Wanna play? That’s the question every sports car should ask. sports cars are designed for fun and performance, born when the first line was drawn on a napkin or when someone looked at a base model and said, “Let’s put a HEMI in it!” The key is that either the original or a variant be built with one main objective: To elicit grins and giggles from driver and passenger. Here’s a snapshot of what’s coming and what automakers’ imaginations have produced, starting with the most recently unveiled.
Photo Credit: Automakers
2009 BMW M3 Convertible
The M3 has evolved over time from a racing homologation car into a full-fledged lineup unto itself. The newest M3 has already debuted in coupe and sedan form, and both are bona fide winners. Like the coupe and sedans, the M3 convertible comes with a 4.0-liter V-8 pushing 414 horses at a lofty 8,300 rpm, and 295 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,900 rpm. The new über Bimmer also boasts a six-speed manual tranny with a locking differential, an aluminum chassis, electronic damper control, cross-drilled cast iron rotors, and Servotronic steering with Normal and Sport modes.
2009 Dodge Challenger
While it may seem like the Dodge Challenger has been out for a couple of years now, in reality the first units are just now going on sale. The high-performance 6.1-liter V-8 SRT8 was the first out of the gate, but Dodge filled out the lineup at the New York Auto Show with the V-6 SE and 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 R/T model, for those who want the looks of the musclecar without the price or performance. Even the SRT8 gets an upgrade for ’09: For the first time in any of its Hemi-powered cars, Dodge is offering a six-speed manual transmission option on the R/T and SRT8 models.
2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe
You know Hyundai. They're the guys who started out with cheap cars like the Excel and yet, despite fierce odds, slowly built a reputation for quality cars and SUVs, cars that were affordable, reliable and came with a great warranty. Yawn. Don't blame Hyundai for being so good at its mission, but most of the time they haven't exactly set the enthusiast world on fire. The Genesis sedan's launch fizzed a bit despite the V-8 engine thanks to a mainstream design, but the 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe is an entirely different thing. This sexy rear-drive party for two will have competitors sharpening pencils and car buyers drooling over the prospect of a test drive.
Kia Koup Concept
Long warranties and low prices have driven a lot of traffic into Kia showrooms, but company executives that want to move the brand forward know that car shoppers need something more from this Korean nameplate. So Kia is bumping up the style and horsepower with the Koup concept, a two-door, front-drive, turbocharged pocket rocket boasting 290 horses and set to tussle with established players like Volkswagen GTI and Honda Civic Si. Maybe that’s jumping the gun a bit, yet what’s almost certain is that the Koup previews the styling of the new Spectra that will bow within a year or so.
2009 Mini John Cooper Works
Mini introduces two John Cooper Works models in regular and Clubman flavors. This time around, the high-performance models will be factory built instead of dealer installed options. Both will use the same 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. Intake, exhaust, wheels and suspension are all specific to the JCWs. The little hot rods debut in Germany in August, come the States some time after that. No U.S. pricing has been announced.
2009 Pontiac G8 GXP
Pontiac dresses up the G8 sedan’s lineup with a new more powerful GXP model, sporting a 402-horsepower V-8, an optional six-speed manual transmission, slightly revised and sportier styling and a 0-60 mph run in about 4.7 seconds. What serves as the greatest difference between the Pontiac G8 GT and the newly-announced GXP variant is the latter’s V-8 engine boasting horsepower in excess of 400. That, and the optional manual transmission enthusiasts have been begging for since the G8’s initial debut.
2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe
While the Pontiac Solstice convertible stunned us all with its swoopy great looks, GM sacrificed interior quality and top usability to get the car to market under $20,000. Even the debut of the GXP line - with its 260-horsepower engine - only helped to slightly improve Pontiac's plight. Today, that turbocharged 2.0-liter engine is at the heart of the newest Solstice, a stunning coupe that promises as much as the convertible did - and just may deliver on more than looks alone.
Saleen S5S Concept
Saleen wants to be known as a niche specialty manufacturer, not just a Ford Mustang tuner. To help you forget that most of the vehicles you see with “Saleen” on them are modified Ford Mustangs, the company unveiled the S5S Raptor Concept at the New York auto show. With a 650-horsepower, ethanol-burning supercharged V-8 engine, unique styling rendered in composite panels over an aluminum structure, and more power than anything else in its projected price range. Yes, price range: If there’s enough interest, Saleen may go into limited production with the S5S Raptor.
2009 Jaguar XKR Portfolio
When you see the word “Portfolio” in a Jaguar’s name, expect three things. First, there won’t be very many of them. Second, there will be luxurious surroundings, such as leather-covered dash, sumptuous seating, high-end audio systems and maybe even a few extra performance goodies. The XKR Portfolio sports the same engine and transmission as other XKRs: A 4.2-liter supercharged V-8 coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control. The combination is good for 420 horsepower, and makes the XKR seriously quick. The only significant mechanical change is larger brakes, which Jaguar claims are the largest ever fitted to one of its production cars.
2009 Mercedes-Benz SL
The SL roadster is the Silver Arrow’s flagship sports car – tracing its lineage back to the 300SL “Gullwing” – and Mercedes-Benz showed off the facelifted 2009 model at the Geneva Auto Show earlier this year. New features accompany the new look, including Airscarf, which is designed to keep occupants warm when driving top-down on a chilly day. The lineup for 2009 includes the SL550 and 600 and the AMG SL65 and the newly introduced AMG SL63. The two-seat, retractable hardtops arrive in U.S. dealers this spring. Pricing is yet to be announced.
