No other class in autodom has such a diverse student body. A few cars we categorize as sporty/performance could easily fall under the subcompact or 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.

The most affordable vehicle in the category is the Hyundai Veloster 3-door hatchback; it starts at $18,900 in base 2.0 trim with the 6-speed manual transmission. At the other end of the scale are the high-performance versions of traditional “pony cars”—the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Ford Mustang. All offer V8 engines of more than 450 horsepower with base prices that stretch past $40,000—or past $60,000 for the super-performance versions.

HIGHLIGHTS FOR 2021

The segment sees no fully redesigned cars this year—the changes consist mainly of new trim levels and some incremental updates—but redesigned versions of at least four class members are in the works for 2022.

At Dodge, the tradition of high-powered Challenger variants continues with the drag-race-ready SRT Super Stock. The headline here is a tweaked engine from the Hellcat Redeye with 807 horsepower. The Ford Mustang lineup loses its Shelby GT350 and special-edition Bullitt models, but gains a revived Mach 1 model that gets a 480-horsepower 5.0-liter V8 with a 6-speed manual or 10-speed automatic transmission, unique exterior styling touches, and other special features.

The Hyundai Veloster N high-performance model gets lighter front sport seats, and now comes standard with the previously optional Performance Package—thus bumping up the horsepower rating of all Ns to 275. A 6-speed manual transmission was mandatory on the N last year, but for 2021 it’s joined by an optional 8-speed dual-clutch automatic.

The Mazda MX-5 Miata gained a specially trimmed 100th anniversary model (celebrating 100 years of Mazda) as a late 2020 model, but we don’t expect any significant changes for 2021. However, the slow-selling Fiat 124 Spider, which shares the Miata’s basic platform, is likely to be discontinued.

The Mini Hardtop and Clubman are again available with a 6-speed manual transmission after the manual took a one-year hiatus. The Hardtop adds a snarky John Cooper Works GP model with a 302-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, lowered suspension, and body add-ons that include a large rear wing. The Volkswagen Golf GTI continues little changed for the final year of its current generation; an all-new eighth-gen GTI and Golf R are slated to arrive for 2022. A revamped Nissan Z car, likely called 400Z, is slated to debut in the near future, perhaps as a late 2021 model. The Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 are both skipping the 2021 model year, but redesigned versions are in the works for 2022. A redesigned Subaru WRX is also expected for 2022.

MODELS THAT OFFER SOMETHING UNUSUAL

Due to their diversity, it’s hard to say that certain cars in the sporty/performance category “stand out,” but a few do. The Hyundai Veloster offers a third door on the passenger side for easier entry to its rear seat. The Subaru WRX has standard all-wheel drive, and the Dodge Challenger offers it as an option. The outrageous Dodge Challenger SRT Super Stock is remarkable for offering more than 800 horsepower. There are a good number of convertibles in this class. In addition to the Fiat 124 Spider, Mazda MX-5 Miata, and Mini Convertible, the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang come as droptops too.