The 20 Best True Driver’s Cars

Oct 29, 2021

Category: Rides

Though some merely see automobiles as a means of getting from Point A to Point B, there’s a particular breed of driver that view cars as far more, representing these peoples’ passions and hobbies and accounting for a core part of their identities. For this group of individuals, driving falls somewhere between a sport and an art form, and as such there’s a specific type of vehicle that these automotive enthusiasts tend to gravitate toward in which amenities and creature comforts take a backseat to raw performance capabilities.

Often referred to as “true driver’s cars,” these machines are engineered from the ground up with an unwavering focus on handling, acceleration, and overall performance prowess. And it’s this crop of vehicles that we’ll be exploring today in this guide to the best true driver’s cars. In addition to counting down our picks for the latest and greatest TDCs currently in production (or, in some cases, recently in production), we’ll also be delving into just what exactly a “true driver’s car” is and what traits and attributes have come to define the genre. So, without further adieu, let’s let out the clutch and get into it.

Performance Over Everything

What Exactly Is A True Driver's Car?

As previously mentioned above, true driver’s cars are designed and developed with maximum performance in mind, though there are other crucial characteristics that define this genre of vehicle. With very few exceptions, TDCs are incredibly spartan machines, possessing only the bare mechanical essentials needed to drive, and little else. On top of using ultra-lightweight and cutting-edge materials to achieve ultra-svelte curb weights, these cars also boast other interesting features such as backseat and/or air conditioning deletes that are done to — as Colin Chapman would put it — add lightness.

Almost entirely devoid of creature comforts, these cars typically aren’t the most plush or comfortable, though they undeniably boast unparalleled performance prowess. The lightweight nature of these rides also results in incredible cornering capabilities. With such importance placed on control, it’s also frankly unsurprising that, more often than not, TDCs are offered with manual transmissions. And, though it’s not exactly commonplace, several of these vehicles also sport centrally-placed driver’s seats, a la Formula 1 and IndyCars. These models also tend to use a similar formula in their creation in the form of small frames and bodies fitted with powerful and potent engines.

At the end of the day, true driver’s cars are all about more closely connecting man with machine. As a result, these minimalistic cars usually feature fairly analog control setups that provide greater feedback to the driver. Likewise, these cars tend to lack modern electronic aids in favor of more traditional mechanical setups, relying on the driver’s heel-toe skills rather than traction control systems. With all of these traits, it probably won’t come as a shock to learn that a handful of these models aren’t road-legal and can only be driven on closed-circuit race tracks.

Photo: Factory Five Racing

Factory Five Racing 818

Despite being a DIY-style kit car, the first vehicle on our list wonderfully epitomizes the concept of a true driver’s car. Taking its moniker from its 818-kilogram curb weight — which is less than that of a Miata — this Factory Five offering is a wildly-affordable mid-engined supercar that’s powered by a Subaru Impreza or WRX (non-STI-spec) engine. Boasting a well-finished but thoroughly spartan interior, the 818 — which is also available in convertible and track-only variants — can typically be pieced together for approximately $30,000 after purchasing the initial $12,990 kit, giving it an unparalleled value.

Engine: 2.5L Flat-Four
Power: 270HP & 300FT-LBS
Top Speed: 145MPH
0-60MPH Time: 3.8 Seconds
Weight: 1,803lbs

Purchase: $12,990+

Photo: Mazda

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Though the newest generation does come loaded with a good deal of bells and whistles, the Mazda Miata has long been viewed as a true driver’s car, with a perfect 50-50 (front/rear) weight distribution, ultra-nimble handling, and an output of 181hp and 151ft-lbs of torque, all in a sub-2,400lb package. Alongside being available with a manual transmission, the MX-5 is also offered in several higher-specced versions including a Grand Touring variant and a Club-spec.

Engine: 2.0L Inline-Four
Power:  181HP & 151FT-LBS
Top Speed: 136MPH
0-60MPH Time: 5.7 Seconds
Weight: 2,341LBS

Purchase: $26,830+

Photo: Toyota

Toyota 86

A modernized take on the iconic ’80s era AE86, Toyota’s current 86 model is a contemporary true driver’s car with solid acceleration and cornering straight off the showroom floor — the latter area of which can easily be bolstered with the optional TRD Handling package. By shoehorning a potent 228hp 2.0-liter flat-four engine into the 86’s diminutive frame, the Japanese automaker has managed to deliver a remarkably spirited driving experience that’s available at an affordable price.

