Hot Sports Cars for 2005 and 2006

Pontiac's Solstice roadster is sure to be one of the highlights of the 2006 model year. Introduced in concept form at the 2004 North American International Auto Show, the Solstice will be equipped with a 177-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a five-speed-manual transmission. The two-passenger Solstice has rear-wheel drive.

At the 2004 Paris Motor Show, Ferrari unveiled a new F430 model with a 4.3-liter V-8 that produces 490 hp. A replacement for the 575M Maranello could appear as early as 2006, according to Automotive News.

Aston Martin will introduce a new two-passenger Vantage model for 2006. Audi is expected to launch a sports car called the Le Mans in 2005, and Porsche will complete its redesign of the remaining 911 models by 2006.

Will there be a production version of the Chrysler ME Four-Twelve supercar? That's possible, but not before the 2006 model year. By then, a redesigned Mazda MX-5 Miata should emerge. Mitsubishi also is expected to rework its Eclipse.

Cars.com Top 10: Most Notable Sports Cars for 2005
All sports cars are listed in alphabetical order and are from the 2005 model year.
Vehicle NameClassList Price
Aston Martin DB9  Exotic$155,000 - $168,000
Chevrolet Corvette  High-Performance$43,710 - $51,445
Ferrari 612 Scaglietti  Exotic$247,850 - $259,855
Ford GT  Exotic$149,995
Ford Mustang  Sport Two-Door$19,215 - $30,745
Lotus Elise  Exotic$42,990
Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class  Sport Two-Door$46,250 - $60,500
Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren  Exotic$450,000
Mini Cooper S (convertible)  Sport Two-Door $24,900
Porsche 911 (Carrera)  High-Performance$69,300 - $79,100

Five brand-new sports cars debut in the 2005 model year. The list includes exotic models such as the Aston Martin DB9, Ferrari 612 Scaglietti and Lotus Elise, as well as high-performance supercars like Mercedes-Benz's SLR McLaren and the Ford GT.

Two existing models come in new body styles for 2005. Chrysler launched a convertible roadster version of its Crossfire coupe as an early 2005 model, and high-performance SRT-6 editions in both body styles are offered. Farther down the size scale, convertible versions of the Mini Cooper and supercharged Cooper S debut in the 2005 model year.

Several significant sports cars, including the Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Mustang, Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class, and Porsche's 911 and Boxster, have been redesigned extensively for 2005. Jaguar has given its XK8 and XKR a notable face-lift for 2005, while Mercedes-Benz has a new version of its C-Class Sports Coupe.

Later in the season, a new version of the Avanti is expected to emerge, and Spyker — a boutique automaker from Holland — plans to make its C8 roadster available in the United States for the first time.

Many of the winners are new or redesigned models, but the list also includes a new version of an existing model. Three key factors determine whether a 2005 sports car qualifies as notable:

  • Technical advances: In the sports-car field, technical advances usually apply to driving performance, whether in acceleration or handling talents. Features that provide entertainment or extra comfort also may be valuable, but they're typically secondary. To be considered notable, a sports car must have at least one or two significant technical advances.
  • Innovative features: Unless a new model has some features that help it stand above the sports-car crowd, it doesn't warrant inclusion in this list. Models that have been around for a while and haven't changed appreciably this year might qualify if a new feature is sufficiently significant.
  • Overall excellence: Enticing features are fine, but the vehicle has to be appealing in a general way as well. Helpful conveniences aren't worth much if a sports car fails to perform on the road.
The redesigned 2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible can have either a manual or power-operated soft-top.

The redesigned 2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible can have either a manual or power-operated soft-top.

Of the cars.com top 10 most notable sports cars for 2005, half qualify as exotics; that means they have limited production runs, are expensive, and have head-turning styling and an unusual design. They're the most likely sports cars to be equipped with advanced technology; for example, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren supercar uses carbon-fiber construction.

