Can a Sedan Be Called a Sports Car?
Here are five sedans that can be considered sports cars, and five that claim to be but fall short.
We all know what a sports car is, right? Or do we just think we do? The term "sports car" can mean different things to different people. "To me, it's any car that is designed for performance over practicality and luxury," says Jeff Dahnert, president of the Sports Car Club of America, the signature group of automotive enthusiasts who like to collect and race performance vehicles. "But that leaves a lot of room for interpretation."
Sure, sports cars have some things in common. All sports cars should be fast, nimble, powerful and aggressive-looking. But those qualities speak to a lot of vehicles on the road; that doesn't mean all of them are sports cars. At one end of this spectrum are performance monsters such as the Lamborghini Aventador and Porsche 911 Turbo that can accelerate like a cheetah on fire and make a mockery of the laws of inertia when cornering.
But where do you cut off the other end?
Can a sports car have a tall roof line, seating for eight, power sliding doors and a rear liftgate? Most definitely not — that fails the performance over utility test that Dahnert astutely identified. Can it have four doors? That's a more interesting question. German manufacturers have been answering that one in the affirmative for decades. Companies such as BMW and Audi have routinely come up with an amazing balance of performance and utility and have developed a loyal following of driving enthusiasts who occasionally like to take friends, family and luggage along for the ride.
Yet whenever one manufacturer successfully nails a niche, you can guarantee that plenty of others will come along with claims, of varying credibility, to the same segment. So if we're going to accept some touchy-feely vagueness in the definition of a sports car, then it's worth taking a look at some of the self-proclaimed "sport sedans" to see which 4-door automobiles have performance baked into their very bones, and which are just taking the term "sports car" and trying it on.
Let's start with one for the people. The Mazda Mazda3 is not just a sedan, it's an economy car, but one with road manners that are stunningly precise and agile for this price range. It has a choice of three engines, including the new, wondrous SkyActive 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, which manages to squeeze both more power and better efficiency out of an engine with the same displacement as the base model. Even with only 155 horsepower, it feels surprisingly spry for such a small car.
Do we think it's a sports car? Yes
Search for "sport sedan" in Google or Bing and the Chevrolet Impala pops up at top of the rankings. Although Chevy doesn't go out of its way dishing out the hyperbole, there's a case to be made for the Impala as a performance vehicle. It has a 3.6-liter 300-horsepower V6 engine that produces a lot of grunt. The case falls apart when you try to steer the thing, however. It has a mushy suspension that is in its element traveling at speed on the highway, yet feels like an unwanted layer of insulation between you and the road when you want to drive it with a bit of gusto.
Do we think it's a sports car? No
To be honest, aesthetically the Panamera is a beast, as if Porsche took the company's one great design idea — the sweeping shape of the 911 — and stretched it out to stick in two comfortable back seats. Yet there is no questioning this machine's sporting nature. While its full aggression doesn't really manifest itself in the 300-horsepower V6 base model, it's certainly apparent in the 400-horsepower 4.8-liter Panamera S. When you dial it in right, the Panamera strikes such a perfect balance between cushy luxury and rump-rousing athleticism that you'll think you bought two cars — although, for the price, you probably could have.
Do we think it's a sports car? Yes
It takes chutzpah to register the phrase "4-door sports car" as a trademark, and we almost want to apply it to this Nissan. After all, the Maxima has a 290-horsepower V6 engine with plenty of pull, and it holds the road well without being overly stiff. You do get a fairly luxurious and capable car for the money. Here's where that ineffable quality of a true sports car comes in. The Maxima feels sporty, like the kid who surprises you in a pickup basketball game with a quick first step and a sweet jump shot. But the Maxima just doesn't feel like a pro-level contender. Put it up against cars that were born to perform and it feels out of its league.
Do we think it's a sports car? A qualified no
You can't write an article like this without discussing the 3-Series, a vehicle that pretty much invented the concept of the sport sedan. The 3-Series is all-new for 2012. It's a little uglier than before, and now comes with a standard turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that's sure to raise the hackles of BMW purists who worship the company's straight-six engines. Nevertheless, the turbo 4-cylinder delivers the same blissful precision as well as 15 more horsepower than the previous standard six. And, as always, the 3-Series has a suspension and steering system with such an exacting and natural connection to the road that you'll feel as if you could turn the car just by swiveling your hips.
Do we think it's a sports car? Heck, yes!
