SharpMan's Guide to Sports Sedans

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Friday 15th October 2010
In this article
  • Information on 12 sports and sporty sedans.
  • The pros, the cons and the technical statistics.
  • Cars that offer value for the money within any budget.
SharpMan's Guide to Sports Sedans

It’s a given that everyone who loves to drive loves driving fast. (Unless, of course, you have some kind of weird minivan fetish.) These days, there are any number of ways to get where you’re going and get there in a hurry.

Sure, you could pony up and purchase a sports car, but what about the golf clubs or the groceries or the baby seats? If sportiness and functionality are your twin desires, then you need a sports sedan. Luckily, pretty much every manufacturer out there is ready to satisfy those desires.

What follows in this article is a brief overview of 12 sedans from eight manufacturers ranging from the inexpensive to the downright costly. Of course, this is by no means an all-encompassing look at this market segment, but rather a SharpToys introduction to the wide range of cars that fall into the sports sedan category.

Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V

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Nissan may have been a bit late in joining the fast and furious game of tuner cars, but they’ve made a big splash with the SE-R, their small economy car turned fire-breather. First introduced in 2001, the SE-R has since undergone some significant improvements, not the least of which involves the Spec V version, which comes with a close-ratio, 6-speed manual transmission. With 175 horsepower under foot, the Spec V has the potential to turn any trip to the corner store into a tire-smoking adventure.

Where it scored: without question, a powerful little car; enormously fun-to-drive; lengthy list of standard features is tough to beat; options packages include high-powered CD audio system and even higher-powered brakes.

Where it missed: exterior styling not as exciting as other Nissan/Infiniti models; turning circle way too big for a small car; interior space at a premium; noisier and less refined than its competitors; 6,250 rpm redline not very sporty.

Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V $17,739

Vehicle type 4-door / 5-passenger sedan

Drivetrain Front-wheel drive

Engine 2.5-liter inline-4

Horsepower 175 hp

Fuel economy 22 city / 27 highway

Transmission 6-speed manual

Brakes (F/R) Vented disc / disc (ABS incl.)

Interior volume (pass./cargo) 88 cu. ft. / 12 cu. ft.

Pontiac Grand Prix GT

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Completely redesigned for 2004, the Pontiac Grand Prix is America’s largest car manufacturer’s answer to the dominance of foreign companies in this segment. More refined than previous iterations, this Grand Prix has gone head-to-head against the best of the best and emerged victorious on many fronts. With a powerful engine and responsive handling, will buyers now start thinking American when they think sports sedan?

Where it scored: a big improvement over the previous version; a highly capable handler; interior comfort is first rate; V6 engine pulls beautifully; throaty exhaust note.

Where it missed: ride is a bit soft compared to more sporty competitors; interior is a mish-mash of styles rolled into one; no manual transmission offered; exterior styling not sleek enough for this segment.

Pontiac Grand Prix GT $22, 635 - $24,535

Vehicle type 4-door / 5-passenger sedan

Drivetrain Front-wheel drive

Engine 3.8-liter V6

Horsepower 200 hp

Fuel economy 18 city / 28 highway

Transmission 4-speed auto

Brakes (F/R) Vented disc / disc (ABS optional)

Interior volume (pass./cargo) 98 cu. ft. / 16 cu. ft.

Toyota Camry

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Sure, the Toyota Camry may be America’s best-selling car since 1997, but it’s hardly a sports sedan, right? Well, when you plug the optional, 3.0-liter V6 into this nimble and refined chassis, you very much have a sedan capable of sporty performance and ticket-inducing speeds. Not only that, with the new Camry, you also get all the characteristics for which is renowned: quality, reliability and fuel efficiency.

Where it scored: interior for this price range is superb; better than its predecessor in nearly every way (no mean feat); ride is remarkably comfortable and quiet; may be the best sedan here in terms of bang for the buck.

Where it missed: exterior styling is better than the older model, but still not terribly exciting; steering a bit vague; V6 engine offers pep, but sacrifices a bit too much fuel efficiency compared to the 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder version.

