Why Did the Sports Car Have to Lose Its Sport?

cayman 2015
Source: Porsche

Over the last 15 years, competition and advances in technology have led to amazing gains both in power and efficiency. Horsepower figures from V8s in the early 2000s are now being made by turbocharged four-cylinder engines and are available in family sedans. On the highest performing models, the difference is just as drastic. While 15 years ago, the BMW M5 made a crazy 400 horsepower, the current M5’s 560 horsepower doesn’t seem nearly as extreme. Compared to the 707 horsepower Dodge Charger Hellcat though, the BMW M5 even looks underpowered.

The Hellcat’s horsepower numbers would have been supercar-destroying even 10 years ago, but then Bugatti had to unveil the 1,000 horsepower Veyron. It’s still incredibly impressive that Dodge sells a sedan with over 700 horsepower, but to be the fastest car in the world, 700 horsepower won’t cut it anymore. 1,000 won’t cut it anymore either because Koenigsegg just unveiled the Regera, a 1,500 horsepower monster that’s in a completely different league than any other car when it comes to acceleration.

With all these ridiculously powerful cars on sale though, you have to ask yourself, “Where do people drive these things?” For a lot of supercars and hypercars, the obvious answer, of course, is at a private racetrack, but what about cars that are sold to be daily drivers? The Cadillac CTS-V is plenty capable of running on the track, but it’s also a car that’s intended to be driven to the grocery store, to the office, to the golf course, and to pick the kids up at school. It and many cars like it have limits far beyond what you can safely explore, and so much of the most exciting driving is done on highway on-ramps.

For people who aren’t going to regularly buy track time on weekends, having fun in a car is often easiest in a good old-fashioned sports car with comparatively little power. The horsepower wars have taken these cars that used to be able to be driven for sport and either chased them out of the market or turned them into monsters. It’s an absolute blast to drive a monster on a track, but day-to-day driving is quick to take the joy out of driving that track monster.

Personally, I think Porsche has done an amazing job of this. You won’t be winning drag races against Mustang GTs in a Boxster or Cayman, but you definitely have fun every time the road gets curvy. If any good has come from Porsche’s commitment to keeping the Cayman less powerful than the 911, it’s been that the engineers haven’t been able to rely on more power to make these cars fun or fast.

honda s2000
Source: Honda

What happened to all the other cars in the true sports car segment though? The likes of the BMW Z4 and the Mercedes SLK are still there, but by most accounts, they’re more grand tourers than sports cars. Remember when the Z4 M Roadster was on the market and only made 330 horsepower but was tuned to handle, as Car and Driver put it, like a cheetah? What about when the Nissan 350Z first dropped, and everybody was so excited about it?

Heck, what about cars like the Mazda RX-8 or the Honda S2000? The S2000 is an especially interesting case because Acura is set to begin selling the Ferrari-fighting NSX soon. In Mazda’s case, fuel economy pressures made it difficult to justify continuing to sell the RX-8 with its rotary engine, but I can’t imagine that a reborn Honda S2000 would prove too low volume to justify if you take the Acura NSX into consideration. Just shorten the NSX platform, drop the hybrid system, give it a new body, cheapen the interior, and call it a Honda S2000. Easy peasy (says the non-engineer).

Really though, it wasn’t very long ago that the sports car segment was hot. Even Chrysler tried to get in on the action with the Crossfire, but now the sportiest Chrysler you can buy is a full-size muscle sedan. Luckily, cars like the Scion FR-S and the upcoming, redesigned Mazda Miata have kept the handling game alive and well, but sometimes you want just a little extra power than what even the 200 horsepower FR-S has to offer.

The FR-S certainly isn’t a bad car with only 200 horsepower. It’s actually quite an amazing car. When I drove one, I loved it so much, it was one of the hardest cars to give back that I’ve ever driven. The whole time I was driving it though, all I could think was, “Just think how great this car would be with 75 or 100 extra horsepower.” Sadly, Toyota doesn’t think the FR-S needs more power, so you’ll have to give it that yourself. Mazda gave the Miata more power in its second generation with the Mazdaspeed Miata, but the third generation never got the Mazdaspeed treatment, which was a shame.

2016 Mazda MX-5
Source: Justin Lloyd-Miller/Autos Cheat Sheet

Maybe the fourth generation Miata will get a Mazdaspeed version. I’d like to think so. While I’m certain that the new Miata will be amazing to drive, surely a little extra power would make it even better. If Mazda does just that, it will largely be playing in a field by itself. Until you jump up to the Porsche Boxster, there really just aren’t many sports cars left to compete with a Mazdaspeed Miata. It’s a shame, too, because it’s nearly impossible to top the experience of driving a real sports car with some grunt under the hood.

This is obviously a fantasy, but I’d love to see them all come back, like a great big, rear-wheel-drive family reunion. Let’s have a Mazdaspeed Miata and an FR-S Turbo. Let’s have a new Honda S2000 and a new Nissan 350Z. Let’s have a truly sporty Z4 M and a truly sporty SLK AMG. Heck, let’s even bring back the Chrysler Crossfire. Why not let it play, too? Hot hatches and monster sedans are great, but please, let’s bring back the sports car.

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