Sports cars represent the pinnacle of driving pleasure. Practicality is for crossovers and sedans; driver assistance technology is for commuter cars; the best sports cars arrange a passionate love affair between man and machine.
There are subcategories within every vehicle segment, but no more so than among sports cars. The design, performance, and usability spectrum is vast, with each automaker tailoring their halo models to a well-defined buyer group. For this reason, it’s difficult to say one sports car is better than every other. Instead, we’ve decided to pick our favorites among six categories, with six unique consumer personas.
At a glance
|Audi R8 V10 Plus||Best sports car overall||4.5 out of 5|
|Ford Mustang Shelby GT350||Best muscle car||Not yet rated|
|Aston Martin DB11||Best grand tourer||Not yet rated|
|McLaren 570S||Best exotic car||4 out of 5|
|Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ||Best affordable performance cars||Not yet rated|
|BMW M5||Best sports sedan||4 out of 5|
Audi R8 V10 Plus
Why should you buy this: It’s the everyday supercar.Audi’s R8 V10 Plus is the supercar for all occasions.
Who’s it for: Those who want high performance without sacrificing comfort.
How much will it cost: $189,900
Why we picked the Audi R8 V10 Plus:
The 2017 Audi R8 is an anomaly. Audi has built a car that’s as refined as a luxury two-door with the power of a hypercar.
The low-slung coupe uses sharp creases, carbon fiber accents, and a mid-engine layout to distinguish itself from lesser sports cars, but it doesn’t command attention in the same way as rivals. Its 5.2-liter V10 delivers 610 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Acceleration is blistering: 0 to 60 mph takes less than 3.0 seconds and top speed is a towering 205 mph.
Within the cabin, occupants are treated to a magnificent engine wail and class-leading convenience features. Audi’s 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit display gives drivers access to every vehicle function and reduces clutter. Audi Drive Select adjusts suspension damping to transform ride quality from mellow to aggressive in an instant. It’s not just fast and sharp; it’s high-tech, too.
At the sub-$200,000 price point, the Audi R8 V10 Plus invites challenges from McLaren’s 570S, Porsche’s 911 Turbo S, Acura’s NSX, Aston Martin V12 Vantage S, and Mercedes-AMG GT R. Each vehicle is astoundingly quick, attractive, and desirable, but the R8 is the only supercar that’s as thrilling to pummel on a track as it is to dawdle through a neighborhood.
Read our full 2017 Audi R8 V10 Plus review
Ford Mustang Shelby GT350
The best muscle car
Why should you buy this: It’s a major performance bargain.Supercar track performance for the price of an entry-level luxury car.
Who’s it for: Track-day enthusiasts
How much will it cost: $63,495
Why we picked the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350:
In many ways, automotive enthusiasts have the never-ending rivalry between Mustang and Camaro to thank for the ultra high performance muscle cars we see today. What once was a horsepower war has now become a battle for faster lap times. It’s a freaky world we live in where a Camaro (in Z/28 guise) can match a Porsche 911 GT3. The Mustang is on the front lines, too, thanks to the formidable Shelby GT350 model.
While its true that Shelbys of years past owe their performance to their engines, the GT350 is only partly defined by its powertrain, which is more impressive considering this is one of the best motors Ford has ever built. Engineers wrung 526 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque roar from a purpose-designed 5.2-liter flat-plane crank V8 motor. No forced induction or electrification, just the most powerful naturally aspirated motor Ford has ever produced – one that boasts a redline of 8,250 rpm.
Beyond its engine, the GT350 stands out from the standard Mustang with a lowered suspension, Ford’s MagneRide magnetic dampers, Brembo brakes, and a model-specific lightweight six-speed manual transmission. It also receives a full body kit that improves cooling and downforce, ensuring it’s ready and willing to hit the track lap after lap.
The fact that about $60,000 grants you performance to rival some of the fastest cars in the world is confounding. Comparing the Shelby GT350 to any preceding Mustang is like contrasting a Cheetah with a Dachshund. Sure, they can both run, but that’s where their similarities end.
Aston Martin DB11
The best grand tourer
Why should you buy this: It’s a sports car that won’t leave you exhausted at the end of a long drive.The Aston Martin DB11 combines traditional British style and character with modern engineering.
Who’s it for: James Bond wannabes
How much will it cost: $198,000+
Why we picked the Aston Martin DB11:
The DB11 is Aston’s first clean-sheet design in over a decade, and it shows. While it still looks like an Aston Martin, and has the performance to back up those looks, this is a distinctly 21st century automobile.
Whether you choose Aston’s own 5.2-liter twin-turbocharged V12 or the Mercedes-AMG-sourced 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, the DB11 has plenty of muscle. The “entry-level” V8 model has 503 hp and 513 lb-ft. Aston says it will do 0 to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds, and reach a top speed of 187 mph. Upgrade to the V12, and you get 600 hp and 516 lb-ft, shaving 0.1 second off the 0 to 60 mph sprint, and allowing for a top speed of 200 mph.
