Back in the sports car’s heyday, there was a multitude of choice for not a huge outlay. Today, however, you’ll struggle to find a car that fits the true sports car mould for £20k – but that’s not to say you can’t.
There are other options for driving thrills, too, though. Here are our top 10 performance cars that you can pick up on a £20k budget.
10. Caterham Seven
To get on the road under £20k, you have to build your Caterham Seven yourself, but true purists will tell you that’s part of the fun. The Seven 160 kit costs £19,995 and features a turbocharged three-cylinder Suzuki engine with a displacement of 660cc, developing just 80bhp.
But that’s not to be sniffed at – the powerplant can propel the Seven from 0-60mph in just 6.7 seconds, thanks to the car’s ridiculously low weight. An old-school sports car.
9. MINI Cooper S
Another iconic name steeped in motor sport history, the Cooper S just about scrapes under our £20k price barrier.
For that, you won’t get any options, but you’ll still get a car that’s an absolute joy to drive, with a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine offering 189bhp. 0-60mph takes just 6.9 seconds, with a 150mph top speed and MINI’s legendary handling.
8. Ford Fiesta ST
A Ford Fiesta in a list of Top 10 performance cars? Surely there’s some mistake? Well, no, actually, because the 179bhp Fiesta ST also happens to be one of the finest handling cars on the road today.
Throw in the fact you can pick one up for less than £18,000 and it’s a beguiling proposition. Not an obvious car to apply the tag ‘sports car’ to, but to ignore it would be to undermine its incredible talents.
7. SEAT Ibiza Cupra
Like the Fiesta, the Ibiza Cupra is a car that punches well above its weight, with 188bhp on tap from its 1.8-litre VW Group TSI engine, optional DSG twin-clutch automatic transmission and striking, angular looks that run through the interior as boldly as they do the exterior.
The black wheels, bucket seats and unique ‘Cupra’ gear knob add further to the feeling of the latest Ibiza being something quite special.
6. Abarth 595 T-Jet
Historically, the Fiat 500 Abarth is to Italy what the Mini Cooper S always was to the UK, so it’s fitting to include the modern incarnation of the legend in this list.
The Abarth 595 Competizione comes with Fiat’s 145bhp 1.4 turbocharged T-Jet engine, enough to scuttle from 0-60mph in 7.8 seconds, with a giggle guaranteed at every corner. Even better, prices start below £18,000.
5. Volkswagen Scirocco 2.0 TSI 180
There aren’t many coupes on the market below £20,000 these days, but the budget is just enough to scrape into a Volkswagen Scirocco. And that’s not a bad place to be, as VW’s coupe feels extremely well made, has an agile chassis and is rewarding to drive.
The only model officially below £20k is the 1.4 TSI, but the 2.0 TSI with 180bhp is a much better bet. At £22,545 list, you should be able to get a deal under the magic £20k barrier.
4. Subaru BRZ
The BRZ is also priced higher than £20k, but with some keen discounting in recognition of the fact it’s an older model, you should be able to scrape one in around our hypothetical budget.
It’s a terrific car to drive, too. Co-developed with Toyota (though mostly by Subaru), it’s the Japanese maker’s only non-4WD offering, and all the better for it. The Subaru-developed Boxer engine is an absolute corker.
3. Toyota GT86
As the sister car to the Subaru BRZ, it’s no surprise that the Toyota GT86 is also a fantastic car. Indeed, the two look barely different and drive identically.
As an enthusiast’s choice, the BRZ wings it, but the GT86 is the best choice for our budget, as better availability, a lower list price and a wider dealer network mean it should be easier to bring one home within budget.
2. Mazda MX-5
There’s only one reason why the MX-5 isn’t top of this list, and that’s because it has a sister car. But let’s stop for a minute and consider its charms. At £18,795 for the 130bhp 1.5 SkyActiv entry-level model, you get a sports car in the traditional mould.
Basic, quick without being stupidly so, and an absolute joy to drive on a sunny day. The MX-5 has been a legend since the first generation appeared in 1989, and the current incarnation continues to build on that.
1. Fiat 124 Spider
The car that pips the MX-5 to the post is, ironically, based on it. The Fiat 124 Spider made its debut last year, and has all of the MX-5 hallmarks – fine handling, lively performance and wonderful steering, along with the promise of Japanese reliability despite the Italian badge.
But the 124 also has an extra layer of design flare, thanks to a design that harks back to its 1960s namesake. It’s more expensive than the Mazda, but also more exclusive, and still within budget. A positively charming and achingly pretty little car.