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Sport Sedans

Sport SedansSport Sedans

In life, sometimes you have to compromise. You may want the driving thrills that a sports car provides, but need more practicality. That’s where sport sedans come in.

A sport sedan is just what it sounds like: a sedan that’s been engineered to have great power and agile handling. While some sedans are built to comfortably and sedately move passengers, sports sedans are all about keeping the driver happy.

Affordable Sporty Sedans

While the best-known sports sedans on the market are upscale midsize sedans, you can get sporty performance by shopping the affordable sedan class. While you won’t get the same amount of engine power, you will get handling that’s zippy and perfect for twisty roads and will add a few thrills to your urban commute. Plus, the smaller the car, the better the fuel economy tends to be; so while these cars won’t throw you back into your seat, you’ll save at the pump.

The Ford Fiesta has a small engine, but European drivers have been falling in love with its sporty handling for years. Tuned to aggressively attack corners, the Fiesta is a good balance between budget and sport. The Mazda3 is another budget-friendly model with a sporty feel. It has a great manual transmission, and its handling is on par with more expensive sedans. The Subaru Impreza has standard all-wheel drive, which makes it grip the road during aggressive cornering. If the base Impreza doesn’t impress you, the sport-tuned WRX model should provide what you’re looking for. If you want a German driving experience, the Volkswagen Jetta gives you the precise steering and handling that Germans are known for. You can even get it with a diesel engine that gives it plenty of power right off the line.

If you need more passenger space and engine power than those small affordable sedans give you, go for a sporty affordable midsize car like the Mazda6. Like the Mazda3, the Mazda6 is a bona fide sports sedan with handling that can transform a dull commute into a roller coaster ride of fun. The Suzuki Kizashi is another fun-to-drive midsize car that sometimes gets compared to more expensive sporty sedans like the Audi A4.

Upscale Sports Sedans

When most people think sports sedan, these are the models they think of. Upscale sports sedans are dominated by German car makers, though lately some Japanese brands have started to put out sport sedans that can hang with the best of them. In addition to having nicer interiors than the affordable sporty sedans, upscale sports sedans tend to have six-cylinder engines turning out well over 200 horsepower.

The granddaddy -- and king -- of upscale sports sedans is the BMW 3-Series. The 3-Series has made Car and Driver’s 10Best list more times than any other car, with good reason.  You can choose between a normally aspirated or turbocharged six-cylinder engine.  There’s even a diesel option that pumps out gobs of torque. The 3-Series’s handling is the benchmark for the class, and its rear-wheel-drive drivetrain has the feel that driving purists live for, though you can opt for all-wheel drive.

The downside of the 3-Series is that it can be expensive relative to the competition. The Buick Regal was redesigned for 2011, giving it performance that’s close to what the 3-Series provides (which makes sense, since the Regal was developed in Germany). But, the Regal starts at nearly $7,000 less than the 3-Series. Slotting between the Regal and the 3-Series is the Infiniti G. The G is available with rear- or all-wheel drive and has a throaty six-cylinder under the hood. Like the Regal, the G comes close to the 3-Series’s performance, but what wins over a lot of buyers is the G’s interior. It’s a lot nicer than what the 3-Series offers. Finally, another domestic sedan, the Cadillac CTS, is an up-and-coming sports sedan. While Cadillacs used to be known for ponderous handling and a floaty ride, the CTS is nothing like that. It’s tuned for aggressive driving and has more passenger space than other upscale midsize sports sedans.  The CTS is a good option if you want something that’s thrilling to drive, but you also want to keep your passengers happy.

Performance Cars

While the base models of sporty sedans will satisfy most drivers, sometimes you need a little more.  That’s where performance cars come in. Like the Subaru Impreza WRX we mentioned above, almost all of the upscale midsize sport sedans have performance-tuned models. And the tuning transforms some upscale midsized sedans from ho-hum performers to virtual rockets.

The base BMW 3-Series is a great car, but the M3 takes the enthusiast-loved 3-Series to its logical conclusion with more power, more aggressive brakes and suspension tuning. The Audi A4 is a decent performer on its own, but the performance-tuned Audi S4 beefs up the engine and reengineers the A4 into a speed-hungry dynamo. Finally, the Cadillac CTS-V has an engine that makes 500 horsepower. It set a record for production cars on the famed Nuremburg test track. While the base CTS is a great driver’s car, the CTS-V takes it and distills it to its essence: insane power and the kind of handling most cars only dream about.

Sport Sedan Types

Attributes

Affordable Small

Four-cylinder engines,  good power-to-weight ratio,  zippy handling

Affordable Midsize

Turbocharged four-cylinder engines, some six cylinder engines, athletic handling, rear-wheel drive

Upscale midsize

Normally aspirated and turbocharged six-cylinder engines, benchmark handling, rear- and all-wheel drive

Performance Cars

Sport-tuned variations of regular sedans, high powered engines, sports-car-like handling