Forefathers of the original import performance movement in SoCal successfully launched the scene from underground cool to mainstream acceptance. Their grit spawned secondary sport compact events such as sanctioned drag racing, drifting and even rallying that now serve as the base of a modern-day tuner segment.
The definition of sport compact to loosely include four-cylinder engines, with the exception of a few six cylinders, has remained relatively unchanged. But the originators of the import performance movement are in their late 30’s, early 40’s now. Overall industry knowledge has matured, personal tastes are more refined and the category has expanded post economic recession. Age equates to a greater sense of culture as people are exposed to new experiences. In this case, that means complementary market segments, modern vehicle platforms, new brands and advanced products.
Today, that sport compact sector has broadened to include more refined vehicle options that offer retailers, restylers, installers and consumers alike an array of aftermarket upgrades such as air intake, exhaust, suspension, wheels, tires and styling to name a few.
Sport Compact Vehicles in Demand
- Nissan GTR/350Z/370Z
- Audi A4/RS/S
- BMW 3-series/M
- Mercedes AMG/C
- Subaru BRZ/WRX STI
- Scion FRS
- Volkswagen GTI
- Throwbacks like the Mitsubishi Evo and Toyota Supra
- Expect the 2017 Ford Focus RS, 2017 Acura NSX, 2017 Honda Civic Si and 2017 Infiniti Q60 to take sport compact performance to the next level
Current Market Trends
“Retro builds are big right now. Guys of the import performance age want to build the kind of cars they couldn’t afford to do in high school,” said Jonathan Wong, an early adopter of the import performance movement and former Editor in Chief at Driving Line. Wong is a personal example of this trend, as he’s building the same body style he had back in the day. “Like many, I was broke and couldn’t afford to but now I have the discretionary funds to build it exactly how it was in high school and go a lot further,” he continued.
Some of the popular throwback models include the Datsun 510/240Z/280Z, Honda CRX/Civic, Toyota Celica/Supra, Acura Integra/NSX, Mazda RX3/RX7 and Mitsubishi Eclipse/3000GT. These beauties became ingrained in American import performance and quickly rose to fame, serving as halo models to modern day tuner platforms such as the Mitsubishi Evolution and Subaru WRX STI.
There’s also been a rise in the exotic segment, including vehicles like Porsche and Ferarri. “The 993/964 generation air-cooled Porsche is making a come back. You see European cars taking on some Japanese styling inspiration and merging it with theirs. Stance is popular and very wide wheels,” Wong added. Sub-niche is dominating the scene:
- Refined, less-is-more appearances, i.e., Euro Tuner – Audi A4, BMW 3-series and Mercedes AMG
- Exotic movement, i.e. Ferarri and Porsche
- Throwback to retro builds of the 90’s to mid-2000’s
Brian Patrias, General Manager of M-Port Group with HKS USA, said the sport compact segment is alive and well, noting the following aftermarket categories that are driving growth for their company in the import area.
- Suspension (specifically coilovers)
- Blow-off valves
- Supercharger and turbocharger kits
- Universal parts across multiple vehicle applications, including spark plugs, oil filter, air filters, etc.
Other Popular Categories Include
- Wheels and Tires
- Lowered Suspension
- Air Intake
- Performance Brakes
- Performance Chemicals
“Whatever consumers are getting into, they’re very into. These guys are core enthusiasts, as opposed to ‘in it for the short run’ (like previous sport compact generations). The lines are blurred, but broader is better for the segment. If you’re a true car enthusiast then you can admire it even if it’s not your personal style. There’s something to appreciate in every sub-niche of a niche,” said Wong.