What is a "Performance" Car?

During a discussion about my stable of cars recently, a friend asked what is a ‘performance’ car. I had mentioned that I much prefer driving a performance vehicle against any other. My reasons, as with many car buffs are personally FELT. For instance, my vehicle of choice has always been a performance car; one with tight steering, curve hugging capabilities and agility. More than anything, it is a feeling one gets when behind the wheel of a sports-oriented vehicle.

As with all questions today, I googled the definition of performance car and this is what came up: “A performance car is an automobile that is designed and constructed specifically for speed. The design and construction of a performance car involves not only providing a capable power train but also providing the handling and braking systems to support it.

Whether or not the above definition captures the general perception of what the public considers a performance or ‘sports car’ is debatable. There is the “two seat rule,” which may be out of date. Many sports cars today offer small back seats (sometimes referred to as 2+2 seating) and there is a current movement underway to increase the seating room in models long considered sports cars by most automotive experts.

My 1995 Dodge Stealth also had a small back seat. Never mind passengers couldn’t be over 5 years of age or have any legs, but it was considered a 2+2, and the word was insurance was less than if considered a “sports car.”

Insurance companies use their own formula in classifying automobiles. Often the presence of two doors automatically makes any car a "sports car." This perspective, of course, may be a tad overly simplistic as the standard dictionary approach to defining a sports car. One can certainly think of any number of two-door vehicles that fall far short of being an actual sports car. Economy cars and some larger two-door vehicles that are not built with power and performance in mind should not qualify as true sports cars.

Some car buffs will refer to high-performance muscle cars and other larger vehicles as sports cars. For others, however, there is a distinction between these vehicles and "true" sports cars. I guess there is such a thing as a"sporting car" or simply "sporty" but still fall short of being a true sports car. Regular cars may also be outfitted with a "sports package" and/or accessories to make the car sportier, but still not fit the strict definition of a sports car.

Not all automotive enthusiasts, however, embrace this restrictive view of sports cars. In many circles, a sports car is any car offering greater performance or power than more standard offerings. This school of thought will consider muscle cars and other larger vehicles designed with performance in mind as “sports cars.”

The purists may argue that the distinction between a sports car and any other type of car lies in how the car's suspension and handling are addressed. Technical debates rage over whether various suspension packages qualify as belonging to true "sports cars."

And still, can a sports car be defined by its intentions. If the car is designed for performance more so than for utility, can it be a sports car? This intent-based definition, however, provides little guidance in determining whether a car is a sports car or not.

Particularly in the modern era, the notion of designing a car of any sort without significant consideration of its feasibility and utility seems unlikely. Any commercially viable vehicle, regardless of its performance, must retain significant utility.

Road and Track Magazine summarizes the sports card definition debate with a simple observation: "Ask five people the exact definition of a sports car, and you'll likely get five different answers."

There is no clear-cut definition of what really is a sports car. The restrictive definitions of the past do not seem to fit when attempting to categorize today's' diverse automotive offerings. Common usage of the term seems to run contrary to most long-held definitions.

2015 BG 500 PaceCar: Big Time Performance Car

2015 BG 500 PaceCar: Big Time Performance Car

Dodge Stealth: Sports Car

Dodge Stealth: Sports Car

A gaggle of performance cars/sports cars

A gaggle of performance cars/sports cars

There is, however, a common thought that seems to run through almost all of the outlooks on the meaning of "sports car." If a car is designed with high performance or race-like capabilities in mind, it can probably be safely termed a sports car. Some purists may balk at such a liberal perspective, but alternative definitions fall far short of accurately distinguishing sports cars form regular production models.

Leave a comment