A Guide to Affordable Sports Cars, New and Old

A Guide to Affordable Sports Cars, New and Old

There are many different types of automobiles, from saloons to SUVs, and everything in between. One thing most of them have in common is that they are made to serve a practical purpose. Whether that’s hauling luggage in an estate or traversing rough ground in an SUV.

Sports cars, however, are made for one thing, fun. Their powerful engines excite with rapid acceleration, the low-slung body lets corners be taken faster, and a convertible top lets you enjoy the scenery whilst on a leisurely drive.

If you’re lucky enough to be considering buying a car just for having fun in, there is a world of options available, from comfortable cruisers to lightweight racers, we’ve compiled a guide of what does what, best.

Best Sports Cars for Under £20,000

Whilst £20,000 is a significant amount of cash to spend on a car, selecting the right one is still super important, as some sports cars can be faster to depreciate than others.

Mazda Mx-5 ND 2022 - £19,495

This car features prominently in this article as it’s one of the best-selling sports cars of all time. The recipe for the Mx-5 has stayed the same since the very first generation; simplicity, front-engined, rear-wheel drive and a manual gearbox.  

The reason the modern edition has been so immensely popular is that Mazda has stuck to this recipe, actually managing to make the current 4th generation car lighter than previous ones, contrary to most other manufacturers out there. 

For £20,000 you can get a one-year-old (2022 reg) 1.5 petrol with less than 10,000 miles on the clock. Although we’d probably opt for a slightly older car, with the 2.0 engine, the 1.5 is an excellent unit producing 130 bhp and a 0-60 time of 8.3 seconds.  

Nissan 370z GT 2019 - £19,995

For a slightly more powerful car than the Mx-5 but with similar handling, the Nissan 370z is a great choice. The 3.7-litre engine produces 324 horsepower, nearly 3 times that of the ND Mx-5. The V6 engine will also accelerate the car to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds. 

As a GT car, the 370z is designed to be slightly more refined on longer journeys, with better sound deadening, driving aids and overall creature comforts. It’s perfect therefore for driving holidays, road trips or just general long-distance travel - as long as you don't have too much luggage! 

Lotus Elise 1.8 2007 - £19,500

If back to basics, raw driving pleasure is what you’re looking for, then a Lotus is one of the best cars to set foot in. Designed by the same company that produced some of the most influential and successful Formula 1 cars of all time, the Elise is the last name for handling and poise.

At only 826kg, the 1.8 normally aspirated petrol engine is plenty to keep the Elise on the heels of any high-powered sports car on a technical, twisty road. The exquisite weight distribution and suspension setup make it one of the best-handling cars ever made.  

Due to the limited production numbers, a consequence of the cars still being made by hand in Norfolk, the Elise has held its value very well, £20,000 would buy you a 2007 model at the newest, with nearing 60,000 miles on the clock.

Best Sports Car for Under £10,000

If you’re willing to go for a slightly older model, then £10,000 is still more than enough to buy an exciting but reliable sports car. Here are our top picks.

BMW Z4 3.0i 2011 - £9,900

The BMW Z4 has been around for over 20 years now and has always been a top pick for those looking for a well-built car for spirited driving but with functional German styling and engineering.

The 3.0 litre straight 6 engine is the best of the bunch, producing around 260 horsepower, which is just the right amount to be lively but not uncontrollable. The Z4 comes in both manual and DCT - BMW’s codename for automatic, standing for Dual Clutch Transmission.

For comfort on long road trips, and ease when using on the occasional summer commute, the DCT is the best choice, both the manual and the DCT get to 60 mph in around 6 seconds, with the manual being slightly faster.

Toyota GT86 2013 - £8,100

First launched in 2012, the GT86 was quickly adopted as a cheap-to-run, reasonably fast sports car. Its 2.0 litre naturally aspirated engine is surpassed by quite a few of the cars mentioned here, but its nimble-ness is what sets it apart.

With great weight distribution, the GT86 offers great driving performance at a reasonable price, with insurance and tax rates being considerably lower than larger-engined BMW or Porsche alternatives.

