Best used sports cars
If you're after driving thrills at a low price, check out our list of the best used sports cars to buy in 2020.
Sports cars exist to provide excitement and driving thrills, although not all do it the same way. Some rely on a loud, powerful engine and straight-line speed - like the Ford Mustang - while others have less power and are designed to excel on winding roads. These, like the Toyota GT 86 and Alpine A110, tend to be more suited to the UK’s twisting, narrow B-roads. Convertible sports cars, such as the Mazda MX-5, add an extra element, offering the option to put the roof down to heighten the experience.
Of course, the sleek shapes and extra performance tend to come at the expense of practicality, although none of the cars on our list are absolutely impractical - you could use all of these daily, and most offer small rear seats and a boot big enough for a weekly shop or a weekend away.
If you’re looking for an affordable sports car, the best way is probably to buy used. By the time a car’s a couple of years old, it will likely have lost a huge chunk of its value, which is known as depreciation. Sports cars tend to be rarer and more sought after than other types of car, but you can still save plenty of money compared to buying new. We’d recommend hunting out a car with a full dealer service history and receipts for any work carried out so that you can be confident your dream car isn’t going to become a frustrating money pit.
With the right maintenance, most sports cars will be reliable. It’s easy to forget that these cars are often based on a more humdrum model, with many of the components shared or upgraded. If you’re wanting one of the most economical sports cars, it’s also best to look at either a light car or a car with clever fuel-saving technology.
Sports cars tend to be among the most fun-to-drive cars you can buy, so read on for our top 10 used picks. It’s also worth checking out our guides to the best driver’s cars and the best used hot hatchbacks to buy this year.
Once upon a time, you’d have only bought a Porsche Cayman because the more expensive Porsche 911 was out of reach. That’s not so much the case anymore, even if the 911 now costs almost as much as some supercars, as the 718 Cayman is an outstanding sports car that’s simply sublime to drive in its own right. Porsche has treated its smallest sports car to a beautiful, high-spec and well-made interior, too. Porsche has swapped the previous Cayman’s six-cylinder engine for a turbocharged four-cylinder engine - while it doesn’t sound as nice as the old engine, it’s much more economical, so running a Cayman might be more affordable than you’d imagine. It’d be hard to find a sports car at any price that offers the same thrills as the Cayman.
Even an entry-level 84bhp Ford Fiesta is great to drive but the 197bhp Ford Fiesta ST is in a different league. It’s so sharp and agile, and stiff enough to lift the inside rear wheel if you’re really cornering hard. In a straight line, it’s within touching distance of a VW Golf GTI or Skoda Octavia vRS but when you’re not driving flat-out, it’s quite economical thanks to cylinder deactivation technology that allows the engine to shut off one of its three cylinders. As the ST is based on the UK’s best-selling new car, it has an intuitive interior with lots of technology, and there are other plus points to consider. Ford has by far the largest dealer network in the country and servicing costs tend to be among the cheapest around. We think it’s the best used sports car for £20,000 or less.
There are a number of hot hatchbacks that are now faster and more powerful than the Golf GTI but it’s still one of the very best used sports cars on sale. Under £20,000 buys you a 2.0-litre petrol engine with 227bhp, plus the iconic tartan seats and golf ball gear knob. Volkswagen knows that Golf GTI buyers don’t want a super-fast car all the time and it can settle down to become quiet and comfortable when you don’t want to drive hard. When you do, it’s nimble, pin-sharp, there’s lots of grip and there’s almost no body roll through fast corners. If the standard 227bhp model isn’t enough, you’ll want to hunt out the 242bhp ‘Performance Pack’ models or the limited-run TCR, which has 286bhp and touring-car influences.
