10 Most Economical Sports Cars For 2012: Introduction
While some might decry the phrase “economical sports car” as being an oxymoron, the truth of the matter is many sports cars get better fuel economy (when driven mildly) than some economy cars. In fact, there are a number of sports cars that routinely return in excess of 25 miles per gallon on the highway and are capable of returning 20 miles per gallon combined.
Combining a small displacement engine with a lightweight body is a perfect recipe for exceptional fuel economy. It also just so happens to be the perfect recipe for terrific handling. That one can have a fun to drive auto and simultaneously get good fuel economy is the automotive equivalent of having cake and eating it too.
Or, in this case, having a sports car and driving it too.
There are other engineering aspects that both serve to make a car more fun to drive and improve its fuel economy. Turbocharging for example, basically recycles the flow of gases that would otherwise escape out of the tailpipe and uses it to pressurize the intake charge, thus enabling a smaller engine to do more work. This has the effect of making a car accelerate more quickly, while using less fuel. Similarly, fuel injection systems can be optimized to make fuel burn more completely. Variable intake and exhaust valves also improve the efficiency of an engine. All of these devices, ostensibly created to improve performance, also just happen to save fuel.
10 Most Economical Sports Cars For 2012: Audi TT
The base Audi TT model is rated at 23 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway, which ranks it quite highly on our list of the Top Economical Sports Cars. It is also a highly distinctive looking car with an outstanding interior treatment, exceptional build quality and a very delightful personality. Power for the 2012 Audi TT comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 211 horsepower and 258 ft.-lbs. of torque. All-wheel drive is standard equipment. Routing the power from the engine to the wheels is a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission permitting operation like a traditional automatic and also allowing manual operation. The driver can take control of the transmission by way of either the shift lever on the center console or a pair of shift paddles on the steering wheel.
10 Most Economical Sports Cars For 2012: BMW 128i
More sport coupe, than sports car per se, the BMW 128i nevertheless offers the dynamics of a sports car with the added bonus of a spacious trunk and a back seat. Blessed with one of the few six-cylinder engines on our list of the Best Economical Sports Cars, the 128i offers extremely smooth operation, good acceleration, entertaining driving dynamics and the cachet of being a product of the Bavarian Motor Works. The 3.0-liter inline-6 engine in the 128i produces 230 horsepower and 200 ft.-lbs. of torque, while returning 18 mpg in the city, 27 on the highway and 21 combined. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, a six-speed automatic transmission is optional.
10 Most Economical Sports Cars For 2012: BMW Z4 sDrive28i
Surprised to learn you can get a genuine BMW sports car that returns 22 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on the highway? Hey, just call it the best of both worlds, smile smugly to yourself while retracting the roadster’s folding hardtop and relish the fact you’re piloting one of the Top 10 Economical Sports Cars. Now 34 miles per gallon is good for any kind of car, but for a car that will go from zero to 60 in 5.8 seconds it’s absolutely terrific. The 2012 BMW Z4 sDrive28i gets all that go-power from a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine, which produces 240 horsepower and 260 ft.-lbs. of torque. Being a BMW sports car, rear-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission are standard, however an eight-speed automatic is optional.
10 Most Economical Sports Cars For 2012: Honda CRZ
The only hybrid on our list of the 10 Best Economical Sports Cars, the Honda CRZ kind of lives in the grey area between sports car and sporty hatchback economy car. It has a rakish profile and seats two like a sports car. It’s the only hybrid offered with a manual transmission and it offers very entertaining handling besides. However, Honda doesn’t really call the CRZ a sports car, just as they didn’t call its fun to drive predecessor the Honda CRX a sports car. And frankly the little Honda isn’t particularly fast, although it does handle really well. But you show us a truly fun to drive two-seater with a manual transmission that is capable of returning 31mpg in the city and 37 on the highway and we’re going to call it an economical sports car.
