Europe is the continent on which the modern sports car arguably originated, with roots linking the hot coupes and roadsters plying the roads today with their German and British predecessors of fifty years ago. Heading back across the Atlantic reveals a European sports car tradition that is still very much alive, with a wide range of companies continuing their tradition of building exciting and stylish high performance automobiles.
Let's take a quick look at 10 of the best European sports cars and see what their unique personalities have to offer.
Best European Sports Cars - 01 - 2013 Porsche Boxster
All-new for the current model year, the 2013 Porsche Boxster has become a critical darling amongst those who admire its ability to present uncompromising roadster performance at a more affordable price point than its 911 cousin. The open-air Boxster's lighter, revised chassis allows it to grip the road with greater confidence, and two engine choices - a 2.7-liter, six-cylinder good for 265 horsepower and a 3.4-liter six-cylinder rated at 315 horses (in the Boxster S) - help to motivate the European sports car with considerable aplomb. A six-speed manual transmission is standard with the Porsche Boxster, but a seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automated manual is also available for those who want to execute gear changes faster than is humanly possible.
Best European Sports Cars - 02 - 2012 BMW Z4
The 2012 BMW Z4 is in some ways a competitor to the Boxster, but in another sense it appeals to a different set of sports car buyers. With a retractable hardtop as standard equipment, the BMW Z4 can be thought of as more of a year-round option, and its suspension system is not quite as focused on all-out performance. Instead, the Z4 is a comfortable sport roadster that can deliver spurts of outstanding driving when the situation warrants.
Power is also excellent from the BMW Z4's range of available engine options. Entry-level editions of the car are powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that generates 240 horsepower, while the sDrive35i model gains a 3.0-liter six-cylinder turbo that provides 300 horses. For even more thrills, the sDrive35is cranks up the boost on the 3.0-liter mill to offer up an additional 35 horses and 69 lb-ft of torque. Six-speed manual, seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual and eight-speed automatic transmissions are the order of the day for the BMW, depending on which version of the car is ordered.
Best European Sports Cars - 03 - 2012 Ferrari 458 Italia
The 2012 Ferrari 458 Italia is one of the latest heartthrobs to emerge from Maranello, a purpose-built exotic sports car that hammers home its high performance message by way of a high-revving, 562 horsepower 4.5-liter V-8 engine that is mounted to the rear of the driver. A seven-speed, dual-clutch automated manual transmission transmits that output to the back wheels, and the Ferrari 458 Italia's finely-tuned chassis adeptly steps exactly where the driver tells it to. 60-mph arrives from a standing start in a scant 3.4 seconds, which makes the Italia one of the quickest automobiles on the planet.
Best European Sports Cars - 04 - 2012 MINI Cooper John Cooper Works
At the other end of the price spectrum - at least in comparison with the Ferrari 458 Italia - is the 2012 MINI Cooper John Cooper Works. The MINI Cooper John Cooper Works edition of the subcompact hatchback provides buyers with the most aggressive version of the car's suspension and braking package, with Brembo stoppers up front and the availability of a limited-slip front differential (and stiffer springs and shocks) prominently featured. The MINI's engine comes in the form of a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder mill that generates 208 ponies by way of a turbocharger, and paired with its standard six-speed manual transmission this is more than enough to give the lightweight vehicle a spring in its step that sports car fans will appreciate.
Best European Sports Cars - 05 - 2012 Audi R8
The 2012 Audi R8 looks like an exotic European sports car, and thanks to some shared DNA with corporate sibling Lamborghini, it is able to deliver a high performance experience that matches its body work. The Audi R8 features a rear-mounted engine and standard quattro all-wheel drive, which gives it superb grip and a more forgiving personality at higher speeds. A 4.2-liter V-8 that produces 430 horsepower is the entry-level mill for the R8, but a 5.2-liter V-10 capable of churning out 525 horsepower and 391 lb-ft of torque can also be installed in the coupe. Each engine can be paired with the choice of either a six-speed manual or a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. Stepping up to the GT 5.2 trim introduces a 560 horsepower version of the V-10 engine that snags the auto unit as its only available gearbox.
Best European Sports Cars - 06 - 2012 Lamborghini Aventador
The 2012 Lamborghini Aventador is the kind of car that, given a pair of wings, would most likely catch flight while soaring down the highway at its top speed of well over 200 miles per hour. Designed with brutal performance in mind, the Lamborghini Aventador is not a vehicle to be taken lightly, and getting the most out of the machine requires driving skills beyond what mere mortals are typically gifted with. A 6.5-liter, twelve-cylinder engine sits to the rear of the Aventador's cockpit, and when the gas pedal is depressed 690 horsepower and 509 lb-ft of torque pour out of it via a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. All-wheel drive and standard launch control help the Lamborghini hit 60-mph in less than three seconds.
Best European Sports Cars - 07 - 2013 Jaguar F-Type
The 2013 Jaguar F-Type is a fresh entry into the European sports car derby from an automaker that hasn't played in the compact performance car segment in several decades. The Jaguar F-Type, which will be hitting the U.S. in the summer of 2013, is a small convertible that will feature the choice of either a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 (in 340 and 380 horsepower editions) or a 5.0-liter supercharged V-8 that generates a hefty 495 horsepower. An eight-speed automatic transmission is slated to debut with the car, but a manual transmission is rumored to be on the way as well. The supercharged V-8 version of the Jaguar F-Type will top out at just under 190-mph.
Best European Sports Cars - 08 - 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
Mercedes-Benz is a brand with a significant amount of engineering clout, and this is well-represented by the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG supercar. The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG coupe is the first vehicle to have been designed from the ground up by in-house hot rod tuners AMG, and its gull-wing doors are far from the most exciting characteristic that it has to offer. An all-aluminum chassis ensures a low curb weight, and a 6.2-liter V-8 engine - built by hand no less - delivers 563 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque. A seven-speed automated manual transmission is standard with the coupe, which can reach 60-mph in a very rapid 3.8 seconds.
Best European Sports Cars - 09 - 2012 Aston Martin Virage
The 2012 Aston Martin Virage provides a balance between the comfortable DB9 and the more aggressive DBS, allowing European sports car fans to appreciate a tighter package without having to make any of the harder-riding sacrifices demanded by Aston Martin's uncompromising models. The Aston Martin Virage is no slouch when it comes to handling, braking, and acceleration, as its carbon-ceramic brakes, adaptive suspension system, and 490 horsepower, twelve-cylinder engine can attest to. A six-speed automatic transmission - which features paddle shifters for manual control over gear changes - is standard with the Virage, and its top speed checks in at a lofty 186-mph.
Best European Sports Cars - 10 - 2012 Lamborghini Gallardo
The 2012 Lamborghini Gallardo offers a more accessible entry-point into the Italian brand's stable of high-strung sports cars. Available in a number of different models, including rear-wheel and all-wheel drive editions, the Lamborghini Gallardo provides stupendous acceleration from its base 550 horsepower, 5.2-liter V-10. Additional grunt is on tap from 560 and 570 horse versions of the same motor that is also available with the Gallardo, and transmission choices for the coupe include a traditional six-speed manual and a six-speed single-clutch automated manual unit. The Gallardo makes the trip to 60-mph in roughly 3.5 seconds.