TopSpeed’s 10 Best Mid-Level Sports Cars
So, entry-level sports cars aren’t good enough. You make too much money to be seen in a Mazda MX-5 or a normal Ford Mustang. Your successful self needs something powerful and exciting. Well, there is plenty of choices in the market.
To be as precise as possible, there is actually an overwhelming amount of choices in the market, with each car being a little different. There are German performance coupes, American muscle, and Japanese street rockets. These machines have the same sort of mind-bending power, but the way each puts that power down is as different as Apollo and the Space Shuttle.
Due to that reason, we had a hard time putting machines like the Dodge Challenger in same category as the Porsche Boxster. How can you compare two machines that are so vastly different? Sure, we could have, but it just wouldn’t have worked. So, after the jump we have three - even though the title says ten - different top fives. The price cap is $60,000.
We broke it down like this. At the top we have four-door performance machines that use amazing power with epic grip and practicality. Then we have the coupes. Don’t get these coupes mixed up with the Corvette-type coupes because these European cars are tuned for a mixture of speed and cornering ability. Finally, we have the American straight road muscle. Cars that run the quarter miles as naturally as a sports analyst getting a prediction terribly wrong.
Hit the jump to read the lists.
Four Door Performance
5) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
The Evolution is a car for the younger generation, and there are two reasons for that. The first is that the suspension is so hard that anybody above the age of 40 will have their spine snapped. The second reason is the lack of excitement in the interior. The Lancer Evolution’s interior is just empty and black. It’s rather dull and not a pleasant place to sit on any sort of journey. On the plus side, this thing is fast. The turbocharged motor is strong and the all-wheel drive handling is sensational. That being said, it can be a little too digital with all the gizmos working to keep the car in line. If you want an Evo, the old version - the Evolution IX - is better and more communicative. Prices start at $33,000
4) Subaru Impreza WRX STI
The new STI might not be everybody’s favorite car to look at, but it does so much so well. It’s very fast, handles very well, and it can hull the whole family and their luggage in the back. It’s also a bit more forgiving on the road and won’t break your back while going over a leaf. It might not have the same street racing credibility as the Evolution, but it’s still the one we would prefer. If you wait a little bit, there is a new STI coming out that looks brilliant and is even faster. Prices start at $33,995
3) Lexus IS-F
TheLexus IS-F is the company’s first attempt at taking down the M3. While they did a great job, it’s just not good enough to dethrone the king. Not to mention the sedan version of the M3 was dropped. The motor is seriously quick, but the transmission is very slow to react when in normal automatic mode and a bit too hard when in sport mode. There is also just too many gears, as the car changes up or down. The steering can also feel a bit detached at times while going through the corners. That being said, it’s still one heck of a car and we would be happy if we owned one. Prices start at $58,460
2) Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
The C63 is the car that wants to kill you, but it is so much fun. That V8 motor is just incredible and so amazingly fast. The looks are gaudy and the handling is interesting. One minute the car is gripping the road as it should, but give it some throttle and it can snap around as fast as you can blink an eye. That’s the fun side of this car. The boring elements are fairly good as well. The build quality is brilliant and the COMAND system is fairly intuitive. The looks are fun and gaudy and the engine is just too good to ignore. Prices start at $57,350
1) Audi S4
When we drove all of these machines theS4 stood out above the rest. It was simply stunning on the road and the seats and suspension worked in any condition. On the track, the S4 was just as good as the bigger and more powerful IS-F and C63. Sure, it might not be as quick in the straights, but that all-wheel drive system helps you be able to whip around the corners with more ferocity and confidence. It’s a luxury cruiser and a thrashing performance car all wrapped into one. The MMI system is also easy to use. Prices are around $46,600.
Two Door Performance
5) BMW Z4
The old Z3 was terrible. It was more of a cruiser than a sports car, but with the new Z4, things have changed. The Z4 is a very good car to drive, but we aren’t quite sold. BMW’s new look is different and it has been for quite some time. We think the Z4 is more butch than the Z3, although it might be going a bit overboard. The engine is decent and the handling is good. It’s just not as moving or invigorating as some of its rivals. The BMW badge will make many people love this machine. Unfortunately, we aren’t part of the fan club. The Z4 is a good car, but not as good as the others. Prices start at $46,000.
4) Audi TTS
The TTS is the high performance version of the normal TT. At least that’s what they want you to think. Really though, you aren’t getting a whole lot more for your money. The steering isn’t as sharp as some rivals, the ride is stiff, and there is no manual transmission available. We’re sorry, but a sports roadster without a manual is idiotic. On the plus side, the build quality is superb and the interior is very upscale. The base Audi TT is just as good. Prices start at $46,900.
