Hot hatches and performance SUVs are hot property, but traditional sports cars still have their place in the market. While the genre incorporates a range of sizes, layouts and power outputs, the bottom line is that the best sports cars are all created with driving fun near the top of their priority list.
There’s a sports car for just about every budget. From around just £25,000 the Mazda MX-5 is ready to thrill with its traditional low-powered, rear-drive recipe. A little more cash will secure an Audi TT, while other sporty coupes such as the Toyota Supra offer enthusiasts a choice of different styles and driving characteristics.
If you want something that feels a bit more exotic, then machines like the Porsche 718 Boxster and the Alpine A110 occupy the sports car sweet spot, with plenty of power and thrilling handling to rival the fun factor of much more expensive supercars.
The higher end of the spectrum includes cars that are devastatingly fast and hugely exciting to drive, just like a full-fat supercar, but our favourites also blend in some genuine practicality and day-to-day ability – the Porsche 911 being a particularly great example.
Top 10 best sports cars
- Mazda MX-5
- Porsche 911
- Alpine A110
- Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman
- BMW M3/M4
- McLaren 720S
- Toyota GR Supra
- Ford Mustang
- Nissan GT-R
- Audi TT
1. Mazda MX-5
The Mazda MX-5 is one of the very best enthusiast’s cars on sale, regardless of its relatively low price. There aren’t many small, fun, rear-wheel-drive sports cars available on the modern market, so most of the MX-5’s rivals are actually front-drive hot hatchbacks.
The MX-5 might not be practical as an everyday proposition, but involvement behind the wheel is simply in another league. Powered by a choice of a fizzy 1.5 or 2.0-litre petrol engine, it’s less about outright performance and focused more on sharp handling and enjoyment.
One of the very best manual gearboxes available provides a welcome dose of engagement, while light, direct steering gives feedback by the bucketload. Speaking of buckets, the MX-5’s seats are supportive rather than incredibly figure-hugging, and the cabin is very snug, so tall occupants may struggle to get comfortable.
The fabric roof can be easily opened and closed from the driver’s seat despite its lack of electric assistance – perfect for making the most of Britain’s sporadic sunshine at a moment’s notice.
2. Porsche 911
Porsche’s latest 911 is the most complete yet; it’s fast, sophisticated and entirely usable in everyday life. The current crop of Carrera S and 4S models are just as fast as the Carrera GTS from the previous generation, such is the pace of the 911’s continued evolution.
There are a number of Coupe, Cabriolet and Targa versions of the 992-generation to choose from. At the top of the tree is the savage 641bhp Turbo S variant, which manages the 0-62mph sprint in just 2.7 seconds and a 205mph top speed.
Our pick of the range is the rear-wheel-drive Carrera S coupe. The car’s trademark flat-six remains characterful with 444bhp on tap despite its brace of turbochargers, while the standard PDK dual-clutch gearbox delivers lightning-fast shifts.
The 911’s breadth of ability is what impresses most. It performs as an engaging sports car, a long-legged tourer and a comfortable companion, all regardless of road conditions and all with a surprising amount of ease.
3. Alpine A110
Drawing from a rich history of rear-engined sports and racing cars, the latest Alpine A110 is styled to look and feel much like the French brand’s iconic Sixties offering of the same name. But with a mid-mounted turbocharged four-cylinder engine, dual-clutch gearbox and a perfectly judged chassis, the modern A110 is far more modern than its retro-styled bodywork may have you believe. Rivals are more practical, but the Alpine stands as the best choice for keen drivers who want to stand out.
The standard A110 makes 249bhp from its 1.8-litre Renault engine. That might not sound like much, but it’s more than enough in a car that weighs in at a mere 1,098kg. The Alpine is just over 300kg lighter than an Audi TTS, and it’s this low weight that defines the driving experience.
Unlike its German rivals, the A110 offers a pared-back, purer drive. It flows down the road with a delicacy that can only be found in such a light car, while perfect balance, sweet steering and just a hint of roll through the suspension help inspire confidence. The Alpine is refreshingly compact, too, and thanks to a great view forwards, it’s very easy to place and not at all intimidating to drive.
4. Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman
The Porsche 718 Boxster and Cayman are the German manufacturer’s entry-level roadster and coupe models, with each offering a blend of performance and handling that has seen them remain among our favourite sports machines for years.
Unlike its big brother, the 911, the 718 makes do with a four-cylinder engine that’s something of a weak point in an otherwise excellent package. Standard and T models get 296bhp, but S models receive a boost to 345bhp. If you desire yet more power, the top-spec GTS cars get a further boost to almost 400bhp. All versions of this engine are effective rather than emotive, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for an exciting engine note.
The six-speed manual and seven-speed PDK dual-clutch gearboxes are great to use, and you’ll quickly forget about the lack of a great noise once you come to a set of corners. Beautiful steering, huge grip and a brilliantly damped ride all combine to make the 718 one of the very best sports cars from a driver’s perspective. It’s more expensive than some rivals, but Porsche’s sports car expertise should prove to be worth the extra pennies. Residuals are strong, too.
5. BMW M3/M4
Divisive looks aside, the latest versions of BMW’s M3 saloon and M4 coupe continue their tradition of mastering both road and track, while all wrapped up in a package that’s easy to use as an everyday car, should you choose to.
The two latest models have been given a major overhaul, with four-wheel-drive and the latest six-cylinder twin turbocharged ‘S58’ engine being two of the most notable upgrades. The only versions of the M3 and M4 on sale in the UK are the Competition spec, but this is definitely no bad thing.
