Jim Kenzie's top 10 sports cars
Chief auto writer Jim Kenzie picks the top 10 cars that best reflect the pure joy of driving.
The founder of Porsche once said that the last car on Earth will be a sports car, because when we have figured out how to move people and goods more efficiently and cars are obsolete, we will still want to drive certain vehicles for the sheer pleasure of it. Sort of like horses today.
Here are the 10 cars I’d like to have in my garage if the day Dr. Ferndinand Porsche warned of ever comes.
These are not necessarily sports cars, but cars built for the pure joy of driving, in no particular order:
First-generation BMW M5 (1984 – 87)
Not that all M5s aren’t impressive, but this is the one I first used my line that “you can chase a Porsche down a winding road, drag-race a Corvette from a stoplight, or take three friends to the opera and it’s equally at home in all three disciplines.”
The 256-horsepower 3.6-litre twin-cam inline six-cylinder engine made this a very fast car. It sounded great, handled beautifully, rode well — and had all the mod cons.
They were effectively hand-assembled in BMW’s Motorsport division’s shops.
I can’t remember the price, but I do recall being surprised it was such a bargain, given its capabilities.
Might as well go for the very best Corvette ever. Or at least, the best yet.
The new ZR-1 model is an absolute corker in every regard: 638 horsepower from a supercharged 6.2-litre V8 engine, lightweight structure and body using aluminum and carbon fibre, and a six-speed manual transmission.
It’s even fairly comfortable, thanks to the MagnaRide suspension, wherein magnetic particles in the shock absorber fluid can be aligned instantly based on road inputs to stiffen or soften their damping force.
And when you turn this thing loose on a race track, the grip it can generate is stunning, thanks in no small part to the Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires.
A price of $125,000 is a lot for a Corvette, but you can’t beat it for anything less than twice that price, and hardly not even then.
Porsche Cayman S
Any car that bears this badge is pretty good. (Note that I said car, not truck.) But I would have to rate the relatively new Cayman S as the best pure driving car of the lot.
In fact, it may be the best all-round car you can buy at any price.
Not the fastest, although the 295-horsepower flat-six shoves the car from 0-to-100 km/h in a snick more than five seconds.
But run it down a twisty road, and you’re in love.
If you must have top-down capability, its sister the Boxster S is very nearly as good. And nobody has ever complained about chassis flex in a Boxster.
But a fixed roof is really the only difference between the Cayman and the Boxster, and the Cayman just feels that tiny bit better, a bit more solid, a bit more responsive.
That last word is the key to this car — everything you do as a driver, at the wheel, at the throttle, at the brake pedal, is instantly and faithfully executed by the car.
But if you make a mistake, unlike certain other Porsches, this car won’t try to kill you.
It makes every driver feel like they’re better than they are — and who doesn’t love to be flattered?
Creature comforts be damned, the Lotus Elise is pure driving excitement.
With a relatively tiny 1.8-litre Toyota engine enabled by its low weight — about three-quarters the weight of a Boxster — the Elise it is even almost environmentally friendly, too.
You better be relatively tiny and low in weight too, or you won’t fit inside this thing.
The interior is stark, although you do get a decent radio and air-conditioning, should you choose to leave the vestigial roof in place.
Telepathic steering and an unmatched one-ness with the road are the Elise’s hallmarks. You might not want to pile on hundreds of klicks a day in one, but they will be smile-filled klicks.
Bentley Continental GT
If making an entrance is important — and why wouldn’t it be? — this car is hard to top.
Drop dead gorgeous from any direction, inside and out.
Bentley is owned by Volkswagen, and the GT’s mechanical bits are mostly shared with the big VW Phaeton sedan. Huge, 6.0-litre twin-turbo 12-cylinder engine, full-time four-wheel drive.
And, sadly as with all VW products these days, really heavy.
But this is consumption as conspicuous as it gets.
And, relatively speaking, semi-affordable.
Mini Cooper S
Of course I’m thinking primarily of my poor dead Targa car, a 2004 John Cooper Works Edition Cooper S, modified for tarmac rallying.
Despite having just front-wheel drive and about 210 horsepower, this car ran with the fastest of them all at five Targa Newfoundland rallies until I end-o’ed it just two months ago.
Still the strongest emotional attachment I have ever had to a car.
But the new Turbo Mini is also pretty damned good.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
For fun in the sun at a friendly price, the Miata was near-perfect out of the box, 18 years ago. (Eighteen years! Wow…)
It was a dead-nuts copy of the mid-1960s Lotus Elan, except it didn’t leave puddles of oil standing in your driveway, or worse, leave you standing at the side of the road when one part or another grenaded.
Handling was a little tail-happy on the first-generation Miata; the uprated recent version is more civilized, but still huge fun.
Ferrari 430 Spyder
Of the exotics, this is still my favourite.
Better overall balance than the Lamborghini Gallardo, I think. Outstanding performance, the latest go-faster technology more-or-less direct from the Formula One race team, the best exhaust note ever, and undeniable heritage and brand appeal.
Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG
This car is about as subtle as a brick through a plate glass window. But my, oh my is it fun to drive.
The AMG-designed and built 6.2-litre V8 is ultra-fast, hair-trigger responsive, and sounds like the beast from hell when you nail the throttle.
You have a variety of computer-controlled driving modes to mess around with.
Yet if you just want to take the top down and waft along the highway, it won’t mind at all.
The car that started the hot hatch phenomenon back in the ’70s.
The current generation with Dual Shift Gearbox recaptures the beautiful balance of those earlier GTIs (there were some dud models bearing this nameplate in the intervening years).
Quick, light on its feet, beautifully finished interior — and loads of space, which makes this car practical as well.
Those are my picks.