October 2008
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Best sporty cars
Small vehicles that are big on fun

BMW 135i
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With splendid handling, a punchy engine, and an overall fun-to-drive quality, the BMW 135i (available to subscribers) outpaced all of its competition in the best sporty cars category to become our top-rated sporty car. Moreover, the 135i doesn’t cede much in fun and capability when compared with the pricier Porsche 911 and Chevrolet Corvette Z06, which are performance/luxury cars.

This demonstrates that as car buyers migrate to smaller or less expensive vehicles, those looking for driving fun don’t need to give up performance or handling prowess. Several of the cars in this group also deliver real sports-car thrills without costing you an arm and a leg in the showroom or at the gas pump.

Premium performance

For this best sporty cars test, we gathered nine small, sporty cars with a wide range of prices and driving characteristics. The top-rated cars, the BMW 135i, Subaru Impreza WRX STi, Volkswagen R32, and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (all available to subscribers), commonly called the Evo, deliver true sports-car acceleration, cornering ability, and braking. They range from $33,630 for the R32 to $38,078 for the Evo.

BMW began selling the 135i in the U.S. this year, but the 1 Series line has been sold elsewhere since 2004. In this best sporty cars test group, it had the quickest 0-to-60-mph acceleration time, at 5.2 seconds, the shortest braking distances on dry and wet surfaces, and the highest speed through our avoidance maneuver, which measures at-the-limit handling. In addition to this standout performance, the 135i’s high rating also reflects its decent overall fuel economy of 23 mpg. Its excellent front seats, quiet cabin, and comfortable ride make it easy to live with.

The WRX STi and Lancer Evolution are high-performance versions of the Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Lancer, respectively, and they reflect the companies’ World Rally Championship cars. The R32 is a further souped-up version of the Volkswagen GTI, which, in turn, is based on the Rabbit hatchback.

Affordable fun

Sporty cars going around the test track including the BMW 135i, Chevrolet Cobolt SS, Subaru Impreza WRX STi, and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
Photo by Tracey Kroll
This best sporty cars group includes four other cars, which are priced about $10,000 less. They might not have the performance capabilities of the higher-rated cars, but the best of them offer impressive performance for the price. We tested the Subaru Impreza WRX, Chevrolet Cobalt SS, Nissan Sentra SE-R, and Dodge Caliber SRT4 (all available to subscribers). Prices for those models ranged from $23,310 for the SE-R to $25,169 for the WRX.

Similar to the higher-priced models, these are sporty versions of small cars. We’ve published full road tests of each of the base vehicles in past issues of Consumer Reports. They’re also available to subscribers of ConsumerReports.org.

Our Auto Test Extra features the Volvo C30 (available to subscribers), which is less sporty than the other eight models tested for this issue but is stylish and capable.

The only vehicles we recommend in this month’s test grouping are the Subaru Impreza WRX and WRX STi, based on previous models’ reliability. The other tested vehicles are still too new for us to have reliability data on them.

Posted: September 2008 — Consumer Reports Magazine issue: October 2008