Top 10 best sports cars 2021
If you’re looking for a car with driving pleasure in mind, our list of the best sports cars is a must-read.
Most people instinctively have a feel for what a sports car is, but pinning down a precise definition can be tricky. For what it’s worth, the Oxford English Dictionary reckons a sports car is “designed for performance at high speeds,” but we’d argue that ignores a fairly major aspect of sports car ownership: enjoyment.
Sports cars should be fast, but they should also put a big grin on your face every time you drive them. They tend to be less practical and more expensive than family hatchbacks, for example, so those deficits need compensating for; pure driving pleasure is surely one of the most significant carrots that sports cars dangle in front of potential buyers. We’ve tried to focus on those that could be used every day, so there aren't any super-light track specials allowed, and on cars that could loosely be described as 'affordable', as opposed to the preserve of millionaires.
Sports cars aren't intrinsically impractical, with improvements in packaging and design meaning sports-car boots are far more useable than they used to be. It’s a similar story with fuel economy, as most of the cars on this list use the latest engine technology to offer reasonable running costs.
If you like the sound of the cars on this list that let you feel the wind in your hair, head over to our top 10 list of the best convertibles, as many of the cars on this list are also offered with a folding roof. Those who want driving thrills but still need their cars to offer five seats and a useable boot, meanwhile, should look at our recommendations for the best hot hatchbacks on sale right now. Or carry on reading below for our 10 best sports cars on sale right now.
The Mazda MX-5 follows a traditional recipe for sports car success with excellent results. The fundamental design principle is to produce a balanced car; keeping the weight down and evenly distributed across the car.
The 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre engines available produce 130 and 181bhp respectively, and while these are small numbers relative to most other modern performance cars, the MX-5 never feels underpowered. Agile, quick and great value-for-money, the MX-5 is fun at even modest speeds, rather than a car that needs to be driven at licence-losing pace before you get anywhere near its limits.
You need to invest around £10,000 more to upgrade to a Porsche 718 Cayman from any of its most direct competitors like the Audi TT, but it’s money well spent if your focus is driving thrills. Porsche’s least expensive sports car has adopted a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine in recent years, and while the exhaust note has lost a little magic as a direct result, the rest of the 718 Cayman experience is unadulterated pleasure. The carefully tuned suspension works beautifully to smooth out bumps while producing a terrific amount of grip, so cross-country progress can be electrifyingly fast and comfortable.
As a bonus, the Cayman is also available with a super-slick six-speed manual gearbox that maximises driver involvement, or a seven-speed automatic that marginally improves performance. Talking of which, with three engines offering between 296 and 360bhp, 0-62mph acceleration ranges from 5.1 to 4.2 seconds with optional launch control. All of which can be enjoyed from a beautifully designed interior, for a truly premium sports-car experience. If you want an even more focused Cayman with a nicer-sounding six-cylinder engine, you’ll need to try and get your hands on the GT4 model, while the whole line-up is also available in convertible form as the Porsche Boxster.
There’s more to the Audi TT than just sharp styling. That bold front grille conceals a range of turbocharged engines that offer impressive power, even without going for the faster and more expensive S and RS models. Driver involvement is better than ever, with precise steering and Audi’s Virtual Cockpit putting you in the centre of the action.
The punchy 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine is great if you can’t justify the 395bhp TT RS, which is essentially a junior supercar. Adding Audi’s quattro four-wheel-drive system will give you an extra dose of reassuring grip for about £1,500. A stylish, high-quality interior allied with much improved ride quality makes long journeys easy, too. This is the best TT ever – never has sports-coupe motoring looked so easy.
After nearly 20 years, a new Toyota Supra is on sale. Toyota needed a partnership with BMW to make production of a new Supra viable, so the car is built on the same platform and uses many of the same components as the latest BMW Z4. The Toyota is only offered as a fixed-roof coupe, while the Z4 only comes as a convertible with a fabric roof. While both come with a choice of a 254bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine or a 335bhp 3.0-litre six-cylinder, the cars are set up very differently - the Supra feels more like a sports car while the Z4 is the better long-distance cruiser.
Some buyers may be unsure about the similarity of the cars’ interiors - besides the graphics on the infotainment system, the two are identical - but another way to think of it is you’re getting a much more luxurious interior than you usually would in a Toyota. The infotainment system has Apple CarPlay, whereas Toyota’s own doesn’t usually have it. While the Supra is strictly a two-seater, the boot is a good size at 290 litres - plenty for a weekend away or a weekly shop.
