A sports sedan or a sports saloon is a sedan automobile that is designed to look and feel "sporty", offering the motorist more connection with the driving experience, while providing the comfort and amenities expected of a luxury sedan. A wider definition that includes related coupé, convertibles, crossovers is known as sport luxury. Most vehicles in this category overlap with the compact executive car and executive car classifications, while the sporty small family sedans are called sport compacts (mostly used in North America).
The term was originally introduced in the 1930s and applied to lighter, more streamlined closed body coachwork fitted by car makers. Rover, for example, had Sports Saloon versions of several of their models.
It was later applied by manufacturers to special versions of their vehicles that allowed them to enter production cars in motor races with extra modifications not normally permitted by the regulations. Such regulations required cars to be homologated typically by selling them in minimum numbers to the public. Some of the earlier examples were the Alfa Romeo 1900, Triumph Dolomite and Lotus Cortina.
Traditionally sports sedans have a manual transmission and tachometer in order to provide that "sports look and feel" and are rear wheel drive, have good handling characteristics, and adequate power. Because of the US move to automatic transmission and front wheel drive these types are now also to be found in the sport sedan category. Recent sport sedans such as the latest iterations of the BMW M5 and BMW M3 had implemented semi-automatic transmissions.
The term "sport sedan" is not an absolute term, rather it is relative.
In North America, most luxury import sedans are often considered "sport sedans" because of their higher performance, handling, and expensive available amenities relative to that of mass market cars. There is some price overlapping, for instance as an entry-level BMW 328i has a similar (manufacturer's) suggested retail price to a Toyota Camry XLE V6.
The term "sport sedan" also came into being, when comparing luxury import sedans (i.e. BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz), which were smaller cars popular with young buyers that focused on performance and handling, to domestic luxury marques such as Cadillac and Lincoln, for older customers and which emphasized size and comfort. In the 1980s and 1990s, the change in consumer demographics towards smaller and sportier luxury cars, along with Japanese luxury brands, led to a decline in the prestige of domestic luxury marques, whose chief offerings were the Cadillac DeVille and Lincoln Town Car. However, since the 2000s, Cadillac and Lincoln have begun producing competitive models such as the Cadillac CTS and Lincoln LS. Buick was retained as General Motors's traditional luxury brand and emphasized comfort and amenities instead of driving experience.
Luxury performance sedans sold in North American have a smaller range of engines, tending towards the high-powered side, compared to their European lineups. For instance Mercedes-Benz advertises all of the 2009 US/Canadian models of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class as a "sport sedan", not just the high-performance C63 AMG.
In the midsize sedan category in North America, the 2008 Nissan Altima has been described as the sportiest in its classification, compared to the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. The first-generation Mazda6 and Mazda3 were also known as sport sedans as well,as well as the Volkswagen Jetta and Volkswagen Passat, when tested against other vehicles in their size class.
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