All of the notable sports cars but the Mini Cooper S Convertible have rear-wheel drive. Traditionally, sports cars have had front-mounted engines connected to a driveshaft, sending power to the rear wheels. Porsche is the foremost exception because the 911 has a rear-mounted engine and the Boxster and Carrera GT's engines are mid-mounted.

Aston Martin DB9: Like its DB7 predecessor and more costly V12 Vanquish companion, the new DB9 displays some of the most luscious lines of any sports car. Largely hand-built at a new state-of-the-art facility in Gaydon, England, and featuring an aluminum body and frame, the DB9 comes as a coupe and a Volante convertible. A 450-hp V-12 goes under the hood, and it drives a six-speed-manual gearbox or a button-controlled six-speed-automatic transmission.

Chevrolet Corvette: As the saying goes, it's all in the details. That axiom is certainly true of the sixth-generation Corvette, which has become an American legend over the past half-century. Offered as a coupe and a convertible, the 2005 Corvette features fixed xenon headlights rather than the previous pop-up units, but technical improvements are evident throughout the car. Shorter and a bit narrower than the prior Corvette, the new model gets a 400-hp V-8, which is the most powerful standard engine ever used in a Corvette.

Ferrari claims the V-12-powered 612 Scaglietti can accelerate from zero to 62 mph in 4.2 seconds.

Ferrari claims the V-12-powered 612 Scaglietti can accelerate from zero to 62 mph in 4.2 seconds.

Ferrari 612 Scaglietti: Simply put, every new Ferrari that goes on the market is notable, even if they're seldom seen on the road. That's even truer of this new four-passenger model, which takes the place of the extinct 456M GT/GTA. Bigger and lighter, the 612 was designed by Pininfarina and marks a half-century of Ferrari's presence in the U.S. market. Active damping, an electronic stability system and a 540-hp V-12 are installed. The 612 Scaglietti features aluminum construction.

Ford GT: Only a few seconds are needed behind the wheel of the Ford GT to realize that this car is sheer automotive excess. It's also a notable achievement for Ford. Few sports-car fans will ever drive one, much less own one, but it's pleasing to know that such a vehicle exists. Ford calls it the "American supercar reborn." Built on an aluminum space frame, the GT holds a supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 that cranks out 550 hp and 500 pounds-feet of torque. Getting past doors that are cut into the roof is something of a chore, but it's well worth the effort.

Ford Mustang: Like the Corvette, Ford's Mustang is an American icon. Ford engineers have put considerable effort into improving the Mustang as it enters its fifth decade, and their toil has paid off. New, more powerful engines, greater handling skills and enhanced confidence on the road are some of the benefits of the 2005 model, which initially comes only in hardtop coupe form. A 300-hp V-8 goes into the GT edition, but Mustangs are also available with V-6 power.

Among modern automobiles, the Lotus Elise is a featherweight, weighing in at just 1,975 pounds.

Among modern automobiles, the Lotus Elise is a featherweight, weighing in at just 1,975 pounds.

Lotus Elise: Whenever a vehicle is eagerly awaited by a marque's fans, you can be sure it will rank as notable when it finally arrives. Available in Europe since 1996, this Lotus roadster is finally reaching American shores. The Elise uses a Lotus-tuned engine that develops 190 hp at 7,800 rpm. A track-tuned suspension with adjustable ride height may be installed.

Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class: A major redesign for 2005 has given the smallest sports car in the Mercedes-Benz lineup a distinct appearance that resembles the company's new SLR McLaren supercar. The SLK is again equipped with a retractable hardtop, and a new 3.5-liter V-6 produces 268 hp. A more potent AMG edition is available.

Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren: Like the Ford GT, Mercedes-Benz's most potent sports car qualifies as extreme. Built with full carbon-fiber monocoque construction, the SLR carries a 617-hp supercharged V-8 and comes to a halt with the assistance of a pop-up air brake.

