Summer is here and the weather is perfect for blasting down the sticky, sun-soaked pavement in a high performance sports car that delivers a healthy adrenaline rush with each blast on the loud pedal. Driving enthusiasts currently enjoy one of the strongest crops of sports cars ever offered on the American market with vehicles from around the world vying for the title of best handling, quickest and above all most fun performance car in the country.
Let’s take a look at 10 sports cars that are helping to redefine driver expectations of what makes for a thrilling, high-octane ride.
2011 Lotus Elise
The 2011 Lotus Elise is aimed directly at the hardcore sports car set. A tight cockpit, a focus on extremely lightweight materials in the building and design process and a suspension system that transmits every single pebble from the road through the chassis to the driver set the Lotus Elise apart from other cars in its class in terms of it being track-ready right out of the box.
The two-seat 2011 Lotus Elise is powered by a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that puts out 190 horses and 133 lb-ft of twist in entry-level trim. It is also possible to order a supercharged version of the same engine in the Elise SC, and the blower boosts the motor’s grunt to 220 horsepower and 155 lb-ft of torque. Both options are matched exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission, and the Elise SC is capable of hitting 60-mph in just 4.9 seconds.
2011 BMW Z4
The 2011 BMW Z4 adopts a more luxury-oriented approach to the sporty roadster concept. Available with a standard retractable hardtop, the BMW Z4 offers a perfect year-round daily driving option for those who require their sports car to pull daily commuting duty. When driven near the limit, however, the car rewards precise inputs from the throttle and steering with almost telepathic handling.
The 2011 BMW Z4 is offered with a pair of inline six-cylinder drivetrains. The first displaces 3.0-liters and generates 255 horsepower and 220 lb-ft of torque, while the second slaps a twin-turbocharger setup on essentially the same motor in order to squeeze out 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. The Z4 sDrive35is adds even more power (335 ponies and 332 lb-ft of torque) along with an overboost function that whips up 369 lb-ft of torque in short bursts. Transmission choices include either a traditional six-speed manual or a slick seven-speed dual-clutch automatic setup, and the sDrive35is can reach 60-mph from a standing start in a mere 4.7 seconds.
2011 Hyundai Genesis Coupe
The 2011 Hyundai Genesis Coupe proves that high performance doesn’t have to come with an equally high price tag. The Hyundai Genesis Coupe’s base sub-$25k MSRP makes it an appealing option for car lovers whose passion for driving is deeper than their pockets. In R-Spec and Track trim, the compact coupe also comes with go-fast gear such as a limited-slip rear differential, Brembo brakes, a stiffer suspension system and larger 19-inch wheels.
The 2011 Hyundai Genesis Coupe starts out with a turbocharged, 210 horsepower four-cylinder engine under the hood. Also capable of generating 223 lb-ft of torque, the turbo model comes with the choice of a six-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic. A larger, 3.8-liter V-6 engine option is also in the cards, and with 306 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque on tap it offers the most impressive acceleration of the two units, hitting 60 miles per hour in 5.9 seconds. A six-speed manual transmission remains standard, but a six-speed auto is also available.
2011 Nissan 370Z Coupe
The 2011 Nissan 370Z Coupe represents the evolution of Nissan’s Z sports car formula. The Nissan 370Z Coupe is a great all-around performer, but the NISMO model includes equipment such as 19-inch wheels, a limited-slip rear differential, aggressive exterior aero bits and better brakes. These items help to make it more suitable for track use. The Z Coupe can also be had with the innovative SynchroRev Match feature, which automatically blips the throttle when downshifting either of the vehicle’s transmission choices.
The 2011 Nissan 370Z Coupe is motivated by a 3.7-liter V-6 engine that churns out a healthy 332 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. In addition to a six-speed manual transmission, the vehicle also comes with an optional seven-speed automatic gearbox that offers steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. Ordering the NISMO model nets drivers an additional 18 horses and 6 lb-ft of torque, but limits transmission choice to the manual unit. The 370Z Coupe is one quick customer hustling to 60-mph in 5.1 seconds.
2011 Tesla Roadster
The 2011 Tesla Roadster is like no other sports car on this list thanks to its pure-electric drivetrain. The battery-powered Tesla Roadster is certainly pricier than many other sports car options, but the cachet of driving an electric vehicle that can hang with many high end performance vehicles through the corners and down the straights justifies the additional cost for many buyers. The Tesla’s Lotus-based good looks certainly don’t hurt either – the Roadster is the most macho EV to have ever been produced.
