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Attributing the definition of 'sports car' to any particular model can be controversial or the subject of debate among enthusiasts. Authors and experts have often contributed their own ideas to capture a definition.
A car may be a sporting automobile without being a sports car. Performance modifications of regular, production cars, such as sport compacts, sports sedans, muscle cars, pony cars and hot hatches, generally are not considered sports cars, yet share traits common to sports cars. Certain models can "appeal to both muscle car and sports car enthusiasts, two camps that rarely acknowledged each other's existences."Some models are called "sports cars" for marketing purposes to take advantage of greater marketplace acceptance and for promotional purposes. High-performance cars of various configurations are grouped as Sports and Grand tourer cars or, occasionally, just as performance cars.Drivetrain and engine layout:
The front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout (FR) is common to sports cars of any era and has survived longer in sports cars than in mainstream automobiles. Examples include the Caterham 7, Mazda MX-5, and the Chevrolet Corvette. More specifically, many such sports cars have a front mid-engine, rear-wheel drive layout (FMR), with the centre of mass of the engine between the front axle and the firewall.
In search of improved handling and weight distribution, other layouts are sometimes used. The rear mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout (RMR) is commonly found only in sports cars—the motor is centre-mounted in the chassis (closer to and behind the driver), and powers only the rear wheels. Some high-performance sports car manufacturers, such as Ferrari and Lamborghini have preferred this layout. The Fiat X1/9 is an example of an affordable mid-engine sports car.
Porsche is one of the few remaining manufacturers using the rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout (RR). The motor's distributed weight across the wheels, in a Porsche 911, provides excellent traction, but the significant mass behind the rear wheels makes it more prone to oversteer in some situations. Porsche has continuously refined the design and in recent years added electonic stability control to counteract these inherent design shortcomings.
The front-engine, front-wheel-drive layout (FF) layout which is the most common in sport compacts and hot hatches, and modern production cars in general, is not generally used for sports cars. This layout is advantageous for small, light, lower power sports cars, as it avoids the extra weight, increased transmission power loss, and packaging problems of a long driveshaft and longitudinal engine of FR vehicles. However, its conservative handling effect, particularly understeer, and the fact that many drivers believe rear wheel drive is a more desirable layout for a sports car count against it. The Fiat Barchetta, Saab Sonett, and Berkeley cars are sports cars with this layout.
Before the 1980s few sports cars used four-wheel drive, which had traditionally added a lot of weight.Although not a sports car, the Audi Quattro proved its worth in rallying. With its improvement in traction, particularly in adverse weather conditions, four-wheel drive is no longer uncommon in high-powered sports cars, e.g. Porsche, Lamborghini, and the Bugatti Veyron.Seating layout:
Traditional sports cars were typically two-seat roadsters. Although the first sports cars were derived from fast tourers, and early sporting regulations often demanded four seats (even three-seaters were often produced by coachbuilders), two seats became common from about the mid-1920s. Modern sports cars may also have small back seats that are often really only suitable for luggage or small children; such a configuration is referred to as a 2+2 (two full seats + two "occasional" seats).
Over the years, some manufacturers of sports cars have sought to increase the practicality of their vehicles by increasing the seating room. One method is to place the driver's seat in the center of the car, which allows two full-sized passenger seats on each side and slightly behind the driver. The arrangement was originally considered for the Lamborghini Miura, but abandoned as impractical because of the difficulty for the driver to enter/exit the vehicle. McLaren used the design in their F1.
Another British manufacturer, TVR, took a different approach in their Cerbera model. The interior was designed in such a way that the dashboard on the passenger side swept toward the front of the car, which allowed the passenger to sit farther forward than the driver. This gave the rear seat passenger extra room and made the arrangement suitable for three adult passengers and one child seated behind the driver. The arrangement has been referred to by the company as a 3+1.Some Matra sports cars even had three seats squeezed next to each other.