Mini Cooper S (convertible): Based strictly on its fun quotient, the new soft-top Mini scores high for its overall appeal and superior maneuverability. Though it's not a sports car in the traditional sense, the modestly priced Cooper S handles as well as many all-out roadsters and has space for two occupants in the backseat. Innovations include a sunroof in the fabric top and a special luggage-loading provision at the rear. The convertible costs about $4,500 more than a hardtop Cooper S. Roll hoops behind the rear seats and side-impact airbags are installed. The supercharged engine gets a 5-hp boost and is now rated at 168 hp.

Porsche's long-lived 911 is the only 2005 sports car with a rear-mounted engine.

Porsche's long-lived 911 is the only 2005 sports car with a rear-mounted engine.

Porsche 911 (Carrera): More safety and technical innovations are found on the 2005 versions of the Carrera and Carrera S, which now come with separate engines. The Carrera is powered by a 325-hp, 3.6-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder, while the Carrera S uses a 3.8-liter horizontally opposed six cylinder that makes 355 hp. The shape of the coupe hasn't changed significantly, however. As part of the makeover, the 911 coupes gain available Porsche Ceramic Composite brakes, a wider track and a slimmer waistline. A new Sport Chrono Package Plus option can record lap times. Porsche Active Suspension Management is standard on the Carrera S. Porsche also offers a 444-hp Turbo S coupe and convertible for 2005.

Several additional sports cars deserve to be mentioned as contenders for notable status, even if they haven't changed dramatically for the 2005 model year:

BMW 645Ci: Introduced midway through the 2004 model year, BMW's stylish 6 Series coupe and convertible are packed with technology, including the iDrive system that drivers typically love or loathe. Run-flat tires are standard, and active steering is available. Power comes from a 325-hp, 4.4-liter V-8.

Chrysler Crossfire Roadster: Introduced as an early 2005 model, this soft-top companion to the Crossfire coupe adds a new dimension to sporty motoring. Some people prefer the look of the fastback coupe, but others fall hard for the convertible. Both body styles are available with the original powertrain, but this year's new, more powerful SRT-6 editions add some additional zest.

The engine in the Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG delivers twice as much horsepower (604 hp) as the $89,900 SL500, but the car costs almost twice as much.

The engine in the Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG delivers twice as much horsepower (604 hp) as the $89,900 SL500, but the car costs almost twice as much.

Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG: Some might view the output of the SL65 AMG's engine as a bit over the top. It's powered by a twin-turbo V-12 that turns out a whopping 604 hp and 738 pounds-feet of torque. Each engine is signed by the craftsmen who built it.

Morgan Aero 8: Most people don't even know this car exists, but enthusiasts have been waiting patiently for the modernized rendition of the traditional Morgan roadster, which is finally reaching a handful of U.S. buyers. Available earlier in Europe, the Aero 8 brings a sleeker, more aerodynamic appearance to the familiar Morgan long-hood/short-deck profile. Under the hood is a BMW 4.4-liter V-8 that drives a Getrag six-speed-manual gearbox. Morgan uses an all-aluminum body for the Aero 8, which is hand-built in Malvern, England.

Porsche Boxster: Both the base Boxster and the Boxster S get more powerful engines halfway through the 2005 model year. When they go on sale in January, the roadsters will also feature major styling revisions and handling enhancements. The 280-hp, 3.2-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder in the Boxster S is the most powerful engine ever offered in a Boxster. Head airbags deploy upward from the side window rails.

Subaru Impreza WRX and Impreza WRX STi, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Dodge SRT-4: Each of these models is a high-performance offshoot of a compact sedan or wagon. All deliver a load of performance for a relatively modest price.

Several familiar models don't make the "notable" cut for one reason or another. The 2005 Mazda MX-5 Miata, for instance, is in need of a redesign despite its long-standing appeal.

Because full details are absent for several sports cars that are supposed to become available during the 2005 model year, we'll have to wait and see if any of them warrant a "notable" designation. Models that fall into this category include the Spyker C8 and a new Callaway model that will replace the C12.

Posted on 12/1/04