Small packages can occasionally contain big surprises on the sports car scene. Some of the most potent sports car packages out there can be found in the compact segment featuring nimble handling, sparkling steering response and impressive horsepower. Even better is their ability to fit into a small corner of your garage – or driveway – letting you enjoy what they have to offer when the weather is nice without having to justify the need to build an addition onto your house.
Let’s take a look at 10 compact sports cars that represent the brightest spots in this interesting automotive segment.
01. 2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata
The 2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata can be thought of as the quintessential compact sports car, an open-top roadster the trades on its low mass and refined chassis to offer some of the tautest handling at its price point. The affordable Mazda MX-5 Miata can also be loaded up with comfort features, including a retractable hardtop that improves the convertible’s sound insulation and also adds additional protection from cold, wet weather during the winter months.
The 2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata comes with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that puts out 167 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque. Five-speed and six-speed manual transmissions wring the most out of the convertible’s power plant, and while a six-speed automatic gearbox is available, installing this option knocks nine horses off of the Miata’s rating.
02. 2011 Lexus CT 200h
The 2011 Lexus CT 200h isn’t your typical compact sports car. Not only does the Lexus CT 200h hatchback offer a four-door design, but it also features a hybrid drivetrain. Regardless of these unusual attributes, the CT 200h is definitely much more fun to drive than most hybrid options thanks to the decision by Lexus to install a lowered suspension and give the vehicle’s power management system an available Sport mode designed to sharpen throttle and steering response.
The 2011 Lexus CT 200h’s luxury features are complemented by the fuel economy offered by its 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine, one which is teamed with two electric motors to provide 134 horsepower. Acceleration isn’t all that brisk, but the CT 200h’s 42-mpg combined EPA rating and better than average handling make it a luxury hybrid sports car worth considering.
03. 2011 Audi TT
The 2011 Audi TT offers sports car looks and performance under a luxury banner. The Audi TT’s egg-shaped coupe (or drop top roadster model) is definitely eye-catching, and Audi makes extra thrills available through options such as an adaptive suspension system and grippy sport seats.
The 2011 Audi TT is motivated by a turbocharged, four-cylinder engine that derives 211 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque from its 2.0-liters of displacement. Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system is included free of charge, giving it the ability to roar off the starting line with minimal wheel spin, and the vehicle’s standard transmission is a six-speed automated manual unit that offers lightning-quick gear changes.
04. 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is another sedan exception to the standard sports car formula. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution leans heavily on the brand’s history of motorsports and rally participation, and comes with a highly developed all-wheel drive system (Super All Wheel Control) that is capable of automatically adjusting the amount of torque sent to each wheel at any given time.
The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution’s 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine benefits from turbocharged boost in order to produce 291 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. The substantial forward thrust provided by this motor is managed by either a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automated manual that features steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
05. 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class compact roadster is notable for being one the German car company’s most tightly-focused automobiles. The Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class provides real sports car thrills without abandoning the sense of luxury that is so important to fans of the brand. It also comes with a retractable hardtop that transforms the convertible into a four-seasons coupe when the skies turn dark and gray.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class offers a pair of V-6 engines to potential buyers. The first is a 3.0-liter unit that is good for 228 horsepower and 221 b-ft of torque, while the second is a larger, 3.5-liter motor that ups the performance ante through the introduction of 300 horses and 265 lb-ft of torque. The former can be had with either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic transmission, while the 3.5-litre V-6 is auto-only.
2011 MINI Cooper John Cooper Works
The 2011 MINI Cooper John Cooper Works edition takes maximum advantage of the compact car’s small dimensions and lightweight design by grafting on a host of additional sports car equipment that transforms the coupe into a legitimate performance threat. The MINI Cooper John Cooper Works model includes larger brakes, a stiffer suspension system and larger 17-inch wheels when compared to the standard model.
The 2011 MINI Cooper John Cooper Works edition also comes with a turbocharged, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that grinds out 208 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque – figures which make the vehicle’s optional limited-slip front differential almost a necessity. John Cooper Works owners must row their own gears, as a six-speed manual transmission is the only gearbox provided with the package.
07. 2011 BMW Z4
Like many luxury roadsters, the 2011 BMW Z4 comes with a folding power hardtop that gives it coupe-like quiet and comfort when raised. The BMW Z4 offers much more interior room than many other compact sports cars, as well as a suspension system that has been tuned to offer a balance between responsive turn-in and a comfortable ride over rough pavement. The convertible can also be equipped with the M Sport package, which adds an attractive aero kit, an adaptive suspension system and larger 18-inch wheels.
The 2011 BMW Z4 starts out with a 3.0-liter, six-cylinder engine under the hood, one which develops 255 horsepower and 220 lb-ft of torque. A twin-turbo edition of this motor is also offered, with a concomitant power upgrade of 300 horses and 300 lb-ft of twist. If that’s still not enough grunt, then buyers can choose to order a special 335is edition of the turbo Z4 that offers up 335 horsepower and an overboosted 369 lb-ft of torque. Transmission options for the BMW roadster include a six-speed manual, a six-speed automatic and a seven-speed dual clutch automated manual.
08. 2011 Volvo C30
The 2011 Volvo C30 is perhaps the most dramatically-designed member of the Swedish automaker’s lineup. The Volvo C30 compact hatchback – especially when found in R-Design trim – makes no bones about standing out from the crowd, with a look that broadcast’s the sports car’s premium appeal. The R-Design model also comes with a more aggressively-tuned suspension system, faster steering and 18-inch wheels to help add some bite to the hatch’s bark.
All versions of the 2011 Volvo C30 come with a 2.5-liter, five-cylinder engine. Capable of producing 227 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, the C30 is a reasonably rapid entry onto the compact sports car scene. A six-speed manual transmission comes free of charge with the Volvo, while a five-speed automatic is listed as an option.
The 2011 Porsche Cayman does more than just put a solid roof on top of the popular Porsche Boxster’s roadster platform. The Porsche Cayman also satisfies the desire of many Porsche fans for a compact, pure sports car that is well-connected with the road on the way to work in the morning, and that can turn in hot lap after hot lap on the weekends. Of particular interest to high performance fans is the available Sport Chrono package, which includes a launch control feature for the Cayman’s transmission, as well as a lap timer and a wider range of control over the coupe’s electronic traction and stability management features.
The 2011 Porsche Cayman’s entry-level engine is a 265 horsepower, 2.9-liter six cylinder that also generates 221 lb-ft of torque. Next up is the 3.4-liter six-cylinder in the Cayman S, which is rated at 320 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, followed by the Cayman R’s high strung edition of that same motor, which has been poked and prodded to produce 330 horses. Porsche offers both a six-speed manual transmission and a seven-speed dual clutch automated manual transmission with the Cayman.
10. 2010 Lotus Exige
The 2010 Lotus Exige is aimed squarely at compact sports car lovers who want a focused track weapon that can also pull double duty on the street. While the Lotus Exige’s tight coupe cockpit might not be as easy to get in and out of as some of its competitors, there’s no denying that its tuned suspension system and ultra-rigid chassis make it an almost unbeatable performance car when the road starts to get twisty.
The base 2011 Lotus Exige makes use of a supercharged, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that cranks out 240 ponies and 170 lb-ft of torque. Moving up to the Lotus Exige S260 Sport bumps horsepower the 257 and introduces an additional four lb-ft of torque. Transmission selection is restricted to a six-speed manual for both models.