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Here is the definitive top 10 list of the best sports cars currently on sale, each with a compelling reason to take top spot – but only one can claim the throne…
Autocar
News
12 mins read
3 February 2021

When picturing a modern sports car, you might imagine anything from a lightweight track car or a modern hot hatchback to a mid-engined two-seater or a front-engined grand touring coupé.

For the purposes of this top 10 chart, however, we can narrow our terms of reference down a bit: Caterham SevensFerrari 488s, Audi R8sAlpine A110s and BMW M cars are ranked and dealt with elsewhere. Here, we’re interested in full-sized, fulsomely endowed, dedicated sports cars with rich and enticing multi-cylinder engines priced between about £60,000 and £120,000. Only grown-up, big-hitting, multifaceted and purpose-built options get in.

Front, mid and rear-engined offerings are included, likewise rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive layouts, and open and closed cockpits. There are plenty of routes towards the level of indulgent performance, vivid handling poise, immersive driver engagement and character you’d expect of a true sports car, after all. But which should you take – and why?

1. Porsche 911

The derivative range of Porsche's latest-generation 911, the '992', has filled out quite a bit since its introduction in 2019. The car is now available in 380bhp Carrera or 444bhp Carrera S forms, both powered by a 3.0-litre turbocharged flat six engine; in coupe, cloth-top Cabriolet and 'folding fixedhead' Targa bodystyles; with either rear- or four-wheel drive; or with eight-speed twin-clutch 'PDK' automatic or seven-speed manual gearboxes. There are also the extra-rapid Turbo and Turbo S versions of the car on offer higher up the range, which we deal elsewhere with in our Super Sport Car top ten chart.

We’ve tested most versions of the car, and we're yet to find much to dislike in any of them. Although it has certainly become a better and more refined and sophisticated luxury operator than ever it used to be, this eighth-generation, rear-engined sporting hero is every inch as great a driver’s car as the '991' it has replaced – and, if anything, stands ready to take the game further away from its rivals.

Having grown longer and slightly wider, all versions of the the '992' now use what used to be called the 911’s ‘widebody’ shell (which has been lightened by more extensive use of aluminium in its construction), while four-wheel steering is now an option even on non-GT-level cars and mixed-width wheels and tyres come as standard.

Although there’s as much reason as ever for the keenest of drivers to stick with the car’s purer rear-driven mechanical layout, the 992’s wider front axle track and quickened steering ratio seem to have sharpened its handling very effectively. Its turbocharged engine may not have the textural qualities of Porsche’s old atmospheric units, but it makes for very serious real-world performance – and, overall, for a car that remains without equal among direct contemporary rivals for usability, for rounded sporting credibility and especially for the accessible, everyday-use, any-occasion brilliance of its driver appeal.

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Wider, more powerful eighth-generation 911 is still eminently fast, and capable at all speeds

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2. Jaguar F-Type

The sales fortunes of Jaguar’s much-hyped successor for the Lyons-designed E-Type will tell you much about the development of the modern sports car market. When it launched in 2013, we imagined the buying public would value it as a sort of prettier and more dependable modern TVR – favouring the biggest-hitting eight-cylinder engines and viewing it as a cheaper and more powerful front-engined rival to the 911.

For a while, buyers did exactly so. But as the car aged and the focus of the purist sports car market migrated (both upwards towards mid-engined super sports cars like the Audi R8, and downwards towards cheaper mid-engined machines such as the Porsche Cayman and the Alpine A110) the F-Type had to move with it. The six-cylinder models grew in popularity, until Jaguar created another wave of interest in the car by furnishing it with a four-cylinder engine.

So, after its latest facelift at the beginning of 2020, the F-Type straddles even more market territory than it used to, and it's to Jaguar's considerable credit that the car can manage that to such cohesive effect. At the top of the range, the new R version remains a bleeding-heart, 567bhp upper-level-911 and cut-price Aston Martin Vantage rival; at the lower end, it costs less than £60,000 and makes do with just under 300bhp; and in the middle, the V8-engined, rear-wheel-drive, £70k 'P450' version might even be the pick of the range.

Jaguar’s new styling treatment for the F-Type certainly gives it some fresh and distinguishing visual appeal. We have thus far only driven the range-topping R AWD coupé, but it charmed us with its somewhat antediluvian V8 hotrod speed and noise, and yet impressed with its outright handling precision and chassis composure too.

The F-Type has never been quite as complete as its key rival from Porsche, and is now considerably less ritzy and technologically sophisticated inside. There is, however, still an awful lot to like about it, and plenty of reasons to grab one while you still can.

