Hot hatches and performance SUVs are hot property, but traditional sports cars still have their place in the market. While they incorporate a range of vehicles of varying sizes, layouts and power, the bottom line is that 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. For £20k-£30k the Mazda MX-5 and Toyota GT86 are ready to thrill with their traditional low-powered, rear-drive recipe. A little more will secure a sports coupe such as the Audi TTS. Mid-rangers such as the Porsche 718 Boxster and the Alpine A110 occupy a sports car sweet spot, with plenty of power and fun to give a drive that easily matches that 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, Nissan GT-R and McLaren 570S are all great examples. And despite the current renewed focus on environmental issues, V8 sports cars are still alive and well, at least for now; the Mercedes-AMG C 63 and Ford Mustang are two of the best, and are included in our list.
We hope there’s a sports car here in just about every flavour; keen drivers vary in their tastes and the market has stratified to please everyone. Each of our choices is great in its own right, so picking a winner was a challenge for our road test team. Their favourite does well to stand clear of the rest.
Click the links below for more information on each of our top 10 sports cars…
Top 10 best sports cars
- 1. Mazda MX-5
- 2. Porsche 911
- 3. Alpine A110
- 4. Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman
- 5. McLaren 570S
- 6. Mercedes-AMG C 63
- 7. Toyota GT86
- 8. Nissan GT-R
- 9. Audi TTS
- 10. Ford Mustang
1. Mazda MX-5
Engines: 1.5, 2.0 petrol
Trims: SE+, SE-L Nav+, Sport Nav+, GT Sport Nav+
0-62mph: 6.5-8.3 seconds
The Mazda MX-5 is one of the very best enthusiast’s cars on sale, regardless of price. There aren’t very many small, fun, rear-wheel-drive sports cars available on the modern market; most of the MX-5’s rivals are front-drive hot hatchbacks.
The Mazda might not be as practical 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 engines, 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 (now adjustable for reach) 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. Tall occupants may struggle to get comfortable.
2. Porsche 911
Engine: 3.0-litre petrol
Trims: Carrera S, Carrera 4S
0-62mph: 3.6-3.9 seconds
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 is just as fast as the Carrera GTS from the previous generation and not far off the Turbo from a decade ago, such is the pace of the 911’s continued evolution.
Coupé and Cabriolet versions of the Carrera S and Carrera 4S make up the entirety of the 992-generation 911 range for now, but the obligatory GTS, GT3 and Turbo models will arrive in due course.
Our pick of the latest range is the standard, two-wheel-drive Carrera S coupé. With 444bhp on tap, it covers 0-62mph in only 3.6 seconds; the car’s trademark flat-six remains characterful, 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’s simultaneously an engaging sports car, a long-legged tourer and a comfortable companion around town if required, all regardless of road conditions.
3. Alpine A110
Engine: 1.8 petrol
Trims: Pure, Légende
0-62mph: 4.5 seconds
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. It’s as modern as they come, though; a mid-mounted turbocharged four-cylinder, dual-clutch gearbox and perfectly judged chassis all sit beneath the A110’s pretty, retro-styled bodywork. Rivals are more practical, but the Alpine stands as the best choice for keen drivers who want to stand out.
The A110 makes 249bhp from its 1.8-litre Renault engine. That might not sound like much in this company, but it’s more than enough when the car itself 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
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol
Trims: 718 Cayman, 718 Boxster; S, T, GTS
0-62mph: 4.1-5.3 seconds
The Porsche 718 Boxster and Cayman are the German manufacturer’s entry-level convertible and hard-topped sports cars respectively, with each offering a similar blend of performance and handling that has seen them remain among our favourite sports machines for years.
Unlike its 911 big brother, the 718 makes do with a four-cylinder engine that’s something of a weak point in an otherwise excellent package. The standard car gets 296bhp, but S models receive a boost to 345bhp. Both versions of this engine are effective rather than emotive; 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 forget all about the lack of a good 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 you won’t regret paying for Porsche’s sports car expertise. Residuals should be strong, too.
5. McLaren 570S
Engine: 3.8-litre petrol
Trims: 570S, 570S Spider
0-62mph: 3.4 seconds
The most popular McLaren model is a direct rival to the Porsche 911, Audi R8 and Mercedes-AMG GT. As such, the 570S offers supercar performance with a nod towards everyday usability – if you’ve got around £150,000 to spend on a runaround.
