Track-Happy Street Cars

© Jaguar Land Rover, © Subaru of America, © Mazda North American Operations, © Porsche Cars North AmericaStreet Legal, Track Ready
Some drivers view getting behind the wheel as one of the highlights of their day; whether for comfort or an adrenaline rush, a well-driven car satisfies some while others simply do not care. This presents a difficult sweet spot for automakers to hit: satisfying an enthusiast driver who wants a car that would be just as entertaining on the road as it might be on the track. Although big power and advanced chassis technology show off best at the track, most vehicles will spend most time as daily drivers on the street. So where is the balance? Some carmakers have figured it out — here in all their glory are street-legal road cars that would also be happy at the track.

© Mazda North American OperationsMazda MX-5 Miata
There’s a reason Miata is always the answer. From its debut in 1989, MX-5 Miata has played the roles of the daily driver’s car and track-day grin-inducer as well as just about anything on the road, at a price that makes it attainable to almost anyone. It even has a one-make racing series (the Global MX-5 Cup), although drivers hardly need invest in a racer Miata to have fun with one on the track. Its focus on handling, balance, and response lets drivers wring the most out of the MX-5 anywhere they choose.

© American Honda Motor Co., Inc.Honda Civic Type R
The clamor had been building for years among American Honda enthusiasts for a hot, new Civic; specifically, one that says Type R on the decklid. Honda responded with the monstrous new Civic Type R — a 306-horsepower hatchback with as many angles, vents and edges as one vehicle exterior might logistically allow. Don’t think it’s all for show, though: big Brembo brakes, active aero, and an adaptive damper system helped the new Type R set a front-wheel-drive production car record at the Nurburgring racetrack in Germany.

© Mercedes-Benz USAMercedes-Benz AMG GT S
The AMG GT S features an electronic limited-slip differential, 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, AMG 3-stage adaptive damping, and big composite brakes (15.4 inches up front, 14.2 inches in the rear) with a selectable RACE mode to eliminate as many nannies as possible for track day. The 517-horsepower 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 rounds out the package. For drivers who want to make a mighty racket on the track and look uber-cool off, it’s hard to beat the AMG GT S.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSubaru BRZ / Toyota 86
They arrived with great fanfare as modern, affordable enthusiast sports cars — a shared platform between giant Toyota and quirky Subaru. No matter which car drivers end up choosing, both the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 are made for sporty, reliable driving off the track and connected, highly responsive excitement on it. Swap the stock tires for stickier rubber immediately (we cannot emphasize this enough), stay high in the revs with the 6-speed manual transmission and 205-horsepower 2.0-liter boxer engine, and rewards shall follow.

© General MotorsChevrolet Corvette Z06
Developed alongside the C7.R race car, the Corvette Z06 shares its carbon-fiber roof and hood, dry-sump oil system, titanium intake valves, composite floor panels and aluminum frame with its bigger sibling. The supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine cranks out a massive 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque — enough to reach 60 mph in a mere 3 seconds. The Z07 package adds more hardcore suspension tuning, bigger brakes and additional aero pieces. This synthesis of racing technology and influence make the Z06 a track-day champ that can be driven home.

© Porsche Cars North AmericaPorsche 911 GT3
There are so many 911 models — so very many. For drivers specifically looking for a track-day star, the GT3 is the way to go. The GT3 has a 500-horsepower version of the 911 GT3 Cup’s 4.0-liter 6-cylinder engine in the back, and all those horses go to the rear wheels — no all-wheel drive here. A 6-speed, short-shift manual transmission is even available (as an option). Combine that with convenient connectivity options including Apple CarPlay and the 911 GT3 really is the best of both worlds.

© Ford Motor CompanyFord Focus RS
The Focus RS is a bit of a unicorn for hot hatch fans, loaded with Ford’s 2.3-liter inline 4-cylinder engine enriched to 350 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, and an all-wheel-drive system and limited-slip differential to lay it all down. The Focus RS seats five, has room for a decent amount of stuff, and with driving modes including Track and Drift, it can tear up paved or off-road tracks all year ‘round to a driver’s delight.

© BMW of North AmericaBMW M2
The BMW M2 is the newest addition to BMW’s M Sport lineup, and is a lot more than simply the “baby” M. With a 3.0-liter inline twin-turbocharged 6-cylinder engine producing 365 horsepower and 343 lb-ft of torque (with an extra 27 lb-ft of overboost available), a 6-speed manual transmission and Active M differential, the M2 hits 60 mph in a hair over 4 seconds. At the same time, inside it’s still appropriately BMW and starting at just over $50,000 it’s a performance steal.

