So you want something that’s fun to drive and looks great but won’t blow the bank? That sounds like a tough ask if you don’t have a bottomless budget, but we’ve come up with 10 sports cars that cost about the same as a mid-range family hatchback.
Use our PCP calculator to get a better idea how much your new car could cost of for more sporty options check out:
- The best hot hatches on sale
- The fastest hot hatches on sale
- The best diesel hot hatches
- The best performance cars for £20,000
1. Mazda MX-5
The fourth generation Mazda MX-5 takes the legendary sports car back to its roots. It’s smaller, lighter and more powerful than its predecessor making it even more fun to drive. That reduction in size hasn’t had a knock-on effect on the interior – it’s actually more spacious than before, although drivers over six feet tall will feel a bit cramped. It’s priced from £18,495 so even top-spec models fall into budget.
There are two engines to choose from – a 1.5-litre with 129hp or a 2.0-litre with 158hp – with the latter getting extras such as a limited-slip differential and upgraded suspension. Neither sound that powerful but, considering the car weighs noticeably less than a tonne, both achieve decent performance with even the least powerful option covering 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds.
2. Fiat 124 Spider
If you think the MX-5 is a little too extreme, the Fiat 124 Spider might suit you much better with its characterful engine and softer suspension. The 124 Spider is based on the same platform as the MX-5 and has an almost identical interior. Fiat, however, places more emphasis on luxury than the Mazda with options such as heated leather seats.
The Spider also out-accelerates the MX-5 thanks to a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine from the Abarth 595. It sounds good and lets you accelerate quickly without needing the kind of thrashing the MX-5 benefits from – this flexibility suits the 124’s more relaxed ride quality down to the ground. Performance freaks will be delighted to know the Abarth 124 costs just a little more.
3. Audi TT
The Audi TT isn’t just a great sports car, it’s a great car full stop. For less than £30,000, you get a spectacular interior with Audi’s brilliant optional Virtual Cockpit and minimalistic air vents with temperature readouts integrated into them. The exterior design is impressive, too – in fact, if it didn’t have such pitiful rear seats, it could be the most rounded sports car currently on sale.
It gets better. You also get a selection of the VW Group’s best engines – the £30,000 budget doesn’t cover our favourite 2.0-litre with 230hp, but you can still have the fairly rapid 1.8-litre with 180hp. Optional quattro four-wheel drive and optional DSG automatic gearbox are among the best in the business helping the TT feel incredibly planted and controllable.
4. Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ
The Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ are essentially the same car with different badges. On paper, the pair’s low power makes them sound as exciting as your new fridge but, thanks to their light weight, the 200hp 2.0-litre engine covers 0-62mph in a respectable 7.6 seconds. In comparison, the Porsche 911 Turbo S only lets you put your foot down for about 3.5 seconds before you’re breaking the national speed limit.
Ignore the power, however, because a short drive in either is enough to convince you that the sense of control and balance is more than worth the £22,705 asking price. Thanks to comparatively narrow wheels and very forgiving handling, you can explore the limits of grip in a relatively safe manner.
Put either the Toyota GT86 or the Subaru BRZ in our car configurator to see the deals carwow could help you get.
5. BMW 2 Series
The BMW 2 Series provides much of the same fun behind the wheel at a lesser price than it’s M2 brother. A large part of the M2 is still a 2 Series underneath so the direct steering, compliant chassis and rear-driven charm are present and correct. Without the M2’s active differential, the 2 Series isn’t as much fun when driven flat out but the five-figure savings it represents more than make up for this.
Although basic 2 Series aren’t as rapid or focused as the M2, they still have fantastic handling. A 245hp 228i costs around £28,000 and gets from 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds while costing £20,000 less than its M2 brother. Watch out for the options list, however – you’ll blink and soar through the £30,000 budget in no time at all.
6. Lotus Elise
The Lotus Elise takes the ‘back-to-basics’ approach to heart – there’s a steering wheel, pedals, a gear lever, fabric roof, bucket seats and that’s about it. Even air conditioning, a hard top, a stereo, carpets and sound insulation are all optional. For the money, however, its feels more like a racecar for the road than you’re likely to find.
Modern cars have all sorts of safety features making them heavy and need engines with huge turbos to be fast. The only safety feature on the Elise, apart from traction control and ABS, is your own sense of self-preservation. So forget about bungee jumping, roller-coaster rides or lion taming – if it’s thrills you want above all else look no further than the Lotus Elise.
7. Ford Mustang
The Ford Mustang is arguably the most definitive American sports car – menacing looks, a long bonnet, 0-62mph acceleration in less than five seconds and a potent engine under the long bonnet. For a smidge less than £30,000, you’ll have to settle for the 2.3-litre EcoBoost model – a slightly detuned version of the engine from the Ford Focus RS.
While we reckon the 5.0-litre V8 is the engine to get, it pushes the budget slightly above the £30,000 budget. Nevertheless, you still get the great looks, imposing road presence and solid handling. Interior material quality isn’t quite as high as some German rivals, but build quality is perfectly fine and the controls are direct and fall easily to hand.
8. Nissan 370Z
If you don’t fancy an American muscle car, what about the Japanese muscle car – the Nissan 370Z? While some rival manufacturers rely on lightweight materials or high-tech turbocharged engines to get the most from their cars, Nissan has simply fitted a huge 3.7-litre V6 petrol engine, a six-speed manual gearbox and straightforward rear-wheel drive.
There’s plenty of power on the move and the noise it makes is quite pleasing but running costs aren’t great. While it’s a fun car that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it doesn’t have the handling finesse of some rivals. The interior is really showing its age now but this is a true old-school sports car and a bargain at less than £30,000.
Spec up the Nissan 370Z in our car configurator to see the savings carwow could help you make.
9. Mercedes SLC
The Mercedes SLC isn’t the cheapest in this bunch – in fact, the basic model costs a little more than £30,000 but, with carwow’s help, you can drive that price into budget. For your money, you get a classy convertible with a secure folding metal roof. It may not be as engaging as a Porsche 718 Boxster or as high-tech as the Audi TT, but it’s pleasant to drive, well equipped and refined by sports car standards.
If your ideal Sunday drive includes meandering down the French riviera, there are few better cars for the money than the SLC. It also comes with the innovative Airscarf system that blows warm air on occupants’ necks for year-round topless motoring.
Pick your ideal Mercedes SLC in our car configurator to see the deals carwow can offer.
10. VW Scirocco
The Volkswagen Scirocco looks like a coupe but has the practicality of a small hatchback. The engine selection is diverse with all options being refined and punchy – even better when paired with the optional DSG auto ‘box. Costing from just £21,000, you can get a great mid-range model within budget with a potent engine to boot.
The Scirocco is based on the VW Golf and, as a result, it’s not quite as fun to drive as its rear-wheel drive rivals. If you want a well-built, dependable coupe, however, the Scirocco, with its secure handling, no-nonsense cabin and practical boot, is definitely worth a look.
Save money on your next new car
Keen on any of our top 10? Our car configurator will find you the latest discounts on all the models featured here and our PCP calculator will help you get a better idea how much they could cost. If you can’t quite figure out what your next car will be, our car chooser is here to help.