QOTD: What Characteristics Make for a True Sports Car?

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Back in August, Tim Cain reported on some rather strong statements made by McLaren. The company’s chief engineer proclaimed that McLaren stood alone among true sports car offerings — quite a stance to take, indeed. Don’t worry, the statement was not without very specific qualifiers.

Today we ask you to set your own qualifiers (or definition) around that term tossed around more than a football: sports car. What defines the breed for you?

The McLaren engineer in question above is Paul Burnham, and here’s his quote:

“At McLaren, we like to think we’ve got the only authentic sports car setup in the market.”

Mr. Burnham has four mandatory sports car pillars, to which only his employer adheres in the market.

  1. A carbon fiber tub
  2. Hydraulic steering
  3. A V8 under the bonnet
  4. Mid-engine layout

Now, barring the fact that carbon fiber is a relatively recent development in the car market, the other three tenets have been around for quite some time. But are they quite fair? Just off the top of my head, I can think of two cars I’d consider “sports cars” which don’t meet even three of those requirements.

Exhibit A: Toyota Supra

Certainly this is a sports car, right? But no carbon fiber is found in its body. There is no V8 available, and there was not a mid-engine Supra, ever. Mr. Burnham dismisses the Supra in his assertions.

Exhibit B: Porsche 911

This Porsche is also not a sports car. There’s no hydraulic steering (anymore). The flat-six is short some cylinders, and that engine hanging out over the back is just too far toward the rear to be considered mid-engine.

This list could go on for quite some time, reflecting all the cars which other people term as a sports car, but ultimately falling short of McLaren’s defined principles.

So, which cars are sports cars for you? Come up with a list of what defines them and what they can or can’t be. Cite some examples to support your claim, if you dare. I’ll be in the comments with some questions of my own on this topic.

[Images: McLaren, Toyota, Porsche]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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  • Flyf2d Flyf2d on Sep 07, 2017

    "If when you start it up, people don't jump back, it's not a race car" I think one or two seat, no roof and feels fast covers it for me. Doors? optional in my opinion. Lotus Seven series three I think is pretty hard to argue against as a sports car so therefore a Miata MX5 also counts, it's a seven without the "William Lucas Prince of Darkness" electrics

  • Arach Arach on Sep 08, 2017

    I think the designations are quite simple. A Sports car is simply a car that puts driving performance ahead of all other objectives. Any car, regardless of price, that puts driving performance ahead of all other objectives is a sports car. Porsche Cayenne? NOT A SPORTS CAR (Despite me owning one and loving it) Toyota Supra? IS A SPORTS CAR Porsche 911? IS A SPORTS CAR

    • Arach Arach on Sep 08, 2017

      I also always viewed "Sports Car" as the lowest tier of performance driving vehicles, encompassing all price ranges, while "Supercar" is the high end doesn't make sacrifices for price.

  • Kosmo I, for one, and maybe only one, would buy a 5.0 L, stickshift variant of the sedan/hatchback that is Ford's "Not A Mustang EV" tomorrow.I'd buy the sportwagon version yesterday.
  • Akear I am counting the days when Barra retires. She has been one long nightmare for GM. People don't realize the Malibu outsells all GM EVs combined.
  • Redapple2 you say; most car reviewers would place it behind the segment stalwarts from Honda and Toyota,........................... ME: Always so. Every single day since the Accord / Camry introduction.
  • Akear GM sells only 3000 Hummer EVs annually. It is probably the worst selling vehicle in GM history.
  • Amwhalbi I agree, Ajla. This is theory, not reality - hence my comment that Americans don't like hatchbacks. But one of my neighbors bought one of the last Regal hatchbacks that were available for sae, and it is a darn nice car. I still think the idea makes sense, even if history is proving me wrong. And my sister does have a Legacy, which rides a bit higher than my Sonata, and that also is an excellent driver. Even if the general public doesn't concur with me.