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Sports Car Vs. Muscle Car: What’s The Difference?

The Auto Sunday is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Sports car Vs. Muscle Car: What’s the difference? Aren’t these two one and the same? Is there really any big difference between the two?

This is a muscle car
This is a muscle car

There has been a long-standing debate regarding sports car vs. muscle car definitions. On the surface, both are very similar. They’re known for being fast, powerful machines with sleek exteriors. This is why a lot of people are confused about whether what they’re looking at is a sports car vs. muscle car.

Comparing a sports car vs. muscle car requires an in-depth look at its basic components. It’s true, on the surface they’re pretty much alike.

This is a sports car
This is a sports car

But, to a car enthusiast, the sports car vs. muscle car segments are world apart. Here are the basic differences between sports car vs. muscle car variants.

What’s Sports Car

With all this sports car vs. muscle car talk, do we even know what each one really is? Ok, let’s start with sports cars. What is a sports car and why is it called that?

This is a typical sports car
This is a typical sports car

A sports car is designed to be a fun machine to drive. Therefore, handling and performance are emphasized to give the driver a thrilling experience. This type of car originated in Europe where there were a lot of long, winding roads and hilly terrain.

Because the fun part is what’s most important, carrying more than one passenger (excluding the driver, of course), was never considered. To this day, sports cars are still seen as two seater vehicles. Even modern day sports car have nearly unusable rear seats.

Common Characteristics Of A Sports Car

Two Seats Only (Even If There’s Four Seats In There)

Sports cars borrowed a lot from the roadster seating layout. These cars were never meant for anything practical like transporting more than two adult people from point A to point B. if you take a look at the rear seat, you’ll find those are barely suitable for children, much less adults.

Engine

The reason why sports cars are a joy to handle is how the engine is laid out. Traditional sports cars have rear-wheel drive with engines up front (FR layout) or in the middle of the car (MR layout).

For FR Layout sports cars, the engine is situated as near as possible to the firewall to prevent an imbalance to the vehicle. The weight of the engine acts as a counterweight to all the mass behind the firewall and helps straighten the entire vehicle as the torque picks up.

The rear-wheel drive engine has also been replaced with the all-wheel drive for better traction and power distribution. To this day, only the Porsche continues using rear-wheel drive.

Two seats and a lot of power under the hood

There are also hybrid-electric sports cars nowadays and the appearance of these vehicles has really changed the game. Tesla’s Roadsters are good examples of electric cars that are at par with the current breed of sports cars available in the market today.

What’s more exciting is that Volkswagen has joined the game and their entry beats any sports car in production today on the race track. The use of electric motors vastly reduces that annoying loud sound experienced by sports car drivers as they rev their engines.

Perhaps this is where the entire sports car division is going. If this works, we’re bound to have more fast cars on the road with no air or noise pollution involved.

Muscle Car

And now to the second part of the sports car vs. muscle car debate. What is a muscle car?

A muscle car is any American high performance coupe with a high-displacement V8 engine. These cars were popular in the 60s and 70s and fairly recently had a resurgence thanks to the Chevy Camaro.

This is a typical muscle car
This is a typical muscle car

Muscle cars are basically an extension of the hot-rodding scene that was popular back then. That means a lightweight body, no-frills cabin, two doors, radical body styling and an oversized engine.

Oh, and an affordable price tag.

The key appeal muscle cars had was its affordability without skimping on power. That all changed when the demands for more luxury came to fore. Prices started sky-rocketing and the muscle car became a tamed beast.

The segment eventually disappeared and transformed into the supercar segment up until the 2000s when the call of nostalgia hit. It was in the 70s when this decline started.

When the brand new Mustang came out, car enthusiasts immediately lapped it up and lapped it around the race track.

The 60s and 70s was indeed a great time to be alive for car enthusiasts. The sports car vs. muscle car scene was very much alive then. It was also the time when muscle cars were truly dominating the scene. This was true, at least for the American car scene.

Now, it seems like the 2000s is going to be another part of history filled with exciting muscle cars, racing culture and auto sport trends.

Engines

Muscle cars have big, powerful V-8s for more “muscle”. Although this has changed a bit over the years, the same still remains. Muscle cars still have bigger engines than their smaller counterparts. Sports cars, on the other hand, have smaller engines in comparison.

How much power? MOPAR!

That size leads to more power for muscle cars whereas the smaller, more refined engines make sports cars quicker.

There is a serious direction towards making muscle cars electric vehicles as well. The technology is already present for making fast cars that can rival the speed of F1 racers. By taking the styling cues of muscle cars and mating them with electric car platforms, we’ll have awesome looking cars that aren’t as loud without the V8s in them.

Bodies And Styling

Muscle cars have bigger, bolder body stylings whereas sports cars take on a sleeker form. These cars tend to have straight lines and cuts while sports cars prefer gentle slopes and sexy curves.

