For a while, car companies showed us their most fuel-efficient cars, without regard to our desire for speed, fun and the sexy machine. They appealed to the pain we were feeling when we gassed up our cars, but left out the feeling we get when we step into a car that was really built to just go. But those things have changed. The compromise between gas mileage and a great time is closing.
In a world of ever-increasing fuel economy, some sports cars have relinquished their appetite for fuel without forfeiting their crown of fun. It's not the heyday of muscle cars anymore -- those days are long past -- but that doesn't mean that fast, fun and powerful can't keep its own in a conversation about fuel efficiency. Think the two can't coexist? Mercedes, Ford, Porsche and Lotus are just a few car companies that disagree. And they can prove it.
Our list covers everything from the exotic to the more well-known sports cars, but all of them are surprisingly friendly with the gas pump -- at least compared to what you may expect. Hopefully these sports car guilty pleasures will leave you feeling a little less guilty when your Prius driving friends come over for dinner. You know what I'm talking about...
The "Z" has a long heritage and a devoted following that spans decades. Starting at a base price of about $33,000 the Nissan 370Z provides 332-horsepower from a 3.7-liter V-6. This engine allows the Z to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour (0 to 96.6 kilometers per hour) in just 5.2 seconds. Not bad for naturally aspirated engine. But what's maybe even more impressive about the 370Z is that it still manages to squeeze out mileage of 19 miles per gallon (8.1 kilometers per liter) in the city and 26 miles per gallon (11.1 kilometers per liter) on the highway. It's not the most fuel-efficient sports car, but it's nothing to sneeze at either.
The Infiniti G37 is the older, richer and slightly heavier cousin of the Nissan 370Z. They both share the same 3.7-liter engine, but the Infiniti drops two horses off the power and adds some weight. With a seven-speed automatic transmission the G37 can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour (0 to 96.6 kilometers per hour) in just 5.8 seconds -- and it still gets 19 miles per gallon in the city and 27 miles per gallon on the highway (8.1/11.5 kilometers per liter). Not too shabby if you're looking for a bit more luxury than the Z-car but still love Nissan's 3.7-liter V-6 engine.
Porsche's racing heritage and supreme level of luxury are well known. But what you may not know is some of their sports cars are easy on the gas as well. A 255-horsepower, 2.9-liter engine propels the Boxster from 0 to 60 miles per hour (0 to 96.6 kilometers per hour) in just 5.4 seconds. And with the seven-speed automatic transmission it gets 22 miles per gallon (9.4 kilometers per liter) city and 32 miles per gallon (13.6 kilometers per liter) highway. If you go with the sportier Boxster S model, the 0 to 60 miles per hour (0 to 96.6 kilometers per hour) time drops to 4.7 seconds and you'll still get 21 miles per gallon (8.9 kilometers per liter) in the city and 30 miles per gallon (12.8 kilometers per liter) on the highway.
Keeping with the Porsche theme, consider the Porsche Cayman. There are several engine options to choose from, but even the most powerful Cayman R model delivers 330-horsepower and moves from 0 to 60 miles per hour (0 to 96.6 kilometers per hour) in just 4.6 seconds. The fuel efficiency, you ask? It gives you 20 miles per gallon (8.5 kilometers per liter) in the city and 29 miles per gallon (12.3 kilometers per liter) on the highway. In fact, this 3.4-liter flat-six engine-powered sports car gets better gas mileage than a 5-door Mazda3 Speed. That's right.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK250 looks the luxury sports car part and plays it well, too. With just a 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, the SLK250 produces 201-horsepower and 229 ft-lb of torque -- which Mercedes-Benz likes to remind consumers is more than the previous V-6-equipped model. With the seven-speed automatic transmission, this $44,000 sports car churns out 23 miles per gallon (9.8 kilometers per liter) in the city and 31 (13.2 kilometers per liter) on the highway [source: Archer]. Oh, and it comes in a hardtop convertible model as well.
One of the stars in the fuel-efficient spotlight has got to be the Lotus Elise. Aside from being one the best looking sports cars on the road, it also boasts some amazing fuel efficiency numbers. With a relatively small 1.6-liter engine and just 134-horsepower, the Lotus Elise may not sound like much of a sports car. But because of its low weight and supreme aerodynamics, the Elise can sprint from 0 to 60 miles per hour (0 to 96.6 kilometers per hour) in just 6 seconds [source: Seitz]. With its six-speed manual transmission, you can expect to get 34 miles per gallon (14.5 kilometers per liter) in the city and (according to Lotus) a whopping 56 miles per gallon (23.8 kilometers per liter) on the highway.
