Anyone who truly loves cars must truly love sports cars as well, at least some point in their life. Whether used or new, sports cars offer freedom and handling and performance that other cars simply can’t offer. There’s a constant give and take that sports cars share, between performance, efficiency, affordability, and quality. When all four of those boxes are checked, you have a winner.
Companies have evolved to create faster and better and more reliable sports cars over the years. Many of these cars are more affordable and efficient than even sedans, SUVs, or mid-size cars. But that affordability and efficiency typically comes at a price: compromises. There is no other market segment that emphasizes compromises more than the sports car segment.
Engineers are always having to change designers’ exterior and interiors to improve aerodynamics or overall efficiency, or to improve performance and handling. The result might be a tighter fit for the engine, or less expensive parts connective everything together, in order to keep costs down. These sorts of compromises can be hidden or unknown at first, but they all eventually get found.
There are many, many flaws that can plague sports cars—even the best ones—which you’ll see on this list. From design flaws to electrical malfunctions, faulty manifolds or coolant lines, to weak engines and overpricing, sports cars often find themselves at the very center of automotive divisiveness. It’s all for the sake of creating an affordable product, but sometimes it would just be better to make the darn thing more expensive but more reliable, too.
Here are 10 perfectly good sports cars that were ruined by big time flaws.
BMW E46 M3
The E46 M3 replaced the E36 in the new millennium, and it once again was loved by all. It had a more aggressive stance, a growling exhaust, and an upgraded S54 inline-six engine. It wasn’t offered in sedan form (only coupe and convertible). But that’s not where the big problem lies. The E46’s flaws were numerous: it had the same coolant system flaw of the E36. But more importantly, the S54 engine’s connecting rod design led to a class action lawsuit. BMW called the “problem as a contamination of the engine lubrication system during assembly in combination with unfavorable tolerances in the engine oil pump for the M3 coupe/convertible.” Cars from October 2001 to February 2002 require engine oil pump replacements and connecting rod bearing replacements.
HYUNDAI GENESIS COUPE
Hyundais are generally good and reliable cars, and their size in comparison to other cars in the market make them ideal for many people. However, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe was found to be lacking what many people require most in a sports car: reliability. Its engine gave it sufficient power, but the reliability of the engine was questionable. Despite its 250- to 300-hp V6 engines, the Genesis’ performance was also quite a bit lower than other Hyundais, especially the coupe model. If you really must own a Hyundai Genesis, be sure to opt for the sedan instead of the coupe.
PORSCHE 996 TURBO
Not all 996-era Porsches suffered from the IMS bearing defect. The highest end Turbo, GT2, and GT3 all featured a flat-six Mezger engine that didn’t utilize the design that plagued the rest of the lineup. With a price triple that of the Boxster, buyers expected their cars to be trouble free. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The Mezger engine had its own problems, namely its coolant lines and where they attached to the engine. The coolant lines have been known to pop off pretty consistently, leading to dangerous situations when racers encounter wet patches on the track. Many tracks will require Mezger-engined Porsches to have their coolant lines pinned or welded to the engine, a process that requires dropping the entire drivetrain.
The BRZ was an effort by Subaru to deviate from their rally-bred tradition by teaming up with Toyota. The car was also called the Toyota 86 and Scion FR-S depending on location and model year. The rear-wheel drive on the BRZ was new for Subaru, especially for US buyers who were used to Subaru always having all-wheel drive vehicles. The BRZ was intended to focus more on handling than power, due to its lightweight. And with its normally aspirated boxer-four engine, it was quite a bit weaker than former Subaru cars, making the BRZ trapped in an awkward middle zone without much power unless equipped with a turbocharger or supercharger.
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R
The successor to the VW R32 was the Golf R, though the newest generation is closer to a standard GTI than an R32. It still has its Haldex-based all-wheel drive, though in a more neutral form. VW engineers also improved on the nose-heavy bias this time around, in an otherwise unchanged body shape from the GTI. What sets the R apart from the GTI and R32 is that it doesn’t feel or look as well on the inside or outside to justify the $40,000-plus price tag suggested. The warranty coverage was increased to match their high-end offering, but at the cost of two well-maintained R32s, which is a bit ridiculous and makes it a hard sell.
FORD FOCUS RS
The VW GTI and R32 helped spawn an entire generation of hot hatches, but they never approached the highest end performance available at the time. They offered sporty but not-overly aggressive cars. Ford came out with the Focus RS as competition to the Golf R, with a grumbling exhaust, 19-inch wheels, and a 2.3-liter inline-four engine pumping out 350 hp. The flaw of the car is the tag price in relation to the rest of the car. At north of $40,000, or $750/month on lease, the Focus RS has a cheap plastic interior and a sport-tuned suspension and big wheels that are uncomfortable. All of these make the Focus RS an adequate sports car, but not one that’s worth $40,000 and above.
During the end of the E46 production run, it was revealed that a replacement 3-Series would be offered with a V8 under the hood of the M3 and a twin-turbocharged straight-six under the 335i coupe, sedan, and convertible. The E92 335i converted many doubtful buyers with its N54 engine. But the problems continued for BMW, as the N54 engine suffered from two major flaws. First was the tendency for the high-pressure fuel pump to fail spontaneously, resulting in immediate engine failure. Second was the turbo wastegate often rattling loudly due to premature bushing wear. It could fall apart and lead to the turbo being destroyed internally. Eventually, BMW replaced the N54 with the more reliable N55, but not until many extended warranty offers.
The Porsche Boxster debuted in 1996 and followed the Porsche tradition of affordable options, a mid-engine design, and the controversial “broken egg” headlight. It also shared the same IMS bearing problem with its higher-priced stablemates. Another issue plaguing the Boxster came in the form of its convertible top. To keep the overall price down, it was made with a plastic rear window, which was not durable (though it was easy to fold down). The plastic windows would oxidize the sun, limiting visibility and becoming brittle to the point of tearing, not to mention permanent creasing from sitting in a folded position for too long. Replacement options easily cost $1,000 to install. Luckily, later models would switch to a glass rear window.
The Audi RS6 was a powerful sedan released during the transition years that bridged the Audi B5 and B6 S4 models. The RS6 featured a twin-turbo 4.2-liter V8 engine with an impressive 444 hp and 428 lb-ft of torque. But like the latest generation Nissan GT-R, Audi didn’t give this powerful engine a manual transmission to pair with. The five-speed automatic was not capable of handling all the low-end muscle this car offered. Add on the high cost of the specialty brakes and the total package is a car that had more power than it was worth. No one wanted to drive an RS6 gently, that much was obvious.
Believe it or not, people still spend their money on the 2006 and 2007 Pontiac Solstice. It was quite a unique car for its day (still is), and with its naturally aspirated 2.4-liter I4 engine that produced 177 horsepower, it was quite peppy, too. But the 2006 and 2007 Solstice was also among the 2014 GM recall list due to complaints about the faulty ignition system. Subsequently, the faults in the ignition often led to issues in the electric components of the car, or failure of the airbags. The design of the Pontiac Solstice may still be desirable, but is it worth all the effort of that design if its airbags aren’t going to deploy when you need them? We think not.