Volkswagen GTIClick to enlarge picture

Known as the original "pocket rocket," the all-new Volkswagen GTI has a fully independent sport-tuned suspension that rides on 17-inch wheels and low-profile performance tires.

With bigger wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, larger brakes and a lower ride height, many sporty cars are higher-performance versions of more basic models.

There isn't an exact blueprint for what a sporty car should look like, and excessive power doesn't always make a sporty car. Adding a spoiler, a tuned exhaust, racing decals and tinted windows doesn't necessarily make a car sporty, either. But these cars can be sedans, coupes, wagons or even crossover SUV—as long as they're fun to drive.

Photo Gallery: Entry Sports Cars

All Sizes Here

One of the smallest cars on the market, the MINI Cooper is just 12 feet long. The hot rod supercharged S trim features a hood scoop, a sport suspension, a spoiler, twin tailpipes, and wider wheels and tires to enhance handling and braking.

Earlier in 2006 Honda introduced its new subcompact hatchback called the Fit for the 2007 model year. A sporty version, appropriately called the Fit Sport, is equipped with an underbody kit, a rear roofline spoiler, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters and 15-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

Honda also added the all-new eighth-generation Civic Si for 2006, which features sleeker styling, more power and sports-car-like handling. Powered by a 197-horsepower 2.0-liter i-VTEC 4-cylinder engine and mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, the Civic Si receives a helical limited-slip differential and rides on 17-inch alloy wheels and wide 45-series tires. With the exterior fitted with a sports grille, a rear spoiler and aerodynamic body cladding, the Civic Si is sure to turn some heads.

The 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart has a sport-tuned suspension as well as upgraded brakes, wheels, tires and exhaust, compared to the base Lancers. The exterior and interior get a sporty look as well.

While most sporty cars are small, this is not a hard and fast rule.

Also in this category lurks a full-size sporty wagon, the Dodge Magnum, which stretches more than 16 feet from one end to the other. With rear-wheel drive, an independent five-bar multilink rear suspension and unique styling, the Magnum makes a strong statement that wagons can be sporty, too.

The Magnum's platform sibling, the Chrysler 300 sedan, also is here. Both cars can be had with a 340-horsepower 5.7-liter HEMI V8—definitely more power than a traditional station wagon or sedan. The SRT8 versions deliver even more performance with a 425-horsepower 6.1-liter HEMI V8, 20-inch forged aluminum wheels, four-piston Brembo brakes and a rear spoiler.

All Engine Types

Shoppers can find a variety of engines in this segment. Some are naturally aspirated 4-cylinder coupes such as the Acura RSX and the Scion tC.

Powered by a 2.0-liter i-VTEC 4-cylinder engine, the base RSX delivers 155-horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque, while the high-output Type S produces 201 horsepower at 7800 rpm and 140 lb-ft of torque at 7000 rpm. Fitted with standard 17-inch alloy wheels and 215/45 R17 all-season high-performance tires, the Type S also features a 6-speed manual transmission, a short-throw clutch, larger ventilated disc brakes, and a decklid spoiler.

Introduced for the 2005 model year, the Scion tC sits low and wide and features a 2.4-liter engine that delivers 160 horsepower. The tC is equipped with a double-wishbone rear suspension, front MacPherson struts, 17-inch alloy wheels, and Z-rated tires. To add to the sportiness, owners can get Toyota Racing Development (TRD) accessories including a 19-inch wheel and tire package, lowering springs, and a supercharger that pushes the output to 200 horsepower.

Other sporty cars have V6 engine options for more power, including the Mitsubishi Eclipse. All new for 2006, the fourth-generation Eclipse features a 263-horsepower 3.8-liter MIVEC V6 in the GT version. Eclipse can also be had with a more fuel-efficient 162-horsepower 2.4-liter engine. This sporty coupe is aggressively styled with a steeply raked wedge shape and has wheels pushed out to the corners of the body for improved handling. A convertible version called the Eclipse Spyder arrives as a 2007 model.

Occasional V8s can also be found in this segment, such as in the Ford Mustang, which was re-engineered and redesigned for 2005. The Mustang features an all-new chassis, a wider wheelbase and eye-catching styling cues reminiscent of the classic pony car. Powered by a base 210-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 and a neck-snapping 300-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 in its GT version, the retro Mustang continues to garner attention.