The 2011 Tesla Roadster’s electric drivetrain produces the equivalent of 288 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque (295 lb-ft in the Sport model). Unlike a gasoline-powered car, the Tesla delivers full torque the instant the accelerator is depressed, giving it a blazing 3.9-second 0-60-mph time (3.7 seconds in the Roadster Sport). Battery range is a hefty 245 miles between charges.
2011 Porsche Cayman
Some refer to the 2011 Porsche Cayman as the “baby 911,” but this compact sports coupe is very nearly the equal of its flagship brother. This is especially true when it comes time to negotiate a set of curves, as the low mass of the Porsche Cayman works perfectly with its well-tuned engine in order to offer effortless control and ample power.
The 2011 Porsche Cayman debuts with a 2.9-liter “flat” six-cylinder engine that grinds out 265 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque. For those who crave additional thrust, the Cayman S benefits from a larger, 3.4-liter six-cylinder engine that promises 320 ponies and 273 lb-ft of twist. The latter motor is good for zero to 60-mph sprints of 4.9 seconds, and if that doesn’t quite do it then the Cayman R’s 330 horsepower edition of the same 3.4-liter motor knocks off an additional 0.2 seconds from that acceleration figure. Transmission choices include a six-speed manual and a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual “PDK” gearbox.
2011 BMW M3 Coupe
The 2011 BMW M3 Coupe is the two-door iteration of the German company’s purest performance machine. Based on the popular BMW 3 Series coupe, the BMW M3 Coupe drips with luxury but still manages to come through with the kind of hair-raising grip and acceleration that drivers expect out of a top end sports car. The Coupe is also one of the most practical cars on this list thanks to its reasonably roomy rear seat.
The 2011 BMW M3 Coupe is blessed with a 4.0-liter V-8 engine that can soar up to 8,400 rpm while producing 414 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Like many of its German competitors, the M3 Coupe’s transmission choices are split between a six-speed manual and a more advanced seven-speed automated manual that provides instantaneous gear changes through the use of steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. The M3 Coupe can blast to 60 mph in a scant 4.6 seconds making it one of the quickest luxury two-doors on the planet.
2011 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
The 2011 Chevrolet Corvette is America’s sports car, and although it comes in several different flavors the one that offers the most impressive performance stats without creeping up past a supercar price point is the Z06. The Chevrolet Corvette Z06 bundles in several key upgrades compared to the standard Corvette, including a frame that has been reworked with lighter materials, a suspension system that is track-tuned right from the factory, larger brakes and a more aggressive body kit.
The 2011 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 also features an enormous, 7.0-liter V-8 as its only engine option. This unit is good for 505 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque, and its six-speed manual transmission sends all of that output to the rear wheels in order to help the coupe rip off zero to 60-mph times of 3.9 seconds. Sub-four second 0-60 times occupy a rarified spot in the automotive pantheon, and this phenomenal acceleration is part of what helps to make the Z06 a true world-beating sports car option.
2011 Mazda RX-8 R3
The 2011 Mazda RX-8 has been offering sports car fans an intriguing option for several years, thanks to the vehicle’s unique set of rear-hinged half-doors that make it easy to access the coupe’s back seat and its focus on maximum fun through the minimization of weight. The Mazda RX-8 R3 represents the most potent edition of the model’s formula, bringing with it Recaro seats, a rear spoiler and a stiffer suspension system when compared against the base RX-8.
The 2011 Mazda RX-8 R3 also bucks with tradition when it comes to its engine, as the vehicle makes use of a 1.3-liter rotary motor that provides 232 horsepower and 152 lb-ft of torque. The coupe flirts with a 9,000 rpm redline, daring drivers to wring the motor out just a few seconds longer before shifting to the next gear via its six-speed manual transmission. The RX-8’s 0-60 time might be slower than other vehicles on this list (checking it at seven seconds), but the overall package is one which is guaranteed to plaster a smile on the face of even the most jaded canyon carvers.
2011 Infiniti G37 Coupe IPL
The 2011 Infiniti G37 Coupe IPL builds on the same basic platform as the Nissan 370Z but offers a much more comfort (as well as accommodations for rear passengers) without giving up too much performance. The Infiniti G37 Coupe IPL is a new model, as the Infiniti Performance Line has only been introduced this year. The IPL edition of the coupe comes with big brakes, a limited-slip rear differential, seats that hug the body through the corners and exterior styling that differentiates it from other versions of the G Coupe.
The 2011 Infiniti G37 Coupe IPL also offers more horsepower than the standard G37. The vehicle’s 3.7-liter V-6 is massaged to generate 348 horses and 276 lb-ft of torque, and it can be shifted through either a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic gearbox. The Infiniti zips to 60 mph in just a tick over five-and-a-half seconds.