Muscle cars have more brawn and bulk

For preference, sports car vs. muscle car groups are divided with males dominating the bigger vehicle segment and women and younger people opting to get the smaller cars.

Torque

Muscle cars are known for having more torque owing to their bigger engines. Sports cars on the other hand have lesser torque but may seem faster because of the offset power to weight ratio.

Since muscle cars have rear wheel drive, dumping the clutch while pressing the accelerator pedal to the metal is going to make it sway. On sports cars, this happens after a considerable amount of time and with a clear intent from the driver to make the car go doughnuts.

Needless to say, going uphill is more fun with a muscle car as it can easily go over the hump without any issues. A sports car on the other hand may require shifting down to a lower gear to match the appropriate torque needed for steep inclines.

Handling

This is where sports car vs. muscle car enthusiasts have different opinions. Perhaps this is because of their loyalty to the niche they’re in. Perhaps, an unfamiliarity with the other niche. Or perhaps, a simple refusal to accept the positive qualities of one over the other.

Light Colored Cars Stay Cooler
Sports cars handle like a dream

But, to put that at rest, sports car do have better handling. This is owed to the fact that they have a better balance of power to weight ratio. Muscle cars on the other hand have a lot of torque that makes them better suited to dig into the ground and drive off at a faster rate. This is because muscle cars have more traction. The larger, wider wheels also help.

There is a drawback though to having all that power and traction in your hands. Release the clutch too fast and your muscle car is going to sway from side to side. This makes it a nightmare to handle in tight city streets and end to end traffic. If you’re just starting out with a muscle car, drive with caution.

Accidents usually happen to new drivers who underestimate the power and handling dynamics of these cars. You don’t want to do that to your muscle especially with such a large price tag attached to it.

Potential

One thing you can’t deny when it comes to the sports car vs. muscle car debate is the power potential V8 engines possess.

The naturally aspirated powerhouse nestled under the hood provides the raw power needed to make these marvelous machines scream. Sports cars on the other hand, rely on superchargers or turbo to give them that extra oomph.

If you want to race, get a muscle car. If you want to enjoy driving fast, get a sports car.

Watch out for the new electric sports cars and muscle cars because these are expected to blow everyone’s idea of just how fast these things can go out of the water.

Price

The sports car vs. muscle car topic extends over to the price range of these vehicles.

So which one is more affordable? Is it the Spartan muscle car or the more comfortable and fully equipped with the latest technology sports car?

Surprisingly, the more expensive of the two is the muscle car.

Sure, it might seem like it’s more uncomfortable to ride in a muscle car but you’re not really paying for comfort are you? You’re paying for that V8 engine nestled inside the engine bay. You’re paying for all that power without worrying about everything else.

To be fair, some sports cars are as expensive as muscle cars and vice versa. But, for the most part, muscle cars have the higher price tag.

Pros And Cons Of Sports Cars And Muscle Cars

Advantages

Advantages of sports cars vs muscle cars are evident enough on the race track. On the straightaway, muscle cars win hands down but, when hitting tight corners, sports cars perform best.

A sports car will never sound as good as a muscle car due to that rip-roaring V8 in those big machines.

Some drivers swear they feel safer inside a muscle car than inside a sports car because of the added sheet metal surrounding them. This safety notion is a myth. In a study about sports cars vs muscle cars and their level of safety in a high speed crash, both produced horrific results.

For sports cars vs muscle cars fuel economy, the latter loses. Sports cars offer better mileage. And the suspension on a sports car is definitely more civilized than the one used on a muscle car.

Disadvantages

Disadvantages of sports cars vs. muscle cars are quite numerous. For muscle cars, visibility is compromised to enhance their sporty look. A lowered roof and deep seats make it a nightmare to see outside the car especially if you’re seated at the back.

Fuel economy is also a disadvantage to the two segments as both have fuel hungry engines equipped. A slight tap on the accelerator feeds more fuel than what you would normally use in a conventional car. This increases your likelihood of speeding your way to bankruptcy.

And all that power is useless on city streets and other public access roads. You can’t expect to speed up all the time knowing that you might not have enough power to stop on time when someone stops abruptly in front of you never mind the fact that almost every street has a stop light.

You won’t be able to enjoy all that power unless you’re on the race track or a wide path on the highway opens up for you. Even then, speeding up is still risky business as highway patrol men have speed guns that can tag you for going over the established limit. Too many of those tickets and you’re more likely to put your car up for auction to pay off all the fines. That’s also a good way to retire your driver’s license and privileges early.

The disadvantages extend over to insuring your vehicle. Since these vehicles fall under the performance/luxury car category, the rates attached are higher. Take a good, long hard look at your lifestyle before getting any one of these cars because they can put a serious dent in your finances.

Last but not least, don’t expect these cars to be your daily driver. Rain can seriously cramp your style.

Recent Changes Thanks To Technology Advancements

So, sports car vs. muscle car, which one is right for you?

