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Mazda's MX-5 celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, making it an exception to the rule that sports cars have a short lifespan. (CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)
Mazda's MX-5 celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, making it an exception to the rule that sports cars have a short lifespan. (CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)

2014 New York International Auto Show

In tough times, affordable sports cars face the axe first Add to ...

The affordable sports car is an interesting prospect. When times are good, it’s trotted out by car manufacturers to showcase adrenaline-fuelled attributes and touted as a way to lure mostly young, male drivers into their showrooms. This tactic generally works – for a while. But when times are tough, the affordable sports car, a niche product, is often the first to face the axe.

Consider the Toyota Celica, Mitsubishi Eclipse or Honda S2000. All had fervent supporters, all for good reasons, but none was able to sell in sufficient numbers to justify continued production. Even some other high-profile sports cars, such as the Chevrolet Camaro and Nissan Z, disappeared for a time before mounting successful comebacks.

This is why the introduction of any new affordable sports car is often met with circumspection; there’s reason for celebration, sure, but there’s also cause to keep everything in perspective. During the press preview for the 2014 New York International Auto Show a handful of noteworthy sports or “sporty” cars were revealed.

At Fiat-Chrysler, the biggest news was the introduction of the Alfa Romeo 4C, the car that will mark the brand’s return to North America following a 20-year absence. The 4C is an interesting entry into the sports car segment; unfortunately, it’s swathed in carbon fibre, a pricey building block, so the one thing it won’t be when it goes on sale here is affordable.

Earlier, we learned that an agreement had been reached with Mazda for Alfa Romeo to build a new Spider using the redoubtable MX-5 platform. This would have been the perfect sports car to power Alfa’s return to our shores, but the 4C is ready now. The brand has never been particularly upscale and it’s been absent for two decades, so it will be interesting to gauge reaction to the 4C, which will likely cost $60,000-$70,000.

Fiat-Chrysler also introduced a pair of domestic performance cars in New York, new versions of venerable nameplates that harken back to the 1960s and ’70s.

The 2015 Dodge Charger features new bodywork (including a vastly different front grille), a more efficient 300-horsepower V-6 engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission. The optional 5.7-litre Hemi V-8 returns with 370 horsepower, which is sure to keep enthusiasts entertained.

The latest Dodge Challenger sticks even more closely to the established muscle car formula: It’s a two-door, as was the original, and the exterior design is evocative of the original 1970 Challenger. The company’s eight-speed automatic transmission is also applied here and the line gains a new Scat Pack version with a 6.4-litre Hemi V-8 engine that cranks out 470 horsepower.

Pricing for both the Charger and the Challenger has yet to be announced, but buyers should expect value for their performance dollar.

Over at Toyota, the biggest news was the introduction of an all-new Camry. Of course, this has nothing to do with sports cars and this speaks volumes about the mood surrounding the brand. But the Japanese giant has been making noise recently about bringing excitement back to its lineup and there are signs that this is soon to happen.

Rumours of a new Toyota Celica coming to market have persisted for years; so, too, have stories about a new Supra and Toyota’s FT-1 concept car – on display at a private gathering at Lower West Side hipster hangout the Standard – foreshadows that development. In the meantime, the Lexus brand is going great with a dizzying array of new concept cars and some fantastic production-ready cars, such as the RC-F. The new Lexus models look anything but affordable, though, so it has been left to the Scion brand to lure new enthusiasts to Toyota.

Scion’s current offerings are largely hit-and-miss, but one of the clear hits is the FR-S sport coupe that was co-developed with Subaru. In New York, visitors had the chance to get up close with a spin-off that’s headed our way this summer, the oddly named Scion FR-S Release Series 1.0. This special edition gains aerodynamic tweaks and a sport suspension system enabled by Toyota Racing Development.

There are a few exceptions that prove the rule that affordable sports cars don’t have longevity – one is the Mazda MX-5 (née Miata) and the other is the Ford Mustang.

This year, the Mazda celebrates the car’s 25th anniversary. The little roadster has been a fixture of the Mazda fleet, a car that’s outlasted the RX-8 (an eight-year lifespan) and the RX-7 (24 years).

On the New York show floor, Mazda had a fantastic display that included all manner of Miatas from the past. On stage, overlooking this conflagration of roadsters, was the newly revealed MX-5 25th Anniversary Edition, which brings increased muscularity to the somewhat delicate little car.

Off-site, the car that created the biggest impact was the new Ford Mustang. To mark the 50th anniversary of this modern motoring legend, Ford has been doing one hell of a job to steal the limelight from its competitors.

In New York, the marketing gurus at Ford reimagined an idea from 1964 when they reassembled a 2015 Ford Mustang Convertible on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. In terms of thinking big about the affordable sports car, Ford is setting the pace.

The writer was a guest of Toyota.

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