While passenger car sales continue to drop in the shadow of the SUV boom during 2017, sports cars are enjoying a purple patch, with the segment up around 5.0 percent last year. Driving the sports car push are models priced under $80,000 that combine affordable thrills with head-turning looks.
Ford’s iconic Mustang has been a runaway success, with the Blue Oval selling 9165 last year, which accounts for almost half the sub-$80,000 sports car market.
While the Mustang trades on a combination of power and looks, there’s plenty to like at the less powerful end of the category too, from the charming (and Wheels COTY winning) Mazda MX-5 and ‘look at me’ Hyundai Veloster, to tight-handling track day favourites such at the Toyota 86, Subaru BRZ and Nissan 370Z.
Ford Mustang - $45,990 - $65,916
The Mustang isn’t the most sophisticated car on the block but that’s part of its appeal. The iconic American coupe/convertible is powered by a choice of a 5.0-litre V8 or a not so brutish 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder turbo engine.
PROS: Both the coupe and convertible GTs have standout looks and are plenty of fun to drive thanks to the powerful and acoustic 306kW V8 engine.
CONS: Some of the interior materials are cheap and, for a big car, it offers little by way of practicality. The V8 can also be extremely thirsty.
Nissan 370Z Nismo - $61,490 - $63,990
Nissan’s veteran sports coupe has a big-hearted V6 engine and nimble handling, both of which have been enhanced by the Japanese carmaker’s Nismo performance division. The result is an honest driving experience that feels like a modern classic.
PROS: Aggressive styling backed up by a more powerful version of Nissan’s excellent 3.7-litre V6 engine, fast responsive steering and superb cornering.
CONS: Stiff sports suspension results in a bone-jarring ride, excessive road noise on course surfaces and a dated interior void of wow factor beyond the red and black suede sports seats.
Mazda MX-5 - $33,340 - $43,890
Few cars are as universally adored as Mazda’s two-seat roadster. Offered with either a 1.5-litre or 2.0-litre engine and as an RF folding hard top version, the MX-5 provides pure, unadulterated driving dynamics with excellent steering and handling.
PROS: Goes exactly where you point it and boasts a comfortable ride despite being low to the ground. It’s a great daily driver as well as the perfect weekend tourer.
CONS: No steering reach adjustment which makes it difficult for taller drivers, small boot and no child anchor points so smaller occupants can’t come along for the ride.