Some people claim the MX-5 is neither fast nor powerful enough to be classed as a sports car but for us there’s no question it is one, and a very good one at that. Since the mechanically similar Fiat 124 Spider is no longer on sale, the MX-5 has few rivals. It’s perhaps even sweeter to drive than the Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ, and offers roof-down thrills at the same time. The rear-wheel-drive, lightweight formula has barely changed since the MX-5’s introduction in 1989, and Mazda’s commitment to keeping the car light is highlighted in the fact that the latest model is lighter than its predecessor. Two engines are offered, with the 2.0-litre option the most powerful of the two. There’s also a RF coupe version if you’d like a little more refinement on longer journeys.
Hyundai had never made a hot hatchback before it introduced the i30 N but it aimed squarely at long-established models like the Honda Civic Type R and Ford Focus ST regardless. At the very least, we’d say it comfortably competes with these cars, thanks to its super-sweet handling. It may ‘only’ have 247bhp (271bhp if you find a car with the optional Performance pack), but it provides such a great drive that you won’t care about a little less straight-line speed. We’d recommend finding a 271bhp car if you can, as it adds extra mechanical goodies as well as reducing the 0-62mph time. Buy a car that’s less than five years old and you’ll also enjoy the balance of Hyundai’s generous unlimited mileage warranty.
Not many coupes excel as everyday cars and exciting sports cars, but the Audi TT really does give you the best of both worlds. Not only is it more lithe than the previous TT, but it’s faster too - all without compromising on long-distance comfort. You’ll want to drive for hours to spend more time in the TT’s stunning cabin. It was the first car to introduce Audi’s Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster, and Audi’s designers took the opportunity to delete the central screen for a cleaner look than the company’s other models. The infotainment is super crisp and very configurable; you can have almost the full display showing your sat nav map in crystal-clear detail. Diesel models are no longer available new but they make a great second-hand buy if you want style and low running costs.
The BMW M2 is a muscular performance version of the sleek BMW 2 Series coupe. Not only has the bodywork swelled, but so has the power. This small coupe has a 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged engine with 365bhp, while later twin-turbo M2 Competition models put out 404bhp. It’s very similar to the bigger, more expensive BMW M4 Coupe, and offers very precise steering and the ability to put regular smiles on your face. The M2 should keep a lot of its value thanks to that ‘M’ badge and, as it sits at the top of the 2 Series tree, the M2 is fully kitted out with sat nav, cruise control, sporty bucket seats and Alcantara suede trim.
It may be a small hot hatch but the MINI John Cooper Works is quick enough to keep up with more powerful sports cars. The JCW is the pinnacle of the MINI range, with 228bhp, uprated handling and sporty red accents. There are plenty of MINI JCW enthusiasts, so you should be able to find a well-loved example - and there’ll be no shortage of interested buyers when you decide to sell it. It fills the sports car brief by offering driving thrills and fairly limited practicality - there’s enough boot space for a small weekly shop but other hot hatches are more accommodating. You’ll probably not worry too much about that once you’re behind the wheel.
If you’re not really bothered about practicality, the Toyota GT 86 might be worth a look. It was designed from the ground up to be a sports car, and it’s more like a classic sports car than something from today. Toyota has kept it light, so it doesn’t need much power, proving that 197bhp is enough for a coupe if it’s not too heavy. The GT 86 is rear-wheel drive and uses really skinny tyres (they’re actually shared with the eco-minded Toyota Prius), which is a really fun combination. There’s a back-to-basics charm about the GT 86, with its low price and low power output. Sure, the interior doesn’t represent the most upmarket cabin ever built, but few sports cars are as fun at low speeds.
The Subaru BRZ is mechanically identical to the GT 86 and only has very subtle styling changes, so it comes down to which badge or dealership you prefer, or which you can get your hands on. The BRZ is much rarer than the GT 86; when Toyota and Subaru signed the deal to create both cars, it was agreed that around 9 in 10 would have Toyota badges. Like the GT 86, it has a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine with 197bhp so it’s not the last word in hair-raising speed, but it thrives on twisty roads to give you driving satisfaction. An automatic gearbox is available on both cars but we’d choose the standard six-speed manual - it’s much more precise and fun to use.
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