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 turbo 4-cylinder engine, and pricing that starts around $17,000, 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 with base prices that stretch past $40,000—or past $60,000 for the super-performance versions.
The novel Hyundai Veloster 3-door hatchback is redesigned, gaining new styling, updated powertrains, and a host of new technology features. The base engine is a 147-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, the step-up choice is a 201-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter four, and slated to arrive later in the model year is a high-performance Veloster N model powered by a turbo 2.0-liter four with up to 275 hp.
The Chevrolet Camaro’s updates include a styling facelift, 10-speed automatic transmission for SS models, new infotainment system, available forward collision warning, available rearview camera mirror, and the addition of a high-performance 4-cylinder Turbo 1LE model. The Dodge Challenger gets another round of updates, highlighted by a 797-hp Hellcat Redeye model that inherits some of the hardware of last year’s limited-run SRT Demon model. The “regular” Hellcat gets a 10-hp boost, to 717, and the R/T Scat Pack trim gains a drag-race-focused 1320 model that includes 20-inch drag-radial tires and other racing-oriented hardware.
The Fiat 500 sees the return of the throwback “1957 Edition” trim package, and the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth model gets a new optional exhaust system. The Nissan 370Z roadster no longer offers a manual transmission. The Subaru BRZ and WRX add specially trimmed “Series.Gray” limited-edition models. The Toyota 86 gets a TRD Special Edition model with Brembo brakes, TRD body and exhaust, and other exclusive features. Though it hadn’t been officially unveiled as of this writing, Toyota is planning to re-introduce its Supra sports car as a 2019 model, with rear-wheel drive and an inline-six engine.
The rest of the class sees minor updates such as revised trim levels, expanded standard equipment, or new appearance options. The 2019 model year is probably the last for the Buick Cascada convertible and definitely the last for the Volkswagen Beetle. VW is sending off the Beetle with uniquely trimmed Final Edition models.
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 and Volkswagen Golf R have standard all-wheel drive, and the Dodge Challenger offers it as an option. The outrageous Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye is remarkable for offering almost 800 horsepower.
Convertibles abound in this class. In addition to the Buick Cascada, Fiat 124 Spider, Mazda MX-5 Miata, and Mini Convertible, droptops are offered on the Chevrolet Camaro, Fiat 500, Ford Mustang, Nissan 370Z, and Volkswagen Beetle.
Fiat 124 Spider
Mazda MX-5 Miata
Volkswagen Golf GTI
Volkswagen Golf R