Mid-engined sports cars are that bit more special than their more conventionally laid out front-engined rivals. The setup allows for more rakish designs and the layout also has its dynamic benefits. That’s why Formula 1 cars have their engines right in the middle, see.
Lots of supercars use this layout too and even Ford makes a mid-engined supercar: it is called the GT and costs about as much as a house. No, not one in London but its estimated £300,000 price tag will buy you something nice almost anywhere else in the UK.
Ford also makes the Fiesta: it is well-priced but you may be surprised to hear that not even the zippy ST is mid-engined. ‘What if we could find a mid-engined car that cost the same as a Fiesta?’, asked no one in particular. After much consternation we devised a cunning solution to this conundrum.
Prepare to be amazed by our selection of (used) mid-engined sportscars that cost no more than a (highly optioned) new Ford Fiesta. Just for fun we also threw in a few ultra-cheapies that undercut even the cheapest Fiesta by thousands of pounds.
It’s Fiesta time
A basic bare-bones Fiesta in 75-bhp Style trim starts at £13,175. If you would like it to be able to get out of its own way and perhaps have a decent audio system then you will be better served by a mid-range Titanium model.
That one starts at £18,515 and offers up 100-bhp as well as decadent partial leather seats. At the top level there is the ST-3 trim model. It is a proper little hot hatch with a 200-bhp turbocharged motor and a decent level of standard kit. It starts at a princely £21,495 though and after you add a few bits and bobs you can easily be looking at a £26,000 car.
Fiesta time is over
Now these are some of the best small hatchbacks on the market but this is the point where most petrolheads will be thinking ‘what if?’.
What if we didn’t want the security of a new car warranty and suddenly didn’t need the rear seats either? What if we would rather put the engine there instead? Well, we may have some interesting alternatives for you…
Porsche Boxster 986
Its mid-engined and it’s a Porsche, what more do you want to know? Ok, so maybe those early headlights are ugly and early cars tended to suffer from catastrophic engine failures.
Never mind that though as facelifted models look just fine and the cars with exploding engines have already exploded. Even the very sweetest low mileage 255-bhp 3.2-litre Boxster S won’t set you back much more than £12,000. Go get one.
Porsche Boxster 987
Returning to the familiar oval headlights calmed the fans and the more powerful engines were a welcome addition too. Facelifted models are the best and you can easily find a very low-mileage 310-bhp 3.4-litre Boxster S for under £26,000.
If you look really hard a handful of the newer generation 981 265-bhp 2.7-litre Boxsters are now also starting to slip under the £26K mark too.
The Cayman may have a unique name but it is essentially a Boxster with a tin hat on. This does make it more focused and a tad sharper to drive, although not something you would notice without a back-to-back comparison.
The first-generation model arrived when the second-gen Boxster was launched and other than the roof the only differences are the ever so slightly higher power outputs in the early Caymans. You can find great facelifted models for £26k and most are manuals which is how Porsches are meant to be.
Renault Clio V6 Renault Sport
Renault tend to release one bonkers car each generation and the 3.0-litre V6-engined Clio was its late ‘90s entrant. These cars had massively flared arches, rear-wheel-drive and an engine where the rear seats used to go.
The early ones made 227-bhp and tended to bite when provoked. 2003-on Phase II models received some tweaks which pushed power up to 252-bhp and tamed the wayward handling. Both are fun which is a good thing as you may struggle to find Phase II cars for our budget.
Renault Sport Spider
Maybe that’s two bonkers cars each generation, it’s hard to tell with the French. The Spider was the very first Renault Sport badged vehicle and it was a purpose-built minimalist roadster sharing little with the rest of the Renault range save for the 148-bhp 2.0-litre engine.
Fewer than 2,000 were built and if you are very lucky then you can still find one for under £26,000. There is not much in the way of luxuries but all UK examples came fitted with an actual windscreen which is nice.
The MG TF was Britain’s answer to the Mazda MX-5, it offered sharp looks, mid-engined handling and a range of Rover sourced engines that performed well when not overheating.
Avoid the earliest models and sub £1,000 ‘bargains’. They are that cheap for a reason. Stick to the newer cars (they were put back into production from 2007 to 2011) and you can have a whole lot of fun for well under £5,000.
Toyota being Toyota did the whole mid-engined sportscar thing a whole lot more reliably of course. Sadly, they didn’t bother with the styling so while the little third-generation MR2 is a great little roadster, it looks like a mutant metal frog.
Aside from the looks though they are superb to drive and are cheap to maintain. £6,000 is all you need for just about the best example out there.
The VX220 shared much of its componentry with the Lotus Elise which is a good thing and used examples tend to be somewhat cheaper which is even better. Engines used were either a 145-bhp 2.2-litre Ecotec unit or a spicy 196-bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine.
They look good, drive superbly and are even reliable, what’s not to like? Track abused examples and over modified turbo cars are a no no.
The original wedge-shaped supercar is an appreciating classic although you can still find a handful out there for under £26,000. Newer cars are better resolved and more reliable while the 2.2-litre turbocharged motor isn’t problematic if looked after.
Don’t buy the cheapest one you find because sorting it out will send you straight to the poor house.
The Elise is the distilled essence of a sportscar. It has only the bare essentials and is the perfect weekend track toy. Series 2 cars built from 2001-on are the most numerous and fall well within our budget.
Watch out for those pesky Rover K-Series head gasket issues on early cars. Later models had more powerful Toyota-sourced engines (some with superchargers) so rather get one of those. Mileages are generally low so rather look at service history and avoid highly modified examples.
The Exige is essentially an Elise with a roof, it is more track focused so has a few extra aero add-ons and can be had with a 189-bhp 1.8-litre Toyota-sourced engine.
Crazy sorts may be interested in the 246-bhp supercharged variants. These cars are rare and pricey so you will have to spend some time finding one for Fiesta money.
If the Elise and Exige are the distilled essence of a sportscar then the Ariel Atom is the bit that is left in the pan once all that ‘essence’ has been poured out. Shorn of unnecessary luxuries like body panels and a windscreen, the Atom is essentially an engine and four wheels held together by some piping.
The formula is rather effective, even with the base 2.0-litre Honda engine it is a scarily fast machine. To be fair it is not quite mid-engined but most of the engine is ahead of the rear axle so we have included it anyway.
There are all sorts of engines and limited-edition version on offer but the standard car is where our budget is at. For sheer adrenaline inducing fun, there is not much else out there that can compete.