The Volkswagen Passat should be a sport sedan; after all, it's German and comes from a company that traditionally puts a priority on handling. There's plenty to like about the new Passat. It's roomier and more affordable than ever before, and the handling does have some of that Germanic tautness. Plus, if you're willing to spend $6,000 to $9,000 over the price of the base 2.5-liter 5-cylinder model, you can get a 280-horsepower V6 or a 40-mpg diesel engine. But no matter which engine you get, there's something sluggish about the Passat that makes it feel less zippy than you would expect from a VW. That's OK if you just want to haul your family around in a stylish, practical sedan, but the car's performance won't distract the kids from their iPhones.
Do we think it's a sports car? No
The A4 is a longtime contender to the BMW 3 Series and ranks just a tick below it in capability. Nevertheless, we love the look and feel of the A4. Like most Audis, the cabin is so stylish and high-tech it convinces you that you're driving in the future. Even though the A4 comes with only a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, it's a heck of a powerplant that delivers 211 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Like the 3 Series, the A4's steering and suspension let the driver communicate his will effortlessly to the road, and the optional, legendary quattro all-wheel-drive system gives drivers the capability to muscle their way through turns in a thoroughly enjoyable way.
Do we think it's a sports car? Yes
Cadillac has come a long way from its reputation as the luxury boat of choice for pensioners and pimps. The brand has staked its reputation on a combination of luxury, modernity and performance, and Cadillac has several models that can justifiably be called sports cars. The CTS is almost one of them. It's a firm road-holder with impressive steering and suspension. But, especially with the base 270-horsepower engine, it feels a bit listless under full power. That said, everything else about the CTS is impressive, from its slick interior design to its high-tech goodies and respectable build quality.
Do we think it's a sports car? Not quite
What a difference a "V" makes. The CTS-V's 550-horsepower V8 engine is an overflowing bucket of torque and horsepower, barely contained by an adjustable magnetic suspension system. Sure, the CTS-V can get a little squirrelly on the squiggly roads, but if you have the discipline to hang back just a bit at its limits, this car can hang with — indeed, beat the pants off of — many supersedans twice its price.
Do we think it's a sports car? Absolutely
The Regal is a bold and impressive step for Buick, which has been trying to leave behind its reputation as a maker of retirement-community cruisers. The Regal has some surprisingly nimble moves when you twist the wheel, and it really does look the part of a sleek speedster. But with only 182 horsepower out of the box, it shuffles its feet a bit on full throttle. The turbocharger and GS engines improve the situation almost to the point of inclusion here, but when you start spending that sort of money, you can find a sport sedan with a far higher pedigree.
Do we think it's a sports car? Not exactly
Sam Foley is a Connecticut-based automotive journalist who has written for GQ, Forbes, USA Today, the New York Post and various other publications.
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Half the price of the Porche or CTS-V, which are both fugly anyway.
Everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinions, but I do find it very amusing that an owner of a Subaru can call a Porsche or Cadillac “fugly.” Considering what most Subaru’s look like, I always assumed that their owners didn’t care about looks.
I own a Nissan Maxima and I smke 3 series BMW's DAILY!
Umm, yeah. You keep on believing that, Maxima Love. Let's see: a front wheel drive sedan with a heavy front weight bias and a CVT transmission. That's pretty much the anti-sport sedan.
And I dont look like an **** driving it.
No you don't, but you sure sound like one. Your BMW envy is painfully obvious. But, I'm sure your 22" chrome spinners look phat on that Maxima.
Whats the difference between a BMW and a porcupine......with a BMW the pricks on the inside.
No, the pricks are the ones to complain because they didn't have the good judgment to purchase a proper sport sedan in the first place. Please, spend your time more wisely, like completing your G.E.D.
"I own a Nissan Maxima and I smke 3 series BMW's DAILY!"
Gotta call BS on that . . . .
Hey Sam were you trying to show some sedans that are very sporty or like sports cars or a mix of both? Impala and Regal???? The Dodge Charger will from the SXT on up to and including the SRT8 might have been a worthy mention.
mess with Mike,
Let's see, you clearly can't construct a proper sentence with proper grammar. For example, using 4 in place of for, not being able to spell dumb, in addition to not knowing the difference between they're, there, and their. Not trying to be the grammar police, but you have no business referring to anyone as dumb given the issues above.
The definition of a sports car is lost more and more every decade. Reviewers are now calling any "sporty" car a sports cars, and most of these cars I wouldn't even call that. I miss the old definitions of a sports car, 2 seat, 2 door, ample power, amazing handling (for it generation), and its design to give pleasure to the driver and one very lucky passenger. It doesn't need to be the fastest or most powerful car on the road, ie a Austin Healey.
Sadly I'm on my second corvette and the automatic transmission factor doesn't bug me as much as the people I talk to.