In a perfect world you could have a regular car, a sports car, a muscle car, one for off-roading, a vintage car to show off to friends, and a minivan for trips to the grocery.

Alas, that can’t happen to everyone.

So which one do you think is right for you? Who wins in the sports car vs. muscle car debate?

Perhaps you’re still on the fence about this topic because of how sports cars and muscle cars are depicted as two very separate beasts. But what if you could have both in one package?

That’s actually possible now thanks to the advancements in technology for cars.

Muscle cars traditionally had oversized engines crammed into conventional sized cars. That no longer holds true thanks to miniaturization of engine parts and the eventual shrinking of V8 engines. The smaller size still delivers the punch of the original but without taking too much space.

Tesla Model X
The future of sports cars vs muscle cars?

Modern muscle cars already have a more improved suspension system for better handling and cornering, much like a modern sports car.

Sports cars have also taken some styling cues from muscle cars and added the bulk that makes them more appealing to the “macho” crowd who believe bigger is always better. Because the same engines that are inside modern muscle cars fit inside modern sports cars, it doesn’t come as any surprise that they can be as powerful as their larger counterparts.

Blurring The Lines Between Sports Cars And Muscle Cars

So, with sports cars becoming more and more like muscle cars and muscle cars doing the same, is the sports car vs. muscle car still a relevant topic? Have the lines been blurred enough to make these two segments effectively be one and the same?

What used to be a clear delineation between the two has slowly eroded thanks to advancements in technology. With electric cars becoming more popular, you can essentially have a muscle car equipped with a smaller engine and a sports car that runs faster than a V8 equipped mopar.

Sports cars have become heavier, bulkier, with a body styling akin to that of a muscle car. Muscle cars nowadays don’t have oversized V8 engines in the bay anymore. Even conventional cars are just around the corner waiting to overtake these two with the technology available these days.

Sooner or later, we might even see a minivan leaving a ‘69 Camaro in its dust.

So, knowing that, is the sports car vs. muscle car debate still relevant?

It still is. There will always be car purists and the need to become part of a niche is a very powerful calling that very few can resist.

No matter how advanced cars become, there will always be a niche for sports cars and muscle cars respectively. All those recent developments are going to fall under a different category and may have the sports or muscle term thrown in to appeal to this very select crowd.

There’s no doubt that the advent of electric cars becoming faster and more reliable is eventually going to replace these two and make them essentially obsolete. Sports cars and muscle cars will be viewed as the vehicles that were ahead of their time helping open the doors for faster conventional cars today.

The Ultimate Question Is: Which One’s The Right Car For You?

To wind down this discussion about sports cars vs. muscle cars, we come to the ultimate question: which one is the right car for you?

We’re obviously going to remove all other car choices to narrow it down to just these two. So, the question about practicality, fuel economy and cargo space are not essential to the decision making process.

The most important things here now are power, looks, handling and recreational purpose.

Price shouldn’t be a factor too. Let’s assume you have enough to buy the top of the line of either one. So which one are you going for?

Just remember, muscle cars may be bigger, more powerful, and faster but they can be hard to control. Sports cars on the other hand may be smaller, quicker, and more refined but they’ll never match the power and speed of their counterpart on the race track.

Both segments have their clear advantages and disadvantages and we’ve discussed that thoroughly.

Will you be able to handle the power of a muscle car or will you give up all that extra speed for a more refined handling experience?

What’s your decision? Who wins in your sports car vs. muscle car decision making considerations?

In Conclusion:

The sports car vs. muscle car debate has been an on-going topic amongst car enthusiasts for a very long time. It can be polarizing at times since most car enthusiasts are purists in the truest sense of the word.

It has become more confusing these days as both segments regularly cross over into each other’s territory with the recent modifications made to cars these days.

Still, there are areas where one can still say a muscle car is a muscle car and a sports car is a sports car. All you really have to do is take a long, hard look not just on the surface but also what’s under the hood, and inside the cabin.

Related Questions:

Is It Really That Hard To See Out Of A Muscle Car If You’re In The Rear Seat?

Yes. One of the things that makes muscle cars sporty and intimidating is that low roof line. There’s no problem seeing out if you’re the driver. If you’re the passenger, that massive windshield is reduced to a slit obscured by the front seats. Never mind the fact that you’re seated further back.

Which One Would Win In A Head To Head Race?

The muscle car would win hands down almost every time. Sports cars have no chance of winning against muscle cars on a regular race track. They’d be quicker on the acceleration but the muscle car will immediately catch up and leave the smaller car in the wake of its tailpipe exhaust.

Which One Is More Enjoyable To Drive?

The sports car. When it comes to sports car vs. muscle car driving enjoyment, you’re better off with the smaller vehicle. Sports cars have better handling, smoother power transition, and have all the creature comforts to make your trip enjoyable. Not so with the muscle car and it’s Spartan layout.

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