Hyundai may not be the first car company you think of when discussing sports cars, but it does know a thing or two about the subject -- not to mention fuel economy. The Genesis Coupe puts out 348-horsepower from a 3.8-liter V-6 that moves from 0 to 60 miles per hour (0 to 96.6 kilometers per hour) in just 5.2 seconds. All that, and this powerhouse is still able to achieve 18 miles per gallon (7.7 kilometers per liter) in the city and 28 miles per gallon (11.9 kilometers per liter) on the highway. If you want to sacrifice a little speed, you can go with the 274-horsepower version and get 20 miles per gallon (8.5 kilometers per liter) in the city and 30 miles per gallon (12.8 kilometers per liter) on the highway. Either way, you really can't go wrong.
Audi's 2.0-liter, turbocharged, 4-cylinder TT has been turning heads for quite a while, and with its six-speed manual transmission this sports car sums up fun-on-wheels pretty nicely. With a 0 to 60-mile per hour (0 to 96.6-kilometer per hour) time of just 5.3 seconds the TT is no sluggard and its fuel efficiency isn't half bad either. The base 211-horsepower TT gets 23 miles per gallon (9.8 kilometers per liter) in the city and all the way up to 31 miles per gallon (13.2 kilometers per liter) on the highway.
Scion's FR-S takes a chapter straight out of the sports car textbook. With a futuristic and aggressive design, the FR-S has the look of a true sports car. A 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine brings 200-horsepower to the six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. It may not boast the high horsepower that other sports cars have, but when it comes to miles per gallon, the FR-S is doing just fine. The automatic transmission delivers 25 miles per gallon (10.6 kilometers per liter) in the city and 34 miles per gallon (14.5 kilometers per liter) on the highway, while the manual gets 22 miles per gallon city and 30 miles per gallon highway (9.4 and 12.8 kilometers per liter). Both sets of numbers are more than respectable for any car in the sports car category.
Last, but certainly not least, is the famed Ford Mustang. Take everything you knew about Mustang fuel-efficiency and throw it out the window. The Mustang squeezes 305-horsepower out its V-6 engine, which allows it to go from 0 to 60 in just 5.8 seconds. But if you think this is going to hurt the Mustang's fuel economy, think again. The city mileage comes in at 19 miles per gallon (8.1 kilometers per liter) and the highway mileage goes all the way up to 31 miles per gallon (13.2 kilometers per liter). With horsepower and gas mileage numbers like that, the Mustang shows you can have brains and brawn at the same time.
Does stop-start technology really help with fuel economy? HowStuffWorks talked to experts to find out.
Author's Note: 10 Surprisingly Fuel Efficient Sports Cars
As I researched this list, some of the fuel-efficient sports cars I found surprised even me. Car companies have thrown themselves fully into providing fuel-efficient models, while still delivering the speed and power that some consumers continue to crave. Could cars be even more fuel-efficient if we reduced their power or took off a few unnecessary options? Of course they could. But consumers want power, luxury and efficiency -- which drives auto designers and engineers to deliver the best of all worlds.
- Archer, Jeffrey. "Top 6 Sports Cars That Are Good on Gas." Autotrader.com. (Aug. 23, 2012) http://www.autotrader.com/research/article/car-news/170046/top-6-sports-cars-that-are-good-on-gas.jsp
- Gorzelany, Jim. "The Fastest and Most Fuel-Frugal Sports Cars." Forbes.com. May 15, 2012. (Aug. 23, 2012) http://www.forbes.com/sites/jimgorzelany/2012/05/15/the-fastest-and-most-fuel-frugal-sports-cars/
- Lotuscars.com. "Lotus Elise." (Aug. 22, 2012) http://www.lotuscars.com/gb/our-cars/current-range/elise-16
- Mazdausa.com. "Mazda3 Speed at a Glance." (Aug. 24, 2012) http://www.mazdausa.com/MusaWeb/displayPage.action?pageParameter=modelsSpecs&vehicleCode=MS3
- Mercedes-Benz. "SLK250 Performance and Handling." (Aug. 23, 2012) http://www.mbusa.com/mercedes/vehicles/build/class-SLK/model-SLK250#performance
- Scion.com. "FR-S Specifications." (Aug. 24, 2012) http://www.scion.com/cars/FR-S/specs/
- Seitz, Dan. "3 Cars That Are Surprisingly Green." Safeauto.com. (Aug. 22, 2012) http://www.safeauto.com/Blog/post/2012/04/11/3-Cars-That-Are-Surprisingly-Green.aspx