Currently reading: Audi R8 to Vauxhall VX220: Used mid-engined sports cars
A new Cayman or Emira may be out of reach, but there’s a host of affordable alternatives to choose from

Fancy a slice of mid-engined thrills?

We've just pitted the Lotus Emira and the Porsche 718 Cayman GTS against each other, and while both are brilliant, they both cost upwards of £65,000. So what can you get for a little less cash?

Lotus dominates here. There’d have been more, but we had to mix it up a bit, hence just one of three Toyota MR2s. But no Fiat X1/9? You try finding one that hasn’t returned to nature. What’s impressive is the range of flavours. Classics, track cars, supercars and even a hybrid are represented.

Audi R8

98 Audi r8 front quarter

2007-present: The R8 has been on sale for 15 years, but you’ll still pay around £32,000 for a 2008-reg 4.2 with 75,000 miles and full history. The V8 makes 414bhp, while the 5.2 V10 that followed in 2009 has 517bhp – but prices for those start at £45,000. Precise handling is common to both. Check the clutch and suspension dampers are okay, that the brakes have plenty of life and that the doors aren’t marked. Pay extra for a full service history.

Audi r8 side profile

One we found: Audi R8 4.2 FSI V8 Quattro, 2008/08, 46,000 miles, £37,999

Lotus Esprit

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97 Lotus esprit front cornering

1988-1994: Today, with prices starting at around £25,000, an X180-generation Esprit is your ‘cheap’ pass to the supercar paddock. A good one will easily do 100,000 miles without serious complaint. These are complex cars so a strong history is vital. Regular oil changes will protect the engine but expect to refresh suspension and brake parts. Check for rusting suspension mounts and regard a tatty interior as indicative of neglect elsewhere.

Lotus esprit front view

One we found: Lotus Esprit 2.2 Turbo, 1988/E, 65,000 miles, £25,995

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Vauxhall VX220

96 Vauxhall vx220

2000-2005: Keen for Vauxhall’s cash so it could crack on with the Elise S2, Lotus agreed to design and produce the VX220. Loosely based on the Elise, the VX hit showrooms on the back of a TV campaign featuring a potty professor whose antics only undermined the talented newcomer. But that was all long ago, and today a good VX is a collector’s item. Check for a rattly timing chain on 2.2i cars (Turbos need a fresh belt every four years), oil leaks from over-tightened spark plugs and a leaky radiator, and scrutinise the body and crash box for repairs or damage.

Vauxhall vx220 front

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One we found: Vauxhall VX220 2.0i 16v Turbo, 2005/55, 55,000 miles, £19,950

Porsche Cayman

95 Porsche cayman

2006-2017: As we’ve seen, you’ll pay from around £50,000 for a new Porsche 718, but for half that you could have a 987-gen car. Granted, this Cayman is 12 years old and has had six previous owners (Porsches change hands regularly) but it is in fabulous condition, has a near-full main dealer history and boasts a spec that includes 19in Turbo wheels. Being a 315bhp 3.4 S, it’s quick, too. Look for missed oil changes, radiator damage, over-revving, worn gear cables and anything other than N-rated tyres.

Porsche cayman front quarter

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One we found: Porsche Cayman 3.4 S, 2010/10, 56,000 miles, £24,995

Lotus Evora

94 Lotus evora side view

2010-2021: Twelve years since the model’s launch, Lotus’s 2+2 GT is a rare but wonderful sight. Interior quality isn’t exactly first rank, but the combination of Toyota mechanicals and Lotus handling means a well-maintained Evora should provide years of service. Lotus remedied sticky gear cables, failing air-con condensers and weak door handles, but crushed seat bolsters, weak lower fascias and easily scuffed leather sill facings were not so easy to resolve, so scrutinise these.

Lotus evora s black front

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One we found: Lotus Evora S, 2011/11, 41,000 miles, £36,999


93 Mg f rear

1995-2002: About as entry-level as mid-engined ownership gets, the MG F is also a modern classic with all the ups and downs that go with it. Early ones weren’t the best built, but all ages can suffer head gasket failure, a leaky hood, shonky Hydragas suspension and corrosion. But good looks, an exquisite cockpit, sweet handling and playful performance, especially from the 1.8i VVC, keep man (or woman) and machine joined firmly at the hip.

Mg f front above

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One we found: MG F 1.8i VVC, 1997/P, 42,000 miles, £2375

Lotus Elise

92 Lotus elise front

2001-2011: While Vauxhall’s barmy boffin was busy turning off potential VX buyers, Lotus took the wraps off the Elise S2 to universal acclaim. More than just a facelifted S1, the S2 is easier to live with and to drive thanks to its more compliant Bilstein suspension, larger wheels, easier roof mechanism and lower sills. Today, it’s also better value for money than an S1. However, the S2’s body is made from a glass-fibre composite material that absorbs and retains moisture. It’s why you should inspect the paint for blisters caused by water coming to the surface.

Lotus elise 111r

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One we found: Lotus Elise 1.8 111R, 2005/05, 49,000 miles, £24,000

Toyota MR2

91 Toyota mr2

1999-2007: Criticising a two-seater for its woeful luggage space would seem to miss the point, but that was the big gripe with this third-gen MR2 at launch. But enthusiasts know it’s a great little device with a flexible engine, sharp handling and a sweet six-speed ’box (from late 2002). The MR2 resists corrosion better than the MG F, but check the sills, floor and rear subframe for the dreaded tin-worm. Finished in a bright metallic, a tidy example with gleaming alloys still looks fresh out of the box.

Toyota mr2 front quarter

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One we found: Toyota MR2 1.8i VVT-i, 2005/05, 58,000 miles, £4850

BMW i8

90 Bmw i8 front door open

2014-2020: If you doubt the ability of the i8’s 228bhp 1.5-litre three-pot petrol turbo engine and 129bhp electric motor to last the course, check out the 161,000- mile 2015 car we found: yours, with a full BMW history, for £30,000. It’s our guess it’ll still feel almost box fresh. The i8’s butterfly doors creak but can be adjusted and random electrical problems aren’t unknown. Some turbos have failed and overheating can be an issue. Not the car’s fault, but some drivers mislay the charging cable.

Bmw i8 front quarter

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One we found: BMW i8, 2015/15, 26,000 miles, £45,440

Porsche Boxster

89 Porsche boxster drifting

1996-2004: The model that kept the firm on life support before the Porsche Cayenne got the patient back on its feet has been a common sight for years, but many examples have fallen into the hands of those less able to afford them. It’s why, to avoid purchasing a money pit, we advise you buy the best Boxster you can afford (obvious, really) and as late a car as possible – preferably, a facelifted one from 2003, when the engines gained more power. Listen for complaints from the intermediate shaft bearing, check for oil from the rear main seal and feel for engine misfires.

Porsche boxster front quarter

One we found: Porsche Boxster 3.2 S Tiptronic, 2003/03, 60,000 miles, £11,985

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