► The best-value sports cars of 2023
► CAR magazine’s cheap sports car picks
► Find the best sports car in your budget
If you want to inject some automotive excitement into your life, you may well be browsing the best cars lists for new cheap sports cars. Sure, many modern cars pack serious performance credentials – but few can ultimately match a bespoke sports car for driving thrills.
A glance at what’s available might leave you disappointed, however, because affordable sports cars are comparatively few and far between these days; the automotive market has changed tremendously in recent history, with manufacturers and consumers alike leaning towards SUVs and crossovers, leaving neat lines drawn through any cheap sports cars on many a manufacturers’ planning board.
The best new cheap sports cars 2023 at a glance
However, help is at hand for new car buyers seeking the best cheap sports cars: CAR magazine’s list of the best cheapest sports cars 2023. These options, collated from CAR’s long-standing GBU – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly – data section and our ever-increasing archive of road tests, will help you quickly and easily find a suitably thrilling car that matches your budget.
The word cheap is doing a lot of heavy lifting in this article, mind, but then the new price of cars has risen so much that recalibration is required. Given that the retail price of many a regular hatch is now north of £30,000, we’ve set a budget cap of £50,000 for affordable sports cars. We’ve options including naturally aspirated rear-wheel-drive convertibles through to higher-end machines that can pull double duty as the best track day cars around, while simultaneously rivalling the performance figures of the best new supercars, so you should find something here to suit your car-buying tastes.
Best cheap sports cars in 2023
An accessible and engaging sports car
Pros: Sweet to drive; elegant drop-top fun; great ownership proposition
Cons: Quite soft out of the box; limited space; performance might not impress
The Mazda MX-5 has long been the go-to choice for those seeking accessible and entertaining sports car thrills. Understandably so, too; even in its most basic form, the diminutive roadster has always delivered a compelling driving experience, bolstered by the fact that its size, weight, efficiency and eager nature make it easy to enjoy and exploit in real-world conditions.
Now in its fourth generation, which itself has been recently facelifted, it continues to deliver on the box-ticking front for enthusiasts: it’s naturally aspirated, available with a manual transmission, rear-wheel drive, light, and widely supported by the aftermarket – so, when you do start finding its limits, you can easily adjust it to suit. More to the point, it’s still the most affordable sports car around, and Mazda continues to offer appealing finance deals.
For a more in-depth look read our Mazda MX-5 review
Pure rear-wheel-drive coupe fun
Pros: Beautiful handling; solid performance; sharp styling
Cons: Limited availability; more hard plastics than a resin factory
Toyota’s GT86, which made its debut in 2012, was a much-needed and refreshing option in the sports car market. It eschewed the norm of more power, more tyre, more complication, more cost; instead, it focused on delivering the basics that many were looking for – namely an engaging, entertaining rear-wheel-drive chassis, wrapped up in a smart and stylish package, that was sensibly priced. Its raw nature put off some, however, and its performance was always a little lacking.
Enter the GR86, a two-thirds-new variant, with highlights including an improved interior and a bigger 2.4-litre engine. And it’s the engine that really helps this new version transcend its predecessor; its increased output grants improved flexibility and the GR86 will accelerate from 0-62mph in 6.3 seconds, which is 1.4 seconds quicker than its predecessor. All in, it’s a much more usable and well-rounded package, making it a truly great affordable sports car. If, at least, you can get hold of one.
For a more in-depth look read our Toyota GR86 review
Caterham Seven 170
Tremendously enjoyable at all speeds
Pros: Engaging and entertaining; you can build it yourself
Cons: Bare-bones experience won’t appeal to all
The width, bulk, power and acceleration of many a modern performance car can make them very difficult to engage with, or enjoy, out on the open road. And then there are the increasing array of driver aids, which chip away at or modify your inputs, making it harder to know who’s doing what – or, in a lot of cases, why.
Luckily, we’ve pared-back options such as the Caterham Seven 170 in our sports car roster. It’s the least expensive sports car on offer from the manufacturer and, because it’s small, lightweight and uncomplicated, it’s a joy to drive. Unassisted rack-and-pinion steering, rear-wheel drive, a manual gearbox, no ABS, no traction control – it’s all about connection and engagement. It’s not slow, either, despite its 660cc turbocharged engine serving up just 84hbp; because the pretty Caterham weighs just 440kg, it’ll get to 62mph in a respectable 6.9 seconds.
For a more in-depth look read our Caterham 170S review
BMW 2 Series M240i xDrive
A sorted sporting coupe with plenty of muscle
Pros: Six-cylinder punch and soundtrack; excellent driver engagement
Cons: Some cheap-feeling interior plastics; limited interior space
BMW has a long history of making cars that entertain, and the M240i is no exception. The brand’s compact four-seat coupe packs a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six engine which punches out 369bhp, aiding the sporty BMW in accelerating from 0-62mph in 4.3 seconds. The car is also blessed with all-wheel drive, helping that power-down performance and making the M240i more tractable and relaxing when need be.
Then there’s the chassis: the M240i benefits from 50:50 weight distribution, responsive steering, and a surefooted stance, all of which helps make it a great driver’s car. Only a slightly rough ride and some questionable interior finishes let the game down, and no one will be surprised to find that the rear seats are a token gesture. At least, on the practicality front, the boot is of a useful size and you do get split-folding rear seats. We also like the fact that it’s one of the more appealingly styled BMWs in recent history, although that may not be saying much.
