Sports cars across all segments are experiencing something of a golden age at the moment, never has there been more choice and variety on offer. This is good news when it comes to the second-hand market too, there are plenty of great models to choose from and they aren’t all hard-riding two-door, two-seater vehicles either. The popularity of sporty models means that you can have both practicality and speed in one package too.
We have picked a variety of great used buys that range from entry-level hot hatches to once priceless supercars that are now within reach to a far broader audience. While there are always going to be a few perennial favourites here, we have also added a couple of less obvious options that dish up plenty of excitement at very palatable prices.
With nearly-new cars starting at around the £10,000-mark and going up to just over the £100,000 point, there is bound to be something here for just about every taste.
Volkswagen up! GTI
Entry-level hot hatches have come a very long way since the original Golf GTI kicked off the category. The up! is the smallest car in the VW Group stable to receive the sporty GTI moniker and is actually 105mm shorter than the 1974 original.
It does however have an 88mm taller roofline which is great news for taller drivers but is not what you want when going around corners.
Still, suspension technology has come on a fair bit in 45 years and the 114bhp up! GTI is a hoot to drive quickly thanks in part to its very low kerb weight.
Ford Fiesta ST
The Fiesta ST is one weight category higher than the up! GTI, being more a competitor for the Polo GTI. But whereas the Polo is perhaps a bit lacking in character, the Fiesta ST all about the driving experience.
Its 197 bhp three-cylinder turbo motor is both powerful and economical, a combination that is rarer than most manufacturers might have you think.
Subaru BRZ/Toyota GT86
There isn’t a sports car list these days that doesn’t include the Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ and for good reason too.
It is a unique offering in a sea of turbocharged, front-wheel-drive hatchbacks.
If you prefer RWD handling balance over turbo-boosted straight-line acceleration, then the Subaru BRZ/Toyota GT86 pair are a great choice.
Fiat 124 Spider
The Mazda MX-5 is another perennial favourite in top ten sports car type lists and it does make for a great used buy too but then so does the oft-overlooked Fiat 124 Spider.
It shares much of its architecture with the Mazda but uses a turbocharged 1.4-litre engine which provides slightly less top end power but much more mid-range torque.
That makes it punchier during overtaking manoeuvres and to our eyes at least, it is the better looking of the two.
Mini Cooper JCW
The JCW is a rare car not least because it is priced rather aggressively, most shoppers end up opting for the Cooper S as a result.
That is a shame because the 227 bhp JCW is a big step up the performance car ladder and just like its original forebears, has the potential to surprise far larger and pricier opponents.
Second-hand models make a lot more sense here as the initial depreciation will have brought these little firecrackers down to a far more reasonable asking price.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
The GTI is one of the best hot hatches around, it does everything well without necessarily being a class-leader in any one category.
This might seem like a backhanded compliment, but the end result is a car that amounts to more than the sum of its parts.
Those wanting junior supercar pace can always look at the 300 bhp Golf R, its AWD drivetrain gives it potent acceleration, for most though, the standard GTI will be a perfect fit.
Korean auto manufacturers have been on a push to offer more exciting variants in their ranges and the i30N is a product of this thinking.
It offers serious pace and very competent dynamics at a price that undercuts the major players. Available in either 250 or 275 bhp flavours, this little hatch is a lot of car for the money, especially on the second-hand market.
Honda Civic Type R
Our final hot hatch on the list is also arguably the very best one currently on sale.
This is the second-generation of the turbocharged-era Civic Type R and it is an absolute corker. With 310 bhp on tap, a sublime FWD chassis and a manual shifter to control it all with, the Type R is the enthusiast’s choice every time.
If you can live with the extrovert exterior styling, then this is one of the best used buys out there.
The 2 Series range tends to be overshadowed by the halo M2 models but lower down the range there is another gem that makes more sense more of the time.
That car is the mid-range 252 bhp 230i. Equipped with the 8-speed automatic transmission it is capable of a 5.6-second 0-62mph time, quicker than every car on our list so far. It can also be had in convertible form too.
It may not have the raw edge of more out-and-out sports cars but the 230i is a great all-rounder that deserves to be on your shortlist.
The F-Type has been around for a few years now, but its looks have only gotten better with age and they still offer strong performance, especially in top-spec V6 and V8 guises.
While the turbocharged four-cylinder variants are impressive too, the price difference is marginal so rather look at the more characterful V6s.
Mercedes A45 AMG
The new A Class range does not yet have a n A45 AMG variant but there is nothing much wrong with the previous-generation 376 bhp A45 AMG.
That makes it the most powerful four-cylinder production car to date and with the aid of its AWD system capable of a 4.2-second 0-62mph time.
It may not be the last word in handling finesse but if you enjoy embarrassing supercars off the line then this is the car for you.
Porsche Cayman pre-718
The mid-engined Cayman has always been a superb handler to the point that Porsche has intentionally hamstrung it so as not to overshadow the more expensive 911.
The very latest turbocharged variants have been praised for their superb all-round performance but that horrendous four-cylinder soundtrack has taken away some of the charm.
That is why the pre-facelifted Caymans (built from 2013-2016) are the ones to get. Even the base 271 bhp 2.7-litre offers a fantastic driving experience and is a great used buy.
Audi R8 (first generation)
The second-generation R8 has improved on the original’s strengths and remains a soulful alternative to the turbocharged opposition.
There is no entry-level V8 option anymore so if you opt for the newer cars then it will have to be the 5.2-litre V10, not exactly a hardship. The previous-generation cars offer an even greater saving potential, and some were even fitted with a manual gearbox.
The Gallardo shares much of its basic architecture with the first-gen R8 but engine and chassis tweaks ensure that it offers that bit more in the performance stakes.
It is also the best-selling Lambo ever so there are plenty used ones about, as a general rule the newer cars are more polished but any well-cared-for Gallardo is worth consideration.
Power outputs grew from 493 bhp to 562 bhp and the 5.0-litre V10 became a 5.2-litre unit from 2008-on. Numerous special editions abound but all offer a slice of supercar fun at a non-supercar price.
The 562 bhp 458 was the last naturally aspirated mid-mounted V8 and that alone has kept used prices rather buoyant.
In reality it cannot match the newer 661bhp 488 for straight-line pace but it is by no means slow and the handling balance is as sublime as ever.
Most have low-mileages and have been kept in near perfect condition, buying used also means that you can have two 458s for the price of a new 488.