The Word 'Sporty' Is Meaningless

Illustration for article titled The Word 'Sporty' Is Meaningless

Chances are remarkably good that if you ask somebody who’s not really all that interested in cars what they like about the car they decided to buy, they’ll mention something about “sporty looks.” It doesn’t matter what kind of car they have. As long as it’s not a street sweeper or an airport luggage tug, your chances of hearing the adjective “sporty” are very high. The word “sporty “ is effectively meaningless.


I think I first realized this when, asking someone what they liked about their new Toyota Prius, I was told that they liked the “sporty looks.” Now, the new Prius does its job just fine, but it looks like someone really pissed off a grouper.

Nobody is going to mistake one for a sports car, but the sad thing is I generally know what the owner likely means when they say the car looks “sporty.”

That’s because, under the incredibly vague criteria that defines the word “sporty” when referring to cars (and not Girls, Spice) pretty much anything designed in the past two decades with the slightest attention paid to styling and aerodynamics has enough elements to be considered ‘sporty.’

From what I can tell, ‘sporty’ seems to refer to a general, vague sleekness, shaped headlights, at least one line in the car’s profile that can be considered a curve, and pretty much anything else at all.

Illustration for article titled The Word 'Sporty' Is Meaningless

This criteria would cover about 98 percent of passenger cars, with the possible exceptions of defiantly box-like cars like the Scion xB, Kia Soul, and the Nissan Cube. This is also limited to cars and not SUVs, though most crossovers work just fine here.


I mean, I can generally see why people say this: modern car design does generally render everything with a bit of the aggressive, aero-tuned sort of detailing that was once exclusively for sports cars. Pretty much everything now has some sort of air dam and ground-effect bodywork and spoilers and all that. It’s not that everyone is wrong, it’s just that the very idea of sport car-derived design is now diffused over pretty much everything.

Sporty is a meaningless term. Maybe once it actually had some meaning, but I suspect now that if you showed a picture of a new Corolla and a 1970s MGB GT–something sold as an actual sports car–to an average car buyer, they’d say the Corolla was more ‘sporty.’


I mean, a modern Corolla can also blow the doors off an old MGB GT, so maybe all these normies have a point?

It doesn’t matter. All we really need to take away from all this is that the mainstream use of the term ‘sporty’ can likely be applied to absolutely anything sold today, from a Kia Rio to a Porsche 911, so that term is pretty much dead to anyone who actually gives a shit.


RIP, sporty. Have fun being applied to Priuses.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!:


Eric Rivera

Welcome to industry buzzwords! Where everything is made up and the cars don’t matter.