3) Porsche Boxster
It might not be a manly Porsche, but it’s not that bad to drive. The handling is crisp and easy to control. The power isn’t massive, but it’s enough to play with. The automated manual transmission is brilliant, the interior is top-notch, and it’s highly customizable. On the downside, the price isn’t bad at the start, but add options and you might as well buy a 911. Which brings us to the car’s worst problem; the 911. You wouldn’t buy a Boxster for the sole reason of wanting one. The reason most people would buy the Boxster is because they can’t afford the 911, and being something that people settle for just doesn’t cut it. We also aren’t huge fans of the styling. Prices start at $46,000.
2) Audi S5
Until the RS5 comes out, we are going to have to make due with the S5. Not that the RS5 is a bad car though. The S5 is sensational. The car’s look is modern and fresh, while the interior is made with the finest materials. The motor is strong, the handling is crisp, and you can even get the S5 in a convertible. The only issue we have with the S5 is that the steering can feel a bit digital at times. Overall though, this is one fabulous car and far more angry and manly looking than the Porsche. Prices start at $53,100.
1) BMW M3
The old boy, the venerable champion, and the faithful performance machine. These are just a few phrases that describe the M3. It’s been around for quite some time, each version getting better and better. It would have been a sin to choose something else to win this comparison. The high-revving V8 is brilliant, as is the handling and the interior style. The ride is even smooth on the road, while being hard on the track. There are some elements that will make you look a bit nerdy, but that’s not really a big deal. Overall, this is the car you want if you’re after a sports coupe. Prices start at $55,400.
5) Dodge Charger R/T
Why is this car on the list? Simple, there wasn’t anything else to fill up the bottom spot. Let’s go over what’s wrong with the Charger. Subpar power and fuel economy from V6s, difficult rear-seat entry, anesthetized steering, and lackluster side-impact crash rating. Now, the positives. The V8 is good, the interior - like most American cars - is roomy enough to fit the large people that will drive it, and it looks angry. Some might say that the Taurus SHO should be on this list, but it really shouldn’t. It’s more luxury than anything else. Sure it’s got a big motor, but it weighs more than a battleship. Still, as far as the Charger goes, don’t buy one until it gets a refresh. Prices start at $34,445.
4) Chevrolet Camaro SS
Many love the Camaro because of the history and the name behind it. We don’t give a hoot about history or the name, in fact, we don’t care where it’s made either. We care about how the car drives and frankly, it’s not all that great. The motor is strong, but it should be in a straight line car. The interior is lackluster and confusing, the styling is decent, but nothing special, and the handling is crude. If you want to turn heads, this is the car for you, but don’t expect to see true-professionals in one. Prices start at $30,945
3) Dodge Challenger SRT-8
Where as the Camaro got a bit fat, the Challenger went the whole nine yards and got massive. This car is enormous. The trunk and the backseats are as big as a sedan, but the rear visibility is compromised by the large C-Pillars. The 6.1-liter V8 is just wonderful and the way it rumbles like a muscle car and can smoke the tires with ease is a thing to marvel at. The handling, on the other hand, is terrible. It looks like an old muscle car and has old muscle car steering. At least it’s not trying to be something it’s not. Prices are around $44,230
2) Chevrolet Corvette
People love the Corvette. They love it because it’s American mostly, but they love the gaudy styling, the pure speed, and the muscle car noise that comes out of the back. We like the Corvette because it’s decently fast and fairly cheap. Yet, with that cheap price comes cheap interior materials. The handling, like the Camaro, is crude, but it’s a little better in this. If you really want a Corvette, get the ZR1, as the Z06 is hard. The price for the base model is $48,950.
1) Ford Mustang GT500
The biggest and baddest Mustang of them all is designed by Ford and tuned by Shelby. The GT500 has incredible looks that scream performance. Under the hood, the supercharged V8 is lightning fast and very responsive. As far as speed goes, the GT500 and the Corvette are equals in the quarter mile and the Ford is just a hair quicker to 60 mph. Ford’s build quality is sensational and the way the interior is laid out is easy to understand. If pure speed is what you’re after, the GT500 is the perfect fit. Prices start at $48,645
There you have it; our top five sports cars in three different segments. This was an interesting way to do it, but it’s just impossible to rank a Mustang GT500 with a BMW Z4. There are massive differences between the American muscle machines and the European tuned coupes, but we feel this list solves those problems. To wrap it up, we would take the Audi S4, the BMW M3, and the Shelby Mustang.
The Lotus is a fantastic driver’s car, but it’s far too hard to get in and out of and it’s not very practical. At best, the Elise could be used a few times a month if the weather is just right.
Next week we’ll have the top ten ultra-sports cars.