Sports cars have been with us in one form or another for almost as long as there have been internal-combustion engines propelling wheeled vehicles. At various times, the market for them has expanded and contracted; one such period of shrinkage began in the late 1960s, leaving only a few contenders, most of them high-priced, to satisfy the demand of a small but steady market for high-performance two-seaters.
Then came the Mazda Miata. Cute, fun and affordable, it was an instant success. No real psychic ability was needed to see that other small, frisky sporting machines would follow.
Now, there are three new members of the sports-car clan. All three--BMW's Z3, Porsche's Boxster and the Mercedes-Benz SLK--are competing in a niche slightly above the Miata, yet below stalwarts in the Jaguar XK8 and Porsche 911 class.
All three newcomers are impressive. All fit into a fairly narrow price window centered at about $40,000, all are well-equipped, and all promise as much over-the-road fun as most drivers can stand. Each carries a company name synonymous with performance, quality and engineering, and each comes from a company with plenty of sports car-building experience.
By the time the first SLKs hit the showroom, the little coupe/roadster had already proven itself good enough to win the North American Car of the Year award. Will it be good enough for you?