© Audi of AmericaAudi R8 V10 Plus
The R8 is full of features that make it a great car for the track; in fact, it shares nearly half its parts with the GT3 LMS version. The R8 Plus gets a version of Audi’s 5.2-liter V10 engine with 610 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque. Underneath is Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system, magnetic ride and ceramic brakes. Being able to hit 60 mph in 3.2 seconds on the way to a 205-mph top speed is way more than anyone would ever need for most tracks, let alone the street. Fun to know it’s there though.

© FCA USDodge Challenger SRT Demon
The dragstrip is another type of track — and the Challenger SRT Demon is basically a drag racer with a veneer of street legality. The numbers are, well, absurd: an 840-horsepower 770 lb-ft supercharged HEMI V8 engine; a zero to 60 mph time of 2.3 seconds; faster from zero to 100 mph than a Bugatti Veyron; and, as Dodge proudly declares, it’s the first production vehicle to achieve front-wheel lift (the most technical way possible to describe a wheelie) at launch. For drivers who have a local strip, the Demon can get them there, lay sick quarter-mile times, then get them home again.

© Ford Motor CompanyFord Mustang Shelby GT350
The Mustang GT350 is a road-going track animal for sure, with transmission and differential coolers, 15.5-inch front and 14.9-inch rear brakes, and front and rear air diffusers. The heart of the Mustang Shelby GT350 is its 5.2-liter V8 flat-plane crank engine, good for 526 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque. The GT350 has everything drivers need to carve up the track, but it may be worth it simply for the unholy racket created by the flat-plane crank.

© Volkswagen of America, Inc.Volkswagen Golf R
The GTI is the original hot hatch; the Golf R is Volkswagen taking the idea a step further. A 292-horsepower 280 lb-ft 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine gets paired with Volkswagen’s 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system, a 6-speed manual transmission, and adaptive chassis control — not to mention the full complement of safety and convenience technologies VW offers. The result is a truly luxurious, comfortable road car that can turn out on the track when called upon — for a reasonable price.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceNissan GT-R Nismo
Nissan’s GT-R may not be the Everyman’s Supercar it was a few years ago, but it’s still a world beater even if the price tag has gone up. The GT-R Nismo is a 600-horsepower all-wheel-drive Godzilla with a 6-speed dual clutch transmission and a specifically-tuned suspension. All of these have been developed not only for track domination; Nissan wants the GT-R Nismo to be just as impressive on the road.

© Subaru of AmericaSubaru WRX STI
Subaru’s WRX STI pulls 305 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque from its turbocharged boxer engine, but its drivetrain is what really shines. A driver-controlled center differential offers electronic control for the limited-slip front and Torsen rear differentials, while performance brakes sit behind lightweight wheels. Balance and capability are the aim of the STI, whether on the road in all conditions or at the racetrack.

© Aston MartinAston Martin Vantage
The elegant lines of the Aston Martin Vantage evoke a barely restrained animal, which is completely intentional. Under the hood lurks a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine with 503 horsepower and 505 lb-ft of torque — enough to hit 60 mph in just over 3 seconds before topping out at 195 mph. An electronic differential, stability control, and active torque vectoring help apply that power. Inside the Vantage, the refined cockpit lines focus drivers to push this car to its limits.

© Porsche Cars North AmericaPorsche 718 Cayman GTS
The 718 Cayman GTS makes the most of its 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine possessing 365 horsepower and 309 lb-ft of torque. The GTS sits 10 mm lower than the standard 718; an optional setup lowers it another 10 mm. Porsche’s electronic damping system keeps power going where it’s needed to maintain control and balance, while torque vectoring maintains stability through corners. Great on the track, but not too much for the road: The Cayman remains an outstanding platform — and we haven’t even started talking about the GT4.

© Jaguar Land RoverJaguar XE SV Project 8
With production limited to 300 cars worldwide, Jaguar’s Project 8 is both rare and special. The 592 horsepower coaxed from its 5.0-liter supercharged V8 engine make Project 8 the most powerful street legal Jaguar ever. That power is sent to four wheels through an all-wheel-drive system with a torque-vectoring rear differential. Elements of the suspension are modified from racing technology, and it is height-adjustable for track or road driving. The best part? It’s built from the XE sedan, so pick up some friends, hit the track, run some errands — it’s all good.