Engine: 2.0L Flat-Four
Power: 228HP & 184FT-LBS
Top Speed: 140MPH
0-60MPH Time: 5.8 Seconds
Weight: 2,776LBS

Purchase: $27,060+

Photo: Fiat | Abarth

Fiat Abarth 595 Competizione

An ultra-sporty version of the Fiat 595, this Abarth offering is powered by a 180hp 1.4-liter inline-four T-JET engine that’s paired with a Garrett GT 1446 turbocharger and the driver’s choice of either a regular five-speed manual transmission or a robotized sequential gearbox. On top of a Monza exhaust system, the 595 Competizione also gets Brembo four-pot calipers, a lowered sport suspension setup with Koni shocks with valve frequency selective damping front and rear, and a race-inspired Alcantara interior with a carbon fiber shift knob and an optional 480-watt eight speaker (and single sub) Beats Audio sound system.

Engine: Turbocharged 1.4L Inline-Four
Power: 180HP & 184.4FT-LBS
Top Speed: 140MPH
0-60MPH Time: 6.7 Seconds
Weight: 2,281.8LBS

Purchase: $32,950+

Photo: Subaru

Subaru WRX STI

Take an already sporty and capable car and then unleash a factory race department onto the thing to upgrade as they see fit, release it as a production model, and you’ve got the Subaru WRX STI. Benefitting from the Japanese brand’s extensive — and wildly successful — rally racing program, the WRX STI was briefly pulled from production, but is returning next year in its most high-performance form yet… though its newfound performance prowess comes at a markedly steeper MSRP.

Engine: Turbocharged 2.5L Flat-Four
Power: 305HP & 290FT-LBS
Top Speed: 159MPH
0-60MPH Time: 5.3 Seconds
Weight: 3,451LBS

Purchase: $36,995+

Photo: Honda

Honda Civic Type R

The Honda Civic has long been an immensely popular economical commuter car, however, the Japanese brand’s Type R-spec is a very different machine, with practicality taking a backseat to spirited performance. The Civic Type R sports a six-speed manual transmission, a dedicated track mode, a built-in data logger, race seats, and a carbon fiber trim package inside and out. With a roughly 3,000lb curb weight, the Civic Type R’s turbocharged four-banger allows it to reach speeds of nearly 170mph, too.

Engine: Turbocharged 2.0L Inline-Four
Power: 306HP & 295FT-LBS
Top Speed: 169MPH
0-60MPH Time: 5.15 Seconds
Weight: 3,071LBS

Purchase: $37,895+

Photo: Nissan

Nissan Nismo 370Z

Nissan’s 370Z is already something of a bonafide true driver’s car, though the brand’s NISMO-spec 370Z takes the car’s already impressive performance capabilities to new heights. Generating 350hp, the car is kicked along by a NISMO-tuned VQ V6 engine and features a free-flowing H-pipe dual exhaust setup, 19″ RAYS forged alloy wheels, and a full aero kit complete with front splitters and an integrated rear wing — all as standard fare.

Engine: 3.7L V6
Power: 350HP & 276FT-LBS
Top Speed: 155MPH
0-60MPH Time: 4.7 Seconds
Weight: 3,457LBS

Purchase: $45,790+

Photo: BMW

BMW M2 Competition

The M2 Competition Coupe was born out of BMW dropping a 405hp, sport-tuned inline-six engine into the 2 Series platform before decking the model out with a full M performance parts package. The result is an unmistakably high-performance two-door that can reach (electronically-limited) speeds of 155mph and clock 0-60mph runs in just 4.2 seconds. The M2 Competition is also a markedly more plush and luxurious alternative to some of the more minimalistic true driver’s cars on this list.

Engine: Turbocharged 3.0L Inline-Six
Power: 405HP & 406FT-LBS
Top Speed: 155MPH
0-60MPH Time: 4.2 Seconds
Weight: 3,600LBS

Purchase: $58,900+

Photo: Ford

Ford Mustang Shelby GT350

Taking direct inspiration from the Shelby-tuned Mustangs from half a century ago, Ford’s latest Mustang Shelby GT350 is a street-legal, track-ready modern version of the iconic American muscle car. Powered by a 5.2L V8 putting down 526hp, the Shelby GT350 comes loaded with track-focused amenities such as Recaro race seats, a rear seat delete, a line lock feature, launch control, and a bevy of “track apps.” Ford also offers the even higher-specced R variant of this model which boasts an even more impressive aero kit and carbon fiber wheels.

