No other class in all of autodom has such a diverse student body. A few cars we categorize as sporty/performance could easily fall under the subcompact or even compact headings, but they’re here because they just have a higher level of performance or personality than more mundane cars of their size. The class contains examples that are 2-doors, 3-doors, and 4-doors; 2-seaters, 4-seaters, and 5-seaters; coupes, hatchbacks, and convertibles; front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive.
At the bottom end—in both size and price—is the Fiat 500, introduced for 2012. With its diminutive dimensions, 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, and sub-$16,000 base price, it would be considered a subcompact if it weren’t for its fun-to-drive character and expressive styling.
At the other end of the scale are high-performance versions of traditional “pony cars” such as the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Ford Mustang. All offer V8 engines of more than 450 horsepower (the drag-race-ready, new-for-2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon tops the power chart at up to 840 hp!) with base prices that stretch past $40,000—or past $60,000 for the super-performance versions.
As mentioned above, the Dodge Challenger SRT line adds an outrageous Demon model that’s outfitted for straight-line drag racing. The Demon boasts a supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi engine that puts out up to 840 horsepower when properly equipped. Also new is an SRT Widebody model based on the Challenger Hellcat, and several new performance and appearance options for the rest of the Challenger lineup. After the introduction of the track-ready Camaro ZL1 model last year, Chevrolet ups the ante with a ZL1 1LE Extreme Track package for 2018 that includes a carbon-fiber rear wing and other aerodynamic aids, lightweight wheels on Goodyear Eagle F1 tires, and racing-derived Multimatic DSSV (Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve) dampers.
The Subaru WRX gets several incremental improvements, including freshened styling, upgraded interior materials, revised suspension tuning, available Recaro front sport seats, and improved sound insulation, as well as upgraded Brembo-brand brakes on the STI model. The Subaru BRZ gets an upgraded available infotainment/navigation system and a limited-edition, high-performance tS model with track-focused chassis upgrades, 18-inch wheels, and unique trim inside and out. The BRZ’s near twin, the Toyota 86, gets a new high-grade trim level with special trim and some upscale features. The Volkswagen Beetle exchanges its 170-hp turbocharged 1.8-liter 4-cylinder for a 174-hp turbo 2.0-liter four. The R-Line model and its 210-hp turbo 2.0-liter four have been dropped, as has the option of a manual transmission.
No information was available on the 2018 Fiat 500 as of this writing. The Hyundai Veloster takes the 2018 model year off; its 2017 model year is extended, and a redesigned Veloster is slated to debut as a 2019 model. The rest of the class sees minor updates such as revised trim levels, expanded standard equipment, or new appearance options.
Due to their diversity, it’s hard to say that certain cars in the sporty/performance category “stand out,” but a few do. The Fiat 500 is a pint-sized, Euro-style runabout that offers a snarky performance character in its Abarth trim level. The Hyundai Veloster offers a third door on the passenger side for easier entry to its rear seat. The Dodge Challenger GT, Subaru WRX, and Volkswagen Golf R all have standard all-wheel drive. The outrageous, limited-production Dodge Challenger SRT Demon is remarkable for its ludicrous horsepower numbers and unabashed focus on drag-strip use.
Convertibles abound in this class. In addition to the Buick Cascada, Fiat 124 Spider, Mazda MX-5 Miata, and Mini Convertible, droptops are offered in the Chevrolet Camaro, Fiat 500, Ford Mustang, Nissan 370Z, and Volkswagen Beetle.