There once was a time when small sports cars were the only sports cars, as larger models simply didn't have the suspensions or balance required to overcome their hefty mass and perform on a race track like a compact, nimble model. Technology has largely erased the performance penalties associated with a hefty curb weight, but small sports cars still hold a place near and dear to the hearts of driving enthusiasts. After all, 'adding lightness' has always been a tried, tested, and true way to develop a sensational automobile.
Let's take a quick look at 10 of the best small sports cars available for 2014.
Best Small Sports Cars 2014 - 01 - 2014 Porsche Cayman
The 2014 Porsche Cayman is as close as you can get to the original spirit of the Porsche 911 now that the latter has moved up in size to the GT class. The Porsche Cayman actually has a leg up on the classic 911 due to its mid-engine design, which makes for a far better balanced car when driven aggressively. It's quite difficult to get the Cayman out of shape as the vehicle's center of mass always wants to correct in a straight, which is a boon to novice and professional pilots alike. Buyers can choose between the Porsche's 2.7-liter, 275 horsepower base engine (which also produces 213 lb-ft of torque from its six cylinders) or the Cayman S' 3.4-liter six-cylinder mill that is good for 325 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission can be had with either model.
Best Small Sports Cars 2014- 02 - 2014 MINI Cooper Coupe John Cooper Works
The 2014 MINI Cooper Coupe John Cooper Works is a very long name for such a tiny car. The MINI Cooper Coupe John Cooper Works doesn’t even have a back seat, but most owners won't care, because this isn’t the kind of vehicle that's purchased for its practicality. Instead, the MINI is prized for its eye-catching styling as well as its nimble character: with such a small load to move around the Coupe's specially-tuned John Cooper Works turbocharged four-cylinder engine never feels like it's working too hard. 208 horses and 192 lb-ft of torque are on tap from its 1.6-liter engine, and while a six-speed manual transmission remains the sportier gearbox choice, there's a six-speed automatic available, too.
Best Small Sports Cars 2014 - 03 - 2014 BMW M235i
The 2014 BMW M235i is the next-generation version of the venerable 1 Series coupe, a compact two-door that delighted the faithful with its relatively lightweight design and well-connected dynamics. The BMW M235i stays strong under the hood, where it features a 320 horsepower, 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine. Also good for 330 lb-ft of torque, one can choose between either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic to row the gears. The M235i is far more than a big engine in a small car: it also comes with stickier rubber, variable steering, an adaptive suspension system, a slick body kit, a louder exhaust system, and bigger brakes compared to the entry-level BMW 2 Series.
Best Small Sports Cars 2014 - 04 - 2014 Ford Mustang GT
The 2014 Ford Mustang GT represents the end of an era for the affordable sports car, as the upcoming redesign will deliver an independent rear suspension in place of the current model's solid rear axle. That being said, the Ford Mustang GT is still a barrel of fun to drive in anger, solid rear or not, and that's in large part due to the efforts of its 5.0-liter V-8 engine. This unit churns out a remarkable 420 horses and 390 lb-ft of twist, which allows it to sprint to 60-mph in less than five seconds. Six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are available with the Mustang GT, and you can also opt for the GT Track package which installs a limited-slip differential, Brembo brakes, and additional engine cooling.
Best Small Sports Cars 2014 - 05 - 2014 Scion FR-S
The 2014 Scion FR-S hearkens back to the days when a small coupe dazzled drivers not due to its exceptional engine output but rather thanks to the care taken when tuning its chassis. The Scion FR-S is as pleasing to pilot as automobiles costing several times its modest MSRP, and while the 200 horsepower and 159 lb-ft of torque from its 2.0-liter engine won't win any dyno day contests, the motor's willingness to rev makes it a willing co-conspirator on a road course. Stick with the six-speed manual transmission for maximum fun (or select the six-speed automatic if you must), and enjoy the car's minimalist approach to performance.
Best Small Sports Cars 2014 - 06 - 2014 Ford Focus ST
The 2014 Ford Focus ST is a far more frenzied option than the Scion FR-S, and this high-strung compact hatchback is meant to appeal to a different, more power-hungry crowd. Tuned to provide 252 horsepower and a whopping (for a front-wheel drive car) 270 lb-ft of torque, the Ford Focus ST makes the most of its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder drivetrain. Torque steer is minimized by an active anti-torque-steer system that comes standard with the Focus ST, and there's also a torque vectoring system found up front that is designed to improve turn-in. A six-speed manual is the only gearbox offered with the Ford, but you can specify whether you want extra goodies like Recaro sports seats at ordering time.
Best Small Sports Cars 2014 - 07 - 2014 Nissan 370Z
The 2014 Nissan 370Z is the latest in a line of sports cars from Nissan that dates back to the days when it was known as Datsun and the 240Z ruled the performance coupe roost. If you are looking to head to the track, then you'll want to go for the Nissan 370Z NISMO, which comes with additional aerodynamic enhancements, automatic rev-matching when downshifting its six-speed manual transmission (also available with the Sport package), a limited-slip differential, better brakes, and more aggressive tuning for its suspension system. You'll also see a small bump in power over the base 370Z, which makes do with 332 horses and 270 lb-ft of torque from its 3.7-liter V-6 (the NISMO gets 350 horsepower and 276 lb-ft of torque). A six-speed automatic is available with any version of the Nissan except the NISMO trim.
Best Small Sports Cars 2014 - 08 - 2014 Hyundai Genesis Coupe
The 2014 Hyundai Genesis Coupe is intended to be a more affordable alternative to vehicles like the Nissan 370Z, starting off in the $25,000 range for its base model. The styling of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe is tailored towards the younger set, without the historical touchstone of the Z car to anchor it, but the vehicle's interior is in keeping with Hyundai's standard practice of over-delivering on design for its price point. In the engine compartment, it's largely the same story: entry-level editions of the Genesis Coupe are outfitted with a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that sends 274 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels, with the possibility of upgrading to a 3.8-liter V-6 that can be counted on to provide 348 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard with each, while a six-speed automatic is available as an option.
Best Small Sports Cars 2014 - 09 - 2015 Subaru WRX
The 2015 Subaru WRX has been completely redesigned for the current model year, and this compact sedan is now far more refined than ever before, especially when it comes to daily driving. Of course, performance fans won't be disappointed with how the new Subaru WRX drives under more track-oriented conditions, either, thanks to its fresh 2.0-liter turbocharged mill, standard all-wheel drive, and choice between six-speed manual and continuously-variable automatic transmissions. Power is very similar to the year before - checking in at 268 horses and 258 lb-ft of torque - but the extra forward gear and much stickier suspension tuning dramatically improve the automobile.
Best Small Sports Cars 2014 - 10 - 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata
The 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata is almost never left off of any list of the best small sports cars, as this compact roadster has enjoyed a staying power in the segment that few other vehicles can match. The Mazda MX-5 Miata's top-down driving experience is amongst the most pure one can sample on the modern landscape, but if you're more of a coupe fan then you can also select a power retractable hard top version of the car that includes a steel roof. The Miata's only available engine is a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder that produces 167 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque when matched with its (five or six-speed) manual transmission. Power drops a bit when the six-speed automatic gearbox is outfitted with the car, and while 167 ponies might not seem like a lot, the car's sub-3,000 lbs of curb weight make it more than enough to keep things interesting out on the road.