In my profession as an automotive journalist, I have the pleasure of driving different vehicles on a weekly basis. It’s a way for me and our team of experts to stay current in the market by comparing vehicles head-to-head. It can be a daunting, dare I say exhausting task, but it makes for interesting work (though some would argue this isn’t really a job, but rather a dream reality). I can’t argue that.
Truth be told, it can be challenging to find a bad car in today’s marketplace. Automakers have improved quality to the point we experts struggle from time-to-time finding something negative to point out. But, there are vehicles that rise above and whether that is due to build quality, style, drivability or spec sheet stats, we can generally pick the winner from the runner ups.
On that note, here is my personal A-list of best sports cars for model year 2016. It is not all-inclusive, but hopefully provides a snap-shot of the marketplace and helps you decide which ones should also be on your short list.
2016 Lexus RC F
Strength can a beautiful thing, but Lexus takes beauty to a whole new level with the 2016 RC F. Sleek, muscular lines form the basis of this nearly $100,000 sports coupe, the visual appeal stopping onlookers with regular occurrence as I cruise the streets of downtown Toronto. Quad tailpipes hint at the performance that awaits and the accentuated exhaust note adds to the mystery.
Power comes in the form of a 5.0L 32-valve V8 engine matched to an 8-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode. Performance numbers indicate 467 horsepower and 388 lb-ft of torque. Designed as a rear-wheel drive coupe, 0-100 km/h takes 4.5 seconds. It doesn’t push you back in your seat as is the case with several of the cars on this list, but rather builds smoothly and rapidly, belying the hefty 1,795 kg base weight.
Technology is an art form at Lexus and the RC F is no exception. A full complement of steering aids including Active Torque Control and Sport Tuned Steering to name a few are standard. Options include the Performance package which adds a Torque Vectoring Differential, Carbon Fiber roof and rear spoiler, plus 19” Forged Aluminum wheels and more. Seating capacity is for four, but the two in the back better be small.
Base MSRP: $82,750.00
Freight & PDI: $2,045.00
Price as tested: $92,322.72
2016 Mazda MX-5
Most auto aficionados would say the everyday 2-seater sports car was never truly in peril of being shelved for bigger things such as another new supercar for the equally super rich. But for those of us with limited means to enjoy open-air driving, I am of the opinion the first Mazda MX-5 Miata introduced in 1989 may have singlehandedly saved the convertible 2-seater as an affordable option for all. Inspired by the 1950’s and 60’s Lotus Elan and Triumph Spitfire among others, today’s MX-5 is the fourth generation to wear the badge.
Raw power is not what motivates the Mazda MX-5 to such iconic levels of adoration. Rather, it is a satisfying blend of the 2.0L 4-cylinder engine highlighting 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque, plus a refined rear-wheel drive chassis that responds to your input with unflappable prowess.
Independent double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension combined with rack and pinion steering tuned to engine speed is unflappable. Toss it around on winding roads with near reckless abandon and it just keeps coming back for more. Bilstein shocks, 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS and EBD provide additional stability and control. Options include 17-inch BBS forged alloy wheels, Brembo front brakes with red calipers and Recaro seats.
Base MSRP: $35,300.00
Freight & PDE: $1,795.00
Price as tested: $41,495.00
2016 Ford Shelby 350GT
Power is never a force to be taken lightly. In the wrong hands, it can wreak havoc and undo the good it was most likely intended for. This applies to politics, life and in this case, a superior sports car. The 2016 Ford Shelby 350GT is power and driven with the appropriate level of skill, confidence and common sense, it is one of the most enjoyable coupes on the road today. And thankfully Ford has engineered their own measure of common sense, with added safety and technical smarts that make even an average driver look good.
Engine performance is rooted in a 5.2L flat crank V8 matched to a 6-speed manual transmission. It showcases 526 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque. Exhilarating is not a sufficient enough word to describe the way engine and pavement connect via the 3.73 TORSEN limited-slip rear axle. Similar to the aforementioned Lexus RC F, 0-100 km/h takes 4.5 seconds. But unlike the RC F, power delivery is kidney rattling and completely old school. Welcome to the new 60’s! Six piston front plus four piston rear Brembo brakes, Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires and Electronic Stability Control work magic to keep everything in line. And then there is that wonderfully sexy exhaust note.
Inside, Recaro seats grab in all the right places. Back seat passengers are optional, but they should be small in stature or know enough not to complain and just enjoy the ride. Our test vehicle came equipped with the optional Technology Package for a cool $9,400.00 price tag; I appreciate the heated and cooled seats, navigation, dual-zone A/C and more. The Shelby 350GT is definitely a nod to the past, but firmly rooted in the best of today’s technology and design.
Base MSRP: $62,599.00
Freight & PDI: $1,650.00
Price as tested: $74,349.00
2016 SRT Challenger 392
Orange! What could be better than a new Challenger 392 in “Go Mango” orange? If the Shelby 350GT pays homage to the past, the Challenger 392 is a full-on bear hug with a few spins thrown in for good measure. HEMI is a word any Dodge lover says with pride and this is no exception. Under the hood beats a 6.4L SRT HEMI V8 that delivers 485 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque. Sure, you can order a Hellcat and blow your neighbours away with 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque. But I can assure you, if every day driving is on your list of must-haves, the 392 is a better choice.
New age technology includes All-Speed Traction Control, Electronic Stability Control, Ready Alert Braking and Rain Brake Support, plus manual transmission Hill Start Assist. For those times when you want to keep some rubber on the rear tires, the Anti-spin differential rear axle is up for the challenge. Electric power steering makes light work of maneuvering this bad boy through tight spots which are certain to include shopping malls and taking the kids to practice at the arena. Be sure to allow room for people to walk around, it will draw a crowd.
Inside, leather seats are supportive and the back seat is the biggest of this bunch. So too the trunk as it is huge by comparison. The dash layout features an 8.4-inch Uconnect touch screen and large round white on black dials are easy on the eyes. A flat-bottom steering wheel is thick and comfortable, housing cruise control and access to the info screen. Hidden on the right side is FCA’s famous audio volume control. When it comes to having your cake and eating too, hot rodders and housewives with a passion for speed should be equally impressed by the 2016 SRT Challenger 392.
Base MSRP: $57,495.00
Freight & PDI: $1,795.00
Price as tested: $62,360.00