Faced with compiling a list of 2012’s Coolest Sports Cars, one must first contemplate the question perplexing kids in their early teens, (and many fully grown adults besides). Just what, exactly, is cool? One of (if not the) most subjective questions anyone can attempt to answer; the fact is cool is pretty much self-defining because cool means something different to different people.
After all, cool—like style—resides in the eye of the beholder.
With that said, when it comes to sports cars, we’re going to define cool as a car that goes its own path—but is universally accepted to possess exceptional capabilities although it may not necessarily be universally loved. While some people may like a given car on this list of coolest sports cars and some people may not—everyone who knows anything about cars will respect each sports car on the list.
In other words, we fully expect a significant polarization effect. When it comes to each individual sports car on our list of the coolest sports cars for 2012, whether you may love each of them, or you may hate each of them, the odds are strong you will have some sort of an emotional response to them.
And yes, many of you will be upset to find sports cars you think are very cool have been omitted from the list. For example, we know right off the bat many of you will question why the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Supersport—the world’s fastest production sports car—is not on the list of the coolest sports cars. The hot new Lamborghini Aventador, the company’s meanest rampaging bull, was left in the garage as well.
Well, just being the best at something doesn’t automatically make you cool.
It gives you notoriety—sure.
That’s something else altogether.
What follows is our list of the coolest sports cars for 2012.
Yes, Aston’s association with the mystique of James Bond film does add a certain cachet to the marque. However, Aston Martin also has a history of racing successes stretching back into to time before World War II. In fact in 1922—its first year of racing—Aston Martin’s cars broke 10 world records. Today’s Aston Martin DBS road car delivers deft blending of handcrafted exclusivity, hedonistically palatial luxury, exceptionally strong performance, and…well…just look at the thing. Few cars are as beautiful as the Aston Martin DBS. Fewer still strike all the chords the car does while still feeling relevant to the vast majority of the motoring public, which is what makes the Aston Martin DBS one of the coolest sports cars of 2012.
From our perspective, the mid-engine Audi exotic sports car makes the list of cool sports cars over its relatives from Lamborghini and Bugatti because it manages to be simultaneously exotic and understated. When you see an R8 on the street, it look special—absolutely, but it also looks, well, normal too. We like the fact the R8 is both extroverted and unobtrusive. In fact, driving the R8 under normal circumstances feels like driving any other Audi product. But when you let it all the way out, you get supercar levels of performance too. Similarly, when you drive it around town, people see it and appreciate it for what it is, but you won’t come off all hairy chested with gold chains dangling the way you would in the Lamborghini, or the Bugatti. In other words, the Audi has a quiet sophistication, and that’s always cool.
The only two-seat sports car from the company that touts itself as building the ultimate driving machine has a very strong cool factor. First of all, while everyone will agree the car has presence, some people think the Z4 ugly, others think it beautiful. Bottom line, there is no consensus on its appearance, although everyone will agree the BMW Z4 looks special (Bless its heart…) Along with the BMW’s broad range of performance capabilities, the folding-hardtop of the Z4 also offers its owner a coupe and a convertible experience in the same package. So, you get BMW cachet, strong performance, an abundance of presence and versatility, all of which land the 2012 BMW Z4 smoothly on our list of cool sports cars for 2012.
The Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 is the single most capable sports car ever produced by a volume American manufacturer—period. Which, this is super-cool in and of itself. Fold in the near universal appeal the Corvette is blessed with and you’ll get something altogether special in the Corvette ZR1. The car came about because former GM president Rick Wagoner, after seeing how capable the Corvette was at its standard price point, asked the Corvette team what they could do if the price point was $100,000. The result: 638 horsepower, 604 ft-lbs of torque, 3.4 seconds to 60, 205 mph top speed, and 14 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the hwy. To be able to get all of that for $111,000 absolutely makes for one of the coolest sports cars of all time.
While the mid-engine 458 Italia, the F12berlinetta and the 599 GTO may get all the love from rabid sports car fans, true arbiters of cool know the Ferrari California has all the cool points, along with enough of the legendary Ferrari performance capability and good looks to be the one Ferrari we chose for our list of the coolest sports cars for 2012. The Ferrari California can go open or closed thanks to its folding hardtop and it screams like a Ferrari should, both in terms of its appearance and what happens when you run its engine to redline. Further, while it’s the least costly Ferrari model, it still has the “Made In Maranello” vibe that is so highly coveted.
Finally freed from the shadow of Aston Martin, now that both marques are out of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, we’re starting to see the true levels of performance Jaguar’s engineers are capable of unleashing in their cars. The Jaguar XKR-S is the current ultimate iteration of the achingly beautiful Jaguar XK, one of the most well rounded sports cars ever conceived. In fact, all it was missing was power, because it wasn’t permitted to challenge Aston Martin’s more expensive sports cars when the two brands resided under the same corporate flag. Jaguar’s on its own now though, and the XKR-S makes 550 horsepower and 502 ft-lbs of torque. And the car is on this list of cool sports cars because it demonstrates what can happen when a brand like Jaguar is allowed to do its thing completely unencumbered.
We absolutely love it when a car comes along and shatters the preconceptions of what its brand should be about. To earn its place on our list of the coolest sports cars for 2012, the Lexus LFA did exactly that. Even when the Lexus PR machine was leaking the details of the car, few people believed the company would actually offer such a car for sale. It was thought to be a concept car, perhaps presaging the next version of the Lexus SC, which despite its two-seat convertible configuration was about as far from a sports car as it could get. However, the Lexus LFA, rather than being a dream, sprang to life and immediately claimed its place in the hierarchy of ultra-rare exotic sports cars.
Of course the Mercedes-Benz sports car based on the coolest sports car of all time would make the list of the coolest sports cars of 2012. The SLS AMG’s 300 SL Gullwing forebear has long held the motoring enthusiast community’s imagination in a vise grip. So when the SLS AMG appeared, looking like a 21st century version of that storied automobile, hearts set to fluttering, jaws set to dropping, and eyes set to bugging all over the world. And that was before they ever heard the 6.3-liter handcrafted V8 fire up. In addition to all of its cachet, the SLS AMG has one of the fiercest exhaust notes you’ll ever hear. And yes it has the acceleration, handling, braking and steering to match. It is, after all, a Mercedes-Benz.
Yeah, this is the spot the Miata would normally occupy on this list of the coolest sports cars. However, we submit the Miata, while certainly one of the most coveted sports cars, has outlived its cool factor. Meanwhile, MINI, a brand that is all about cool, has gone and plopped a two-seat roadster right in the Miata’s lunch box. Yeah, the MINI is front-drive, where the Mazda is rear drive, but the MINI is just as much fun to drive, has an exuberant countenance and, well, just flat screams; “Hey I’m fun, get your butt over here and check me out!” And, if that doesn’t make for one cool sports car, we’d like to know what does.
OK, now here’s proof a car doesn’t have to be good-looking to be overwhelmingly desirable. With its amalgam of divergent lines, a brick-like overall shape and that big-ass wing on its rump, the GT-R looks a lot like the mythical dinosaur from which its nickname was derived—Godzilla. However, if you’re really put off by the way the GT-R looks, we submit you should get in one, drive a few miles of challenging road, pull over to the shoulder, get out and look at the Nissan sports car again. We swear; its driving experience will leave you with the impression the 2012 Nissan GT-R is one of the most beautiful cars you ever saw in your life. And, thoroughly deserving of this spot on the list of the coolest sports cars for 2012.