Toyota Camry $22,745 - $25,890

Vehicle type
4-door / 5-passenger sedan

Drivetrain Front-wheel drive

Engine 3.0-liter V6 (optional engine)

Horsepower 192 hp

Fuel economy 20 city / 28 highway

Transmission 5-speed manual /4-speed auto

Brakes (F/R) Vented disc/disc or drum (ABS optional)

Interior volume (pass./cargo) 102 cu. ft. / 17 cu. ft.

Mazda 6

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In their continuing efforts to reposition themselves in the marketplace, last year Mazda introduced this entirely new mid-sized sedan to tremendous critical acclaim. The simply named 6 has been winning awards all over the place and for good reason: it’s a beautifully engineered car that’s beautiful to look at. The car’s optional V6 engine produces a respectable 220 horsepower, enough to keep pace with most other sport sedans in its class.

Where it scored: a nimble and sure-footed car; as per Mazda standards, the interior is exceptional; quiet and comfortable ride; it’s worth repeating: simply, a beautiful looking sedan.

Where it missed: the pedal placement isn’t optimal for sporty driving; the engine is powerful enough… for now; V6 is the only serious option for those who take their driving pleasure seriously.

Mazda6 $25,445

Vehicle type 4-door / 5-passenger sedan

Drivetrain Front-wheel drive

Engine 3.0-liter V6 (optional engine)

Horsepower / torque 220 hp

Fuel economy 20 city / 27 highway

Transmission 5-speed manual / 5-speed auto

Brakes (F/R) Vented disc / disc (ABS optional)

Interior volume (pass./cargo) 96 cu. ft. / 15 cu. ft.

Audi A4 1.8T

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Completely redesigned for the 2002 model year, the Audi A4 continues to offer genuine performance, great looks and a whole host of technical advances for the money. The A4 comes with two engine options (a 170-horsepower 4-cylinder turbo or a 220-horsepower V6) and in either a front- or all-wheel drive layout. In that Audi has become legendary for their all-wheel drive systems, it doesn’t make sense to choose front-wheel drive, but all versions of the A4 are precise handling machines.

Where it scored: very expensive looking interior; smooth engine and transmission; Quattro all-wheel drive handling is among the best in the world; a very desirable car for the status conscious and for the serious driver.

Where it missed: the Audi’s interior is still one of the most cramped in this segment; the new A4 may not be all that much better than the old A4; turbo engine underpowered compared to the competition.

Bonus points: The optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) — the technology that changed the way automatic transmissions would and should be built — is available with the front-wheel drive A4

Audi A4 1.8T $25,610

Vehicle type 4-door / 5-passenger sedan

Drivetrain Front-wheel drive (all-wheel drive optional)

Engine 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4

Horsepower 170 hp

Fuel economy 22 city / 31 highway

Transmission 5-speed manual / 5-speed auto

Brakes (F/R) Vented disc / disc (ABS included)

Interior volume (pass./cargo) 90.1 cu. ft. / 13.4 cu. ft.

Acura TSX

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Introduced to fill the void created by the dismissal of the Acura Integra sedan, the Acura TSX is part of a new wave of cars that are generating great interest in Honda’s prestige brand. The TSX is a sleek sedan that handles like a dream, goes like a train (0-to-60 in about 7.5 seconds) and screams quality throughout.

Where it scored: exterior styling is classic understated sportiness and a huge step forward for Honda; interior features high-quality plastic and aluminum touches; 7100-rpm redline guaranteed to get the blood pumping; fuel economy is stellar; long list of standard features includes 360-watt CD system.

Where it missed: 4-cylinder engine runs out of breath compared to (more expensive) V6 competitors; interior is on the tight side; SportShift version definitely not as fun as 6-speed manual version.

