SMART ROADSTER: It’s cramped and impractical and its automated manual gearbox can be a constant source of frustration. But it looks great, is mid-engined and still looks like nothing else on the road. It's up to you to decide if the good outweighs the bad. £6,000 buys: 2007 Smart Roadster Finale with 35,000 miles on the clock
RENAULT CLIO 197 CUP: The Renaultsport Clio is proof that when it comes to grin-inducing driving machines, less usually means more. It’s not particularly powerful, but the fast Clio is an absolute riot to drive. £8,000 buys: 2010 Renault Clio RS 197 Cup with 35,000 miles on the clock
PORSCHE BOXSTER: The car that saved Porsche from oblivion is also the car that raised the bar in the (relatively) affordable sports car segment. In fact, the Boxster raised the bar so high that everybody else is still playing catch up. £8,000 buys: 2005 Porsche Boxster 987 2.7 with 100,000 miles on the clock
PORSCHE 944: For a long time, the Porsche 944 has been overshadowed by the 911, and as a result has been criminally underpriced. Values are now on the rise, but this is still one top-value modern-day classic. £8,000 buys: 1989 Porsche 944 2.7 with 100,000 miles on the clock
PEUGEOT RCZ: If you want a sporting Peugeot for £8000, we’d suggest you track down the best 205 GTi you can find. But the RCZ is much more readily available and still looks stunning. £8,000 buys: 2010 Peugeot RCZ 1.6 THP GT with 70,000 miles on the clock
NISSAN 350Z: Nissan’s Z cars have always put the emphasis on driving pleasure. As a result, refinement is poor and the interior quality is patchy, but if you want smiles per mile then look no further. £8,000 buys: 2007 Nissan 350Z with 60,000 miles on the clock
MAZDA MX-5: It’s the world’s best-selling sports car, and is that any wonder? Mesmerising to drive, eminently affordable, usable and reliable too, the MX-5 is the answer to the prayers of great swathes of driving enthusiasts. £8,000 buys: 2009 Mazda MX-5 2.0 Sport with 30,000 miles on the clock
MERCEDES SLK Mk2: The original SLK was a bit wobbly, but the second take on the affordable coupé-cabriolet formula was a huge improvement. Your budget buys a 272bhp 3.5-litre V6 edition with a seven-speed automatic gearbox, and it’s much more fun to drive than you might expect. £8,000 buys: 2005 Mercedes SLK 350 with 50,000 miles on the clock
JAGUAR XKR: More of a grand tourer than a sports car, but when you’ve got 400bhp at your disposal, who cares if this big Jaguar coupé doesn’t have the agility of a hot hatch? £8,000 buys: 2002 Jaguar XKR 4.2 coupé with 80,000 miles on the clock
HONDA S2000: You have to wring its neck if you want to get the best out of it, but with its 9000rpm redline and rear-wheel drive there’s plenty of fun to be had. £8,000 buys: 2005 Honda S2000 with 100,000 miles on the clock
HONDA CIVIC TYPE R: The outgoing Civic Type R was an uncompromising machine, and as a result it’s not easy to live with. But if you want white-knuckle rides on demand, few hatches are this well placed to deliver. £8,000 buys: 2009 Civic Type R with 55,000 miles on the clock
HONDA CR-Z: Got a green conscience but still want to drive something that looks neat and puts driving fun ahead of practicality? £8,000 buys: 2012 Honda CR-Z Sport with 35,000 miles on the clock
FORD FOCUS ST: You won’t secure a decent Focus RS of any vintage for £8k, but you can buy a Mk2 Focus ST with a turbocharged 2.5-litre engine, and we’d say that’s a pretty good consolation prize. £8,000 buys: 2008 Ford Focus ST-2 with 40,000 miles on the clock
FORD FIESTA ST: You can’t buy one of the outgoing Fiesta STs for £8000, but you can buy one of its predecessors for a lot less. You should, too; the Fiesta ST offers far more fun than many cars several times its price. £6,000 buys: 2008 Ford Fiesta ST with 30,000 miles on the clock
FIAT BARCHETTA: If you like to swim against the tide with your car purchases, the Fiat Barchetta will hold plenty of appeal. Let’s face it – when was the last time you saw one? £8,000 buys: 2004 Fiat Barchetta 1.8 with 35,000 miles on the clock
CHRYSLER CROSSFIRE: We rarely gave any of Chrysler’s models a thumbs-up, but with the Crossfire we made an exception – especially in roadster form. £7000 buys: 2006 Chrysler Crossfire 3.2 V6 roadster with 40,000 miles on the clock
BMW Z3: The Z3 always disappointed us with its under-developed chassis, and while it doesn’t cut it as a top-drawer sports car, it makes a decent cruiser with the 3.0-litre straight-six engine that arrived in 2001. £8000 buys: 2000 BMW Z3 3.0i with 55,000 miles on the clock
BMW Z4: Your £8000 nets a 3.0-litre first-generation Z4 or a 2.5-litre Mk2. The latter looks better and is much more modern, so on balance it’s the one that we’d go for. £8000 buys: 2009 BMW Z4 23i with 90,000 miles on the clock
BMW M3 (E46): You can have your pick of E46 M3 coupés or convertibles for £8000. In return, you get a creamy-smooth 343bhp straight-six, delicious steering and a glorious chassis. You know it makes sense. £8000 buys: 2004 BMW M3 E46 coupé with 100,000 miles on the clock
AUDI S4: Okay, so it’s not really a scalpel-sharp sports car, but it’s a four-seater convertible with a V8 engine, four-wheel-drive security and bomb-proof build quality. Interested now? £8000 buys: 2005 Audi S4 Cabriolet with 70,000 miles on the clock
AUDI TT COUPÉ: Good rather than great to drive, the TT offers practicality and build quality with sharp looks. Plus there’s a diesel engine if economy matters more than outright fun. £8,000 buys: 2009 Audi TT 2.0 TFSi with 70,000 miles on the clock
ALFA ROMEO SPIDER: Yes, it’s a bit wobbly, but it looks fabulous and your budget buys a gorgeous-sounding 3.2 V6, although the 2.2 JTS is much more readily available. And far more sensible.£8,000 buys: 2007 Alfa Romeo Spider 2.2 JTS with 45,000 miles on the clock.
We’ve all done it.
We’ve all searched those online classifieds to see what we could spend our cash on, whether that cash is real or imaginary. It’s the 21st century equivalent of window shopping and it can prove dangerous, because sometimes when you realise just what mouthwatering machinery is available at keen prices, the next phase then begins: working out how to buy and run one of these dream machines.
You could take £8,000 and plonk it down in exchange for a brand new Dacia Sandero Ambiance TCe 90. Instead, we suggest getting something a bit tastier used, and as we prove here, you can buy something entertaining for even less. Admittedly not everything here is a sports car as such – think of some of them as sporting cars instead. What matters is that they’ll all put a grin across your chops in exchange for the same sort of money that a new humdrum repmobile costs in depreciation within its first year.
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