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3. Porsche 718 Cayman/Boxster GTS 4.0

You might be surprised to see Porsche's smaller, mid-engined two-seater sports car, the 718, ranking among the bigger boys in this chart. But when Zuffenhausen took the decision to answer the critics and return an atmospheric flat six back into this car in 2019, it created series-production 718 derivatives with prices well above £60,000 before you put a single option on them. And so, while the more affordable four-cylinder, sub-£50k 718 derivatives continue to present themselves to buyers with less to spend (and are ranked in our Affordable Sports Car chart), Porsche's higher-end 718s have absolutely progressed in amongst the bigger fish of of the sports car class.

Not that they struggle in such treacherous water. Porsche's latest six-cylinder, naturally aspirated boxer engine is an utter joy, offering as much outright performance as any road-going sports car really needs but also wonderful smoothness and response, and an 8000rpm operating range. Unusually long-feeling gearing makes the six-speed manual versions slightly less appealing to drive, in some ways, than the seven-speed paddleshift automatics.

The 718's beautifully poised handling, incredibly linear handling response and effortless body control at speed are now widely celebrated. This is the kind of sports car that can seem word-perfect in how it takes apart a cross-country road tough enough to expose a lesser machine. If you like a sports car with more power than its chassis can easily deploy, or whose dynamic quirks and flaws present something of a challenge to be 'driven around', you might even think a GTS 4.0 too good.

Compared to some cars in this list, there is also perhaps a slight lack of desirability about this car; but its usability is first-rate - and, now at least, its powertrain can be considered every bit as stellar as its ride and handling.

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4. Mercedes-AMG GT

With the spaceframe body structure of a supercar, a front-mounted engine from a muscle saloon, suspension tuned for maximum attack on the track and yet the practicality and luxury allure of an elegant coupé or roadster, the Mercedes-AMG GT is an even more bewildering addition to the sports car world than the Mercedes-Benz SLS was.

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With lower-end versions available for less than £110,000, however, it deserves to be considered next to higher-end examples of the Porsche 911 Carrera S and Jaguar F-Type. In fact, thanks to its bombastic hot rod character and somewhat rough-edged, unreconstructed and to-the-point handling, it's at this level that the car probably the greatest appeal.

Of course, there would be times when you’d grow tired of the GT's high-adrenalin temperament and lack of civility; but cheaper versions of this car have that bit less wearing aggressiveness about their character than the pricier ones, and the car's highs would always outweigh the moments when it annoyed. The GT is certainly capable and versatile – as much as cars twice its price – and it's so charming and lovable with it, even if not quite as delicate as alternatives.

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5. Chevrolet Corvette C8

Much has been written about General Motors’ decision to gamble with this, the eighth-generation of its iconic Corvette sports car, by switching from a front-mounted engine to a mid-mounted one. There were objective reasons to do it: because it improves the car’s weight distribution and enhances its outright handling potential. And there was a more complex argument: that a mid-engined layout has become expected of an operator within this part of the sports car market, and the old Corvette’s front-engined configuration made it something of a relic to the latest generation of sports car buyers.

Whatever it took to finally convince GM to make the switch, you could say it was worth it. The C8 Corvette has all of the metal-for-the-money and bang-for-your-buck value appeal as any of its forebears possessed (the car being available for less than the Porsche 718 Boxster in North America), and while its cabin has plenty of ergonomic quirks, it’s the driving experience you’ll come back for. Early imported examples of the car may currently be up for six-figure prices, but Chevrolet promises official UK right-hand drive cars in 2021 priced from under £90,000. 

Bristling with small-block-V8 combustive charm, the C8’s engine has excellent throttle response, has a wonderful mid-range power delivery; it likes to rev to beyond 6500rpm and sounds superb doing it. For outright performance, it feels broadly in line with the old C7 Corvette. Perhaps not quite fully ‘supercar fast’, then, but for this money, you’re unlikely to quibble with any run-to-60mph figure that starts with a three.

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The C8 handled with plenty of stability and precision in our early test drive, feeling instantly more benign and easier to drive quickly than any of its front-engined forebears, even if slightly numb steering and a predilection for on-the-limit understeer might take the edge of its appeal on track days. In a subsequent twin test with a Porsche 911, however, it stood up and held its own remarkably well; and any sports car that can retain its own particular appeal under pressure from a car as complete as a Porsche '992' must be a pretty good one.

6. Lotus Evora

A decade has now passed since the introduction of Lotus’s mid-engined, 2+2 Porsche-chaser, the Evora; 2021 will be the car's last year in production. 

At the time of its introduction, the car brought plenty of qualities to embrace but also flaws to regret. Today, it retains a chassis and steering system that both truly deserve top billing. Few sports cars have such immersive, positive steering or a ride and handling compromise so suited to life on British roads, and that’s especially true now that Hethel has introduced the cheaper, softer-suspension GT 410 to compliment the GT 410 Sport.

