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-$15,000 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 430 horsepower (the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat tops the power chart at 707!) with base prices that stretch past $40,000—or past $60,000 for the super-performance versions.
The Fiat 124 Spider debuts as a new 2-seat convertible that shares its basic platform with the new-for-2016 Mazda Miata but packs a Fiat 1.4-liter turbo 4-cylinder with 160 or 164 horsepower. After its redesign last year, the Chevrolet Camaro revives its ultra-performance ZL1 model (with a supercharged 640-hp 6.2-liter V8 paired with an available 10-speed automatic transmission) and track-oriented 1LE handling packages (which include upgraded brakes, a shorter-throw shifter, dual-mode exhaust system, suspension enhancements, and other high-performance hardware). A Teen Driver feature and 50th Anniversary trim package are also available.
The Dodge Challenger adds some trim updates and nostalgic T/A models that get a functional hood scoop, upgraded brakes and wheels, and retro-style stripes. The Mini Clubman adds available ALL4 all-wheel drive and a performance-oriented John Cooper Works model with a 228-hp turbo 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and sporty suspension upgrades.
With the demise of Toyota’s Scion brand, the Scion FR-S becomes the Toyota 86; it gets new styling, LED headlights, revised suspension tuning, and a 5-horsepower bump, to 205. The 86’s Subaru cousin, the BRZ, gets the same horsepower boost, along with suspension tweaks, LED headlights, and revised styling of its own. A new Performance Package for BRZ Limited models includes upgraded brakes and shocks. The Volkswagen Beetle gets updated front and rear bumper styling and adds a limited-run #PinkBeetle edition.
The rest of the class is unchanged or sees minor updates such as revised trim levels or expanded standard equipment. Information on the 2017 Hyundai Veloster was unavailable as of this writing. The Hyundai Genesis Coupe and Scion tC are discontinued.
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 Subaru WRX is a high-performance, turbocharged 4-door sedan with all-wheel drive.
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.