The term ‘sports car’ is one of the hardest to define. It can often mean a two-seater, but doesn’t always; it sometimes suggests a roof that can be lowered, but that isn’t essential either. The one constant is that the car has been designed to be driven for pleasure. If it has no more than two doors and isn’t a supercar, then all the better.
Few categories offer so much variety in terms of layout, either. Different engine positions, a wide range of cylinder counts, natural aspiration or forced induction, manual or automatic gearboxes, two- or four-wheel drive – the numerous combinations ensure no two sports car spec sheets look alike.
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In its rawest form, a sports car can be incredibly focused but also borderline uncomfortable, yet the very best manage to be accessible and amenable while still offering the purity of driver involvement and layers of character that underpin the thrill of driving. And it’s this type that we’re focusing on here as we pick our 10 favourite sports cars currently on sale. We think you’ll agree, right now is something of a golden age for the class.
Evo's 10 best sports cars
Yardstick, benchmark, barometer, the Porsche 911 is a stalwart of the sports car segment and a car by which its peers are routinely judged.
The 444bhp GTS is our pick of the range, best capturing the 911 essence. Additional grip over the Carrera S is obvious thanks to a wider rear track and stickier rubber, which also helps to relay clearer messages through the steering. Replicating the razor-sharp edge of the old naturally aspirated engine was always going to be impossible, but a 7400rpm red line and linear power delivery make the 3-litre motor an exemplar of forced induction.
The physics of a penduluming, rear-mounted engine in the 991-generation no longer requires the attention it used to in earlier 911s. The rump stays planted, displaying incredible mid-corner stability, while traction out of low-speed corners is remarkable. At speed, the chassis really excites, telegraphing feedback through the driver’s seat, but otherwise it's largely docile.
Four-wheel drive adds serious security and further enhances point-to-point pace, but the better thrills are had from the rear-driven platform.
Recieving almost full marks in our review and coming just a few points short of the top spot in 2018's eCoty, the Alpine A110 is undoubtedly a fantastic sports car. It may be a tad expensive, especially considering Alpine is a relatively unknown brand, but get behind the wheel and that'll become somewhat insignificant.
In simple terms, we reckon the A110 is the equal of the entry-level Cayman. That is saying something, but we really do mean it - although they go about their business in very different ways. With significantly less than a 718, it also has a higher power-to-weight ratio and carries far less inertia around with it, so it’s quicker and more agile.
Despite its relatively tiny dimensions, the A110 doesn’t feel small or cramped inside, either. Alpine MD Michael van de Sande is a towering six foot seven inches tall and he fits into it, just, so for anyone of remotely regular proportions there is plenty of room in which to operate. Not that the A110 feels in any way clinical on the move, anything but.
Press the starter button and there’s a distinctive, surprisingly loud burst of noise from behind as the 249bhp 1.8-litre turbo engine settles to a meaningful burble at idle. Engage first via the right-hand paddleshifter – as we’ve said, there is no manual gearbox option, instead you get a dual-clutch transmission, like it or not – and the moment the A110 starts to move it feels correct, feels right, feels great. As only the very best-sorted performance cars do.
Both? We couldn't pick between them. The Lotus Evora has featured multiple times in evo’s Car of the Year contests, adorned with an unwaveringly warm reception each time. In true Lotus fashion it's damped to perfection and wonderfully intuitive. The Lotus Exige is more compromised than the Evora, dispensing with any excess in the name of weight saving and exposing you to the Lotus ideals in their purest form.
The Evora’s supercharged V6 produces at least 400bhp and is plenty to compress the run from corner to corner. The car feels finely poised, needing only the smallest of steering inputs to glide round corners. It makes light of the harshest surfaces, keeping tyre and road fused, filling you with confidence. The famous Lotus suppleness of the Evora 400’s ride isn’t necessarily lost on the more extreme Evora 410, but tightened for greater body control, harnessing the quick, gritty and feelsome steering.
The Exige’s gearbox is that bit sweeter than the Evora’s, requiring no conscious thought to snick from ratio to ratio. The chassis strikes the perfect balance between immediacy and flightiness, the steering allowing you to measure out microscopic adjustments to trace the line your eyes have mapped out ahead. Applying throttle loads is similarly precise, offering options on how you steer the car though a corner.
At a tad under £80,000, the Nissan GT-R represents a (relative) bargain. It is brutal and intense, mixing vast power with a myriad of complex systems for bewildering pace.
Launch control engaged, the GT-R rockets from the blocks, hitting 62mph in 2.7sec and steaming north of 150mph without fuss. There’s an industrial aggression to the V6 soundtrack, underlined by the whoosh of fully spooled turbos cranking out 470lb ft from 3600rpm. It surges with angst, unobstructed thanks to seamless shifts as you wring out the full 562bhp. The onslaught of full acceleration is always slightly unnerving.
Revised year on year, the R35 has garnered some civility a decade after it first emerged from the hermetically sealed factory. The more forgiving ride hasn’t dialled out adjustability from the chassis, but stepping out the back end will require a firm hand and more assertive approach. Grip feels as infinite as ever and the four-wheel-drive system makes progress devastatingly unflappable.
Porsche 718 Cayman
Enough milk has been spilled over the dull, four-pot turbocharged powerplant held within the midst of the 718. Engine aside, the Porsche 718 Cayman still boasts one of the best chassis around. The small, square footprint cocoons you in the cabin, where you’re held in a typically Porsche-perfect seating position with all the touch points located at ideal lengths. Of course, the controls are satisfying to use and weighted with a rewarding synchronicity between them.
Despite the paper-based gains of the new torque-biased engines, the extra shove can’t mask the loss of the old naturally aspirated six-cylinders. They do remedy their predecessors’ incomprehensibly long gearing, giving the impression of closer-stacked ratios, feeling far more accelerative when pulling through the lower reaches of the long gears. Riding the torque and refraining from stirring the gearlever is your loss; the shift action is hefty and crisp.
Little lock is required to set the 718 on the desired bearing, the car being direct in response but never skittish — it is a composed steer. The wheel does not writhe and patter in your hands like the Cayman GT4, but you can always gauge the grip on hand. Progress in the Cayman feels fittingly organic, with incredible balance and a malleable chassis.
Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe
The Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe bears all the hallmarks of a true AMG product. Naturally, the engine is a peach. The 4-litre is a crowd pleaser, bellowing out a deep, earth-shattering gurgle from the tail pipes as you charge towards the top end. In standard or S form, throttle response is staggering considering the presence of two turbochargers nestled between the cylinder-banks.
Despite the lack of a twin-clutcher you don’t feel shortchanged tugging at the paddles and cycling through the seven speeds. Taking total control of the automatic gearbox bestows a greater sense of helmsmanship, a comforting thought in light of the 503bhp (in S spec) that can be summoned from the V8. The array of driver aids and safety systems temper progress appropriately to keep the car on the black stuff without killing excitement.
The rear arches cover an axle that is bespoke to the coupe: wider in track than the saloon’s and with increased negative camber for greater wheel control. The coupe is more eager to turn in, with deeper grip reserves to call on (best found out on dry roads) when you press on. The rear setup better ties the body to the road, maintaining the pliancy of the saloon while reducing vertical movements.