A sports car is a car designed with an emphasis on dynamic performance, such as handling, acceleration, top speed, or thrill of driving. Sports cars originated in Europe in the early 1900s and are currently produced by many manufacturers around the world.
The Mazda MX-5 is one of the very best enthusiast’s cars on sale, regardless of its relatively low price. There aren’t many small, fun, rear-wheel-drive sports cars available on the modern market, so most of the MX-5’s rivals are actually front-drive hot hatchbacks.
The MX-5 might not be practical as an everyday proposition, but involvement behind the wheel is simply in another league. Powered by a choice of a fizzy 1.5 or 2.0-litre petrol engine, it’s less about outright performance and focused more on sharp handling and enjoyment.
One of the very best manual gearboxes available provides a welcome dose of engagement, while light, direct steering gives feedback by the bucketload. Speaking of buckets, the MX-5’s seats are supportive rather than incredibly figure-hugging, and the cabin is very snug, so tall occupants may struggle to get comfortable.
The fabric roof can be easily opened and closed from the driver’s seat despite its lack of electric assistance – perfect for making the most of Britain’s sporadic sunshine at a moment’s notice.
Divisive looks aside, the latest versions of BMW’s M3 saloon and M4 coupe continue their tradition of mastering both road and track, while all wrapped up in a package that’s easy to use as an everyday car, should you choose to. The two latest models have been given a major overhaul, with four-wheel-drive and the latest six-cylinder twin turbocharged ‘S58’ engine being two of the most notable upgrades. The only versions of the M3 and M4 on sale in the UK are the Competition spec, but this is definitely no bad thing.
The Competition cars see an increase of power from 473bhp to 503bhp, and an eight-speed automatic gearbox that is optimised to get the most out of the xDrive system. Don’t let these changes fool you though, these cars live up to the highly-coveted M bloodline and are definitely worthy of a place on this list.
The 720S was designed with the likes of the Ferrari 488 and Lamborghini Huracan firmly in its sights, and taking on these two goliath brands is not an easy feat for most. Fortunately for McLaren, an abundance of technological expertise and long-standing motorsport pedigree have helped shape the 720S into a fearsome opponent.
Power is plentiful, with a mid-mounted twin turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 producing a huge 710bhp (the 720PS from which the car gets its name). This will launch you from 0-62mph in an alarmingly short 2.9 seconds, and on to an equally astonishing top speed of 212mph.
Things get even better in the corners. Electro-hydraulic power steering provides plenty of satisfying feedback, while a selection of drive modes allow the 720S to be easily optimised for just about any bit of tarmac that you point it towards. There’s even a Variable Drift Control system that allows you to have fun while the Electronic Stability Control works towards preventing any unfortunate (and likely very expensive) mishaps.
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. Note, however, that Jaguar no longer offers its rich-sounding six-cylinder engine in the F-Type.
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 C7 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. UK-specific, RHD examples are now on sale, with the coupe costs £81,700 and the convertible £87,110.
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.
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.