It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like sports cars. While other cars are about mundane tasks like getting to work, hauling cargo, and moving the family around, sports cars are all about the open road.
But while everyone likes sports cars (or at least likes the idea of owning one), they are not for everyone. Sports cars give buyers incredible performance, high style, and in some cases, a significant dose of luxury. But they also cost more than some more practical cars, lack useable cargo and passenger space, and have rides that can be too rough for some owners.
For sports car buyers, the driving thrills and the intangible cachet that comes from owning a sports car more than makes up for any drawbacks. If you’re considering a sports car, there are a few things you need to know before you start shopping.
What’s a Sports Car?
Simply put, a sports car is a car designed to put performance before all other tasks. While you can use a sports car as a daily driver (and many people do), sports cars aren’t meant for running errands or carrying car seats. They’re built with racing and enthusiast drivers in mind. As a result, sports cars tend to have higher-grade parts than family sedans. Engines are tuned to produce more power; various components may use alternative materials, such as aluminum or carbon fiber, to lessen weight; and brakes and other components are beefed up to take the punishing kind of driving sports cars are meant for. Because of the changes, sports cars tend to be more expensive than your average sedan or hatchback. Sports cars usually have a coupe body style because this kind of design provides more structural rigidity and better performance. However, many sports cars also have convertible versions. Other types of cars also have performance versions that could be considered sports cars, even though they may be sedans, hatchbacks or even SUVs.
Types of Sports Cars
Sports cars run the gamut from cars that try to balance budget and fun to high-end exotics that cost more than most people’s houses. Within the price ranges there are distinct sports car types as well. A traditional sports car balances engine power with agile and adept handling. This makes them capable both on curvy roads and track surfaces. A subset of sports cars is muscle cars. Muscle cars tip the performance equation in the other direction: they’re all about straight-line power, not attacking turns.
As a class, sports cars have the most varied architecture you’ll see on the automotive market. Some have their engines in the front like all other sedans, SUVs, trucks and hatchbacks. Others have a mid-mounted engine. That’s when the engine sits just behind the driver and passenger, between the two axels. Still others have a rear-mounted engine, which sits just above the rear wheels. A front-mounted engine will give you a sports car that handles similarly to, but better than, most other cars you’ve driven. A mid-mounted engine produces very balanced handling. Because the engine is the heaviest component of the car, putting it between the axels makes the car more stable and secure as it attacks turns. Putting the engine in the rear makes the car handle differently from almost every other car on the road. While few sports cars do this, if you’re looking at one, know that it will take some practice to get used to driving.
Sports Cars and Safety
It may seem that sports cars are less safe than other cars on the road, but when you get down to it, that’s not entirely true. Sports cars do tend to be smaller and lighter than other cars, but manufacturers have put the same safety equipment into sports cars as they do in their other models. The difference is the way sports cars tend to be driven. Sports cars are meant to be driven fast, but the faster you go, the more risks you take on. Driving a sports car safely means knowing your limits and the limits of the car. More importantly, it means driving your car all out only when it’s appropriate -- not on open roads, but on a closed track.
Practical Sports Cars
Sports cars are less practical than other cars. Their designs don’t leave a lot for space for passengers and cargo. Most sports cars only have two seats. And if they do have a rear seat, it tends to be small and uncomfortable.
That said, some sports cars are more practical than others. Muscle cars like the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger have roomy backseats and trunks. The Mazda RX-8 has great power, handling, and a useable backseat. The Audi TT, though its backseat is pretty much useless, does have a large trunk -- and the rear seats fold down, making plenty of cargo room.
You can get the practicality you need without sacrificing the performance you want by going for a performance car. Many carmakers turn out performance-tuned variants of their mainstream models. BMW is known for its M (for Motorsports) designation on its sedans and SUVs, while Mercedes-Benz has its AMG line and Audi has its S line. Though performance cars tend to be much more expensive than their non-performance-oriented counterparts, they use sports-car components and are tuned for thrills.
Buying a Sports Car
Now that you’ve got the basics of what makes a sports car and what you might want to look for in one, dig deeper. We’ve created this guide to help you find the best sports car for you, whether your main priority is safety, looking good, performance or just fitting your golf clubs in the back.