10 Most Economical Sports Cars For 2012: Mazda MX-5 Miata
Unlike the Honda CRZ, nobody will ever question whether Mazda’s MX-5 Miata is a sports car. In fact, it’s the sports car that launched a revolution in small sports cars. Driving a Miata is like putting on a pair of your favorite running shoes and going out for a quick jaunt—it just fits. In addition to more driving pleasure than any one car ever has a right to deliver; the Mazda also serves up 22 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway. This folks, is what we call having our fun and enjoying it too. The 2012 Mazda Miata is powered by a free-winding 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine that produces 167 horsepower (158 with the automatic transmission) and 140 ft.-lbs. of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard with base model Miatas, while the upscale Touring and Grand Touring models come with a six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic transmission with shift paddles on the steering wheel is available as an option for all versions of the Mazda MX-5.
10 Most Economical Sports Cars For 2012: Mercedes-Benz SLK 250
Returning 23 miles per gallon in the city and 33 on the highway sounds like something you’d expect to hear about a small Asian economy car. And frankly you do, quite often. This time though, we’re talking Mercedes-Benz y’all. The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 250 graces our list of the Top 10 Economical Sports Cars, thanks to its turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 201 horsepower and 229 ft.-lbs. of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a seven-speed automatic is optional. Add to this a folding hardtop, which gives you a choice of coupe or convertible motoring, plus all the prestige that goes along with riding behind the three-pointed star, and you’ve got yourself something quite special indeed.
10 Most Economical Sports Cars For 2012: Mini Cooper Roadster
Of course you’d expect the MINI Cooper Roadster to be fuel efficient, and it is. At 27-mpg city and 35 on the highway, the MINI Cooper Roadster easily qualifies for our list of the best economical sports cars for 2012. Powering the 2012 MINI Cooper Roadster is a 121-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 114 ft.-lbs. of torque. A six-speed manual with hill-start assist is standard equipment; a six-speed automatic with shift paddles is the optional gearbox. The MINI Cooper Roadster is big fun to drive; sprightly—if not exactly pin your ears back hair on fire fast, and delightfully agile. Add to that the exquisite fit and finish of the interior, its exceptional comfort—even over long distances as we discovered while traversing two states earlier this summer in the MINI Takes The States Road Rally and you’ll find a highly versatile, stylish—yet frugal way to get from Albuquerque to Bakersfield.
10 Most Economical Sports Cars For 2012: Nissan 370Z
Yeah, compared to some of the other cars we’re touting on this list, 18 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway (with the manual transmission) sounds a bit on the thirsty side, but as cars in general go, this is pretty good mileage. Plus, keep in mind we’re talking about a 3.7-liter V6 that puts 332 horsepower and 270 ft.-lbs. of torque at your disposal. It also delivers a six-speed manual transmission capable of matching revs on downshifts by itself as standard equipment. A rear-drive sports car with those kind of specs is guaranteed to be more fun than a room full of four year olds on a sugar high. The 370Z goes like the proverbial bat out of hell, looks stunning (especially in black) and won’t eat your wallet alive every time you pull into a gas station. We think that absolutely qualifies it for our list of the Top 10 Economical Sports Cars.
10 Most Economical Sports Cars For 2012: Porsche Boxster/Cayman
How can a Porsche be on a list of top economical sports cars? Have we lost our minds? While we will readily admit to losing our hearts each time we drive one of the mid-engined Porsches, our minds are firmly on track when it comes to booking the numbers. At 20 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway (with the seven-speed dual-clutch sequential gearbox), from a 265-horsepower, 2.9-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder (AKA a flat-six) that produces 221 ft.-lbs. of torque, the Porsche Boxster and Cayman deliver huge fun with great fuel economy, easily earning their place on our list of best economical sports cars. And yes, if the Porsches were living, breathing people, we’d definitely try to marry one of them too (they really are that good).
10 Most Economical Sports Cars For 2012: Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ
The two newest entries to the sports car ranks are technically 2013 models. However, because they were launched in 2012, we’re showing them some love here. The Scion FR-S and the Subaru BRZ were co-developed by Toyota and Subaru to be lightweight, agile, and terrific fun to drive. The decision to fit the cars with Subaru’s 2.0-liter horizontally opposed "boxer" four-cylinder engine, which generates 200 horsepower and 151 ft.-lbs. of torque also set them up to achieve 25 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway—for the versions employing the six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and rev-matched downshifts. Mileage with the six-speed manual transmission is rated at 22-city and 30 on the highway. The Scion and Subaru, in addition to being terrific sports cars, also qualify for our list of the 10 Best Economical Sports Cars.