However, that which was questionable about the Evora’s wider case for ownership back in 2009 has become nothing short of decidedly problematic for it now. This Lotus has never really had the powertrain its chassis deserved. Although Hethel now conjures as much as 430bhp from the car’s soulful Toyota-sourced supercharged V6, the Evora’s truculent transmission remains the limit of your enjoyment of it.

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A particularly small boot would make weekend touring jaunts difficult, while a tight, inaccessible and relatively antiquated interior stretches the bounds of acceptability on how simple a modern £80,000 sports car ought to be.

Still, if you can find a way to enjoy it, you’ll savour every drive in an Evora. Few cars mix the absolutely brilliant with the inadequate quite so strikingly.

7. Nissan GT-R

However long in the tooth he has become, Godzilla will feel as if he’s in rude health right until his last day. If out-and-out real-world, any-condition speed is what you crave from your sports car, nothing does it better below £100,000 than Nissan’s self-identified ‘world’s fastest brick’: the incredible, indefatigable GT-R.

But then speed probably isn’t quite all you want in a modern sports car, and Nissan knows this. It has therefore tried to make the GT-R a more rounded, luxurious and mature axe-wielding mentalist of a device over recent years and revisions – and it has made a difference, albeit not a big one.

Delicacy and subtlety aren’t this car’s specialisms any more now than before but, compared with the increasingly digital-feeling cars launched around and about it, the GT-R offers more charm than ever. And, in the case of the top-level Nismo version (see our Super Sports Car rankings), it now offers serious track suitability as well.

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8. Audi TT RS

There is nothing small or unassuming about Audi's warbling five-pot TT RS save, perhaps, its size. This range-topping compact coupe has a stonking 395bhp five-cylinder engine and, in upper-level trims, a £60,000-plus price tag to match. Thanks to 'quattro' four-wheel drive it can do 60mph in comfortably less than 4.0sec, and if you pay extra it will run on to as much as 174mph. That's right: this is a 170mph Audi TT. What a brilliantly unhinged idea.

The car's 'chi-chi' design appeal probably doesn't have the same allure among cars like this that it might amongst Mazda MX5s and Toyota GT86s, and it isn't the most mult-faceted or engaging driver's car in this class either. The four-wheel drive layout makes for a slightly lack of throttle-on cornering balance on the limit of grip, with the TT RS's controls feel slightly remote and over-filtered.

On the flip side, of course, those controls and that stability-first handling make the TT RS a singularly effective sports car, and one of the sports car segment's most notable giant-slayers, when it comes to point-to-point ground-covering speed.

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9. Lexus LC

As a keen driver, you feel inclined to make a case for the LC. It has a superbly charismatic and likeable V8 engine, while balanced, spry, involving handling makes it feel, at times, more of a natural rival for the Jaguar F-Type or Porsche 911 than the mix of two and four-door sporting grand tourers that Lexus identifies as its true opponents. Hence its inclusion here.

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The LC seems large, heavy, leaden-footed and a bit cumbersome on the road at times, so you never quite escape a feeling of ambivalence towards it. On song, its V8 engine is hugely special, and on a smooth surface, its sheer agility and balance are quite something. Equally, the cabin, while remarkably luxurious, wants for much in the way of storage space, while the car's touring credentials are undermined by a particularly unpleasant run-flat-shod secondary ride.

Ultimately, depending on how much you’re moved by its virtues or irked by its shortcomings, the LC is either a bit of a rough diamond or the dreaded curate’s egg. For us, it’s much closer to the former.

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10. Morgan Plus Six

The past few years have been transformative ones at the Morgan Motor Company. Having been family owned and operated until its 110th anniversary, the firm is now majority owned by private equity and has just launched it first ground-up new car in almost two decades: the Plus Six.

Built on an all-new box-section aluminium monocoque chassis with double the rigidity of the old Aero-series Plus Eight, the Plus Six uses the same BMW turbocharged straight six petrol engine that you’ll find in the Toyota GR Supra. And since the 335bhp that it produces is motivating a car that weighs fully half a tonne less than a Jaguar F-Type, you can believe that this car is quick.

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It’s pretty dynamically sophisticated, too, albeit qualified by the fact that it’s a Morgan – and that would have made it a critical mistake to tune this car to feel particularly modern or well-behaved. Electromechanical power steering makes the Plus Six lighter on the rim and easier to handle than Morgans of old, while apparent structural integrity feels pretty good over sharper lumps and bumps and better again than Morgans of old – although still quite a way from Porsche territory.

The Plus Six still delivers greater motive and charm and sense of occasion than outright grip and handling agility – perhaps just as it should. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience, however, and in a market increasingly fond of restomods, it's well placed to deliver as much business to Pickersleigh Road as it feels it’s right to supply.

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