Performance cars include more affordable "hot hatches," old-school muscle cars and high-powered variations of luxury cars. These are the cars that you can more realistically drive every day. Luxury sports cars typically have only two seats, or backseats that are barely big enough to hold a briefcase. This also includes exotic entries from companies like Aston Martin and Ferrari.
These cars can range from just over $20,000 to somewhere around $1 million. Yet there are plenty of thrills to be had throughout that enormous span.
Don't get too hung up on counting cylinders. A turbocharged V6 can be quicker than a naturally aspirated V8 while burning less fuel. Pay more attention to horsepower figures as well as torque, which in layman's terms is essentially the force that thrusts you into your seat. One car could have less horsepower than another, but because it has more torque, it could end up being the more thrilling performance machine.
When searching for a performance car, it's important to keep an eye open for certain performance numbers that can be used to compare one vehicle to another. The most common of these is the sprint from zero to 60 mph. Generally, anything under 7 seconds would be considered quick, while anything under 5 seconds is enough to make you stand up, take notice and then later brag to your friends. Increasingly, the world's exotic cars deliver 0-60 times in the low 3s and will on occasion dip below that. Also keep an eye out for 60-0 braking numbers (cars with performance summer tires should take less than 110 feet) as well as the slalom and skid pad handling tests. For skid pad and slalom tests, the higher the numbers, the better.
Drivetrain indicates whether a car is front-, rear- or all-wheel drive. Front-wheel-drive performance cars are essentially limited to cheaper "hot hatch" models. They are easy to drive as a result of front-wheel drive, but usually don't have the same handling balance and are prone to both understeer ("pushing" in NASCAR parlance) and torque steer (the feeling of the steering wheel sawing about as the engine's power overwhelms the front wheels). Rear-wheel drive is the tried-and-true formula that many car enthusiasts prefer, as it encourages a greater degree of driver skill and involvement, while also allowing for the sort of tail-out, tire-smoking histrionics you see in car commercials. All-wheel drive is becoming increasingly popular because it allows for a greater amount of power to be sent to the wheels without a loss of traction. All-wheel drive's added grip also aids in handling. In general, you'll probably go quicker with AWD, but will have more fun with RWD.
In order to improve a car's handling, automakers will typically firm up the suspension and add bigger wheels shod in low-profile tires. This, with rare exception, will result in a less comfortable ride than the one you will experience in a non-performance car. Make sure to hit a few bumps around town and on the highway before signing up for several years in one of these thrill machines.
Operating costs are bound to be pricier with performance and sports cars. They are likely to have lower fuel economy and require premium gas. Tires are likely to be more expensive as well, and if you're driving the car to its high-speed capabilities, you'll be going through them more quickly than normal as well. Maintenance on high-performance cars, especially those from luxury manufacturers, is almost always pricier than for their more subdued counterparts. Parts are often lower in volume, higher in complexity and just plain more expensive. Make sure to consult Edmunds' True Cost to Own (TCO®) data.