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All about sports cars

What is a sports car?

In an Australian automotive context, as categorised by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), a sports car is classed as a vehicle that is powerful or fast, sleek or coupe like in style, a convertible, a coupe-convertible, and with a maximum of two doors – not including a rear lift back or hatchback door – unless we are referring to the Freestyle doors as featured on the Mazda RX-8 sports car.

What shapes and sizes do sports cars come in?

Traditionally, a sports car was usually a two-door (2DR) coupe, with low-slung styling for racy looks, rear-wheel drive (RWD) and front-engined.

A sports car could also be a convertible – a soft top (there were no real retractable hardtop convertibles until the late 1990s) – that could be flung back and down in an instant for that classic (and clichéd) ‘wind in your hair feeling.’

As safety legislation temporarily persuaded carmakers to abandon the soft top in the 1970s, hatchbacks rose to the fore, and many of the sleeker models started to fall under the sports car category. Typical examples included the Toyota Celica and Renault Fuego.

Most of these family car-based sports cars were front-wheel drive (FWD) or well on their way to switching from RWD to FWD, and so in the 1980s and 1990s, consumers were given a huge choice of inexpensive coupes that were classed as sports cars.

However, with the turn to the 20th Century, many traditional sports car buyers matured into SUV buyers, or settled for fast sedans or wagons that did not compromise on rear-seat and cargo space in the way those old-time sports cars and coupes did.

So many of the coupes of 20 years ago have morphed into small-car based convertibles today, and most have a folding hardtop roof that mixes the visual excitement of a coupe with the fresh-air feel of a convertible – but without the accompanying safety, security and compromised refinement issues.

Meanwhile, there have been mainstream oddities like the Holden Monaro, more serious performance and driving dynamic-focused sports cars ranging from the evergreen Mazda MX-5 to Porsche 911, Lamborghini and Bentley, luxury personal coupes and convertibles defined by the BMW 3 Series and Saab 9-3, and raw-and-ready club specials like the Lotus Elise and Caterham. All are defined as sports cars.

What categories do sports cars come in?

Sports cars are divided into three categories according to the FCAI – Sports Under $80,000 (the most popular), Sports Over $80,000, and Sports Over $200,000.

What are the engine choices for sports cars?

Would you believe diesels models are now classed as sports cars? Petrol-electric hybrid sports cars are also looming, as carmakers seek to combine eco-sheik with style that’s sleek.

All sorts of engines are used in sports cars – from 1.3-litre rotary engines to V12 petrol-powered behemoths, with four, five, six, eight and 10 cylinders in between.

Are all sports cars two-wheel drive?

Sports cars are available in front-wheel drive (FWD), rear-wheel drive (RWD), and all-wheel drive (AWD) – and that’s also known as 4WD (four-wheel drive).

What are the environmental or green sports cars?

Sports cars are often the lightest and greenest models in a carmaker’s portfolio, simply because less weight means more performance and improved driving dynamics. So there is a happy positive green knock-on effect at work here.

The petrol-electric hybrid sports cars promise to bring some real fuel consumption and emissions outputs cuts over the next few years, particularly among the lardier of the sports car fraternity.

Diesel sports cars are here now, and while they do have lower CO2 carbon dioxide levels than many petrol engines, as well as improved fuel economy, they also emit more nasty NOX Nitrogen Oxide.

Are there benefits or advantages to choosing a sports car?

Sports cars are generally more fun to drive, more fun to be seen in, and more fun to look at.

Smaller sports cars are often perfect for the city because they can be so light and manoeuvrable.

Sports cars can have a positive image effect on the person inside one.

Sports cars can be a great self-reward gift for yourself – especially if you love to drive hard and fast.

Sports cars are often the first to get a new technology.

What are the negative aspects of having a sports car?

Sports cars often cost a lot more to buy, service, run and insure.

Sports cars are most susceptible to changes in fashion, and so can become deeply unfashionable much more quickly than a sedan. This is because many designers like to give their creations the hottest look going at the time – and fashion is a very fickle and finicky mistress.

Sports cars are often inflicted with tight packaging, poor luggage space, a hard ride, noisy exhausts and highly-strung engines.

Sports cars are often a sign of a mid-life crisis – especially very expensive ones.

What are the best sports cars?

Price is no real reliable sign of greatness in a sports car – some of the world’s best are among the cheapest (such as the Mazda MX-5).

Sports cars do seem to have more differentiating characteristics among each other than other types of automobiles, and many are very well developed – look at how well the 45 year-old Porsche 911 concept is still holding.

What are the most popular sports cars?

The most popular sports cars in their respective categories include the BMW 3 Series Coupe and Coupe-Convertible, Porsche 911, Volkswagen EOS, Audi TT and Holden Astra Convertible.

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