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Detroit auto show consumer guide: Sports cars

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

America is experiencing a second golden age of sports cars (the 1960s was the first). With gas prices low, the economy revvin' and track events galore, there have never been more reasons for enthusiasts to push the performance envelope.

And what an envelope. The Detroit auto show will feature everything from a $25,000 Subaru BRZ to the $500,000 Ford GT supercar. The absence of Europe's luxury brands on the Cobo floor will mean less eye-candy this year, but there are still plenty of roller skates to get your heart racing. Modern electronics are enabling hybridized cyborgs from the future — but are also allowing drivers to safely manage unheard-of 700-horsepower from old-fashioned V-8s.

Ford Executive Jim Farley introduces the Mustang GT500 at the North American International Auto Show media preview day at Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan on January 14, 2019. Ford Motor Company's Executive Vice President and president, Global Markets   (Image by Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Ford Mustang GT500

What it is: This is the most powerful Mustang ever. Although Ford has yet to finalize the numbers, the GT500's horsepower will eclipse 700 thanks to a supercharged 5.2-liter V-8 nicknamed the Predator. But there's more here than just predatory acceleration numbers. The wicked-looking pony comes with a Track Pack option that adds aero bits — including a huge rear wing — to 12-inch gummy tires and 16.5-inch brakes to help this thing carve up apexes.

Payne’s take: The Ford Mustang is the best-selling sports car in the world, and Ford is determined to keep the hits coming. For the first time in 50 years, a powerful GT500 will be in showrooms alongside its legendary track-rat little brother, the GT350. But this time the GT500 is the total package as Ford takes aim squarely at crosstown rival Chevrolet's 650-horse Camaro ZL1 1LE.

The 2020 Toyota Supra

Toyota Supra

What it is: First seen at the 2014 Detroit show as the dazzling FT-1 Concept, the Supra is a dramatically styled two-seat, rear-wheel drive sports car. Sharing a chassis with the BMW Z4, the Supra brings super handling with weight distributed 50-50 front-to-rear. Under the sculpted hood is a 335-horse inline V-6 mated to an eight-speed automatic. Four-pot, fast-stop Brembo brakes are standard. The interior is driver-centric with bolstered seats, a rotary-button infotainment controller and available heads-up display.

Payne’s take:The Supra slots in above the Toyota 86 as a premium sports car (see that BMW-developed engine, Nurburgring-tested portfolio) in the Toyota lineup. It re-establishes Toyota's sports chops among Japanese rivals like the Acura NSX and Nissan GTR. The purposeful styling is unique, drawing on Toyota's LeMans prototype for inspiration with narrow nose, big hips and aerodynamic trunk. A composite hatchback adds welcome cargo functionality.

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The Lexus RC F Track Edition

Lexus RC F and RC F Track Edition

What it is: Lexus coupe’s F performance trim gets a mid-cycle upgrade with subtle design changes, light-weighting and an apex-carving track edition. Design upgrades include stacked front LED lights and more-chiseled tail lights. Launch control will boost standing-start zero-60 times to 4.2 seconds. That number drops below 4 seconds with the Track Edition, which is draped in lightweight carbon fiber from hood to roof to big rear wing. To go with all the cool black stuff outside, the Track Edition adds an all-red interior.

Payne’s take: The RC F is Japan’s version of the Detroit muscle car with a honkin’, stonkin’ 472-horse, 5.0-liter V-8 to wake up the neighbors. It goes like stink in a straight line, but its weight has been a liability — an issue the new Fs address with more aluminum, and in the case of the Track Edition, carbon fiber. Did you ever think ol’ vanilla Lexus would have a Track Edition? It’s not vanilla anymore.

The Subaru STI S209

Subaru Impreza WRX STI S209 

What it is: The S209 is special-edition track version of the superb, if aging, Subie WRX STI. The S209 is strapped down with multiple suspension tweaks and body braces to the STI’s already rally-tested bod — and brings a whopping 31 more horsepower to the Subie's standard, 310-horse, 2.5-liter turbo-four. You’ll know it by the strut-mounted rear wing, which replaces the standard, curvy aerofoil.

Payne’s take: As Subie fan boys wait impatiently for the all-new STi, based on the superb, stiffened bones of the current Impreza, Subie is slaking their thirst with special models like the S209. The S follows last year’s RA-Type, which jacked up the horsepower to 325, but was generally panned as not being “more” enough.