Hot Sports Cars for 2008 and 2009

Despite the greening of the automotive industry, carmakers haven't forgotten about sports car enthusiasts who crave power and performance. Audi has been busy with the launch of its new R8 mid-engine sports car, and the muscle car market is primed to heat up again with the return of a classic nameplate to the Dodge brand: Challenger. Below are 11 can't-miss sports cars for 2008 and 2009.

Hot Sports Cars for 2008 and 2009
All sports cars are listed in alphabetical order and are from the 2008 model year unless otherwise noted.
The R8 brings Audi into the exotic sports car segment with its mid-engine design and six-figure price tag. The R8 is powered by a normally aspirated 4.2-liter V-8 that makes 420 horsepower and 317 pounds-feet of torque. A traditional six-speed manual transmission and a six-speed sequential manual transmission are offered. Rear-biased all-wheel drive is standard. Audi says the R8, which weighs about 3,600 pounds, can go from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and tops out at 187 mph. Though road-going performance is the R8's primary mission, it also comes with its share of luxury amenities like heated, power-operated leather and Alcantara seats, automatic air conditioning and a six-CD stereo.
The S5 is a high-performance edition of the automaker's A5 coupe that gains a number of distinguishing features, including a 354-hp, 4.2-liter V-8, a performance suspension, unique 19-inch wheels and tires, and sport seats. The S5 can run from zero to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, according to Audi. That kind of performance puts it in direct competition with BMW's famed M3, which is also new for 2008. Audi's characteristic attention to detail in both the cabin's aesthetics and functionality is evident in the S5, which uses high-quality materials and has a usable backseat and a rather large trunk. A six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmission are offered.
$53,800 - $56,500
BMW's M lineup has been synonymous with great performance for years, and the heart of this family of cars is the M3. The sports car gets a significant redesign for 2008 that features a high-revving 4.0-liter V-8 that makes 414 hp. The engine drives the rear wheels through a six-speed manual transmission, and BMW says the coupe can hit 60 mph from a standstill in 4.7 seconds. In addition to the coupe, the M3 is available as a sedan and a convertible and features more muscular styling than the 3 Series it's based on. M cues include quad exhaust tips, thin-spoke wheels and front fender badges.

Cadillac is the only domestic automaker that's dared challenge the established luxury automakers — like BMW and Mercedes-Benz — in the sport sedan segment. It has redesigned its primary competitor, the CTS-V, for 2009, giving it more power, a more luxurious cabin and unique exterior styling. The sport sedan is heavier than before, but it features a new supercharged V-8 engine under its hood that makes 550 hp — that's 150 hp more than the previous CTS-V. Buyers have a choice of a manual or automatic transmission, both of which have six gears. The details we love about the regular CTS' interior, like real stitching on the dashboard, are also here. The wire-mesh grille serves as a giveaway that this is no ordinary CTS.

The ZR1 designation is significant in Corvette circles because it represents the ultimate in production-car Corvettes. Last seen in the 1995 model year, the name returns for 2009 on a Corvette that carries a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 that's good for 620 hp. That's right: 620 hp. That's quite a bit more power than the Corvette Z06 provides with its 505-hp V-8, and the changes don't stop with the engine. The ZR1 also has carbon fiber body panels, carbon-ceramic brake discs and modified bodywork.
Dodge draws heavily on its muscle-car roots with the new Challenger, which carries a lot of the design cues of its namesake from the 1970s. Under the hood of the Challenger SRT8 is the automaker's familiar 6.1-liter V-8 that makes 425 hp. Power is routed to the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission (sorry, folks, a manual transmission isn't currently offered). Dodge says its "performance target" for the Challenger SRT8 is a zero-to-60-mph time of a little more than 5 seconds. Inside, the Challenger features a thoroughly modern interior and is available with conveniences like navigation and the automaker's MyGIG audio system.
For pure visual appeal, the Gran Turismo ranks highly. Maserati's characteristic open grille is prominently featured, and bulging front and rear fenders wrap around 19-inch alloy wheels. Under the Gran Turismo's hood is a 4.2-liter V-8 that churns out 405 hp. The V-8 works with a six-speed automatic transmission, and Maserati says the car can go from zero to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds and reach a top speed of 171 mph. Cabin leather is offered in 10 colors.
The Lancer Evolution is about as close to a full-fledged sports car as you'll find living in the skin of a compact sedan. Redesigned for 2008, the Lancer Evolution retains the general shape of the regular Lancer but has a more aggressive appearance thanks to a unique front end. There are also significant differences between the two under the hood. Both cars use four-cylinder engines that displace 2.0 liters, but the turbocharged four-cylinder in the Evolution makes a robust 291 hp (standard Lancers make 143 or 152 hp). A five-speed manual and a new six-speed automated manual transmission are offered, and all-wheel drive is standard. The previous Evolution had a rather basic interior, but the new model features more modern styling.
$69,850 - $71,900
The new GT-R gives Nissan a new flagship sports car that features some impressive performance specs. The GT-R is powered by a twin-turbo 3.8-liter V-6 that spits out 480 hp. All-wheel drive is standard, and there's a six-speed automated manual transmission that features shift paddles. Nissan says the car's styling is based on functional considerations; the coupe has a low drag coefficient but makes significant downforce, according to the automaker.
Previously offered as a sedan, Subaru's high-powered Impreza WRX STI has been redesigned for 2008 and is now offered as a four-door hatchback. Subaru has made a number of styling changes to the hatchback, including a new front-end design, wider fenders and quad tailpipes. The STI's turbocharged, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder makes 305 hp and teams with a six-speed manual transmission. All-wheel drive is standard. A navigation system is optional.
Though it may look a lot like VW's more familiar performance hatchback, the GTI, the R32 has its own drivetrain that features a 3.2-liter V-6 that makes 250 hp and sends power to all four wheels via Volkswagen's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. VW's DSG six-speed automatic is the lone transmission choice. VW cites a zero-to-60-mph time of 6.5 seconds for the R32. Standard features include a six-CD audio system, automatic air conditioning and heated front sport seats. The U.S.'s allotment of R32s is limited to 5,000 copies, so you may have to search to find one.
Posted on 3/5/08