Turbocharged and Supercharged

Turbocharged cars such as the Volkswagen GTI and Subaru WRX have been popular for years among sporty car enthusiasts.

Known as the original "pocket rocket" that debuted back in 1983, the all-new Volkswagen GTI has a fully independent sport-tuned suspension to go with its 17-inch wheels and low-profile summer performance tires. Powered by a 200-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, the GTI gets paddle shifters when equipped with the optional automatic manual DSG transmission.

One of the most popular sporty cars since its debut in 2002, the Subaru Impreza WRX features an all-wheel-drive system, a viscous limited-slip rear differential, 17-inch wheels and a powerful 2.5-liter turbocharged engine that delivers 230 horsepower and 235 lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm. The top-line WRX STi, which truly is a sports car, produces 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque.

Living up to its "zoom zoom" name, Mazda says the new MAZDASPEED6 is the "fastest accelerating, best handling and most advanced sports sedan Mazda has ever built." The exterior is fitted with extended side skirts, aggressively flared front fenders, 18-inch alloy wheels and high performance tires. Compared to the standard Mazda6, the MAZDASPEED6 has a retuned suspension that gives it a lower ride height, higher spring rates and ventilated front and rear disc brakes for better stopping.

Powered by a 274-horsepower 2.3-liter direct-injection turbocharged 4-cylinder engine mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, the MAZDASPEED6 features a high-tech Active Torque-Split All-Wheel-Drive system. With 0 to 60 mph times in 5.25 seconds and ¼ mile time of under 14 seconds, this car will definitely go. Later this year, the MAZDASPEED6 will be joined by its smaller sibling, the MAZDASPEED3.

Sharing an engine and platform, General Motors introduced supercharged versions of the Chevrolet Cobalt Coupe and the Saturn Ion Red Line in 2005. With 17-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, brushed aluminum pedals and a rear spoiler, the 4-cylinder 2.0-liter Cobalt SS Supercharged Coupe delivers 205 horsepower with 200 lb-ft torque—which is 60 more horsepower than its base version.

The Ion Red Line features similar attributes such as a lowered ride height, a racetrack-tuned suspension, and a performance-tuned exhaust system. The interior is highlighted by leather-trimmed Recaro sport front seats. A performance package gives the Red Line a limited-slip differential, 17-inch wheels with gunmetal finish and a boost gauge combined with a tachometer that is mounted on top of the steering column.

Wagons and Crossovers

Often, car buyers may not think of wagons and crossovers as sporty, but some models such as the Toyota Matrix, Pontiac Vibe and the Mazda Mazda3 5-door provide a sporty flair.

The Vibe and the Matrix were designed jointly by General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. and share a common platform and gauges. The Matrix can be equipped with a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels and tires, a front spoiler, a rear underbody spoiler and side rocker panels to go with its 164-horsepower 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine that redlines at 7800 rpm.

The Vibe and Matrix are available with all-wheel drive as are the Subaru Impreza Wagon and Saab 9-2X. Introduced for the 2005 model year, the 9-2X is based on the Impreza WRX Wagon—the two share the same engines, transmissions and all-wheel-drive systems.

The Mazda3 replaced the Protege and Protege5 for 2004. The 5-door hatchback receives a MacPherson strut design, ventilated front and rear disc brakes, aggressively flared front and rear fenders, and an optional Sport Package that includes 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, taillights and side skirts.

Dodge introduced an all-new model for 2007 called the Caliber—a 5-door hatchback with looks that resemble a crossover SUV. Styled with sculpted fenders, broad shoulders and a distinctive hood, Caliber has a powerful stance. Replacing the entry-level Neon, Caliber features Chrysler's first continuously variable transmission (CVT), designed to increase performance as well as fuel-efficiency.

Another first for Caliber, offered initially on the R/T, is an electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system that works on demand, driving only the front wheels until power to the rear wheels is needed. The Caliber R/T is powered by a 172-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. Later this year Dodge will introduce the Caliber SRT4, which gets a turbocharged version of the 2.4-liter engine that will produce 300 horsepower. Dodge claims 0 to 60 times in less than six seconds for the SRT4.

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