The Competition cars see an increase of power from 473bhp to 503bhp, and an eight-speed automatic gearbox that is optimised to get the most out of the xDrive system. Don’t let these changes fool you though, these cars live up to the highly-coveted M bloodline and are definitely worthy of a place on this list.
6. McLaren 720S
The 720S was designed with the likes of the Ferrari 488 and Lamborghini Huracan firmly in its sights, and taking on these two goliath brands is not an easy feat for most. Fortunately for McLaren, an abundance of technological expertise and long-standing motorsport pedigree have helped shape the 720S into a fearsome opponent.
Power is plentiful, with a mid-mounted twin turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 producing a huge 710bhp (the 720PS from which the car gets its name). This will launch you from 0-62mph in an alarmingly short 2.9 seconds, and on to an equally astonishing top speed of 212mph.
Things get even better in the corners. Electro-hydraulic power steering provides plenty of satisfying feedback, while a selection of drive modes allow the 720S to be easily optimised for just about any bit of tarmac that you point it towards. There’s even a Variable Drift Control system that allows you to have fun while the Electronic Stability Control works towards preventing any unfortunate (and likely very expensive) mishaps.
7. Toyota GR Supra
The Toyota Supra’s return has been a controversial one. A full 17 years after the much-loved Mk4 Supra ended production, Toyota finally brought back the name. While the internet may have briefly been in uproar over the amount of input BMW had during development, no one can deny the new Supra is an exquisite driver’s car.
The BMW-sourced 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder produces a healthy 335bhp and 500Nm of torque. While this is quite a way off the BMW M2 Competition’s 404bhp, the Supra holds its own in the handling department against the Alpine A110 and Porsche 718 Cayman. 0-62mph is dealt with in just 4.3 seconds.
The interior relies heavily on BMW parts, but this brings advantages in terms of quality and infotainment technology compared to Toyota’s own recent efforts. The driving experience was clearly prioritised in the Supra’s development and for sheer driving thrills it’s a winner.
8. Ford Mustang
In terms of value, the Ford is miles ahead of its rivals. The Mustang GT has the same output as Porsche’s latest 911 Carrera S – 444bhp – but starts at around £50,000 less.
Not only do you save a bundle of cash, but you also get a 5.0-litre V8 and a 0-62mph time of 4.3 seconds, with a limited top speed of 155mph. It’s not as refined, polished, well built or composed as its more costly rivals, yet little can detract from its wealth of character. Enthusiasts will certainly never tire of the noise from its quad tailpipes.
While muscle cars aren’t known for being at home on a twisty road, the latest Mustang copes admirably. It’s not the last word in delicacy, but its recently revised chassis is more controlled than ever, especially with adaptive dampers. The heavy yet accurate steering is good, while the six-speed manual box is much better in use than the slightly lethargic 10-speed auto.
9. Nissan GT-R
Famous for its supercar-baiting performance, the GT-R is a unique proposition in the sports car market. Off-the-line acceleration is remarkable, as is outright speed. Powered by a hand-built 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 developing 562bhp, and with an array of driver-assist systems, it’s perhaps the most effortlessly quick sports car on sale.
Light, fast steering and a dialled-in chassis give great agility, while wide tyres and quick-witted 4WD come together to provide huge reserves of grip.
Previous GT-R iterations were criticised for their lack of refinement, but the latest car focuses more on comfort. Smoother low-speed shifts, improved sound-deadening and a more luxurious cabin help take the edge off without diluting the GT-R’s character. It’s more usable everyday – but can still do 0-62mph in 2.8 seconds.
10. Audi TT
While there is plenty of choice when it comes the the Audi TT, with several variations available including a roadster and the hardcore TT RS, the basic principles remain the same throughought, it’s engaging to drive and good to look at.
Standard TTs are fitted with a 2.0-litre TFSI engine that produces either 194 or 242bhp, depending on your chosen spec. Regardless of power output, though, the engine is punchy and smooth.
The sense of style continues when it comes to the interior, too, with its specially crafted flowing design and wide array of technology, including Audi’s Virtual Cockpit System. While there are two rear seats, in typical sports car fashion these aren’t really suitable for anyone except small children. Use this area for storage instead, though, and the TT can prove a surprisingly usable two-seater.
Best sports cars: buying advice
It’s common sense, but it pays to have a very good idea of your needs before setting foot in a showroom or beginning your online hunt. Most sports cars will compromise on practicality, and limited load space and room for two may not quite match your lifestyle. Similarly, larger performance machines will be more expensive to run, so there’s a balance to be found if you plan to use your sports car as your sole transport.
At the cheaper end of the market, it makes sense to decide whether or not you want a convertible. Modern soft-tops are far more sophisticated than ever before – with the roof up or down – but at high speeds one with a cheaper fabric top will be less refined than the equivalent coupé. Again, a compromise may be required if you want the option of wind-in-the-hair motoring.
Once you’ve decided on your requirements and budget, the next step should always be a test drive. Make sure you take the car to a proper twisty road and get a feel for its responses. Pay attention to the steering, gearshift, pedalbox, suspension and its performance through the gears; it’s likely you’ll be buying a sports car to have fun, so make sure you feel able to enjoy yourself. Check too that you fit behind the steering wheel; many sports cars can feel a little cramped inside if you’re more than six feet tall.
The sports car market is filled with prestigious badges. Picking one of these is a good idea if you can afford it, because their residual values will be relatively high. That’s a good thing if you’re buying on a PCP deal, too; high residuals usually equal relatively low monthly payments. Just don’t get too carried away with expensive options.
Sports cars and rear-wheel-drive often prove the perfect match for driving fun, check out our list of the best rear-wheel-drive cars.