city/27 highway
Maximum cargo space: 46 cubic feet

VW Golf R

The Golf R — which is just as fast as the other coupes here — tops VW’s high-test GTI coupe, in both performance and price (yikes, by about $10,000). But that’s why the R has an impressive Audi-like interior. And there are standard features galore: adaptive xenon headlights, all-wheel drive, heated seats/mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control and eight-speaker audio with satellite radio. Auto enthusiasts will love how the Golf R only comes in a manual transmission. Biggest drawback: the nav system, which was so user-unfriendly I finally just turned it off. Still, few cars are as fun to drive on twisty roads. Even stop-and-go congestion is a breeze, thanks to the easy shifting and very responsive clutch. And if you need more room, the R is also available as a sedan.

 

 

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