Currently reading: Top 10 best affordable sports cars 2020
Owning a sports car need not break the bank. Here's our choice of the top 10 affordable sports cars
7 mins read
2 April 2020

Never has the choice of sports cars at the affordable end of the spectrum been greater, each offering thrills to match and in some cases exceed those of more expensive peers.

It's not all about brake horsepower at this end of the market: most of the cars in our top 10 list put driving bliss ahead of raw, straight-out performance. But we guarantee each will put a huge smile on your face. 

1. Alpine A110

Every significant component part of the Alpine A110 driving experience – from the rasping turbocharged torque of its engine to the hilariously immersive poise and panache of its handling – is all about the F word: fun. It brings to life journeys and roads that rivals wouldn’t and has handling for which your affection can only grow as you explore it more closely.

Anatomise the car and you won’t find too many mechanical ingredients or areas you could genuinely call exceptional; but put them all together and you can’t help but conclude that the A110 is a much greater car – and achievement - than the sum of its parts would suggestThe subsequent arrival of the A110 S has also seen power rise to 288bhp and the fitment of firmer suspension, though the basic A110 remains the sweeter machine for road driving.

Rarely does a car come along so devoted to driver involvement, and so singularly effective at it, even among affordable sports cars; the last time was probably the Toyota GT86 in 2012, a car to which we also gave a five-star recommendation for its supreme fitness to the purpose of sucking the marrow out of every mile. The A110 is quicker, more agile, more effusive and ultimately even more fun. It deserves no less of an ovation.

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2. BMW M2 Competition

The new BMW M2 Competition is now the only M2 model you can buy here in Britain, and that’s no bad thing. The previous model’s single-turbo six-cylinder unit has been swapped out for the twin-turbocharged straight six (albeit in slightly detuned form) from the larger M3 and M4 models, while a handful of tweaks to the chassis and suspension mean it’s now even sharper and more controlled on battered UK roads than ever before. Weighty steering allows you to point the car’s nose into a corner with confidence, and it’s supremely adjustably on the throttle, too.The new M2 Competition is so good, in fact, that we think it’s one of the best driver’s cars BMW currently makes. You won’t be disappointed.


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3. Porsche 718 Boxster & Cayman

Even with its new downsized four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, the 718 is by some distance the most complete mid-engined sports car on sale – and easily talented enough in the handling department to overcome slight misgivings about the way the crank is now turned.

In that respect, Porsche can certainly be accused of dealing ill with this car. The four-cylinder 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre turbo flat fours that were pressed into service in the car in 2016 attracted a lot of criticism for sounding toneless, and also lacking the purist driver appeal of the atmospheric flat sixes they replaced. Later still, Porsche retuned the car's 2.0-litre engine for WLTP-emissions compliance and released the Boxster- and Cayman T -  whose unresponsiveness made a controversial situation worse.

However, in one of the most unexpected industry U-turns in recent memory, in 2019 Porsche reintroduced a naturally aspirated flat-six engine, albeit only for the Cayman and Boxster GTS models and the limited-run GT4 and Spyder. It’s a superb engine by any standards, though even when hampered by the four-cylinders’ underwhelming and slightly undeserving personalities, this car maintains its position right at the sharp end of our affordable sports cars chart. Practical, upmarket, superb-handling, ever engaging to drive, and plenty fast even in four-cylinder form, the 718 has it all - and it takes a car of once-in-a-generation dynamic brilliance to beat it.

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4. Toyota GR Supra

Was the Toyota Supra the most hotly anticipated new car of 2019? Quite likely. After an absence lasting some two decades, Toyota’s iconic sports car finally returned to the UK. But were it not for a collaboration with BMW - out of which the new Z4 was also spawned - it’s likely this icon would never have been reborn. As such, beneath the Supra’s striking exterior, you’ll find an engine, platform, transmission, slippy diff, electrics and plenty of switchgear all distinctly Bavarian in origin.

