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Sports Car Buying Guide

myPPSR Team|10/08/2017

The sports car category ranges from models that range from sporty styling to performance based sports vehicles.

With a wide range of body styles, performance, and price from various manufacturers, it can be tough to choose a sports car. Sports cars for the everyday driver the balance is between styling, performance, fuel economy and reliability given the traffic conditions. There are many sports cars that are not driven every day or very far, so fuel economy is not a primary factor for many buyers. Performance encompasses a broad subject that can be very objective. Handling, engine power, drivability on suburban roads and motorways, 0-100kph, even the way it sounds are only some of characteristics that define ones personal view of performance . For a daily driver, you'll probably want to consider a sedan or coupe: a sedan for its four doors, or a coupe for sportier styling and performance-oriented model selection. But for a pure sports car, the type many owners reserve for sunny Saturdays, a roadster, such as a Audi R8 Spyder, BMW Z4, Jaguar F-Type, Mazda MX-5 or Porsche Boxster, epitomizes the genre. Many would include coupes with a tiny rear seat, such as the Subaru BRZ, Toyota 86, Audi TT, Ford Mustang GT and Porsche Cayman, in that category, as well.

For any sports car you consider, it's important to check out the view. Coupe designs tend to severely restrict rear visibility, side visibility, even over the shoulder visibility and other styling considerations could compromise the view to the sides or even straight ahead.

Types

Sports Sedans

These are agile cars made for high-performance handling, often with powerful engines whether naturally aspirated or force induction, larger brakes, and body kits. A major benefit to choosing a sports sedan is that the four-door configuration allowing transport for four or five passengers and provides cargo space in the boot. It is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Sizes vary widely, from small models such as the Subaru WRX to larger cars such as the BMW M5.

Roadsters

By definition, a roadster is a two-seat sports car with a removable, retractable, or convertible top. These are often exhilarating to drive, but come with compromises for daily and year-round use. Some convertibles have "2+2" seating, providing a back seat that at best is suited for occasional use by small children.

Coupes

Two-door coupes often have swept-back rear styling and a lower ride height than some equivalent sedans. The coupe group ranges from fixed-roof two- and four-seaters to two-door versions of cars that also exist as sports sedans or two-door convertibles. Due to short wheelbases and sweeping body lines, sporty coupes often provide compromised rear seating, if they have any at all.

Hatchbacks

The hatchback body design brings built-in practicality, with a large rear hatch and folding rear seat to provide versatility as extended boot space. Sporty hatchbacks are often on the less-expensive end of the spectrum. "Hot hatches" have long been a favourite in Australia, where the combination of flexibility, entertaining driving dynamics, and miserly fuel economy has special appeal. The Mini Cooper S and Volkswagen GTi are good examples.

Sports Car Ratings

Features

Below we highlight important features for you to consider when purchasing a sports car.

Engines and Fuel Economy

The powertrain (the combination of engine and transmission) is a major consideration with sporty cars, as power delivery is a big part of the driving experience. Remember, however, that a sports car need not have a big engine to produce the goods: A small, light sports car such as the Golf R can provide similar acceleration from a modestly-sized engine as a larger, heavier car with a big V8. Cars with smaller engines often offer better handling, as there is less weight over the front wheels.

Enthusiasts often prefer a manual transmission, because it gives the driver more control and engagement. But modern-day automatic transmissions have become more engaging, often with "sport" modes, that allow manual gear selection via the shifter or steering wheel paddles, and more aggressive shifting under heavy acceleration. Some sports cars use a type of automatic transmission called a dual-clutch, which uses internals similar to a manual transmission and provides the same directly-connected feel. Sports cars with dual-clutch transmissions are usually faster and often more fuel efficient than those with manuals thanks to their ability to provide near-instant gear changes. These transmissions usually accelerate the engine to the proper speed during downshifts, eliminating sudden fore/aft weight transfer which can cause a loss of traction. Audi, Porsche, and Volkswagen make extensive use of dual-clutch transmissions in their sports cars.

Many sports cars have a high-revving engine that may get a horsepower boost from a turbocharger or supercharger that forces more air into the engine than a naturally aspirated engine can draw in by itself. The more air that's available to mix with the fuel, the more power the engine can produce. Four- and six-cylinder forced induction engines are proliferating, offering a balance of thrilling power and better fuel economy when power demands are low. Even the Ford Mustang is available with a turbo Four (Ford Mustang EcoBoost 233kW / 432 Nm).

Larger sports cars and sports sedans usually offer a six-cylinder engine, either a V6 or the smoother-running inline six. On the whole, six-cylinder engines have a larger displacement or capacity (eg. 4.0L, etc) than four-cylinder engines, so it's easier for the automaker to endow them with more horsepower and more especially torque. While sixes are bigger and heavier, they are also inherently smoother-running than four-cylinder engines as a result of the power stroke differences (a four-cylinder engine fires every 90 degree rotation of the crankshaft, whereas a six-cylinder fires every 60 degree, smoothing out the torque deliverly).

Handling

Beyond the power delivery and sound qualities, a key to a drivable car is its handling: how it reacts to the road and responds to the driver. Minimal body lean, quick steering response, and communicative steering feedback are the ingredients that separate wanna-bes from real sports cars. These qualities cannot be taken for granted and have nothing to do with style, number of doors, or engine size. It takes more than a simple test drive around the block to assess if the handling meets your expectations. Understand the environment you will be driving your car. It is not dissimilar to a sound track being played on an ultimate stereo-speaker combination that demonstrates how dynamic the sound is, but playing your favourite ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ it fails at almost every note!

Drive Wheels

Conventional wisdom says that the best sporty cars must have rear-wheel drive. There is some logic to this; rear-wheel-drive cars tend to have better weight distribution and superior directional response. A powerful rear-drive car can be finessed in the turns using the throttle, enabling a skilled driver to rotate the back end of the car in a controlled, and entertaining, fashion.

Front-wheel drive has its limitations in a sporty car; when accelerating out of a corner, front-wheel-drive cars tend to shift weight off the inside front wheel, causing it to spin. This tendency can be controlled by a mechanical limited-slip differential (though some use electronic systems). Despite the limitations, there are plenty of front-wheel-drive sporty cars that are good fun to drive, such as the Mini Cooper S and Volkswagen GTI. Keep in mind that the distinction between front- and rear-wheel drive is minimal during mild driving.

Many sporty cars, such as the Audi S4 and Subaru Impreza WRX, are configured with all-wheel drive. These cars offer superior traction to front- and rear-drive cars, and in spirited driving on curvy roads, their grip on the road is impressive. They have the added bonus of providing better traction in adverse weather conditions, though this also depends largely on the type of tires fitted.

Access

Low-slung sports cars, especially roadsters, can be challenging to enter and exit. Low, heavily bolstered seats, short doors, and arched rooflines favour youthful, athletic drivers. It can be a challenge to access the rear seat, if there is one. Some models have a convenient one-hand-operation for scooting the front seats far forward. With all body styles, consider access issues.

Generally, sedans are more accommodating, but even then roof design, door size, and seat can still bring compromises over a traditional family sedan. The trunk may be very small, too. Some hatchbacks have a high lift-over lip and the space may be compromised with a side-to-side brace added for rigidity.

Tires

Some sporty cars come with ultra-high-performance tyres instead of the all-round tyres found on most cars. These tyres dramatically increase a car's grip and handling response on both wet and dry roads. These tyres also wear quickly and can be expensive to replace. That said, these tyres will allow you to extract the best possible handling and grip from your sporty car. If your car comes with all-rounders, a set of good-quality high-performance tires is a (relatively) inexpensive way to improve your car's handling even further.