Five fearsome, frugal sports cars

We'd like to roll back the clock a little, presenting five of today's frugal sports cars that reflect the efficiency ethos of their long-ago progenitors:

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If you think about it, the first sports cars – the iconic post-World War II cars from MG, Triumph or Alfa Romeo, powered by small displacement four-cylinder engines – were relatively green for their time.

Then a certain chicken farmer named Carroll Shelby from Texas came along and stuffed a good ol’ American V8 into the pretty little British Ace roadster. And the rest, they say, is automotive history.

So while we’re currently awash in another era of mega-horsepower pavement burners like the new Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 and Nissan GT-R, we’d like to roll back the clock a little, presenting five of today’s frugal sports cars that reflect the efficiency ethos of their long-ago progenitors:

Audi TT Roadster 2.0T S Tronic

Although an Audi without all-wheel drive may seem like a day without traction, forget the more expensive V6 TT Roadster Quattro. Its two-seat front-wheel-drive 2.0 T stablemate is the greener decision, plus it’s a better all-around drive.

At $49,900, the TT Roadster 2.0 T will not only save you $10,000 off the sticker, its 2.0-litre turbo four is rated at 9.3 L/100 km city (30 m.p.g.), 6.9 hwy (41 m.p.g.), making it about 20 per cent more fuel-efficient than the six.

Yet the drop in performance is negligible. With 200 hp and 207 lb.-ft. of torque, it scoots from 0-to-100 km/h in a sports car-like 6.2 seconds.

Granted, the 2.0 T model has a mandatory automatic transmission, but it’s a good one – a dual-clutch setup that is masterfully matched to the engine, and can play in both automatic and manual modes.

Mazda MX-5 GX

One of the most affordable and greenest convertibles available, the $28,195 MX-5 is what a traditional sports car should be.

Of this frugal five, it has been the most loyal to its sports car grassroots.

With only 166 hp and 140 lb.-ft. from its naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four, the two-seat Mazda relies on its athletic suspension, telepathic steering and balanced rear-drive chassis to be quick and tossable on a back road.

Well-matched gear ratios in the base GX model’s slick-shifting five-speed manual means 0-to-100 km/h comes up in 8.0 seconds. Not bad.

Better is its frugal 9.5 L/100 km city (30 m.p.g.), 7.3 hwy (39 m.p.g.) rating.

And the practical side of the MX-5 doesn’t stop with its parsimonious ways at the pumps.

One can easily drop or raise its cloth top from the driver’s seat while waiting at a stoplight. And its relatively large 150-litre trunk shames the Pontiac/Saturn sports cars.

Mini Cooper Convertible

Don’t scoff at the inclusion of the $31,600 Mini Cooper Convertible in this sports car quintet.

Despite finding seatbelts for four, the Mini ragtop’s nearly 90-degree rear backrest makes it a two-seater for anyone without an address in Munchkinland.

Now take a Mini out for a drive – preferably on a twisty road.

For sheer Point-A-to-Point-B capabilities, the front-drive (which is still based on the 2002, not the updated and enlarged 2007 coupe) Cooper Convertible with its sophisticated chassis and various electronic driving aids has few peers.

Taking around 9.0 seconds to get to 100 km/h from rest, the Mini isn’t exactly street racer material.

But its naturally aspirated 1.6-litre four, which puts out 118 hp and 114 lb.-ft. when combined with a five-speed manual, will get you mini (pun intended) fuel consumption numbers: 9.5 L/100 km city (30 m.p.g.), 7.3 hwy (39 m.p.g.).

Pontiac Solstice/ Saturn Sky

General Motors’ double takes on Mazda’s MX-5 are near identical two-seat rear-wheel-drive sports cars.

At $31,665 the Sky is $4,845 more than the Solstice. That buys you all kinds of standard stuff that’s optional on the Pontiac, and a nicer interior.

Both use a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine and a standard five-speed manual transmission, putting out 177 hp and 166 lb.-ft. of torque.

Fuel economy is a reasonable, if not outstanding 11.1 L/100 km city (25 m.p.g.), 8.0 hwy (35 m.p.g.).

The GM twins’ suspension setups are pretty much identical to each other. Except the Sky delivers a smoother ride than the Solstice. Steering is fairly accurate, but on-centre feel is still not what it should be. On level pavement, both are calm and smooth.

Fun-to-drive with distinctive styling, both these cars lack trunk and cockpit storage space.

Porsche Boxster 2.7

At $58,100 for the five-speed manual version, not only is this the least expensive Boxster, it’s the least expensive new Porsche in Canada.

And its 2.7-litre flat six with 245 hp and 201 lb.-ft. only uses 10.1 L/100 km city (28 m.p.g.), 6.8 hwy (42 m.p.g.). So it’s also fairly frugal.

At less than six seconds from 0-to-100 km/h, the Porsche is easily the quickest green sports car here.

Its outstanding grip and progressive understeer can quickly blend to progressive oversteer by simply prodding its sensitive throttle.

The Porsche’s mid-chassis engine placement (there’s less centrifugal action tugging on your intentions when connecting corners on a back road) also makes it the easiest Porsche to get up to speed in.

PHOTOS: Five frugal sports cars

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