Cheap Midship Thrills: 5 Attainable Mid-Engined Cars
This is a lot of mid-engined loveby Andrei Nedelea, on LISTEN 08:25
Having the engine in the middle or as close to the center of the car as possible is deemed ideal in order to have even weight distribution between the two axles. But over the years, the configuration has mostly been reserved for expensive exotics unattainable by only the wealthiest enthusiasts. That’s why cheaper cars that have adopted the configuration have always stood out and usually attract some manner of cult following.
This article focuses on midship cars which you can buy right now without having to factor in the sale of an organ or anything involving a Ponzi scheme and wearing a fake mustache. Rest assured you can get attainable mid-engined kicks these days in the cars posted after the jump (in ascending price order), but don’t go thinking they’re cheap; they’re not.
Our first and most affordable entrant is the Honda S660, a midship Kei car which can only be bought in Japan and some other Asian markets. It has caused quite a stir since coming out in 2015 specifically because it has its engine in the middle and is as affordable as it is.
The 660 in its name refers to the number of cubic centimeters displaced by its tiny transverse-mounted three-pot turbo engine with 63 horsepower and the choice for either a six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission.
It’s by no means a fast car, taking over 10 seconds to sprint past 60 mph before it tops out at 87 mph, but if you treat it as a momentum car and try to maintain speed on a twisty road, then it really comes into its own.
Shortly after the car was launched, the rumor mill started churning out reports of a Type-R model or an S1000 version with a bigger 1-liter engine, but neither have materialized thus far.
Price for one new in Japan starts from ¥2.1-million which is around $18,000 for an example equipped with the must-have six-speed manual (making it by far the most affordable car on this list). The price can go north afterward as there are plenty of Honda and aftermarket accessories available for it - an entire ecosystem of dress-up parts you’ll discover on specialty Japanese sites.
Read our full review on the 2016 Honda S660.
Sitting at the very bottom of the Lotus Elise lineup, the Sport 220 model is still considerably dearer than the genuinely cheap and cheerful S660. With a starting price of £37,300 or just shy of $49,000, it’s not actually cheap, but for something mid-engined that’s also a real sports car (which the Honda just isn’t) it’s about as low as you can go in terms of price.
But what you’re receiving for your money is a car bearing what is arguably one of the most prestigious sports car badges out there.
And for good reason - the Elise, which has gone through several major revisions since the first model launched, way back in September 1996, is one of the best handling cars at any price point.
You used to be able to get behind the wheel of a new Elise for less than this, back when they still offered the 1.6-liter atmospheric engine as the base choice. The Sport 220 has 220 horsepower from a supercharged Toyota-sourced 1.8-liter and can sprint to sixty in a mere 4.2 seconds which is fast by any standard.
The current incarnation is also the lightest one since the 1996 original and the best built and the best looking - with the decently pokey engine, it also has a superb power to weight ratio of 257 horsepower per ton. Lotus also assures you that its four-cylinder power plant is one of the best sounding fours on the market.
Read our full review on the 2016 Lotus Elise Sport 220
Believe it or not, but the Porsche on this list is actually cheaper than an Alfa Romeo and a Renault... well, Alpine. Starting from around $58,000, the 718 Cayman is obviously not cheap, but what you are getting here is one of the single best cars you can buy right now if you don’t need more than two seats.
It’s acknowledged as being a superb handling package, but one that also doesn’t neglect comfort and livability. In fact, you will be surprised at how comfortable it is when you just want to drive around in a relaxed fashion, especially with its new turbocharged engine.
Enthusiasts have given the 718 Cayman a lot of flack for ditching the six-cylinder engine it originally came with in favor of a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-pot, but the result is more usable performance and an overall faster car.
It puts out 300 horsepower, but it’s surprisingly efficient too, when you want it to be.
Some say that the Cayman and Boxster are the best Porsche models simply because they don’t have to work around the problem of having their engine hanging over past the rear axle. The fact that the 718 model line is mid-engined has a lot to do with what makes it feel very predictable and progressive no matter how close to its limit (or beyond it) you take the car.
Read our full review on the 2017 Porsche 718 Cayman
Mini-Ferrari is what some people call the Alfa Romeo 4C. Costing from around $66,000, it promises a raw, visceral sports car experience from an automaker which some may associate with Ferrari - and they want you to do that in order to overlook some of its negatives.
Firstly, though, there is definitely a lot to like: the 4C is genuinely fast and capable of sticking to corners even at speeds you think shouldn’t be possible.
This is due in part to its rigid carbon fiber chassis and Lotus-like low weight, as well as the direct non-assisted steering that transmits every little sensation through the wheel back to the driver.
Powering the 4C is a 1.8-liter turbocharged engine which can only be mated to a six-speed dual-clutch. Power isn’t excessive, only 240 horsepower, but the Euro version weighs under a ton, so its power to weight is actually 259 horsepower per ton which is nearly exactly the same as the lotus above.
This translates into similar performance to that Elise 220 Sport, so sixty comes up in a bit over four seconds and the top speed is 155 mph.
Read our full review on the 2014 Alfa Romeo 4C
Renault wants an arm and a leg for its new Alpine A110 sports car, especially if you want the well equipped First Edition model which costs the equivalent of $67,000, which is as much as a Porsche 718 Cayman S with 110 more horsepower.
But the A110 does make sense, even at this ridiculous price, which goes down once lower trim grade models are added to the lineup, to around $61,000 (it’s still going to be more expensive than the Porsche, though). Powering it is a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-banger that’s related to the unit used in the latest RenaultSport Megane, although in that application it makes more power and can be had with either a manual or automatic gearbox.
In the Alpine, the unit makes just over 250 horsepower and the seven-speed dual-clutch is the only transmission option.
Its power to weight ratio is lower than that of the Lotus and Alfa Romeo, 233 horsepower per ton, and as a result its benchmark sprint time is a few tenths slower, officially quoted at 4.5 seconds to 62 mph.
But it’s the handling that’s the highpoint of its driving experience. Ever since reviewers got their hands on it for the first time, they’ve been raving on about how good it is around corners and just how much fun can be derived from driving it. It’s also quite tail-happy (but controllable at the same time) for something mid-engined - its back really likes to step out, but it allows the driver to make the decision whether or not to wring it back in check or just let it hang loose.
Read our full review on the Renault Alpine A110.