Acura TSX $26,490

Vehicle type 4-door / 5-passenger sedan

Drivetrain Front-wheel drive

Engine 2.4-liter inline-4

Horsepower 200 hp

Fuel economy 27 city / 42 highway

Transmission 6-speed manual / 5-speed SportShift auto

Brakes (F/R) Vented disc / disc (ABS included)

Interior volume (pass./cargo) 91 cu. ft. / 13 cu. ft.

Nissan Maxima 3.5SE

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Nissan’s Altima sedan, Murano SUV and 350Z sports car were all multiple award winners last year. This year, they have the futuristic Infiniti FX45 and the powerful Maxima sedan vying for top honors in their respective categories. Nissan is clearly a manufacturer on a roll. In keeping with their recent trend of dynamic designs, the 2004 Maxima is vastly more interesting to look at than previous models and is sure to interest buyers who are looking for something different.

Where it scored: exterior styling is bold and eye-catching; engine produces torque throughout the rev range; interior is both comfortable and stylish; long list of standard features includes 240-watt, 8-speaker sound system.

Where it missed: Skyview™ glass roofs look great, but disappoint because they don’t open; new version is (possibly) slower then ’03 model; excessive torque steer, especially in the wet.

Nissan Maxima 3.5SE $26,950

Vehicle type 4-door / 5-passenger sedan

Drivetrain Front-wheel drive

Engine 3.5-liter V6

Horsepower 265 hp

Fuel economy 20 city / 26 highway

Transmission 6-speed manual / 4-speed auto

Brakes (F/R) Vented disc / disc (ABS included)

Interior volume (pass./cargo) 103 cu. ft. / 15 cu. ft.

Cadillac CTS

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Without a doubt, Cadillac has turned itself around and it did so on the coattails of two vehicles: the ultra-slick Escalade SUV and the daring CTS sedan. Designed to take on the very best from Germany and Japan, the CTS is unlike any Cadillac every built: it’s a thoroughbred sports sedan from tip to tail. With its striking design and track-inspired handling, the CTS is the real deal.

Where it scored: the first Cadillac since WWII to feature a manual transmission; handling and driver dynamics expertly engineered; from some angles, the exterior styling is absolutely brilliant.

Where it missed: instrument panel and some interior design choices more suited to a luxury car than a sports sedan; traction control system unpredictable in wet conditions; from some angles, the exterior styling is absolutely baffling.

Bonus points: The new-for-‘04 CTS-V offers a 5.7-liter V8 and 400 horsepower for an additional $20K or so.

Cadillac CTS $31,190

Vehicle type 4-door / 5-passenger sedan

Drivetrain Rear-wheel drive

Engine 3.2-liter V6

Horsepower 220 hp

Fuel economy 18 city / 25 highway

Transmission 5-speed manual / 5-speed auto

Brakes (F/R) Vented disc / vented disc (ABS included)

Interior volume (pass./cargo) 97 cu. ft. / 13 cu. ft.

Subaru WRX STi

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The most track-ready of all our sedans in this article, the Subaru is an absolute thrill to drive, offering a Porsche Turbo level of performance for a fraction of the cost. Designed with input from the company’s World Rally Team, the STi takes a very good little sedan in the WRX and gives it a major boost courtesy of an all-new, 2.5-liter turbo engine. Other improvements over the original include a close-ratio, 6-speed manual transmission, Brembo® brakes and an adjustable all-wheel drive system.

Where it scored: the engine just keeps on pulling; the 6-speed is a major improvement over previous efforts; the rally-inspired seats offer tremendous support; traction on all surfaces and in all conditions is unbeatable; no automatic transmission offered.

Where it missed: with its large hood scoop and rear wing, the image is too "racer-boy" for many people; the Driver Control Centre Differential (DCCD) is a cool feature, but is unnecessary even on track days; fairly harsh ride; virtually impossible to drive at the speed limit.

Subaru WRX STi $32,500

Vehicle type 4-door / 5-passenger sedan

Drivetrain All-wheel drive

Engine 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-4

Horsepower 300 hp

Fuel economy 18 city / 24 highway

Transmission 6-speed manual

Brakes (F/R) Vented disc / disc (ABS included)

Interior volume (pass./cargo) 87.6 cu. ft. / 11 cu. ft.