For a more in-depth look read our BMW M240i review
Renowned sports coupe majors on ease of use
Pros: Pleasing all-round performance; excellent interior; good tech
Cons: Confident but not compelling handling; useless rear seats
The stylish Audi TT is often overlooked when it comes to buyers wanting a sports car, so we’re flagging it here – because, in some cases, its breadth of abilities makes it a sensible option. More expensive rivals such as the Alpine A110 are unquestionably more exciting, but the TT has practicality, equipment, comfort, and price, on its side.
It’s still a pleasant car to drive, too, just lacking that sporting edge and verve of oft-more-expensive competitors. But if there is a chance to stretch the budget, take a close look at the sweet-driving Porsche 718 Cayman and Boxster. Alternatively, if you want something a bit more plush, you could investigate BMW’s Z4.
For a more in-depth look read our Audi TT review
Honda Civic Type R
A phenomenal performance car
Pros: Sublime driving feel, feedback and focus; practical and comfortable
Cons: You’re paying fifty grand for a front-wheel-drive hatchback
To some, a sports car is strictly a performance-oriented two-door car, but most are more flexible with the terminology – and there are plenty of saloons and hatchbacks out there that offer a driving experience comparable to a dedicated sports car. And, vitally, you may find yourself in the position of needing something more practical than the conventional two-door offering.
For buyers seeking the ultimate in involvement and performance, with a dash of practicality and comfort, we’d suggest making a beeline for the latest iteration of the Honda Civic Type R. Its utterly compelling and capable handling, its stellar engine, and its wide breadth of talents elsewhere, make it feel like an outright sports car. On the flip side, it is also terrifically expensive for what is ultimately just a front-wheel-drive hatchback – but with shades of NSX to its nature, and with it likely being the last of its kind, you may judge its premium well worth paying.
For a more in-depth look read our Honda Civic Type R review
Ariel Atom 4
Sports bike thrills on four wheels
Pros Phenomenal driving experience; fantastic road-legal track car; captivating engineering
Cons Easy to ratchet up the price; wet-weather gear required
If you want a sports car that’s going to send your pulse through the stratosphere, take a gander at an Atom. Okay, it’s less of a car than many of the alternatives here, and more akin to a high-performance motorcycle with four wheels, but it’s capable of 0-60mph in just 2.8 seconds. To put things in perspective, that’s effectively the same as the twin-turbocharged 819bhp Ferrari 296 GTB.
The 595kg Atom’s not just about devastating initial acceleration, mind; it’ll go from 0-100mph in 6.8 seconds, and it can reach 162mph. And then there’s the matter of its extraordinary handling and tremendously communicative controls, and its on-track capabilities that will captivate, challenge and thrill for as long as you have the mettle to stay behind the wheel. If you’re looking for the ultimate plaything, or a road-legal track car, it’s a brilliant choice.
For a more in-depth look read our Ariel Atom 4 news story here
Cheapest sports car buyers’ guide: FAQ
What is the lowest price of new sports car?
The Mazda MX-5 is the most affordable new sports car, in the traditional two-door sense, with prices starting at £25,825 at the time of publication. Mazda also tends to have some sensible finance deals on offer, making its compact roadster even more accessible. Keep an eye out for deals offered on car-buying websites, too, which could help you get the cheapest sports car for even less.
What is the best small sports car to buy?
That depends on what you want and what you need to do. If you need four seats, for example, that’ll remove a lot of potential candidates from the board – so it’s important to draw up a list of requirements before you start shopping, to help you save time and effort. As a general rule of thumb, though, it’s hard to go wrong with the likes of the Mazda MX-5 or Toyota GR86, given the breadth of abilities and entertainment they offer for the money.
Which cheap sports car is the fastest from 0-60mph?
Few would call the Ariel Atom 4 cheap, given its starting price of £47,490, but that is less expensive than many other sports car options – and, when many regular hatchbacks cost north of £30,000, it’s comparatively not as outrageous as it sounds. We digress, though; buy the Atom, and you’ll have a sports car capable of 0-60mph in just 2.8 seconds.
What should I look for when buying an affordable sports car?
Initially, you need to work out what you’d like, what you need, and how much you have to spend. These factors, such as the number of seats and desired performance or equipment, will narrow down the potential options. Take this info and create a list of needs and must-haves, and then use Carmagazine.co.uk and our sister site Parkers.co.uk to research the cars that might suit you. Furthermore, when it comes to looking for the best-value sports cars, don’t forget to consider running costs: high fuel, insurance, servicing and VED costs could spoil your budget and blunt your ownership experience.
What is the most affordable used sports car to buy?
There’s lots of choice if you’re looking for cheap sports cars under £5,000, or cheap sports cars under £10,000 – including plenty of Mazda MX-5s, Toyota MR2s, Porsche Boxsters, early Toyota GT86s, Nissan 350Zs, and Audi TTs. And if you’ve more to spend than that, you’ll have access to a wide range of options. Those with the least complication and best reliability are often the best buys, though, when it comes to used sports cars – as sports cars that were expensive when new, especially as they get older, can be troublesome or cost a lot to maintain, which could spoil your enjoyment of them. Consequently, it’s best to do lots of research before settling on a used cheap sports car.