It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like sports cars, or at least the idea of owning one. Most cars are tailored for mundane tasks like commuting, hauling cargo and driving the family around, but sports cars are all about tearing up the open road.
Sports cars have incredible performance, high style and in many cases, a significant dose of luxury. But they also tend to cost more, have less space, use more gas and in some cases, have a harsh ride.
For sports car buyers, the driving thrills and the prestige that come from owning a sports car more than compensate for the drawbacks. If you’re considering a sports car, there are a few things you need to know before you start shopping.
Sports Car Basics
Sports cars generally put performance before all other tasks. Engines are tuned to make more power; parts may be made out of advanced materials like aluminum or carbon fiber to decrease weight; and brakes and other components are beefed up to enhance the overall capability of the car. Because of the specialized parts, sports cars tend to be more expensive to purchase and maintain than average cars.
Sports cars can have their engines located in the front, middle or rear. The Chevrolet Camaro has a front-mounted engine like most cars, trucks and SUVs. While cars with front-mounted engines tend to be the most affordable, putting the engine in the front is not the best configuration for great handling. Others, like the Porsche Cayman, have a mid-mounted engine, which sits just behind the driver and passenger, between the front and rear axles. Because the engine is the heaviest component of the car, putting it between the axles in a mid-mounted setup makes the car more stable and secure as it attacks turns. Others have a rear-mounted engine, which sits above the rear wheels, as it does in the Porsche 911 Carrera. A rear-mounted engine puts most of the weight near the drive wheels, which increases traction.
Types of Sports Cars
Sports cars run the gamut, from those like the Mazda MX-5 Miata that provide fun on a budget, to high-end exotics like the Lamborghini Aventador that can cost more than some houses. A traditional sports car, like the Nissan 370Z, balances engine power with agile handling, making it capable both on curvy roads and straight-aways. Muscle cars, like the Dodge Challenger, tip the performance equation in the other direction. Most muscle cars are more about acceleration in a straight line, with less of an emphasis on agility.
Practical Sports Cars
Some sports cars are more practical than others because they have more spacious cabins and more cargo room. Muscle cars like the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger have roomy back seats and trunks. Although the Audi TT’s back seat is pretty small, it does have a large trunk, and the rear seats fold down, which increases cargo room.
Sometimes you can get the practicality you need without sacrificing performance by going for a performance trim of a traditional vehicle. Some sedans, hatchbacks and SUVs have performance-oriented trims that deliver great handling and power. BMW is known for its M (Motorsports) designation on its coupes, sedans and SUVs, while some Jeeps, Dodges and Chryslers are available as SRT8 models. Though these tend to be much more expensive than their non-performance-oriented counterparts, they add sports car thrills to regular vehicles. Another example is the Mitsubishi Lancer. The base Lancer is a basic sedan, but the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is well-known for its impressive handling and rally car performance.
Sports Cars and Safety
Sports cars tend to be smaller and lighter than most cars, which means they may not fare as well in crashes as larger SUVs, for example, but manufacturers have put many of the same safety equipment into sports cars as they do in their other models. For instance, many sports cars have rearview cameras, since their dramatic styling tends to decrease rearward visibility. Many sports cars also have four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes that give them great stopping power.
Shoppers should keep in mind that there isn’t as much safety data available for sports cars since they tend to not be crash tested. If the sports car you’re considering is a performance trim of a regular car, take a look at the base model’s safety scores to get an idea of how safe the performance-tuned trim will be.
Driving a sports car safely means knowing your limits and the limits of the car. More importantly, it means exercising caution before putting a sports car through its paces and remaining aware of your surroundings.