The bodywork is gorgeous and doesn’t compromise on aerodynamic performance. Aerodynamic downforce is important for generating tire grip, but Aston didn’t want to mess up the DB11’s clean lines with protruding spoilers and splitters. So designers created channels in the bodywork to direct airflow around the car in the most advantageous way possible.
The DB11 is also a true grand tourer, capable of covering long distances at high speeds without wearing its driver out. Contrasting the Spartan interiors of some sports cars, the DB11’s cabin is genuinely luxurious. The car is set up for spirited driving, but the ride is still fairly comfortable.
Read our 2018 Aston Martin DB11 first drive impressions
The best exotic car
Why should you buy this: For big style, backed up by big performance.The McLaren 570S is a finely tuned performance weapon wrapped in elegant bodywork.
Who’s it for: Trend-setters
How much will it cost: $184,900
Why we picked the McLaren 570S:
As kids, our car fantasies lead to million-dollar feats of engineering. While these elite vehicles are certainly deserving of our affection, the adult versions of ourselves know there’s greatness to be had for hundreds of thousands of dollars less. The McLaren 570S nails the mark of tremendous performance and style without costing as much as a beach house.
With its P1-inspired design, the 570S is a gorgeous tribute to British artistry. Its swooping lines also translate to aerodynamic efficiency. Air streaks around the sports car’s body as its mid-mounted 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged engine sends power to the rear wheels. 562 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque translate to a 0 to 60 mph sprint of 3.1 seconds and a top speed of 204 mph.
Handling is nothing short of astounding. Dual wishbones and anti-rollbars front and rear pair with a lightning-quick adaptive damping system and Pirelli PZero Corsa tires to control body movement. To keep performance in check, the Bosch-designed electronic stability control can go from invasive to dormant, while a brake-based torque-vectoring system applies power to the wheel or wheels with most grip.
McLaren’s Sport Series coupe is priced in Audi’s R8 V10 Plus and Lamborghini Huracan LP 580-2 territory. Its performance and styling are among the best in its segment, but daily drivers might prefer the plush ride of the Audi.
Read our full 2016 McLaren 570S review
Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ
The best affordable performance car
Why should you buy this: Because power isn’t everything in a sports car.
Who’s it for: Those who want to master the basics.
How much will it cost: $26,255
Though they wear different names, the Toyota 86 and the Subaru BRZ are essentially the same vehicle. Both illustrate the fact that sports cars aren’t all about straight-line speed and neck-snapping performance. Handling is also part of the experience. If you want a picture-perfect idea of how a proper, rear-wheel drive sports coupe should handle, look no further than this Japanese duo.
They’re light, compact, rear-wheel drive, and offer a six-speed manual transmission. The result is sharp and balanced handling you can’t quite get on this side of $30,000. They use the same flat-four engine, which Subaru designed and tuned to 205 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque. You won’t win many drag races but the four-cylinder is eager to rev and it contributes greatly to the driving experience.
There are compromises. If you often drive long distances, you’ll likely find the bucket seats cause your back to ache. Look elsewhere if you need space; this is a 2+2, not a true four-seater, meaning the rear seats are for occasional use only. Sports cars aren’t meant to be practical, though. Grab a passenger, load up a weekend’s worth of gear, and head off to your favorite mountain spot.
The best sports sedan
Why should you buy this: You want power without compromising space or luxury.The best sports sedan
Who’s it for: Those who want to fly under the radar
How much will it cost: $102,600
Why we picked the BMW M5:
Who said a sports car needs to have two doors? Certainly not us. The layout generally makes more sense because two-door cars are often nimbler and lighter than four-door models, but there are fantastic sedans on the market that can embarrass many coupes. The latest BMW M5 stands out as the best of the lot.
Purists howled when they first heard rumors of the M5 ditching rear-wheel drive in favor of all-wheel drive; say it ain’t so! They quieted down when they learned what BMW had in store. The M5’s twin-turbocharged, 4.4-liter V8 engine sends 600 horsepower to the four wheels in its standard configuration. There’s no manual transmission option so your only choice is eight-speed automatic. From there, you have the option of selecting a mode called 4WD Sport that channels more power to the rear wheels or simply disengage the front axle entirely to send all 600 horses out back. In other words, the M5 gives you the best of both worlds and it doesn’t resort to a gimmicky drift mode.
The M5 overcomes its not-insignificant weight and hits 60 mph from a stop in merely 3.2 seconds. It doesn’t look the part, though; designers intentionally gave it restrained styling. And it’s still a BMW, meaning the interior is made with top-notch materials and it offers a long list of tech and convenience features. Drive it conservatively and your passengers will think they’re in a high-end luxury sedan, not in a high-performance machine capable of keeping up with a Ferrari Portofino.
Read our full 2018 BMW M5 review
How we test
The Digital Trends automotive team scrutinizes vehicles on the road through a comprehensive testing process. We examine the qualities of the exterior and interior and judge them based on our expertise and experience in the context of the vehicle’s category and price range. Entertainment technology is thoroughly tested, as well as most safety features that can be tested in controlled environments.
Test drivers spend extensive time behind the wheel of the vehicles, conducting real-world testing, driving them on highways, back roads, as well as off-road and race tracks when applicable.
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