The Acura NSX and Ford GT may be the hottest new dream machines right now, but there are plenty of good sports cars that have never received their fair share of time in the spotlight. Maybe they don’t pack the most horsepower or look aggressive enough, but enthusiasts know how well they drive. Here are some of the most underrated sports cars in recent history.
BMW E39 540i
BMW‘s E39 is part of the brand’s long-lived 5 Series lineup. Produced between 1995 and 2003, this oft-forgotten model featured a nearly 300-hp, 4.4-liter V-8 and a lightweight aluminum suspension. When paired with the M Sport package, it was a great alternative to the higher-priced, less fuel-efficient M5 of the time.
Chevrolet Corvette C5 Z06
The fifth-generation Corvette Z06 didn’t carry as much under the hood as today’s 650-hp model, but it did feature major improvements when compared to its predecessor. Its 5.7-liter small-block V-8 engine packed 405 hp, up 55 ponies from the previous year, and it still managed to return decent fuel economy. Excellent cornering and a sonorous exhaust note sealed the deal.
Chrysler 300 SRT8
A sleeper sedan if there ever there was one, the Chrysler 300 SRT8 is much faster than it looks. Its 6.4-liter V-8 produced a total of 470 hp, and it’s capable of hitting 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. This performance is complemented by a comfortable, spacious, and luxurious cabin.
The Chevy SS looks like a Malibu but screams like a ‘Vette. And that is no surprise, considering the SS has a Corvette-derived 6.2-liter V-8 engine capable of delivering 415 horsepower under the hood. Despite its nearly 4,000-pound body, the SS manages to hit 60 mph in around 4.5 seconds. A new six-speed manual transmission should increase its legitimacy as a top sports car in its segment.
Dodge Challenger SXT
Everyone might want the 707-horsepower Challenger Hellcat, but when it comes down to numbers, most buyers will end up opting for the V-6 model. Even the base SXT model holds its own on the track thanks to the smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission, which is paired with the 3.6-liter V-6 engine good for 305 horsepower. Fuel economy hits 30 mpg on the highway, making it a practical choice for everyday drivers.
2005-2010 Ford Mustang
When examining the Mustang’s rich 50-year history, enthusiasts often overlook the start of the fifth generation. Ford took a bold risk on the 2005 Mustang, deviating almost completely from the previous generation with its modern shape and mostly reworked chassis. (It took one more redesign in 2015 to get independent rear suspension.) Along with a boost in performance, this Mustang also featured improved ergonomics and higher quality interior materials.
Hyundai Genesis Coupe
The Genesis Coupe may not offer a V-8 like the sedan variant, but it brings hearty V-6 acceleration and excellent handling. R-Spec and Ultimate versions of this model come with larger brakes and a track-tuned suspension.
Although not a bona fide sports car, the GS’s engaging ride could have fooled us for a second. Available with an F Sport package, the GS can hit 60 seconds in just 5.5 seconds thanks to its powerful 306-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 engine. The true sports car — the GS F (pictured above) — is on its way and will bring 467 horses when it arrives later this year.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
Although it doesn’t match the competition in terms of horsepower, the Miata stands out for its superior handling characteristics. It also has one of the best manual transmissions you can find anywhere. Interest in it has faded a bit as its design has grown long in the tooth. Expect even better performance for the 2016 model year, when the storied Miata receives a stiffer chassis, a revised suspension, and a lighter, fully redesigned body.
The 1967 Mazda Cosmo Sport officially introduced the world to the first production rotary engine, but it was the RX-7’s rotary that later made a big impression on the industry. The car’s sprightly acceleration, road-hugging drive experience, and excellent throttle response captured the hearts of enthusiasts. Rumors persist to this day that Mazda is looking for a way to bring back the RX-7 — along with its rotary engine.
This affordable sports car provides excellent steering and a balanced ride. Despite its long legacy dating back to 1970, it is often overlooked when compared to the Ford Mustang, Mitsubishi Eclipse, or even Toyota‘s own Supra.
Tesla’s biggest success story is the Model S sedan, but there is no doubt that the Roadster — the company’s first all-electric car — also played a large role in shaping the company. In standard guise, the Roadster packed just 248 horsepower but could hit 60 mph in under 4 seconds, Tesla claimed. Drivers could travel up to 227 miles without having to recharge, but this number will increase to 400 miles thanks to a new upgrade available on the car starting this year.
Porsche Panamera Turbo S
Many deride the Panamera for its odd looks, preferring the shapely 911. But the Panamera Turbo S brings drivers the ultimate mix of performance and comfort. Along with its smooth ride, this posh family hatch offers 570 horsepower from a 4.8-liter V-8 engine. But expect to pay north of $180,000.
Saturn Ion Redline
The ill-fated Saturn brand had its ups and downs, but it also had a solid sports car. The Ion Redline featured a 205-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that distinguished it significantly from the Ion’s standard 145-hp, 2.2-liter offering. That extra boost in horsepower was just enough to get a driver’s blood pumping.
Volkswagen Golf R
This inconspicuous hatchback is more than you might expect from the outside. The first hint of its capabilities comes from the loud roar of its engine. Thanks to its precise steering, plentiful acceleration, and grippy feel, it can take on flashier competitors such as the WRX STI despite its relatively meager 290 horsepower.