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Best sports cars 2017

Evo logo Evo 19/04/2017 Lee Stern

The term ‘sports car’ is one of the hardest to define. It can often mean a two-seater, but doesn’t always; it sometimes suggests a roof that can be lowered, but that isn’t essential either. The one constant is that the car has been designed to be driven for pleasure. If it has no more than two doors and isn’t a supercar, then all the better.

Few categories offer so much variety in terms of layout, either. Different engine positions, a wide range of cylinder counts, natural aspiration or forced induction, manual or automatic gearboxes, two- or four-wheel drive – the numerous combinations ensure no two sports car spec sheets look alike.

In its rawest form, a sports car can be incredibly focused but also borderline uncomfortable, yet the very best manage to be accessible and amenable while still offering the purity of driver involvement and layers of character that underpin the thrill of driving. And it’s this type that we’re focusing on here as we pick our 10 favourite sports cars currently on sale. We think you’ll agree, right now is something of a golden age for the class.

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Evo's 10 best sports cars

Porsche 911

The physics of a penduluming, rear-mounted engine in the 991-generation no longer requires the attention it used to in earlier 911s. The rump stays planted, displaying incredible mid-corner stability, while traction out of low-speed corners is remarkable. At speed, the chassis really excites, telegraphing feedback through the driver’s seat, but otherwise it's largely docile.

Four-wheel drive adds serious security and further enhances point-to-point pace, but the better thrills are had from the rear-driven platform.

Lotus Evora/Exige

The Exige’s gearbox is that bit sweeter than the Evora’s, requiring no conscious thought to snick from ratio to ratio. The chassis strikes the perfect balance between immediacy and flightiness, the steering allowing you to measure out microscopic adjustments to trace the line your eyes have mapped out ahead. Applying throttle loads is similarly precise, offering options on how you steer the car though a corner.

Nissan GT-R

Revised year on year, the R35 has garnered some civility a decade after it first emerged from the hermetically sealed factory. The more forgiving ride hasn’t dialled out adjustability from the chassis, but stepping out the back end will require a firm hand and more assertive approach. Grip feels as infinite as ever and the four-wheel-drive system makes progress devastatingly unflappable.

Porsche 718 Cayman

Little lock is required to set the 718 on the desired bearing, the car being direct in response but never skittish — it is a composed steer. The wheel does not writhe and patter in your hands like the hydraulically assisted rack of the Cayman GT4, but you can always gauge the grip on hand. Progress in the Cayman feels fittingly organic, with incredible balance and a malleable chassis.

Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe

© Provided by Evo

The Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe bears all the hallmarks of a true AMG product. Naturally, the engine is a peach. The 4-litre is a crowd pleaser, bellowing out a deep, earth-shattering gurgle from the tail pipes as you charge towards the top end. In standard or S form, throttle response is staggering considering the presence of two turbochargers nestled between the cylinder-banks.

Despite the lack of a twin-clutcher you don’t feel shortchanged tugging at the paddles and cycling through the seven speeds. Taking total control of the automatic gearbox bestows a greater sense of helmsmanship, a comforting thought in light of the 503bhp (in S spec) that can be summoned from the V8. The array of driver aids and safety systems temper progress appropriately to keep the car on the black stuff without killing excitement.

The rear arches cover an axle that is bespoke to the coupe: wider in track than the saloon’s and with increased negative camber for greater wheel control. The coupe is more eager to turn in, with deeper grip reserves to call on (best found out on dry roads) when you press on. The rear setup better ties the body to the road, maintaining the pliancy of the saloon while reducing vertical movements.  

BMW M4

The straight-six configuration that featured in the E36 and E46 M3 is revived and paired with twin turbos to produce 425bhp and 406lb ft of torque. The high-revving, climactic character of previous M3s has been sacrificed, but not totally in vain, as real-world performance has been significantly elevated.

Thankfully, BMW has kept the third pedal – as standard. The majority of cars, though, are optioned with the seven-speed DCT – still accomplished but no longer amongst the best dual-clutch units. Its tendency to provoke wheelspin on upshifts by introducing a fat wad of torque on a pinned throttle can be disconcerting. That delicate deftness of the older models has been sharpened for a spikier edge.