And yet, when it comes to driving, the Supra succeeds in carving out its own distinct dynamic identity. The suspension, steering and diff calibration are all unique to the Supra, so much so that Toyota sees the Porsche 718 Cayman - rather than the Z4 - as its key rival. 

Toyota certainly isn’t pulling its punches, then. And in many ways, it’s the Supra that makes for the superior sports car. It might not be able to quite match the handling purity and balance of the Porsche, but it isn’t far off. Its ride is impressively supple, its engine is smooth and far more characterful and it’d be far easier to live with on a daily basis. 

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5. Mazda MX-5

There isn’t a single area in which this new Mazda MX-5 fails to surpass its predecessor. It’s shorter, lighter, more spacious and better laid out. It’s sharper-looking but still disarming and distinctive. It’s faster, more frugal and even more vibrant and engaging to drive.

In 2018, Mazda facelifted its iconic roadster, with the headline change being a 23bhp power hike for its fiesty 2.0-litre engine. A steering column that also now adjusts for reach was also introduced.

All that and yet the MX-5 is still every inch the same zesty and inimitable car that it was. Its character hasn’t altered at all. Nothing on this list offers a better pounds-per-smile rating.

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6. Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ

It is necessary not only to accept a few compromises with the co-developed Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ but also, as with a Caterham Seven, positively embrace them. They make the car what it is.

They’re visible, audible, tangible characteristics that serve to remind you that you’re driving the keenest, sharpest, most enjoyable and lovable small sports car for a generation.

Importantly, it's an accessible sports car - one that won't break the bank to run, either - and it's a refreshing alternative to the likes of the Mazda MX-5 for those seeking lightweight rear-drive fun.

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7. BMW Z4 M40i

In a recent group test, the range-topping BMW Z4 M40i actually came out victorious against a lower-order Porsche 718 Boxster T. Although we concluded that it ultimately wasn’t as composed, incisive or keen-handling as the daintier Boxster, its refinement, powerful and responsive straight six engine and bruising straight-line pace won it a great deal of affection from our testers. That it also has a distinct sense of street-fighter character also weighs heavily in the BMW’s favour.

That said, higher-order strains of the 718 still provide a purer, more enticing take on an affordable sports car. And while there’s undoubtedly plenty of scope for excitement on offer in the BMW, as a precision tool, it’s still not quite as sharp as some of the lighter, smaller contenders in this class.

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8. Lotus Elise Sport

The Lotus Elise is utterly brilliant to drive if you’re in the mood. It has one of the world’s best-handling chassis and exquisite steering. But this Lotus is old and could be seen as expensive if you like to judge your cars objectively. 

Yet many of the Elise’s drawbacks can be overlooked when you’re in the middle of a red-mist moment.  At its core, the Elise is still magnificent, and it gets better the sportier the model is.

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9. Audi TT RS

This second-generation TT RS feels like the response of a company that’s defended a popular car for decades against claims that the TT has all the style and none of the substance to be taken seriously by really keen drivers.

It feels that way because you simply have to take any sports car with an engine this strong – it's capable of genuine supercar-baiting pace – very seriously indeed.

Ultimately, the TT RS doesn’t set the vivid excitement of its powertrain off against enough handling balance or driver involvement to make it feel fully formed as a sports car, which is why it lags behind rivals.

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10. Ford Mustang

The sensible thing to do would be to buy an Audi TT or a BMW 2 Series Coupé, wouldn’t it? And if you did, that would be a huge shame.

Yes, this car does have significant drawbacks in the UK. Yes, you do have to think twice about where you’re going to park it in town, as well as factor in the far greater number of visits to fuel pump than your peers make, but no other car at this price – or several price points higher – can do what the Mustang does.

Its powertrain brings with it an appeal that engines with fewer cylinders simply cannot and its inherent chassis balance is absolutely peachy. Sensible be damned.

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