Engine: 5.2L V8
Power: 526HP & 429FT-LBS
Top Speed: 170MPH
0-60MPH Time: 4.2 Seconds
Weight: 3,805LBS

Purchase: $59,140+

Photo: Lotus

Lotus Elise Cup 240 Final Edition

Embodying Lotus’ philosophy of “simplifying and adding lightness,” the Elise is possibly one of the greatest examples of a true driver’s car, with the company offering features such as an AC delete to shave off as much weight as possible. And though Lotus will soon pull the plug on the model’s production, it’s giving the car one final sendoff in the form of an even more capable Elise Cup 240 Final Edition (as well as a Cup 250 Final Edition, seen here). Despite its engine being under two liters in displacement, a supercharger and the car’s roughly one-ton curb weight enables it to reach speeds of almost 150mph and hit 60mph from a standstill in just over four seconds.

Engine: Supercharged 1.8L Inline-Four
Power: 240HP & 181FT-LBS
Top Speed: 147MPH
0-60MPH Time: 4.1 Seconds
Weight: 2,032.6LBS

Purchase: $62,200+

Photo: Caterham Cars

Caterham Seven 620

Since 1973, Caterham Cars has been producing ultra-spartan true driver’s cars for auto enthusiasts looking for an insanely capable analog driving experience. And while the British firm produces a plethora of different “Seven” models, the 620-spec sits at the very top of the range, with the carbon-laden open cockpit car packing a 310hp supercharged 2.0-liter Duratec inline-four that, when coupled with its ridiculously low 1,344lb weight, affords sub-3-second 0-60mph runs and a top speed exceeding 150mph.

Engine: Supercharged 2.0L Inline-Four
Power: 309.7HP & 161.5FT-LBS
Top Speed: 154.7MPH
0-60MPH Time: 2.79 Seconds
Weight: 1,344.8LBS

Purchase: $65,900+

Photo: Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

Often referred to as an “entry-level supercar,” Alfa Romeo’s 4C Spider is another true driver’s car through and through, being constructed around an ultra-lightweight carbon tub chassis that’s draped in carbon bodywork and fitted with a 237hp turbocharged engine. Weighing less than 2,500lbs, this model is admittedly no longer in production, though new zero-mile specimens are still available on showroom floors, as well as on the used market for an even more accessible price.

Engine: Turbocharged 1.75L Inline-Four
Power: 237HP & 258FT-LBS
Top Speed: 160MPH
0-60MPH Time: 4.3 Seconds
Weight: 2,487LBS

Purchase: $67,150+

Photo: Audi

Audi TT RS

Powered by an idiosyncratic 2.5-liter TFSI turbocharged five-cylinder engine — with an equally unique 1-2-4-5-3 firing order — Audi’s RS-spec TT is a well-appointed true driver’s car that features a host of luxurious amenities along with a slew of performance-focused componentry and systems. This includes a flat-bottom steering wheel with paddle-shifters, race seats, a customizable instrumentation setup with a G-meter, boost gauge, and lap-timer, and Audi’s RS-tuned fixed sport suspension — the latter of which is offered as an optional upgrade over the standard Audi magnetic ride suspension setup.

Engine: Turbocharged 2.5L Inline-Five
Power: 394HP & 354FT-LBS
Top Speed: 155MPH
0-60MPH Time: 3.6 Seconds
Weight: 3,329LBS

Purchase: $72,500+

Photo: Ariel

Ariel Atom

Not unlike the Caterham Seven, the Ariel Atom is a super spartan, open-cockpit track weapon that consists of all the bare essentials needed for tire-shredding runs around the race track, and practically nothing more. Propelled by one of Honda’s turbocharged K20C 2.0L i-VTEC engines, the Atom comes draped in carbon bodywork and is loaded with top-shelf parts from some of the most reputable brands on Earth including AP Racing brakes, AiM race instrumentation, and JRi adjustable dampers with Eibach springs — though the latter component can be upgraded to an Ohlins TTX setup. Making 320hp, the Atom is good for speeds of over 160mph and can hit 60mph from zero in under three seconds.

Engine: Turbocharged 2.0L Inline-Four
Power: 320HP & 310FT-LBS
Top Speed: 162MPH
0-60MPH Time: 2.8 Seconds
Weight: 1,349LBS

Purchase: $74,750+

Photo: Alpine

Alpine A110S

Directly inspired by Alpine’s original A110 from 1969, the current A110 is a sleek mid-engined model that falls squarely into the true driver’s car category. Not only does this French-made car look fantastic, but it also boasts performance capabilities that are just as impressive, with the sub-2,500lb ride offering a 0-60mph time of only 4.3 seconds. And while the base model A110 is admittedly an already amazing car, the S-spec offers even higher levels of performance. It is worth noting that, sadly, this absolutely stellar model is not sold in America.