A turbocharged 3.8-litre V8 producing 562bhp means performance is impressive, with 0-62mph dispatched in only 3.4 seconds and a top speed of 204mph. It’s connected to a great seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, and while it doesn’t sound fantastic, the engine is devastatingly effective.
The 570S does without the sophisticated chassis-control system of its 720S big brother, but it’s not held back by its conventional adaptive dampers and anti-roll bars. Pin-sharp steering, huge reserves of grip and beautiful suspension action make it one of the very best sports cars available.
6. Mercedes-AMG C 63
Engine: 4.0-litre petrol
Trims: C 63, C 63 S; saloon, estate, coupé, cabriolet
0-62mph: 3.9-4.2 seconds
In common with so many AMG products, the C 63 offers up a muscular take on a popular formula. It has no shortage of competition, but its character is what sets it apart. A twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 pushes out 469bhp in standard guise or 503bhp in the C 63 S, with 650 and 700Nm of torque respectively – more than enough to provide brutish straight-line performance. Both cars get a slick nine-speed automatic gearbox.
There’s poise to go with that muscle, too. AMG has transformed the standard C-Class into a sports saloon (plus estate, coupé and cabriolet) that proves more composed than an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio and just as much fun as a BMW M3 or M4. Unlike the C 43, there’s no four-wheel drive; a revised nine-stage traction-control system and a clever electronically controlled limited-slip diff help get power to the road, while a range of driving modes allows the car to be set up for the conditions at hand.
Elsewhere, the usual Mercedes kit and build quality are present, with a focus on luxury tech. The C 63 is expensive but represents a lot of car for the money: if you can afford the associated running costs, few come close to matching its range of ability.
7. Toyota GT86
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol
Trims: GT86, Pro, Club Series Blue Edition
0-62mph: 7.6-8.2 seconds
As with the Mazda MX-5, the Toyota GT86 is a car built solely with driving fun in mind. Outright performance takes a back seat, with just 197bhp from its flat-four – an engine that needs to be revved to deliver its best and even then serves up a 0-62mph time of only 7.6 seconds. A great driving position and a lovely manual gearshift both count in the Toyota’s favour, however.
Rivals such as the Nissan 370Z and Audi TT are faster, but the GT86 is far more poised and engaging on a winding B-road. Responsive steering is matched by communicative brake and throttle pedals; all three combine to let the driver know exactly what’s happening. The car’s chassis is really nicely balanced, too, while the suspension deals well with broken British tarmac. The GT86 is a sports car that inspires confidence and allows its driver to have a lot of fun, all at relatively sensible speeds.
Toyota originally introduced the GT86 back in 2012 (alongside the closely related Subaru BRZ), and even though it has been facelifted since then, the car does show its age inside. While its ergonomics are good, the use of cheap plastics and a below-par infotainment system mean it’s not as nice a place to sit as an Audi TT – but we’d wager that you would stop caring as soon as you get to your favourite country road.
8. Nissan GT-R
Engines: 3.8-litre petrol (562, 591bhp)
Trims: Pure, Recaro, Prestige, Track Edition Engineered by Nismo
0-62mph: 2.8 seconds
Famous for its supercar-baiting performance, the GT-R is a unique proposition in the sports car market. It’s engineered to use its 1,754kg heft to its advantage; 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; wider 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.
9. Audi TTS
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol
Trims: TTS, TTS Roadster, Black Edition
0-62mph: 4.5-4.8 seconds
The latest iteration of the TT is the best yet from a driver’s point of view, and the TTS – with its familiar 302bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine – offers the best combination of performance and fun in the range.
Quattro 4WD and a dual-clutch gearbox mean the performance is easily extracted; traction is excellent and the turbo surge addictive. The TTS doesn’t offer the last word in feedback or adjustability, but it feels solid, fast and planted. If you’re less concerned about driving dynamics and prefer a sports car that impresses with its sheer effectiveness, it’s a great choice.
10. Ford Mustang
Engines: 2.3-litre petrol, 5.0-litre petrol
Trims: 2.3 EcoBoost, 5.0 V8 GT, Bullitt; Fastback, Convertible
0-62mph: 4.3-6.0 seconds
In terms of value, the Ford is miles ahead of its rivals here. The Mustang GT has the same output as Porsche’s latest 911 Carrera S – 444bhp – but starts at just over £50,000 less.
Your £42,000 gets a BMW M4 competitor powered by a 5.0-litre V8; 0-62mph takes 4.3 seconds and top speed is limited to 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. Bonus points go to the Mustang for being the only car on this list with a ‘Drag’ mode.
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.
Read more of our best car recommendations…