The times are changing, and one way to gauge how much they’ve changed in the auto world is to consider that term, “sports car.” Once upon a time, and not so long ago, the definition was rather narrow. A sports car was a two-seat, two-door coupe or convertible, a little lean on luxury with more attention given to handling and performance. Thirty or 40 years ago, there were just a few makes and models that fit the bill, such as Ferrari and Porsche at the high end, and MG and perhaps Alfa-Romeo in the “affordable” category. Today you can forget all that. The definition of “sports car” has expanded and inflated considerably, although certain purists hold out for the two-seat coupe and convertible definition. These restrictions are enforced in certain international racing events, but for the consumer auto market, terms like “sports” and “sporty” can reasonably be applied to a wide range of autos, including four-door sedans and even “crossover” vehicles.

Defining “sports” and “sporty”

The task of choosing a sports car (or “sporty” one), although made more difficult with the proliferation of powerful and good-handling cars, is simplified in practice by considering just a few main questions. Choosing the right sports car is a process that depends on what you want in the vehicle. You may think that ultimate cruising power and stability, the traits of a classic “gran turismo” or GT car, are the most important. Or you may want classic sports car handling for driving the Alpine-type mountain roads. Both ideals are acceptable within the expanded definition of “sports car” today. Even with this expanded definition, we can settle on certain traits that most auto aficionados would agree to. Sports cars should be at least reasonably fast off the line, although they are not dragsters, and able to maintain high speeds with stability. They should be “tossable” and handle well in the curves, with upgraded suspensions and brakes to handle the strains. Of course, looking cool or sexy is a plus, as well. On the other hand, luxurious comfort, although achieved by some makers, is not a requirement, and neither are the “techno-toys” like in-dash navigation systems and DVD players.

Buying considerations

If you are a single guy or gal, with no intentions of getting married or raising a family any time soon (or sooner than the car’s paid off), sticking with a no-frills two-seater is a cost-effective way to get into sports motoring. The new and used market can offer everything from Nissan 350Z’s and Audi TT’s to newer American models like the Pontiac Solstice and the UK’s “mini-Beemer,” the Mini Cooper. Many of these offer decent gas mileage, too. All is not lost if you’re a family guy, since only a classic car buff would tell you that the four-door Infiniti G35 is not a “sports car.” With over 300 hp, a taut suspension and a six-speed manual transmission, this car can blow plenty of purist cars off the road. Also in the “family-friendly” class of sports cars are several of the smaller Jaguar sedans, plenty of BMW and Mercedes models, and even some “American muscle” sports machines like the Dodge Charger or muscled-up Japanese crossovers like the Lexus RX series. For those who have no price limits, of course, choosing the right sports car can be frustrating these days, as there are so many fabulous choices. The Ferraris are always a rich man’s favorite, and world class, of course, but Aston-Martins, Porsches, Vipers and Corvettes, the Nissan Skyline, the million-dollar-plus Bugatti Veyron and a phalanx of Mercedes AMG models are available for those who can afford them. However, many people who could afford any car at all still stick with older XKEs, classic Alfas and small MGs, because they offer the true, fun, Sunday-drive kind of motoring experience that still says “sports car.” What’s nice about the auto market today is that drivers are free to decide for themselves exactly what “sports car” means.