More and more supercars are being tailored for track use only. The Pagani Zonda R, Ferrari FXX, Aston Martin Vulcan, to name a few, are all track only monsters available to a lucky and extremely wealthy handful who almost certainly do not use them for their intended purposes.
Not many of us have the driving skill to pilot such savage cars, much less the bank account to do so whenever they like. However, it's more fun to go 100% flat out in a hot hatch than it is to pootle around in a Lamborghini at 30mph, right? Stick with me because that's where this list comes in.
Ford Puma 1.7-litre
We start of with a forgotten gem. The Ford Puma had a short lifespan, just five years, but it was Top Gear's Car of the Year when it came out in 1997 and was hailed for its direct steering (a feature of all Fords of that era) and 1.7-litre 123bhp engine featuring variable cam timing.
Unfortunately, Pumas are known to rust and due to their cheapness many have not been treated with the best of care. As of 2017, there are still over 13,000 example on U.K. roads so the good news is there's plenty of choice. The one to go for is the Millenium version, but get a solid 1.7-litre with proof of belts, strip out the interior, fit sticky tyres and you'll be surprised how well these things perform, especially at tighter circuits like Oulton or Cadwell Park.
Mk1 MX-5 prices have been rising steadily for a while so perhaps it's worthwhile ditching the pop-up lights and going for the Mk2 NB model. Like the Puma, rust plagues these cars, but also like the Puma there are thousands of tidy examples to choose from.
Track days are awash with MX-5s and we all know they're just about the purest driving experience you can get. If you get a stock one, it won't be too long before you'll be finding yourself investing in a cage, limited slip differential, aftermarket induction, decent brakes, suspension and tyres. So maybe save yourself some money by going for an already track converted example.
Renaultsport Clio 172/182
Okay, so as an RS Clio owner I cannot hold off my enthusiasm any longer for the hot hatches from Dieppe. 172 and 182 Clios are the essence of small, cheap, front-wheel-drive hot hatches. The eagerness at which they attack corners and the genuine pace they offer on the straights is addictive. In a very short amount of time you can build up a relationship with Renaultsport Clios, understanding where to apply power in the bends and when to make slight inputs into the steering to get the most out of the chassis.
Interiors are basic but you'll be likely ripping them out anyway. The Cup chassis' are the ones to go for but you can't go wrong with getting a standard version. Proof of belts and decent service history is a must and then you can start fitting coilovers, individual throttle bodies, semi-slicks and a host of other components to not only upset serious sportscars, but supercars too.
BMW 3 Series E36/E46
I've included both the E36 and E46 as they're equally popular with track day enthusiasts for their 50:50 weight distribution and rear wheel-drive. A quick look online and you'll see a preference for ones with M50 manifolds (for the 328i E36), this is because the later M52 manifolds were restricted by the inlet. There are plenty of modifications you can do to both the E36 and E46, just make sure you get a manual (obviously).
While these Beemers might be the heaviest cars on this list, they do offer a lot of power from their straight-six engines. The later 330ci E46s are rated at over 230bhp from stock. Fit an LSD and it'll be more than enough car for any beginner to hone their skills with.
Citroen Saxo VTS
The Peugeot 106 GTI (the Saxo VTS' sister car) might be more coveted, but prices are up beyond £3,000 for a decent example whereas the VTS can be had for half the price. Considering the Saxo's terrible EuroNCAP performance, you might want to spend that extra dough on a roll cage and beefier brakes.
There are plenty of Saxos already converted for track use and there's a wide range of modifications you can do to get the best out of the 1.6-litre 120bhp engine. That being said, a stock Saxo should get you from 0-60mph in well under 8 seconds.
Honda Civic Type R (EP3)
So we might be stretching the budget but for sheer pace around a track you can't do much better for this money than an EP3 Civic Type R. Its FN2 successor was maligned for incorporating a torsion bar instead of independent suspension and as a result the EP3 is much more lively at the rear. The newer FN2s are around the same price point as the EP3, highlighting just how popular the older car is.
Everyone has an opinion on the EP3 Civic Type R. In the early 2000s Volkswagen had lost the plot with the fat and slow Mk4 Golf GTI, Renault were taking their time releasing the Megane 225 and Vauxhall were even further away from setting loose their Astra VXR. For a few years the EP3 had very little competition, it didn't need to be this good but it was and we're thankful.
Pre-facelift models tend to be cheaper but as long as the V-TEC kicks in you're laughing! (Sorry, couldn't help myself).
Suzuki Ignis Sport
Now for something of a left-field choice. After entering the 2002 Junior World Rally Championship Season the Ignis Sport made its way to Europe and surprised everyone with its bodykit, sports exhaust and Recaro seats. It wasn't all show either. The Ignis earned its sport name with lowered suspension, a lightened flywheel, closer ratio gearbox and rev-happy 1.5-litre VVT engine.
The driving position is relatively high up but this means you can place the car in corners fairly easy. An Ignis Sport might not be the first car that comes to mind when you think of cheap track cars, but if you're a novice it's a great car to practice with. Think of it as a baby Civic Type R.
Renaultsport Twingo 133
If you're worrying these cars might be too old and problematic, you may be inclined to go for a much newer Renault Twingo 133. There's plenty out there for less than £4,000 and a few Cup chassis versions too if you want a slightly more hardcore edge.
With 131bhp the Twingo might sound underpowered, but in reality you'll be revving the 1.6-litre four-cylinder hard to get to its performance. That's where the Twingo shines though, unlike modern hot hatches the Twingo is easy to drive on the edge all the time (not on public roads, obviously) and with a low weight of 1050kg it's a joy in the bends.
Toyota MR2 Mk3
If all these front-wheel drive hatches are a little safe for you, the MR2 Mk3 is capable of making many a racing driver eat humble pie. The Mk1 and Mk2 are the more desirable, but good examples are hard to come by - especially at this price. Mk3 prices aren't getting any lower so now is a good time to buy.
There's not much in the way of practicality - you'll need another car in tow if you expect to be bringing an extra set of tyres to the track. Aside from the lack of space the MR2 should make a reliable companion on and off the track. Its 138bhp 1.8-litre VVT engine is responsive and powerful enough for the 960kg weight. The Mk3 should also fetch nearly 40mpg.
What the MR2 offers over other cars in this list is twitch-oversteer, meaning you'll need to be on your toes to keep it in check on the limit. The Mk3 has long been in the shadow of its predecessors, pick one up before it steps into the light and becomes acknowledged for the excellent driver's car it always was.
Mini Cooper S R53
Some regard the original Mini as the first hot hatch. The handling was unlike anything before or since which helped it challenge in a multitude of racing events.
When BMW resurrected Mini in 2001, it gained a much larger body but still retained class-leading handling. The sportiest 'new' Mini was called the Cooper S (after the legendary John Cooper) and was given a 1.6-litre supercharged four-cylinder which in standard trim made 163bhp. This was enough to propel the Cooper S from 0-60mph in 7.5 seconds. Thanks to being supercharged, the power is accessible across the rev range and instantaneous - perfect for track use. Be warned though, if things go wrong, BMW Minis aren't a cheap fix.