BMW 330xi

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When it comes to sport sedans, one manufacturer has become firmly established as the benchmark against which all others are compared. Last given a major redesign in 1999, BMW’s much lauded collection of small sports sedans, the 3-series, has since been given new, more powerful engines and minor improvements inside and out. The M3 may be the most desirable of all the 3s, but the 330xi offers plenty of speed and enormous handling capabilities courtesy of its all-wheel drive system at a fraction of the price.

Where it scored: great engine is plenty quick enough for most drivers; all-wheel drive system keeps traction at optimum levels; manufacturing quality evident throughout; still the standard bearer.

Where it missed: driving position not quite right for this driver (steering wheel too close compared to pedals); interior space on the small side; notchy manual transmission not one of its strengths.

BMW 330xi $37,045

Vehicle type 4-door / 5-passenger sedan

Drivetrain All-wheel drive

Engine 3.0-liter inline-6

Horsepower 225 hp

Fuel economy 17 city / 25 highway

Transmission 5-speed manual / 4-speed auto

Brakes (F/R) Vented disc / disc (ABS included)

Interior volume (pass./cargo) 89 cu. ft. / 11 cu. ft.

BMW 745i

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Formerly the "weak link" in the BMW line-up, the 7-series was completely redesigned for 2002 and designed to give rivals Audi and Mercedes-Benz fits. Was it mission accomplished? The BMW 745i is certainly the most technologically advanced car ever introduced, but in terms of performance, it may not have raised the bar enough. Still, this is a 4500-pound sedan that handles like something half its size: it’s quick, responsive and impressive on nearly every front.

Where it scored: technical goodies such as the 6-speed automatic transmission abound; the small gear shift and push-button starter are downright cool; the iDrive on-board computer control system is unique and intuitive; driver dynamics are superb; the styling is bold and unapologetic.

Where it missed: the iDrive controls over 700 functions, probably too many for the average driver; the shift buttons on and behind the steering wheel not as intuitive as some other systems.

Bonus points: For the truly wealthy, the 760iL comes with a longer, limo-style wheelbase and a V12 engine that produces some 450 horsepower.

BMW 745i $69,195

Vehicle type 4-door / 5-passenger sedan

Drivetrain Rear-wheel drive

Engine 4.4-liter V8

Horsepower 325 hp

Fuel economy 18 city / 26 highway

Transmission 6-speed auto

Brakes (F/R) Vented disc / vented disc (ABS included)

Interior volume (pass./cargo) 105 cu. ft. / 18 cu. ft.

Lexus LS430

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A sedan that leans more towards the luxury-sedan than the sport-sedan image, the Lexus LS430 nevertheless has what it takes to make any road trip an exhilarating one. With a V8 engine that cranks out 290 horsepower (good enough for 0-to-60 mph times in the 6.7-second range) and the optional Euro-tuned suspension, the biggest of the "Lexi" handles like a much smaller and much lighter car. Inside, the LS430 is whisper quiet and comes equipped with all kinds of amenities, most notably the Mark Levinson sound system.

Where it scored: passenger compartment a great place for a long road trip; impeccable handling qualities; interior is beautifully appointed; stirring performance from the engine; tremendous fuel economy for a big sedan.

Where it missed: the price is pretty steep, even for a luxury sedan; image may not be youthful enough; the exterior styling is decidedly dull.

Lexus LS430 $70,085

Vehicle type 4-door / 5-passenger sedan

Drivetrain Rear-wheel drive

Engine 4.3-liter V8

Horsepower 290 hp

Fuel economy 18 city / 25 highway

Transmission 5-speed auto

Brakes (F/R) Vented disc / vented disc (ABS included)

Interior volume (pass./cargo) 106 cu. ft. / 18 cu. ft.

This article last updated on Monday 18th October 2010
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