2009: What's New In Coupes And Sports Cars

By Brian Alexander

2009 Aston Martin V8

It’s hardly any secret that at the dawn of 2009, clouds loom on the horizon.  Consumer confidence is shaky at best and automakers around the globe are knocking on each other’s doors – not to mention those of the government – to help weather the storm. By all accounts, it’s going to be a rough year.

2009 Nissan GT-R

2009 Posche 911 Carrera

But if your impression of 2009’s economic climate were based solely on the impressive array of coupes and sports cars being launched, you’d think the world were in the midst of some kind of golden era, where money falls from the rooftops and Starbucks lattes are sipped from platinum-lined champagne flûtes. From sporty coupes and GTs to asphalt-liquefying supercars, 2009 has more talent than any year in recent memory.

Just because a car has two doors doesn’t mean the comforts and technologies typical of opulent luxury sedans must be foregone. No car demonstrates this philosophy better than the Mercedes-Benz CL550, which gets all-wheel drive for the first time in 2009. While that might make it more practical, the $107,900 price tag does a quick job of invalidating its credibility as an ‘everyday’ car. But regardless, it offers up one of the finest luxury experiences available today. For the truly insatiable, however, comes the Bentley Brooklands. With 530 horsepower, a curb weight of nearly three tons (it’s a coupe!) and a $340,990 price tag, it oozes excess in ways that would make an ‘80s hair band video look disciplined by comparison.

While Bentley might set the bar inescapably high, it isn’t the only marque to successfully capitalize on handcrafted British charm. Aston Martin takes that same Anglo sense of elegance but sculpts it into a lower, tauter chassis. The result is the V8 Vantange. Previous models had been slightly wanting for power, so for 2009 the Vantage sees a displacement bump up to 4.8 liters, resulting in 420 horsepower and an even harsher V-8 wail. At around $113k , it’s a relative bargain compared to the Bentley. Not wishing to outdone by their compatriots in Gaydon, Jaguar is expected to release an updated XKR later in the year with a 510 horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8, albeit at price below $100k.

Further up the performance spectrum, the balance of power has shifted. The supercar establishment is still reeling from the two-fisted sucker-punch it received from America and Japan, and no longer is the segment synonymous with sexy, expensive Italian sheet metal or meticulously engineered German goliaths. The Nissan GT-R and Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 are proof that performance and value aren’t mutually exclusive. With prices starting at $76,840 and $106,520 respectively, they aren’t what you’d call cheap, but prior to their introductions, such levels of performance were only available to the über-affluent. The GT-R’s slick all-wheel drive system, super-fast shifting dual-clutch gearbox and twin-turbo engine conspire to hide its mass and encourage superhuman driving, while the ZR1’s supercharged V-8 and bespoke Michelin tires belt you down the road at speeds typically reserved for 10,000 rpm superbikes and Navy jets. They go about their business in very different ways, but neither is short of jaw dropping, expectations-shattering performance.

While the GT-R and ZR1 are revolutionary in their ways, others have chosen to simply evolve, and the Porsche 911 is perhaps the epitome steady automobile evolution. For 2009, it retains its classic shape and rear-mounted flat-six engine, but introduces the efficiency of direct injection and the speedy cog-swapping abilities of the Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, more commonly known as the dual-clutch gearbox. Following is step is Nissan’s timeless Z, now pushing out more horsepower after having its V-6 bumped up to 3.7-liters. Shorter and lighter, the 370Z puts to use all the lessons learned from the 350Z’s development and bests the outgoing car in every possible way, all for a price starting under $30k. Mazda has gone the same route with the RX-8, only slightly altering the car’s outward appearance and adding an R3 sport package that includes sports suspension and seats.

Fans of American muscle will have something to cheer about this year, as the muscle car wars return in earnest. While that might have looked a costly option under the oppressive menace that was $4-plus gas prices, right now the voracious appetite of Detroit’s V-8s is of little concern. Leading the pack will be the Chevrolet Camaro, which returns to the market as a 2010 model.  A V-6 engine with to 300 hp and 27 mpg will be available, but the real headline is the 422 hp offered by the top of the line 6.2-liter V-8. That puts the Camaro on level ground with the Dodge Challenger, which churns out 425 hp from its 6.1-liter Hemi engine in SRT8 trim. Both are available with V-6 power for under $23k. Not to be left out, Ford is also releasing a revised 2010 Mustang. While it keeps the same general shape and powertrains as the outgoing model, the new Mustang boasts a more civilized interior and improved ride quality.

Few will forget how Hyundai set the luxury sedan world (and the internet) ablaze last year with its Genesis sedan, which packed in Lexus-level luxury at an everyday price. Well, they’re not done yet, and this time they’ve got the performance coupe segment squarely in their sights. Set to be released this year as a 2010 model, Hyundai’s Genesis coupe looks to take on the likes of the Ford Mustang, Nissan 370Z and Infiniti G37 with a 306 horsepower V-6 engine powering the rear wheels. It should cost around $25k, and it’s certainly one to look out for.

Global economic crisis? Pah! Performance has never been so accessible to so many. If you’ve got the money to spend, do so now, because with stringent emissions standards on the rise and concerns over oil dependence growing, performance coupes and sports cars as we know them are on the way out. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, but things will change. Consider this a blowout ending to the era.

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