Buying Guides

2017 Best Small Sports Sedans

The most fun you can have with four doors.

Wade Thiel, Senior Staff Writer

Having a sports sedan means you get to enjoy the best of both worlds. You get a car that can handle a curvy back road with ease and a vehicle that is good for kids, clients, and life in general. A sports sedan is a car that can seat five people and carry some luggage. It's a car with sport-tuned suspension and a powerful engine. It's the kind of car that will make you happy each and every time you get in it because you know if the moment arises where you can really get after it on a fantastic road, you have a car that can handle the curves, twists, and elevation changes that occur.

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia

  • PROS: Supremely fast in Quadrifoglio form, telepathic steering, fantastic handling capabilities, attractive interior and exterior styling.
  • CONS: Some cheaper interior materials, questionable reliability, not as good of infotainment as competitors, tight back seats.

The Alfa Romeo Giulia is the Italian sports sedan we’ve been waiting for. It’s attractive, fast, fun, comfortable, and easy to use. The car has some quirky Italian traits, but it's surprisingly practical and straightforward. All the controls are where you expect them, and the infotainment system is good, though certainly not the best in its class.

The base engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that puts out 280 hp and can be had with either rear or all-wheel drive. If you really want to go fast, though, you should buy the Quadrifoglio version of the car, which has a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 that makes 505 hp will rocket your from 0-60 in just 3.8 seconds. No matter the engine you choose, you’ll get fantastic steering and handling capabilities. If you want a true performer with Italian style, this is it.

2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

  • PROS: Classy exterior, upscale and comfortable interior, plenty of available features, powerful engine options, and excellent steering and handling.
  • CONS: Somewhat jarring ride, intrusive start-stop, somewhat labyrinthine infotainment system.

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class comes in many forms. We’ll focus just on the C-Class sedan. The C-Class sedan is the elegant German sports sedan that makes the Alfa Romeo look cheap. It comes with one of the best-looking and feeling interiors in the segment, an exterior that’s worthy of the Mercedes-Benz name, and driving dynamics that will thrill you. While its infotainment system takes a little time to get to learn, the long list of available features, including navigation, a plethora of driving safety aids, and even a cabin fragrance system make up for it.

Powering the car is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 241 hp. There’s also a hybrid powertrain that makes 275 hp. Rear-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive available. If you’re after speed consider AMG C43, C63 or C63 S. These three models come with a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 that makes 362 hp, a 4.0-liter turbo V8 that makes 469 hp, or another version of the 4.0-liter turbo V8 that makes 503 hp respectively.

2017 Lexus IS

  • PROS: Refined ride, fantastic front seats, tight steering, good handling, powerful engine options, top-notch reliability.
  • CONS: Not everyone likes the styling, not as fast as some of the high-powered competition, infotainment controls could be better.

If you want a sports sedan that has some of the best reliability ratings of any model out there, the Lexus IS is the car to get. Consumer Reports recently named it one of the most reliable cars of 2017. Even if that weren’t the case, the IS would be a car worth getting. It offers, interesting styling, an upscale interior with some of the best seats in the business, and a feature-packed, but difficult to use infotainment system.

The IS is a fun car to drive. It handles and steers as good if not better than the best cars in the segment. Its engine lineup isn’t the most powerful, but there’s plenty of thrills for the money and the car can be had with all-wheel drive. The base engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 241 hp, the next step up is a 3.5-liter V6 making 255 hp, and the top-of-the-line engine is an up-tuned 3.5-liter V6 that makes 306 hp. Get the car with F Sport suspension if you really want to have some fun.

2017 Audi A4

  • PROS: Quiet and smooth, tons of technology, engaging to drive when you get on it, classy interior and exterior.
  • CONS: Not as fun as some of the competition, steering is too light for some drivers, not as flashy as other sports sedans, transmission can lag at low speeds.

One of the best things about the Audi A4, or any Audi products for that matter, is how smooth and quiet they are. The A4 offers a fantastic ride, but that can lead it to feel isolated sometimes. Still, the car is engaging on the right road. Its exterior is classy and subdued, and its interior is sophisticated and smart. The A4 features a lot of available technology including Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, adaptive cruise control, and the company’s MMI infotainment system.

Under the hood, the A4 comes with your choice of two different turbocharged four-cylinder engines. There’s a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 192 hp and a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 252 hp. Obviously, if you’re after speed, the latter is the better option. Front wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive available.

2017 BMW 3-Series

  • PROS: Good driving dynamics, fantastic ergonomics, upscale-looking inside and out, tons of powertrains to choose from, plenty of technology available.
  • CONS: Base engine could use more power, more standard advanced safety features would be nice, numb steering.

The BMW 3-Series is the go-to sports sedan for many people, and for good reason. The car basically made the segment what it is today. This car has been BMW’s ultimate driving machine for many years, and today it comes with all kinds of tech and accoutrements as well. The list of options is long and includes things like hands-free trunk lid, head-up display, adaptive cruise control and more. With all the options, the configurations seem endless.

The options don’t end with interior features and tech, the 3-Series offers numerous engines to choose from, too, including a base 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 180 hp, another 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 248 hp, a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder making 180 hp, a 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder that makes 300 hp, a hybrid 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and electric motor combination that makes 248 hp, and a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged six-cylinder that makes 425 hp. If you want speed, get the M3 which is powered by that last engine. All-wheel drive is available for some but not all trim levels.

2017 Jaguar XE

  • PROS: Sleek exterior, fantastic chassis, good handling and steering, good-looking interior, powerful engine options.
  • CONS: Small trunk and back seats, interior materials could be better, Jaguar’s infotainment system needs refined, and ergonomics aren’t perfect.

The Jaguar XE is the beauty queen of the sports sedan bunch. We know styling is subjective, but few can disagree that this Jag is a looker. Aside from that, the car comes well-equipped, with navigation, heated seats and steering wheel, and many advanced safety features. The cabin looks as good as the car’s exterior but on close inspection, you’ll notice the materials aren’t as good as the German cars.

The XE isn’t just about looking good. It’s fun to drive, too. Most of that has to do with its handling characteristics, and its good steering, but the engines are notable as well. Under the hood, the Brits put one of three options: a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 240 hp, a 2.0-liter turbodiesel that makes 180 hp, or a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 that makes 340 hp. All-wheel drive is an option.

2017 Cadillac ATS

  • PROS: Fantastic seats, good ride and handling, good transmission, lovely and powerful engines, plenty of features come standard.
  • CONS: Infotainment system is finicky, sub-par fuel economy, interior design could be better, trunk on the smaller side.

The ATS takes on German sports sedans and manages to hold its own. The car is genuinely good to drive, offers plenty of standard features, top-notch interior materials, and some very comfortable seats. Cadillac’s CUE system is improved but still needs work, and the cabin interior design has some disharmony. Cadillac tried to make the ATS great and while the driving experience delivers, the rest of the package isn’t quite there.

If all you care about is driving and want an American sports sedan, the ATS is a fantastic choice. Its chassis is good and steering and handling wonderful. Under the hood, you can get any one of three powerful options: a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 272 hp, a 3.6-liter V6 making 333 hp, or a 3.6-liter twin-turbo V6 that pumps out 464 hp. All-wheel drive is available and rear-wheel drive standard.

What makes a good small sports sedan?

  • Plenty of power to have a lot of fun.
  • Excellent handling and steering.
  • Brakes that stop the car on a dime.

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