The trustworthy helm is a direct and accurate gateway to extract the grip and agility, lending itself to controllable small slides in M Dynamic Mode. In the wet it’s a tricky customer and on cresting roads the body feels wayward. When all is right in the M4 it is fantastic, but unfortunately these times are few and far between.

BMW M2

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The BMW M2 is a nod to the old-school way of doing things in the sports car arena. Power is sent behind, from the engine upfront, through a manual ’box in the middle.

A DCT is available, but the manual is a truer match for the vigour and vim of the squat coupe. The manual’s six (rather than the DCT’s eight) ratios are plenty to deliver impressive acceleration from the modified M235i single-turbo 3-litre six-cylinder unit. It’s humble beginnings deprive it of that special bespoke feel of the very best M Division-developed engines, but by no means is it a weak point.

The standard-fit passive suspension setup is well damped, keeping the M2 naturally receptive to inputs, reacting to direction changes with total composure and predictability.

The M2 is lithe and nimble, easily threaded at speed down a challenging road with an air purity to the process. Get generous with the throttle and the M2 becomes as angry as its bulging, short overhangs suggest, kicking out its tail – and hanging it there – with ease.

Lexus RC F

Lexus RC F © Provided by Evo Lexus RC F

Unique amongst its peers, the Lexus RC F breathes without assistance. The RC F subscribes to the enthusiasts’ saying ‘no replacement for displacement’, being propelled by a 470bhp 5-litre V8. It sounds as sweet as you’d hope, but all the noise doesn’t translate to the expected pace. At lower revs, every one of the car’s 1765 kilos is felt, and the engine needs revs all the time to compensate for the ample, low-down torque of its rivals.

The weight continues to make itself felt when you load the chassis with lateral force. Inputs to the handling are met with lethargy rather than alacrity, though the steering rack is well weighted and calibrated in accordance with the supple setup. It's an enjoyable if not heart-beat-raising drive.

The RC F claws back points when you hop aboard, where you’re welcomed by an aura of refined quality – you know it’s a Lexus. The seats hold you well but don’t seem to have the desired vertical adjustment to sink your hip point low enough into the chassis.

Jaguar F-type

Jaguar F-Type four-cylinder - front tracking © Provided by Evo Jaguar F-Type four-cylinder - front tracking

The Jaguar F-type isn't short of British sex appeal. One of the prettiest Jaguars of the modern era, it is a rather good drive too. There are numerous ways to spec an F-Type: coupe or soft-top, rear- or four-wheel drive, manual or auto, and with five different power levels from three different engines to choose from. We are yet to drive the new entry-level four-pot.

The supercharged V6 in either state of tune is responsive and linear, sounding out a volley of pops and parps as you shuffle through the six-speed manual or eight-speed auto (the sole choice if you want all-wheel drive). The V8-engined R packs serious muscle, directing 542bhp rearwards or to all four corners. The extra speed and weight (in the nose) with the V8 means you enter corners more gingerly, but exit slightly leaden of foot while the 5-litre exhales sonorously via a quartet of pipes.

The V6 cars’ greater neutrality and rear-biased balance lend themselves to apparent oversteer on rear-driven versions. The 375bhp S gets a mechanical limited-slip differential, all the better for managing the oversteer. The V8 cars are less biddable, so opting for four-wheel drive to cope with all the extra shove is understandable and by no means robs you of enjoyment, but it does strip away a few layers of excitement.

Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ

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The Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ (same car, different badges) serves to reorient the enthusiasts’ outlook: reminding us that power and technology cannot replace a connected experience. It seeks to perfect the basic sports car underpinnings: a snickety manual ’box, communicative steering and a zingy engine.  

The four-pot boxer’s meagre 197bhp and asthmatic 151lb ft of torque is barely enough to overwhelm the stiction limits of most tyres – unless, as here, those tyres are both skinny and offer low rolling resistance. The GT86/BRZ experience is all about sensation: perceiving body movements, grip levels and pitch and yaw through the seat of your pants.

Finding the perfect driving position is a cinch. The ride is unforgiving but not unyielding and is worth enduring. Push hard and you’re greeted by a wide window where the minutely resolved chassis allows you to tiptoe comfortably on the limit. The clarity with which you sense the grip dissolve and rebuild at the rear axle as you metre out throttle inputs is a glorious thing. While this is very enjoyable, you can’t help but think what a real set of tyres would do for the car.  

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