As well as being cheap to run, the GT86 is a nice car to be in, coming as standard with Air conditioning, cruise control and a great infotainment system. At around £8,000 for a 2014 car with sub 80,000 miles on the clock, it’s a great option for those with a £10k budget.

Porsche Boxster 3.2 2004 - £8,990

Always at the upper end of the spectrum of sports cars, Porsche’s history is full of racing pedigree, from Le Mans to Rally. That ethos is built into all their sports cars, with the Boxster being the most accessible.

Introduced in 1996 it is often regarded as the lesser Porsche when compared to the 911, but in reality it is still an extremely capable car, with excellent poise and handling characteristics. The generation we’d recommend is the first gen, sold up until 2004, as these are obtainable within the £10,00 budget.

Make sure to only buy one with a good service history and records, as these cars need to be maintained correctly. A good condition, sub 90,000-mile car can be bought for around £9,000, this will get you the ‘S’ model with the superb 3.2 litres flat 6 engine.

What is the Cheapest Sports Car to Maintain?

Maintenance is an essential part of owning any vehicle, especially one that is designed to be driven near the limit of its performance on a regular basis. To keep costs low you need a combination of good reliability, cheap parts and ease of accessibility, the latter being a killer for many mid-engined sports cars.

Mazda Mx-5 - £3,000 to 24,750

For the reasons mentioned above, we would crown the Mx-5 as one of the cheapest sports cars to maintain. Regardless of generation their dependable engines and drivetrains make them extremely durable.

Parts too are easy to come by, and their front engine, and rear drive layout are great for easily accessing components such as the clutch, cambelts and more.

The one, rather large caveat is to look out for rust, look to buy one that’s been restored, imported or dry stored. Whilst the rust repairs are well documented and easily fixed, the costs can mount quickly.

As the Mx-5 has been around for so long, and each generation has been as reliable as the last, we’d recommend any of the 4, depending entirely on your budget.

Cheapest New Sports Car: Mazda Mx-5 - £24,750

We said an article about sports cars would feature a lot about the Mazda Mx-5, and here it is again! At a current MSRP of £24,750, the brand-new Mx-5 is the cheapest new sports car on sale in the UK.

That price gets you the most basic spec known as ‘Prime-Line’. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing, as that nets you 16-inch alloy wheels, climate control, android auto and the great 1.5 petrol engine.

Besides, with the great combination of rear-wheel drive, a manual gearbox and a small, light roadster, the open road is the only extra element required to have loads of fun in the ND Mx-5.

What is the Most Powerful Affordable Sports Car?

If it's raw power you want, there are a few cars out there that offer extremely high horsepower figures but have now depreciated to very affordable prices.

Whilst we would not recommend these for their fuel economy or low insurance premiums, they are certainly reasonably priced to purchase.

Vauxhall Monaro VXR8 - 330hp - £12,500

As the car with the largest engine on this list, the Monaro VXR8 packs a huge punch, its 5.7 Litre V8 produces 330 horsepower and 349 lb-ft of torque. If the power itself is not enough, the V8 engine produces one of the most thunderous sounds you can get for less than £13,000.

On the topic of cost, a 2005 Monaro can be found for £12,500 on Autotrader. The car we found had only 48,000 miles and a full service history.

Mercedes CLS 55 AMG - 500 hp - £7,495

If you liked the sound of the Monaro, this German bruiser has even more power, for an even cheaper price. The CLS 55 AMG is a 4 or 2-door saloon with a staggering 500 horsepower from its 5.5 litre V8 engine.

Thanks to a clever automatic gearbox the CL 55 can hit 60 miles per hour in under 5 seconds, despite it weighing twice as much as some of the other cars on this list, at 1920kg.

All this power and performance comes at only £7,495, for a 2006 car with 95,000 miles on the clock. If you want a better-kept example though you may have to break the £10,000 mark. Make sure to keep some money aside for servicing, we found that one rear tyre costs over £300!

So there we have it, a round-up of the various levels of sports car goodness the market has to offer, everything from reliable and economical Japanese featherweights to petrol-guzzling, supercar-challenging brutes. For more guides on what cars to buy, check out our blog here.

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