Anyone with an ounce of gasoline in their blood lusts after a good sports car. While the breed tends to be less practical than many, with form taking precedence over function, the beauty and appeal is found in the unadulterated fun of the drive.
It is not so much running sub-12-second times at a drag strip, but more getting through corners while flirting with the very edge of road adhesion.
Arriving at the final list was a thing of, well, great debate. In the end, there was a meeting of the minds and a list that covers the bases. Here are Driving’s best sports cars in five price categories.
Used under $20,000: Mazda Miata
When it was introduced, the Mazda Miata breathed life back into a bygone era — it was what the MGB should have been all along! Its key asset was, and still remains, the fact driver and car work as one for the betterment of both.
It does not have big horsepower, so it’s really only adequately fast, but that doesn’t matter. The plus is it can be pushed to the very edge and brought back into line at will. This attribute makes a mortal driver feel like an F1 pilot.
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Of course, it’s the epitome of impractical, with tiny dimensions and a trunk sized to match. Likewise, a taller driver has to scrunch down into the seat with their knees around their ears. Nonetheless, the positional pain is more than compensated for by the driving experience!
During the often-heated debate about which is the best used sports car purchase under $20,000 another name surfaced repeatedly — the Ford Fiesta ST. It offers Miata-like fun, it’s surprisingly quick, and it’s definitely dialed-in through a corner (or around the local track). It also delivers a degree of hatchback practicality.
New under $30,000: Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86
The Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 are, for all intents and purposes, one and the same car, with very minor cosmetic and packaging differences. While some will lament the fact the engine lacks a turbo, the overall driving experience is impossible to dismiss.
The execution is beautiful in its simplicity, and it has a dynamic balance that begs to be exploited — the rear-drive format allows it to be tossed into a corner without fear of it biting back. In the end, the feel and precision of its handling puts the BRZ-86 at the top of the class.
The flat-four Boxer is middling for something sporty with 205 hp, though. This shows up in the 7.4-second run to 100 km/h. However, find a racetrack and the handling allows the duo to overhaul some much brawnier competition. This ability is, after all, the heart of a true sports car.
New under $40,000: Hyundai Veloster N
Talk affordable sports cars and the Hot Hatch category is rapidly becoming the place to shop. When the quirky four-door Hyundai Veloster arrived – a three-door hatch with a single rear door – its paucity of power lead me to dub it the “Slowster.” Anything that suggests “velocity” should at least have a little!
Yes, the addition of a turbo-four did liven things up, but it was not until the Veloster N arrived that it earned some real street credibility. Part of the reason is the man behind Hyundai’s N brand — Albert Biermann. He rose to fame as the leading light at BMW’s M division, and he’s not the type of engineer to accept second-best. This trait shines through in the N’s makeup.
It’s truly tenacious through a corner and it’s very quick — credit the 2.0L turbo-four and the 275 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque it generates. This gives it the means to blast to 100 km/h in 5.6 seconds, which is fast by any standard, especially for a ride under $40,000. Bonus points for it actually sounding the part in the process.
New under $50,000: Honda Civic Type R
When Honda launched the Civic Type R, it gave Canada the forbidden fruit so many had lusted after. It’s a supreme ride that lives up to its hyped-up billing, and then some. The heart and soul of the Type R is the 2.0L turbo-four and the 306 hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque it twists out. The beauty is the powerband is sustained over the entire operating range.
Remarkably, given the outright performance at play, it does not bog down and become a temperamental handful when driven in the city. The wish, however, is for an exhaust note with more bark! While its zero-to-100 km/h acceleration time is similar to the more affordable Veloster N’s, at 5.7 seconds, the difference is the Type R catches fire through the mid-range. Here it’s a match for many more expensive rides.
Throw in an adaptive suspension, helical limited-slip front diff, and a millimetre-precise steering setup that’s devoid of torque steer, and the Type R shows a clean set of rear tires to all pretenders.
Another popular choice in the under-$50,000 category was the Kia Stinger GT. It is first and foremost a family car, with the practicality of a hatchback and lots of power (365 ponies). The bonus is that when in Sport mode, 80 per cent of the drive goes to the rear wheels so it can be drifted with authority. Again, the intangible is the Albert Biermann touch. In the end, the Stinger GT is a plush, practical family ride that doubles a proper driver’s car.
New under $60,000: Ford Mustang
The under-$60,000 category is frustrating to fill — move up $5,000 and you can get into the likes of the Porsche 718 Cayman. However, the best at this price point is the Ford Mustang. It boils down to a choice between the Mustang GT Premium with the Performance Pack Level 2 and Safe and Smart packages; or the Bullitt. It really depends on your priorities.
While Nick Tragianis picked the GT Premium PP2 with its MagneRide adaptive damping, I opted for the version that pays homage to an iconic movie car and the chase by which all other chases are now judged. The Bullitt gets an extra 20 hp for a total of 480 hp, and much of the GT 350’s paraphernalia, but at a more realistic price. It’s also one of the few current cars with an outside chance of becoming a collectable.
Regardless of the model picked, the modern Mustang brings the muscle car era into the here and now. It dances through a corner and runs to 100 km/h in 4.9 seconds. Of course, very few can match the throaty bark the pipes elicit when the hammer is down!
There you have it, five very capable cars that all have one thing in common — that the handling and the manner in which they tackle a corner is guaranteed to put a smile on the driver’s face. The bonus is that even a mundane run to the grocery store becomes something to relish.