Merriam-Webster defines a sports car as "a low small usually two-passenger automobile designed for quick response, easy maneuverability, and high speed driving." That seems fairly curt and dry to me. So why is it that so many cars are labeled as sports cars these days when the vast majority of them are really just russet potatoes wearing a pair of neon running shoes?
Although I've bought and sold four different cars in the time that's elapsed since our ways parted, it still wasn't all that long ago that I owned a brand-new Dodge Challenger. And you'd be surprised at the number of people who took the time out their day to ask me about my car that almost always started the conversation with, "That's a nice sports car you have there" before they tried to stick their hands in my checkbook to see how much I spent on insurance or how much gasoline I'd have to purchase to make a run to town for what McDonald's passes off as a cheeseburger. It irked me to ends of the Earth — not so much they were trying to figure out how I spent my hard-earned money, but the fact they were asking me about my "sports car" when there plainly wasn't one around.
Now, before someone out in Alabama starts breathing through their mouth and fires up their keyboard to try and convince me how the Challenger is a sports car, let's just judge it using the parameters set by the definition the good old dictionary gave us. You'll start to see what I'm going on about.
For starters, the Challenger could seat two people too many, too comfortably. In fact, I could've probably helped conceive an entire first-world military in the backseat. Show me the backseat in a Chevrolet Corvette or a Nissan 370Z, and I'll show you the pair of double-d's I have hidden up my shirt. Granted, some sports cars, like the Porsche 911 or even the Scion FR-S, do occasionally have backseats, but they're unusable to any living person over the age of ten with shins and a head. They're only there to give someone the illusion they bought something practical; they're best ignored.
Moving on, it had reflexes about as quick as Rob Ford on a weekend bender and it was about as fast as a nun in a chastity belt. It certainly wasn't nimble or quick, nor was it purposely built for driving at high speed. At speeds above 85 mph, it felt like a Broyhill convert-a-bed sofa with a 500 watt stereo built into the seat cushions; you had no sense of how fast you were actually going.
Sure, it drew more attention than setting your nipples on fire in a shopping mall, and everywhere you went it felt like you were driving Led Zeppelin's first record around, but those two qualities are inherent to a show car, not a sports car. A sports car usually has something of substance to back up its show. While I loved my Challenger, it sadly didn't have much of anything underneath the throwback bodywork.
It isn't just the Challenger that's saddled down with this baggage. It extends to, among many others, the Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, and the Hyundai Veloster. Three of those are performance cars on a good day when the weather in Kentucky is cooperating and really pretty coupes when it's not, and the other is what happens when you pile everything on the menu at a fast food restaurant into a black plastic bowl and top it off with shredded cheddar cheese. None of them are sports cars.
Then there's my favorite example of a sports car that isn't a sports car, which comes from a trusted buyer's resource on the Internet. Next time you have a free moment that's not being spent watching cats doing Christopher Walken impressions on YouTube, wander on over to Cars.com and ask them to recommend a sports car for you to buy. Out of the 38 different models they'll suggest, the top ten includes not only the Camaro and Mustang but the Nissan Juke. I'll repeat that: Cars.com thinks the Nissan Juke is a damned sports car. If a Nissan Juke is a sports car, then I'm Hannah Ferguson and you can all watch me take a shower with Rashida Jones on webcam tonight.
Speaking of Nissan, certainly they can bare some of the guilt for helping spread all of this stupidity. Anyone remember the third-generation Maxima of the late 1980s? Nissan so desperately wanted buyers to think of it as something other than a brick of Ivory soap they labeled it a "four-door sports car." They even put "4DSC" stickers on the rear quarter windows to try and convince owners that little white lie was real.
I'd like to believe someone at the ad agency that was tasked with designing and writing up the print and television ads spoke up and said, "A sedan is now a 'four-door sports car,' huh? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. I'm sorry, but I don't think we can market something to buyers so dishonestly." But I doubt it. I'm sure they were all kicking themselves for not thinking of it sooner.
I think I have the answer now to the question I started out with. Greedy peons at ad firms and the very automakers that hire them are to blame for making the term "sports car" about as sacred as spoiled milk and the value of the US dollar. And, if the Mazda RX-8 was any indication, I can fully expect things to continue to devolve in the future.
Whatever. I don't want to think about that. Call me old fashioned, but I'll just continue to abide by the old Greek rule that went something like "let's call a sports car a sports car."