Engine: Turbocharged 1.8L Inline-Four
Power: 288HP & 236FT-LBS
Top Speed: 161.5MPH
0-60MPH Time: 4.3 Seconds
Weight: 2,456LBS

Purchase: $75,000+

Photo: Porsche

Porsche 911 Carrera

Since first hitting the automotive scene in 1963, the Porsche 911 has unequivocally stood as one of the most iconic and beautifully-designed cars of all time. And while its drop-dead gorgeous visual design undeniably plays a major role in the model’s appeal, the 911 wouldn’t be the automotive icon that it is if it weren’t for its equally-impressive performance capabilities. Offered in coupe, cab, or targa versions — as well as in more track-focused variants like the GT3 and Turbo models — the base model 911 has a four-second 0-60mph time and a more than 180mph top speed. And, as one might expect on a six-figure sports car, the 911 also comes loaded with a thoroughly cutting-edge suite of componentry and systems.

Engine: Turbocharged 3.0L Boxer-Six
Power: 379HP & 331FT-LBS
Top Speed: 182MPH
0-60MPH Time: 4 Seconds
Weight: 3,354LBS

Purchase: $101,200+

Photo: Mercedes-AMG

Mercedes-AMG GT

Putting a spare-no-expense spin on the classic formula of dropping a large and insanely potent engine into a tiny frame and body, the Mercedes-AMG GT features a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 engine that’s good for a whopping 523hp and 494ft-lbs of torque. Brimming with carbon fiber inside and out, this German-engineered supercar is a blast to pilot in the canyons or at the track, though the car also lends itself surprisingly well to daily driving duties. For those looking for an even higher-performance driving experience, Mercedes-AMG GT also produces the even more over-the-top C-spec GT as well as the ultra-top-shelf limited edition Black Series GT.

Engine: Turbocharged 4.0L V8
Power: 523HP & 494FT-LBS
Top Speed: 193MPH
0-60MPH Time: 3.7 Seconds
Weight: 3,666LBS

Purchase: $118,600+

Photo: KTM

KTM X-Bow GT4

Developed from the ground up to be the ultimate four-wheeled track weapon, the KTM X-Bow GT4 is a newly-released hypercar born out of a massive collaborative effort. Alongside KTM, KISKA was brought on to pen the car’s striking bodywork, Dallara was tasked with crafting its carbon monocoque chassis — which itself is based on the Italian firm’s Formula 3 chassis — and Holinger was tapped to deliver the GT4’s sequential gearbox. The end result is a sub-2,000lb machine with a blown 2.0-liter four-banger that makes 355hp and 369ft-lbs of torque, translating to an approximately 165mph top speed and the ability to fire off 0-60mph runs in just four seconds flat.

Engine: Turbocharged 2.0L Inline-Four
Power: 355HP & 368.7FT-LBS
Top Speed: 164.6MPH
0-60MPH Time: 4 Seconds
Weight: 1,818LBS

Purchase: $180,000+

Photo: Briggs Automotive Company

BAC Mono R

A spare-no-expense, centrally-placed single-seater supercar, the Briggs Automotive Company’s Mono R is an incredibly state-of-the-art true driver’s car, managing to achieve an ultra-svelte 1,248lb curb weight thanks to the use of several thoroughly cutting-edge materials such as graphene, titanium, and carbon fiber. With a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder Mountune engine putting out 343hp, the Mono R also boasts the highest horsepower-per-liter ratio of any street-legal model (at 138hp per liter). On top of its truly remarkable performance, the Mono R also sports a super unique and aggressive appearance that undeniably adds to its exotic appeal.

Engine: 2.5L Inline-Four
Power: 343HP & 243.4FT-LBS
Top Speed: 170MPH
0-60MPH Time: 2.7 Seconds
Weight: 1,248LBS

Purchase: $240,000+

Photo: McLaren

McLaren Senna

Taking its name from the legendary Brazilian race car driver, the McLaren Senna is a $1M hypercar that its manufacturer touts as “creating the purest connection between car and driver” ever offered by the brand. What’s more, McLaren has also stated that the Senna is its most track-focused road-legal model to date, and as such offers the fastest lap times of any production McLaren car ever. The Senna’s spec-sheet also speaks for itself, with a turbocharged 4.0-liter V8, an output of 789hp and 590ft-lbs of torque, a 2.6 second 0-60mph time, and a top speed of over 200mph — all in a lightweight, carbon-framed and bodied 2,641lb package.

Engine: Turbocharged 4.0L V8
Power: 789HP & 590FT-LBS
Top Speed: 208MPH
0-60MPH Time: 2.6 Seconds
Weight: 2,641LBS

Purchase: $1,000,000+

The 20 Best Manual Transmission Cars You Can Still Buy in 2021

Want to check out another list of high-performance automotive offerings? Then be sure to head over to our guide to the best manual transmission cars currently in production for an additional 20 stick shift-equipped rides.

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