Sports car enthusiasts probably keep an eye peeled for such year-end lists more so than buyers of sedans or more genteel coupes. That's because they are a breed of their own. They're perfectly happy to fork over large amounts of cash for vehicles that, generally speaking, offer a lot less interior space and sheet metal than sedans, CUVs and mid-sized coupes. But for these enthusiasts, it's what's under the hood that counts -- along with suspension tuning and steering responsiveness, of course.
These brave souls are the ones you'll see tooling along country roads, often with the convertible top down (even in 45-degree weather), at road-gobbling speeds, revving up and downshifting as they take hairpin turns -- and smiling all the while.
For these passionate sportsters, here are our choices, in no particular order, for the top sports cars. As with our previous picks, we took into account styling, value, performance, and the automaker's reputation for reliability, as well as some subjectivity and the whims of personal taste, just to make things interesting.
MSRP: $45,400 - $70,175
Any list of the best sports cars would have to include the Corvette -- a name that has been synonymous with high-performance driving for more than a half-century. The 'Vette has always delivered muscular, robust performance, and the current edition does not disappoint on that front. The 'Vette can be ordered up in three trim levels: a coupe, convertible and Z06. The coupe and convertible are powered by the LS3 6.2-liter V-8 engine that cranks out 430 hp. The real hair-haising stallion in the 'Vette stable, however, is the Z06, with its 505 hp LS7 7.0-liter V8 rumbling under the hood. A six-speed manual is standard.
MSRP: $95,300 - $187,200
The SL-Class could accurately be described as "the gentleman's sports car," in that it's a synergy of road-burning engine muscle and plush, high-line amenities. The SL-Class comprises four roadsters -- the SL550, SL55 AMG, SL600, and SL65 AMG. Depending on your power needs and how fat your wallet is, your choices range from the SL550 with its 382-hp 5.5-liter V8 to the SL65 AMG and its burly 604-hp 6.0-liter V12. The SL-Class is a two-seat roadster with a steel retractable hardtop.
MSRP: $20,585 - $26,760
The Miata was a sensation when it was introduced in 1989, and it's been a nimble and eye-catching performer ever since. Technically, the current edition is dubbed the Mazda MX-5, but most folks still know it as "the Miata." One significant difference is that the MX-5 is bigger -- so, thankfully, it provides more interior space than its tiny predecessor. It's still a two-seat roadster, though, and transmission options include a five-speed manual, a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic with Activematic, which approximates the results of manual shifting. The 2.0-liter inline four cylinder engine can be ordered with two different tuning levels -- one that delivers 166 hp and one (hitched to the automatic tranny) that puts out 163 hp.
The Cayman, a sport coupe based on the platform of its Boxster cousin, delivers a taste of the Porsche experience without forking over anywhere near the $73,500 - $136,500 for the rarified 911. It's a two-seater coupe that's powered by a 245 hp 2.7-liter six-cylinder engine with a five-speed manual gearbox. The higher priced Cayman S ($59,100) comes with a 295 hp 3.4-liter six-banger that's hitched to a standard six-speed manual. Both the base model and S offer the option of a Tiptronic S five-speed automatic transmission. Standard safety features on all models include antilock brakes and Porsche's Stability Management (PSM).
MSRP: $27,980 - $40,330
Descended from the original Datsun 240Z of yore, the Nissan 350Z carries on that popular vehicle's tradition of being a swift, good-times sportster that's easier on the wallet than many high-performance sports cars. The 350Z model comprises a full stable of svelte body styles, including five Coupes and three Roadsters. All get their power from the new 306-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, and you can choose between a six-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic with a manual mode.