Best driver's cars
This is our round-up of the the best drivers’ cars on sale today.
Most people consider their car to be a tool for getting from A to B, but there are plenty of buyers who like to have fun along the way – or simply to go for a drive for the sake of driving. Car manufacturers recognise the importance of models that involve and excite the driver; many brands’ reputations are built on cars that are inherently fun to drive regardless of their intended purpose, while others feel the need to offer a hotted-up range-topper to flaunt their technological prowess. Whatever the case, drivers’ cars are alive and well, even in these eco-conscious times.
Our list features a cross-section of family cars, hot hatches, sports cars and weekend playthings spanning most budgets. All are great fun to drive, while most offer at least a modicum of practicality and day-to-day usability (with some key exceptions). Read on for our round-up of the the best drivers’ cars on sale today.
If you want to have as much fun as possible behind the wheel, few cars offer as exciting a driving experience as the Caterham Seven. It boasts an unpretentious design that’s decades old, albeit modernised under the skin with adjustable suspension, powerful brakes and a choice of engines that ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. We recommend the 160 model as an attainable entry point. Don’t be fooled by its tiny 0.6-litre Suzuki engine; thanks to the Seven’s featherweight bodywork, there’s more than enough performance to thrill.
The 4 Series’ reputation as the luxury coupe of choice for those who enjoy driving is well deserved, having been honed over generations of development. Today’s 4 Series sets itself apart from rivals like the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class by offering sports-car-like handling and a relatively playful character, even when fitted with modestly powerful engines. However, it’s still comfortable at a cruise on the motorway. Pick one of high-performance six-cylinder engines in the 430i or 440i and the 4 Series will easily give most of the cars on this list a run for their money.
Look past its outlandish styling, climb into the supportive bright-red bucket seats and go for a drive – if you’re a driving enthusiast, you’ll find it very hard not to be won over by the Type R’s voracious performance, sharp handling and massive grip. Fuel economy isn’t the best and the ride is firm even with the car softened off to its least aggressive mode, but if you want a hard-edged, fast hot hatchback, the Civic takes a lot of beating.
The only SUV with a badge on its nose that promises a lot – thankfully, it manages to live up to the Porsche name. If you want the higher driving position and improved practicality but don’t want to sacrifice driving dynamics and performance, few SUVs can match the Macan's fantastic breadth of ability. The top-of-the-range Turbo S is devastatingly quick, but even the standard car offers real Porsche thrills in a rather unlikely package.
The Ford Fiesta ST is one of the newest cars on this list, but also one of the most complete; in standard form, the Fiesta is one of the best superminis on sale, so it follows that adding more power and a poised chassis has resulted in a class-leading hot hatch. Powered by a turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine with 197bhp, the ST is no slouch – 0-62mph takes just 6.5 seconds – yet thanks in part to its cylinder-deactivation technology, average economy of 47.1mpg is quoted.
The Alpine A110 is a mid-engined sports car that rekindles the spirit of its 1960s namesake. Powered by a fizzy 1.8-litre engine, the Alpine is a left-field alternative to a Porsche 718 Cayman or Audi TT RS that’s brimming with character, both in the way it drives and in how it looks. It’s not quite as comfortable as its German rivals, nor as raw as an Alfa Romeo 4C, but the Alpine strikes a great balance between weekend thrills and everyday usability, with a pared-back interior that still offers some creature comforts, and a sharp, agile chassis that’s still pliant enough around town. Claimed economy of 46.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 138g/km are great for the class, too.
The original go-to Sunday drive machine, the Elise has been at the core of Lotus’ range since the late 1990s, sticking to a basic recipe of a lightweight aluminium chassis, revvy, mid-mounted four-cylinder engine and svelte composite bodywork. Today’s Elise is powered by a 1.8-litre engine of Toyota origin, available with as little as 132 or as much as 247bhp – but you’ll enjoy one of the purest driving experiences available regardless of which you choose. A stripped-out interior, high sills and little in the way of storage or sound-deadening mean you’ll need to be dedicated to use an Elise every day, but few can match the way it drives.
Hyundai burst into the hotly contested hot hatchback class late in 2017 with the i30 N, a family hatchback with as much as 271bhp if specified in N Performance trim. It’s a great-value proposition that can happily challenge the Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf GTI for supremacy, albeit with a little less polish. The Hyundai’s sophisticated driving modes let you configure the car at a level of detail unmatched by its rivals, while performance and handling are impressive. It's a stellar performance car, then, but it's still a Hyundai, so buyers benefit from reasonable running costs and a five-year/unlimited-mileage warranty.
While the Alpine on this list is more obviously a nod to the past, the Toyota GT86 is more of a spiritual successor to a classic model. Harking back to the cult classic rear-wheel-drive Toyota Corolla of the 1980s, the GT86 is a light, rear-wheel-drive, two-door coupe with modest power and balanced handling that encourages eager driving, yet still stands up to daily use. Reliability, low running costs and attractive pricing help the GT86 remain a great choice even six years after its launch.
A sweet spot in McLaren’s slightly confusing range, the 570S squares up against faster versions of the Porsche 911, Mercedes-AMG GT and Audi R8 as a special yet still usable supercar. Performance from the car’s 562bhp twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre engine is best described as remarkable – 0-62mph takes just 3.2 seconds and top speed is 204mph. Handling is similarly spectacular thanks to sharp steering, huge reserves of grip and suspension that can be adjusted to be firm or more pliant depending on the surface at hand. Adding the optional Track Pack sharpens up the experience even further, while a huge options list makes it easy to express yourself when placing your order.