What is a high-end sports car? Are they Italian performance machines like the Ferrari 458 and the Lamborghini Gallardo, or are they more sensible vehicles like the BMW M5 and the Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG? We think they’re the latter.
For this top ten, we are going to set the price cap at $120,000, if you can call that a cap. That should eliminate most of the extreme vehicles, but keep the basic Porsches and so on within the limits.
What kinds of things are we looking for with high-end sports cars? Obviously, they need to be fast with agile handling and excellent driving dynamics. The car needs to look stunning with a functional yet stylish interior. It would also be great if it could stand the test of time, so reliability is also a factor.
Let’s review the previous winners of our sports car test. The Volkswagen GTI took the top spot in the entry-level test due to its excellent performance, build quality, and versatility. There were numerous winners of the mid-level test, as we had multiple categories. We chose the Audi S4, the BMW M3, and the Ford Mustang GT500 as the top cars in their classes.
Hit the jump to see the list.
10. Audi S6
We love Audis here, as you’ll see later, but the S6 is a bit dull. The only thing that really stands out about this machine is the LED headlights and that’s just not good enough. The motor under the hood is decent and the handling is very good, but the car is just dull. The alternative options from BMW and Mercedes-Benz are far more exciting. We do like the Audi’s build quality and the interior layout and materials, if only the car itself could be invigorating. Prices start at $76,100.
9. Chevrolet Corvette Z06
The main reason for this vehicle coming in second-to-last is the fact that the ZR1 is only a few thousand more. There really isn’t a reason to buy the Z06 unless you want a bad back later in life. The suspension is very bad, the interior is low-rent, and we’ve seen better handling on 18th century wagons. On the plus side, the power is immense and it can be fun to destroy the back tires with an epic wheel spin. Still, tire smoking power isn’t enough to save the Z06. Prices start at $74,285
8. Mercedes-Benz SL550
There might be reason there aren’t many of these machines on the road. The styling is very gaudy, but it does help it stand out. The power is sensational, but it’s almost to much. Being a Mercedes, the traction control is always stepping in with that much power going to the rear. That makes power sliding very tricky, not that you should be doing that on public roads. The car is also very heavy due to all that technology. The SL550 is more of a cruiser, despite the epic power. Prices start at $102,600. If you can afford it, the SL63 is a better car.
7. Mercedes-Benz E-Class AMG
The new E-Class has a superb ride and handling balance and a very powerful engine. Not to mention the interior is first rate and there a plenty of safety oriented items. We like the way the car looks as well, although some won’t. On the downside, there are tons of computers that you need to fiddle with in order to get the car set up. The COMAND system is a bit tricky as well. The cost is also a bit high, at $85,750.
6. BMW M5
The 2010 M5 has a fantastic V10, the ride is brilliant, and the fit and finish is what you would expect on a BMW. On the downside, the car suffers from a lackluster steering feel, an outdated gearbox, and terrible stability control. There are also way too many controls to mess with in order to get the car setup just the way you like it. We aren’t too fond of the looks either. Prices start at $85,700.
5. Cadillac CTS-V
The engine in the new CTS-V is the real highlight. The V8 is so strong and so fast that it’s truly stunning. The handling is even decent, which is saying a lot for an American car. The styling is pure straight lines, but it looks good. There might be a touch too much chrome, but what do you expect. We like the fact that you can have a manual transmission, as most automakers have gone with fancy paddle shift transmissions. On the downside, you won’t get all the technology that you would in a German car and the build quality isn’t a good as we would like. Prices start at $62,165.
4. Jaguar XKR
The XKR has rip-roaring acceleration, a pleasing balance of performance and comfort, and a luxurious cabin with high feature content. The car also has sensational looks that could be in an art gallery. Not to mention the noise that this car makes is brilliantly loud and deep. If you had to find fault with the XKR, it would be the backseat and the touch screen. Honestly though, those aren’t huge faults. Prices start at $95,150.
3. Nissan GT-R
The GT-R is Nissan’s only real high-end sports car. Some might even call it a supercar. It offers up a brilliant motor with sensational acceleration and handling that can snap a neck. The build quality is what you would expect from Nissan and you could probably use this car everyday if you wanted to. On the downside, the car does feel a bit digital, like it doesn’t need you to be a good driver. There are so many different gizmos that you can feel a bit left out at times. Prices start at $84,500.
2. Porsche 911
The classic German machine has always been the 911. Porsche can make whatever they want, but the 911 is always going to be the car that made them who they are. There are many models to choose from and they are all pretty good. The acceleration on most models is brilliant and the handling is precise. You also get a comfortable and spacious cockpit, surprisingly good fuel-efficiency, and plenty of customization options. Sadly, it’s not all good news, as the 911 can be seriously expensive if you start adding those options. The PDK paddle shifters also have a lackluster feel. We also aren’t huge on the looks, as they have been the same for years now. Prices start at $77,800.
1. Audi R8
The R8 has to be one of the best cars we have ever driven and luckily for us and it, the Audi was just under our price cap for 2010. The motor is very good and the handling is like the GT-R’s, incredibly good if not painful at times, but unlike the Nissan, the R8 has a mechanical feel to it. You get all-wheel drive and a well designed interior plus we love the manual transmission. You also get Audi’s excellent build quality. If there is a high-performance car that you can use everyday, it would be this one without a doubt. The seats are comfortable and there is enough room for stuff from a shopping trip. Prices start at $114,200, but act soon, for 2011 those prices will be going up.
There you have it, the Audi R8 is the king of the hill. We love the Nissan, the Porsche, and the Jaguar, but it’s hard to deny that the R8 is brilliant. Many of you will never get the chance to take one for a drive, but if you have the ability to, please do. For the money, the R8 can’t be beat. Even when the price does go up for 2011, the R8 will still be one hell of a bargain.
Stay tuned for our top ten supercars with no price cap.