Under assault from SUVs, the marketplace appeal of sports cars has narrowed even as their capabilities have expanded. Here are 11 examples of today’s best, based on value for money, technical innovation, and above all, driving fun. All are thoroughbreds, designed from the start as pure sports cars. They range from very affordable to indulgences of the very affluent, but we stop short of super-exotics in the $200,000-plus range. By any measure, there’s enough here to sate even the most hard-core enthusiast. Arranged least expensive to most, base prices cited include the manufacturer’s destination fees, which average around $950.
1. 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Base price range: $25,735-$32,090
If your masculinity is threatened by the notion of a sports car with less than 300 horsepower and tires just a hand-span wide, well, your loss. The 2332-pound, 155-horse MX-5 distills performance motoring to its essence. It’s about balletic balance in turns and a bond with the road hissing by three feet beneath your shoulder. Zero-60-mph is a VW GTI-like 6 seconds, but speed is of course relative. What’s salient is how fast you feel you’re moving. In a Miata, shifting at 6800 rpm, wind rush and exhaust note rising from a hush to a howl, speed is more palpable than in quicker but less enrapturing machines. Redesigned for the first time since model-year 2006, the fourth-generation ‘16 MX-5 returns to Miata’s early-‘90s roots as a modern take on two-seat minimalism. It’s smaller outside but roomier inside than its predecessor and actually loses 12 horsepower. It also sheds 150 pounds and gains a stiffer structure and a more sophisticated suspension. The new body is perfect in proportion and inspired in shape. The interior is intimate but a masterpiece of sports-car function; all the latest connectivity is available. The sole engine remains a twin-cam 2.0-liter four mated to the sweetest six-speed manual you ever shifted (a six-speed automatic is $1,390 extra). Sport models have 16-inch tires, Club and leather-upholstered Grand Touring 17s. All have a fabric soft-top.