The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a sports car as a low, small car with seating for two people and made for fast driving. Wikipedia says a sports car is a small, usually two seat, two-door automobile designed for spirited performance and nimble handling. It goes on to say sports cars may be luxurious or spartan, but high maneuverability and minimum weight are requisite. To the above we’ll add, rear- or all-wheel drive, long low lines, a low center of gravity, plus steering, braking, and suspension systems calibrated to deliver exacting control at elevated speeds. While Convertible sports cars are certainly among the most coveted of the breed, a folding roof isn’t an absolute requirement. But it certainly adds some fun to the experience.
Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
Alfa Romeo’s new 4C sports car has caused quite a stir. And well it should, given the model’s credentials. These include a mid-mounted high-winding turbocharged engine, a lightweight carbon fiber tub, sublime handling, resolute braking, and one of the most distinctive exterior treatments seen on the road in quite some time. Power comes from a 1750-cc turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 240 horsepower and 258 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission routes power to the rear wheels. What’s more, the Alfa 4C’s motorsport pedigree dates all the way back to the earliest days of Formula 1. But wait, as of June of 2015, you’ll also number open-air motoring among those enviable attributes.
Audi R8 Spyder
Audi’s convertible sports car ticks off all of the descriptive boxes to which we referred in the introduction. Plus, it adds a high degree of exclusivity. The base model uses a mid-mounted 4.2-liter V8 with 430 horsepower and 317 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is provided as standard equipment; while a seven-speed dual clutch automated manual transmission is offered as an option. The R8 V10 uses a 525-horsepower, 5.2-liter V10 with 391 ft-lbs of torque. The same transmission offerings apply. For 2015, Audi R8 V8 Spyder pricing starts at $129,400, while R8 V10 Spyder pricing starts at $166,100.
One of the few models on this list boasting a folding hardtop, BMW’s Z4 offers the best of both worlds. With the roof in place, you have all the benefits of a hardtop Coupe. When the air is nice and you want to see the trees, fold the roof away and let your follicles feel the breeze. Power output of the three available ultra-smooth engines ranges from 240 horsepower and 260 ft-lbs of torque from a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, to 335 horsepower and 332 ft-lbs of torque from a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six. The four is paired with either a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic. The six gets a seven-speed dual clutch automated manual. Pricing starts at $48,950.
Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible
The contemporary iteration of Chevrolet’s sports car is more refined than any produced before it, and yet it gives up none of the outstanding roadholding, brutal acceleration, or head turning style we’ve come to expect from America’s only true sports car. Factor in the soft folding roof and you’ll also get what we feel is the best-looking version of the Stingray ever offered. Power comes from a 6.2-liter V8 capable of an exhilarating 455 horsepower and 460 ft-lbs of torque. Corvette’s optional dual-mode exhaust system bumps output to 460 horsepower and 465 ft-lbs of torque. Its seven-speed manual transmission automatically matches revs on both upshifts and downshifts. A six-speed automatic transmission is offered as well. Pricing starts at $59,995.
Jaguar F-Type Convertible
Jaguar’s F-Type is fast, handles beautifully, features a gorgeous interior treatment, and is handsome besides. Power comes from a choice of three engines; a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 with 340 horsepower and 332 ft-lbs of torque; a 380-horsepower version of that same engine with 339 ft-lbs of torque; and a 495-horsepower 5.0-liter supercharged V8, delivering 460 ft-lbs of torque. An eight-speed automatic routes power to the rear wheels regardless of the engine choice (A six-speed manual and all-wheel drive are optional for 2016). The first true two-seat Jaguar roadster since the E-Type, the F-Type left the drawing board a classic. Pricing starts at $69,925.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
Easily the most eagerly anticipated sports car of the year, the Mazda MX-5 Miata has carved an enviable niche for itself in the market in general; and among sports cars specifically. While preliminary details are trickling out of Mazda HQ with considerable deliberation, so far we know the new model will be some 220 pounds lighter than the current car, and the engine will deliver more torque (148 ft-lbs versus 140), but less horsepower (155 versus 167). There will be a revised rear suspension design, and the engine will be mounted lower and even closer to the center of the car, which means handling should be greatly improved.
Arguably as much a grand tourer as a sports car, the SLK exhibits all of the characteristics referred to in our section intro. Another model featuring a folding hardtop, the SLK is a true year-round sports car – regardless of where you live. Engine offerings include a 1.8-liter turbo four with 201 horsepower and 229 ft-lbs of torque, a 3.5-liter V6 with 302 horsepower and 273 ft-lbs of torque, and a 415-horsepower 5.5-liter V8 with 398 ft-lbs. A six-speed manual transmission is offered with the four-cylinder, the others get a seven-speed automatic. Pricing starts at $43,950.
Nissan 370Z Roadster
Nissan’s 370Z Roadster represents an outstanding value for the price, given its handsome styling, enthusiastic performance, and comparatively low cost of operation. The front mid engine layout assures outstanding handling potential, while the proven V6 engine delivers 332 horsepower and 270 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, a six-speed automatic is provided as an optional choice. What’s more the Z offers a heritage going all the way back to the 1970’s—when it was introduced as an affordable E-Type Jaguar. Pricing starts at $41,820.
Yes, there are more powerful cars on this list, and yes there are arguably more attractive looking cars on this list, but line them all up on a sinuous stretch of mountain road, and the Porsche Boxster will leave every other car here galloping in its wake—including its more glamorous 911 sister car. Power comes from a choice of flat six-cylinder engines ranging from 265 horsepower to 330. Boxster tracks like a slot car and is so smooth in operation you’ll swear it isn’t touching the ground—seriously. Pricing starts at $51,400.
Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet
With its power, agility, style, comfort, luxury, and reputation for excellence going all the way back to 1964. Porsche’s 911 Carrera is one of the most coveted sports cars ever devised. Rather than starting over from scratch every five to seven years the way most manufacturers do, the 911 is a product of continuous evolution. Over the years, everything good has been kept; everything showing potential for improvement has received it. Porsche offers the 911 Cabriolet with a number of different engines ranging in power from 350 horsepower to 560. Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet pricing starts at $96,200.