Sometimes less is more when it comes to sports cars
There are few experiences better than a spirited drive in a good sports car. The classic definition of a sports car is a two-seat, two-door coupe or convertible. Porsche defines the category with a myriad of variations of the venerable 911. But their best driving experience can be found in the more affordable Boxster and Cayman duo. Starting at just over $50,000, the mid-engine German twins exhibit near perfect handling and performance. Choose your options carefully: the price can climb quickly. For those who don’t want a manual transmission, Porsche’s auto-manual PDK shifts faster than any human on the planet.
The Jaguar F-Type is arguably the most beautiful British car since the iconic E-Type, with an exhaust note so seductive it should be rated NC-17. This new Jag is much more than a pretty face though as the acceleration and handling will leave most cars in the dust. Available in both coupe and convertible, the F-Type can be had in a variety of configurations including RWD, AWD, manual trans, automatic, V6, and V8, starting at under $70K. Unlike Jaguars of old, the new ones are daily-driver reliable.
BMW’s Z4 sDrive28i is a classic two-seat roadster featuring the German brand’s legendary driving dynamics. The Z4 can also be had with 300 or 335 HP 6-cylinder engines, but the 240 HP inline-4 mated to the 6-speed manual delivers plenty of fun at a starting price under $49,000.
Chevrolet’s Corvette Stingray was completely redesigned for 2014. This new version is the best yet with performance and looks that rival European sports cars costing twice as much. The sensuous exterior has more of an Italian feel than recent Vettes while the much-maligned interior of previous generations is now nearly perfect with excellent seats and ergonomics. There are more powerful options, but the 460 horsepower base Stingray has plenty of grunt and returns an astonishing 29 mpg on the highway. Best of all, it starts at only $55,000.
Ford’s Mustang is also completely new with a swoopier exterior and a much-improved cabin. While you might not think of the hairy-chested Mustang as a sports car, the new chassis exhibits excellent handling characteristics, yet the ride is comfortable enough for everyday use. Also new this year, in addition to the expected V6 and V8 variants there is a four-cylinder EcoBoost engine option. Delivering 310 horsepower, the smallest Mustang engine returns an impressive 31 mpg on the highway. But muscle car fans need not fear, since even the four-cylinder ‘Stang is able to roast the rear tires at will. Prices start at under $24,000.
Mazda’s MX-5 Miata debuted in 1989 to great fanfare as the spiritual successor to the lightweight and nimble British roadsters of the 60s. In the ensuing years, nearly one million have been sold making the MX-5 the best selling two-seat convertible sports car ever. An all-new MX-5 debuts for 2016, but there is no need to wait since the current generation is just about perfect. For the cost of a stripped Camry, you can be driving one of the purest, most rewarding cars ever made. With ideal 50-50 weight distribution, sharp steering and sport-tuned suspension, the MX-5 craves corners. The manual shifter—don’t you dare get this car with an automatic—has a crisp short throw and snicks easily into gear. Which is important, since the MX-5’s 167 HP engine is happiest when the revs are up. The MX-5 Miata starts at only $24,000.
Volkswagen’s GTI does not look like a traditional sports car. But the four-seat GTI is as much a driver’s car as many sexier and more expensive offerings. Plus, you can fold down the rear seats and toss a bike or a few bags of mulch in the back. The GTI base price is under $25,000.
Audi’s nimble new S3 is a serious sports sedan, featuring four doors and plenty of interior room. The 292HP 2.0 TFSI engine is mated to Audi’s S tronic dual-clutch auto-manual trans for lightning quick shifts while quattro awd delivers the power to the ground. The supportive sports seats, great brakes and performance-tuned suspension round out what might be the perfect year-round sports car. Even if it does have four doors. Starting at just $41,400.
Mercedes-Benz is also serious about affordable performance. Their new CLA45 AMG sedan and GLA45 AMG are each powered by a rambunctious 355 HP 2.0 liter turbo. Suspensions and 4MATIC awd are tuned to maximize curve carving while not totally sacrificing the comfort M-B buyers expect. Starting at under $49,000.
Fiat’s 500 Abarth defines the word spunky. At only 144 inches from nose to tail, the three-door hatchback is nearly a foot shorter than the Miata, so it
is extremely nimble and easy to park. The 160 horsepower engine delivers a mean bark and decent acceleration. Starting at just $22,400.