Who Killed the Sports Coupe?

Illustration for article titled Who Killed the Sports Coupe?

Trends in the automotive market seem to come and go on a fairly short-term basis. At least in the American market, that is, where we've got the collective attention span of ADD-riddled 4th graders.

What was hot last year is old news this year, and anything from the year before that has long since been forgotten. And while this is easily applicable to individual cars, (PT Cruiser, anyone?) if you look at the market as a whole, it's applicable to entire segments. The minivan was the preferred mode of family transportation for a good decade and a half - starting around 1984 - but these days only one out of three of the mainstream domestic brands even bother to make a minivan. The minivan begat SUV's like the Explorer, Cherokee and Trooper, which became as popular as a pork chop in a mosque when gas skyrocketed.

And while very little of this really saddens me all that much (you can't tell me you miss the road being clogged up with SUV's being driven by housewives going to get groceries!), what truly saddens me is the death of the small, inexpensive sports coupe. It was once one of the most hotly contested market segments, with just about all the mainstream manufacturers offering one. Today, it's a segment that's deader than Lindsay Lohan's career prospects.


The sports coupe segment used to be an active market segment - because that's what young people wanted. 20-somethings lost the plot when their interest moved from Integra to Xterra. Still, this is perhaps due to the gullibility of young people - who believe they want whatever it is that's being marketed to them, even if it's a Nissan Frontier with a bunch of plastic glued to it that's supposed to grant you some sort of crazy lifestyle.

There's more to it than just marketing, though. The focus on cars has gone from size, horsepower, and luxury to environmental friendliness, efficiency, and the lifestyle the car's supposed to portray. Quite why people got tired of sharp handling and handfuls of horsepower is beyond me, but maybe we can chalk that one up to rising gas prices and skyrocketing insurance premiums.

Still, the almost full-scale death of the sports coupe is a hard pill to swallow when you compare the past to the present. Let's take a look at how the market has slowly died. I'm going to start with the brand that was long considered the king of the sports coupe market: Honda.

Back in the 80's and 90's, Honda owned this market. They had a 2-door for everyone. The CR-X was a 2-seat liftback based on the Civic, available in hyper-mileage (HF) or lots-of-fun (Si) format. The Prelude was Honda's testbed for hot new technology, and served as a harbinger of technology to come in the industry. Then there was the Integra, which I hardly need to explain. It's still a massively popular car (with suitably ridiculous resale values) nearly a decade after it went out of production.


Is it a coincidence that the Prelude died about the same time that Honda brought out the Element?

Apparently the market wanted a box based on the CR-V with rubber bumpers and no power. Think about this: the special edition Prelude had a torque-vectoring front differential. The special edition Element has a ramp for dogs. This is progress?


How about Mitsubishi? Once upon a time, the three diamond brand was swimming in money and couldn't keep Eclipses on the showroom floor long enough to vacuum the carpets and fill the gas tank. Turbo engines, four wheel drive, and a low price tag was all it took. They replaced the real Eclipse in 1999 with an automotive dud still clinging to the Eclipse label, a Chrysler Sebring in drag. It gained weight, lost all its driver appeal, and went for the mass market. I think they still make the Eclipse, but I'm not going to pretend to care. And how's Mitsubishi doing today? Hanging on by a thread, thanks for asking.

The worst offender is Toyota. Let's go back to, say, 1993. Go to a Toyota dealer looking for a sports coupe and you had tons of choices. There was the Ferrari-bating Supra Turbo, the mid-engine MR2, and the four-wheel-drive turbo Celica allTrac. What about today? Can anyone honestly say that there's a fun-to-drive Toyota today?


One by one, they all forgot. The howling 8500-rpm Yamaha-engined Celica GT-S got replaced by the booming-stereo Scion tC with a Camry engine. Nissan didn't even bother to replace the 240SX. The GT-R isn't a sports coupe, it's a corporate knob-waving contest aimed at Porsche to see how many gadgets can be packed into one car.

But despite making no sense at all, the SUV brigade rolled in with huge knobby tires, horrible mileage, and fabricated usefulness. And the sports coupes died off, one-by-one. There are no more mid-engine Toyotas; but your dealer will happily sell you a Matrix! The Integra is dead, but Acura's got a lot full of angry jack-o-lanterns they hope you'll buy. Mazda's rotary wonder gained two doors, but lost two turbos and a purpose.


It seems though, as reality sets in these days ("My Jeep Liberty is smaller than a Taurus inside but gets 15mpg, and I never go off-road. Why'd I do this?") the tide is turning back towards affordable cars that are fun to drive. Hyundai's Genesis Coupe may not be perfect, and it's not setting the sales charts on fire - but it's the real deal. BMW's 1 series is a good start. Toyota swears up and down they're going to produce the FT-86, a small rear-wheel-drive coupe powered by a Subaru boxer; I'll keep my fingers crossed. Honda's CR-Z hybrid needs work, but it's nothing a K20c and 6-speed couldn't fix.

So it seems that the market is finally recovering from many years of pointless SUV's and cute-utes and crossover nonsense. The future is indeed bright for people that like to drive.


This piece was written and submitted by a Jalopnik reader and may not express views held by Jalopnik or its staff. But maybe they will become our views. It all depends on whether or not this person wins by whit of your eyeballs in our reality show, "Who Wants to be America's Next Top Car Blogger?"

Share This Story

Get our newsletter


The RX-8 lost its purpose? I think it actually gained one. You know what I just did? I went to the grocery store. With a 3 year old and a 11 month old. In my RX-8. I got $62 in grocerys. Made it home, no issues. You know what I'm doing tomorrow? Autocrossing in my RX-8.