Launched to rapturous acclaim in 2014, the Jaguar F-Type coupe ticks many boxes for traditional sports-car lovers. Its design mixes feline grace with muscular brutality, and it’s a worthy successor to a long line of sporting Jaguars. Engines range from the nimblest entry-level 2.0-litre four-cylinder with 296bhp, a 444bhp 5.0-litre V8, or the bruising F-Type SVR which uses a 567bhp version of the same V8 engine. With its lower price and easily accessible performance, the 2.0-litre F-Type is arguably the pick of the bunch. It’s lighter and more agile, as well as being more affordable to own – Jaguar reckons you can achieve around 29mpg, and it'll do 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds.
With light, accurate steering, a supple chassis and very well controlled body lean, the F-Type provides plenty of driving fun whichever model you choose. With a luxurious and cosseting cabin, plus the practicality of a 407-litre boot that takes a couple of golf bags or plenty of luggage for weekends away, the F-Type coupe is a sports car you won’t need to find excuses to use.
The 2 Series offers all the hallmarks of traditional BMW driver appeal, distilled into a more compact and affordable package than the bigger 4 Series. A wide choice of engines offers any blend of economy and power you could want, with the formidable BMW M2 at the top of the range boasting 365bhp and suitably aggressive styling. It goes without saying that the M2 is a hoot to drive, but even the less exotic models can put a broad smile on your face, while the 218d returns almost 50mpg. It’s a direct rival to the Audi TT and both should be experienced if you’re shopping at this price range. The BMW can count rear-wheel drive in its favour, although the TT’s interior has the 2 Series beaten when it comes to aesthetics. If you want four-wheel drive, go for BMW’s xDrive setup, but be aware this can only be added to the 220d.
The Alpine A110 is a sports car in the classic sense – which means that as well as beautiful styling inspired by Alpine models of the 1960s, it sticks to the principles of light weight and efficiency over brute strength and electronic chassis trickery. Power for the mid-engined Alpine comes from the 1.8-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol also used in the Renault Megane RS, and the Renaultsport team at Dieppe in France that actually builds the car. The A110 weighs just a tonne, so 249bhp accelerates it to 62mph in 4.5 seconds, while economy of around 40mpg is also on the cards.
With an agile, compliant chassis that’s more comfortable than a Porsche Cayman and almost as grippy, as well as direct responsive steering and an excellent automatic gearbox, the Alpine A110 provides masses of involvement for an enthusiastic driver. The interior ambience is great too, albeit with a little less of the premium feel than in an Audi TT or Porsche Cayman. The fly in the A110’s ointment is limited luggage capacity – with only two 100-litre compartments at either end of the car, camping trips to Le Mans will be compromised.
The GT 86 is a real enthusiast’s choice and one of the few modern cars that favours handling balance and driver involvement over brute power. It’s not slow – a reliable 197bhp 2.0-litre engine is more than enough – and the low driving position, traditional rear-wheel-drive layout and view down that long bonnet endear it to old-school sports car fans. While many carmakers are fitting hugely powerful engines to their sports cars, Toyota is to be praised for taking a different route with the GT 86.
Believe it or not, it comes with the same size tyres as the oh-so-sensible Prius hybrid, but this only improves matters in the GT 86: it makes the driving experience pin-sharp and bestows the car with just the right amount of grip. Things are rather less appealing inside, as the dashboard is uninspiring and features fairly run-of-the-mill materials, but that’ll be the last thing on your mind on a challenging country road. The Subaru BRZ is more or less identical save for badging and paint options, but the GT 86 benefits from a larger network of dealers and slightly better residual values.
Essentially the twin of the Toyota GT 86, the Subaru BRZ has all the same ingredients to make it a great car for the enthusiastic driver who doesn't want to risk their licence or break the bank. A 197bhp 2.0-litre engine feels noteworthy for its lack of a turbocharger, meaning it revs and pulls like sports cars did 'in the good old days' and the slick gearchange is a perfect match.
Factor in gloriously accurate and communicative steering, plus a well judged suspension setup and the BRZ really is a great choice if you enjoy driving. The BRZ is by no means flawless – the interior isn't the best in terms of quality, for one thing – but the areas in which you have to compromise will be acceptable to those who want a car that's fun to drive and doesn't cost the earth.
For the first time in its history, the Ford Mustang is available as a right-hand-drive model in the UK. You can buy the car in standard 'GT' spec with a 444bhp 5.0-litre V8, or in Mach 1 trim, which boosts power to 454bhp from the same engine. The GT is our pick, as its cheaper to buy and feels more like a natural fit for the car, providing a lovely burble at low revs and an angry growl under hard acceleration.
The V8 Mustang is capable of 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds but it’s not only good in a straight line. The combination of a more sophisticated suspension setup than previous Mustangs, means it stays much flatter through corners than before, and feels a lot quicker and more precise on a twisty road.