Allow us to extol the joy of rear-wheel-drive sports cars, which long have been the favorites of enthusiasts for sheer driving fun and their propensity for oversteer (the rear end stepping out). Here are three we've driven recently.
2013 Scion FR-S
We loved the old-school feel of the Scion FR-S we had earlier this year, but were a little disappointed with some of its interior features — even for a no-frills sports compact. The buttons for the audio controls were tiny and felt cheap, and the interface was ridiculously convoluted, especially when connecting our phones via Bluetooth. The Premium Audio with BeSpoke ($1,200 upgrade) in our latest tester made a world of difference: It has a 5.8-inch LCD touchscreen instead of a sliver of a digital readout, eight speakers, USB connectivity, automatic sound levelizer, 36-preset capability and Pandora Internet radio (through your smartphone). The BeSpoke iPhone app allows voice command, speech dictation, routing to destinations and social networking services. It's much more user-friendly and interactive than the archaic base audio system. Our tester also had the 6-speed automatic transmission paired with its 2.0-liter 4-cylinder Boxer engine. The verdict? It's not as fun as the 6-speed manual. The shifts were somewhat sluggish, and you lose the liveliness. Thank goodness the automatic comes with paddle shifters. That helps put some life back into your driving experience. The automatic also gets a more efficient estimated mpg of 25/34, compared with the stick's 22/30. If you do a lot of rush-hour driving, the automatic might be worth a look, if you don't mind sacrificing a bit of performance. $25,255 base start, $26,930 as tested.
2013 Nissan 370Z Roadster
It was love at first sight for Lyra when the Nissan 370Z Roadster arrived. The car had her favorite color, Midnight Blue, which is one of two new colors (also Magma Red). We loved the 19-inch wheels; the Y spokes have a unique twisted design that makes the car seem moving even when parked. And the alloy finish stands out nicely against the dark paint. Over the years, the Z has a well-earned reputation for delivering performance and value. It's one of our favorite sports cars. (Nissan is rumored to be set to unveil the next-generation Z at October's Tokyo motor show.) The roadster is a joy to drive, with steering that is precise and well-balanced. In hard cornering, you can get the rear end to waggle, which makes the experience engaging. Our tester had a high-revving 3.7-liter V-6 that puts out 332 horsepower and is paired with a 6-speed manual transmission that comes with that great downshift technology — SynchroRevMatch — as part of the Sport package ($2,830). The car "blips" the throttle slightly to match the RPM on downshifts. This will make even amateurs feel like accomplished drivers. Lyra prefers the roadster, thinking the added weight makes the car more stable. (Peter likes the looks of the coupe better.) Either way, the Z is a great driver's car with only a few drawbacks — lots of road noise and poor visibility — that seems to get better with age. We recommend the Sport package to take advantage of the SynchroRevMatch. The 2014 model 370Z is out now, and the mpg is slightly improved. $44,170 base roadster, $50,055 as tested.
2013 Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track
Black suits Hyundai's Genesis Coupe nicely. The Black Noir Pearl paint accentuates the car's curves and makes its jewel-like headlights and LED running lights pop. It also makes the fake hood vents less conspicuous. Then there are the bright-red Brembo brake calipers, which peek out from the double five-spoke alloy wheels. They all scream performance. This time, our tester had Hyundai's 3.8-liter direct-injection V-6 under the hood, which puts out 348 horsepower and a lot of get-up-and-go. The 8-speed automatic blips through gears smoothly and confidently . . . but alas, the liveliness seems toned down compared to the Genesis Coupe we drove earlier this year with a manual transmission. You'd think clicking the automatic to the manual mode would help, as in the Scion FR-S, but sadly, it was slow to respond to gear changes. Interestingly, the car's "track" suspension and speed-sensitive steering felt a bit too tight in hard cornering. But the Genesis Coupe is still a worthy competitor among similarly powered Mustangs and Camaros, and still popular among tuners. The V-6 Coupe gets an estimated 18 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway (compared with the 21/30 for the turbocharged 4-cylinder model.) Inside, the firm front seats are well-bolstered, and all the controls — intuitive dials and buttons — are within easy reach. Our tester came equipped with a navigation system on a 7-inch touchscreen. The rear seats hold just two not-so-tall passengers. $24,250 base, $35,265 as tested.