2009 Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4
The Gallardo is the “baby” Lamborghini, the budget model, if you will. However, even with the ground-thumping Murcielago pounding away in the background, and the ultra-expensive (and fast) Reventon now in the stable, the Gallardo still gets a lot of love from its manufacturer. Case in point: The Gallardo LP560-4. This awkward name is applied to a thoroughly updated car, with a new engine, revised styling and 44 fewer pounds to move around. Official information from Lamborghini is sparse, but what we do know is that the V-10 engine displaces 5.2-liters, has direct-injection, and puts out 552 horsepower. This is all driven through a four-wheel drive system.
BMW 1 Series tii Concept
Long time fans of the Roundel logo will recognize the tii suffix. For those who aren't, it graced the rumps of the 2002 sedan in the 70s, and indicated that serious performance was afoot. BMW has made no secret that it wants the 1 Series to be viewed as a car in the same vein as the 2002 – a light, agile, quick two-door sedan. That’s the goal with the 1 Series tii concept, which appeared at the 2008 Chicago Auto Show. The emphasis here is on weight reduction and aerodynamics, along with a white/carbon/blue tri-color design to set it apart.
YES! 3.2 Roadster
The YES! 3.2 Roadster is high-performance sports car from the German company Funke & Will. The 3.2 part of the name comes from the displacement of the V-6 engine. The all-caps exclamatory part is supposed to create EXCITEMENT! At least that’s our take on it. SO THERE! OK, we’re calm again. Seriously, the 3.2 is the latest generation of the car, and the first bound for U.S. shores. There’s also a 3.2 Turbo version, which ups the horsepower to 355 from the 255 in the regular flavor. All that output rides in a car that weighs about 2,000 pounds. No wonder they're so excited.
2009 Audi R8 V12 TDI Concept
If Audi’s not careful, it could become the poster company for conspicuous consumption, automaker style. First they bring out the R8, with its 4.8-liter V-8, then the next thing you know there’s talk of a 5.0-liter…and now, straight from the Detroit Auto Show, there’s bluster about a V-12 turbodiesel. Really. At some point you have to stop, even if you can keep going. Only problem is that this particular concept is quite a bit more than a good idea, and delivers all the power of a rocket ship with plus-20 mpg.
2009 Audi TTS
Move over, Boxster. After ten years -- much of it spent as a performance runner-up -- the Audi TT gets an S of its very own. The TTS, which debuted at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show, brings real performance credentials to Audi's compact sports car, to the tune of 272 horsepower and 258 lb. ft. of torque. Pricing is expected to settle in at around 60 grand.
Cadillac CTS Coupe Concept
Cadillac is red hot. Whodathunkit? Yet General Motors insists on turning up the heat further. First was the CTS-V (check it out on the next page), a 550-horsepower version of its hot new mid-size sedan. Then the wraps were removed from the CTS Coupe Concept. Although it’s supposedly just a concept, prototypes have been seen in testing around Michigan and elsewhere, and leaked GM documents show a commitment to build it at the company’s Lansing, Mich. assembly plant. We assume it will have the same engines available as the sedan, and we’re hoping that a V version is in the works, too. That oughta show them pesky Germans a thing or two.
2009 Cadillac CTS-V
If there ever were doubts that Cadillac was shooting for the top, this should erase them. The numbers here are simple: 550 horsepower, 550 lb.-ft. of torque, and a six-speed manual transmission. Were these numbers for a special edition Corvette, we’d be happy enough. But when they’re specs for the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V – a freakin’ 550-horsepower Cadillac! – well, we start to wonder if it’s finally time to dust off that old “Standard of the World” moniker.
2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
Once in a while, a car comes along that, even before the first one is sold, is automatically a classic. Coincidentally, a lot of these cars happen to have been Corvettes: the 1958 roadster; the 1963 split rear window coupe; the 1967 L88; the 1969 ZL1...the list goes on and on. Well, add another, as the official wraps have just been removed from the 2009 Corvette ZR1. Touted as the most powerful and fastest Corvette ever – indeed, the fastest production car ever produced by GM – the ZR1 is bringing a 638-horsepower nuke to the supercar gunfight.
Mazda Furai Concept
If Mazda were ever to build a super car, this would be it. Based on the factory-backed American Le Mans Series race car, the Furai is built with carbon composites and uses a three-rotor engine that produces 450 horsepower and runs on ethanol fuel (E100) developed by BP. The name means “sound of the wind,” which we’re guessing is what spectators would hear as the car went by.
Mazda Taiki Concept
Since its debut at the Tokyo Motor Show, one of our editors has had the Mazda Taiki Concept in regular rotation on his computer’s desktop. The car’s swooping lines and otherworldly stance captured the Tokyo crowd’s imagination, a feat it also accomplished at its unveiling in Detroit.
Remember the Mitsubishi Eclipse? No, not the oversized, overstuffed two-door Galant boulevard cruiser that it’s turned into in recent years. We mean the original all-wheel drive turbocharged coupe that combined a low price with high performance in a way buyers hadn’t seen in decades. Apparently, Mitsubishi remembers it too, because the Concept-RA reminds us a lot of that old Eclipse: All-wheel drive, a turbo engine, and killer looks.