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Top 10 Sports Cars

Expert advice, owners' reviews, readers vote

By Russell Bray Published

Sport | advice | top 10 | Top 10 category guides

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THE LAWS of physics may not be of much interest to most of us, or even Dr Who these days, but they decide how a car handles, corners, brakes and accelerates.  In other words, how much fun it is to drive.

Many people like cars that are sportier and/or more powerful than the average.

Less weight is good and rear-wheel drive gives the best handling balance and feel, though if you get a rear slide you need more skill to correct it than a front slide with a front-wheel drive car.

The classic layout is front engine, rear drive, with as near as possible 50:50 front to rear weight distribution.

Cars with engines immediately behind the driver give the best steering response – think Formula 1 – but can be very twitchy if rear tyre grip is exceeded.

Here we list the Sun Motors Top 10 Sports Cars. We've included our expert's ratings and reader ratings. We also want to know which of these you think is the best. So get voting, and we'll print the results in Sun Motors in the coming weeks.

More Top 10 guides:  City - Electric - Hatchback - Saloon - MPV - 4x4 - Crossover - Estate Sport - Convertible

Vote for your favourite


Search for and buy used cars on sunmotors.co.uk


Porsche Boxster

boxster
Sun rating: 4.5/5
Verdict: The benchmark sports car
THE GOOD
  • Sublime to drive on a sunny day
  • Great handling and super brakes
THE NOT SO GOOD
  • Reports of engine failures after bearing failures
  • Standard equipment levels are miserly
  • Don’t like not being used

Read the full Porsche Boxter review


Porsche’s Boxster convertible is so involving to drive that it sold tremendously despite headlights like runny eggs and bath tub styling that made it difficult to tell the front from the back.

Now in its third, and by far the best, incarnation it takes its looks from the Carrera GT supercar.

There are so many options, such as torque vectoring which brakes individual wheels to turn the car more quickly and sports exhausts it can be hard to work out exactly what you are buying.

First generation cars (1996-2004) are now very cheap but still need specialist care. The 2.5 and 2.7 litre models were underpowered, but 3.4S is a true Porsche.

Same engine thoughts apply to 2004 to 2012 model year cars.

Cabin is comfy and there are two boots but the central mounted engine is awkward and expensive to get at.

Fabric roof folds quickly.

Watch out for: Emulsion in radiator or oil filler could mean engine on way out.

Vote for your favourite


Search for and buy a used Porsche Boxter on sunmotors.co.uk


Audi RS4

rs4
Sun rating: 4.5/5
Verdict: Docile round town but barnstorming fast when wanted
THE GOOD
  • Looks and feels a quality product
  • There’s a convertible too if you don’t mind some wobbles
THE NOT SO GOOD
  • Leaks from front dampers, power steering hoses

Read the full Audi RS4 review


If you’re looking for a sports Audi it’s the fabulous RS4 you need, not the fast but dull S4.

Launched in 2005 it has a sensational non-turbo 4.2 litre V8 engine pushing 414bhp towards the road via a four-wheel drive system. And joy, there’s a manual gearbox!

Most of the power, 60%, goes to the rear wheels so it handles more as if it was rear drive for real driving fun.

Sport Pack versions have lower suspension and a stiffer ride. Sport button sharpens accelerator pedal and lets the engine make more noise by opening flaps in exhausts.

Also available as an estate (Avant) model and a cabriolet. Cabriolet feels rather shaky on poor roads.

Watch out for:  Have engine checked for carbon build-up in intake manifold. Can affect all FSI engines.

Vote for your favourite


Search for and buy a used Audi RS4 on sunmotors.co.uk


BMW M3

m3
Sun rating: 4/5
Verdict: An everyday supercar with room for four
THE GOOD
  • Breathtaking performance
  • Pleasant cabin
THE NOT SO GOOD
  • Brakes not up to the task
  • Rear coil springs break, as did with previous model
  • Dreadful fuel range

So great has the reputation become of BMW’s M3 cars that people even stick the badges on diesels in an attempt to add some glamour to their lesser machinery.

The fourth generation M3 from 2007 to 2013 used a storming 420bhp 4- litre V8 petrol engine that thrived on revs and delivered blistering performance with 0-100mph in just over ten seconds.

There’s a choice of six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed semi-automatic that makes the car even quicker and guarantees you make perfect gear changes.

Real world fuel consumption is 17 to 25mpg.

The V8 M3 isn’t as involving to drive as the previous six-cylinder cars and the 2014 turbocharged cars are even less of a special occasion.

The M3 comes as a saloon, convertible or coupe.

Watch out for: Budget for hydraulic or solenoid problems with SMG auto ‘box.

Vote for your favourite


Search for and buy a used BMW M3 on sunmotors.co.uk


Nissan 350Z Roadster

350z
Sun rating: 4/5
Verdict: An old school muscle car it takes time to learn to drive well
THE GOOD
  • Bags of style and lots of performance for the money
THE NOT SO GOOD
  • Clutches are heavy so may not suit female drivers
  • Tyre noise on abrasive surfaces is deafening
  • Heavy fuel consumption

Britain used to make some great hairy chested sports cars, like TVRs and further back Austin Healeys, but it’s thanks to the Japanese love of things British that we have a modern one, the keenly priced Nissan 350Z.

Like earlier British cars the chassis is biased to handling rather than sheer cornering grip (road holding) so that a skilled driver can power slide it.

The 350Z arrived in 2003 in coupe form with the roadster two years later. The thunderous 3.5 litre V6 engine was upgraded at the same time from 276bhp to 296bhp.

A new engine in 2007 raised power to 309bhp. Go for the GT model.

Fuel thirst is 20 to 24mpg and the ‘big’ Nissan has a taste for high octane.

Nissan replaced the 350Z with the 370Z in 2009.

Watch out for: Some suffer from noisy rear suspension.

Vote for your favourite


Search for and buy a used Nissan 350Z on sunmotors.co.uk


Lotus Elise

Lotus Elise ... a small bundle of sheer enjoyment
Sun rating: 4/5
Verdict: The Elise is for the pure thrill of driving and not much else
THE GOOD
  • Few cars regardless of price or power are quicker over a twisty road
  • Fame of Lotus racing cars
  • You don’t see them on every street corner
THE NOT SO GOOD
  • Poor reputation for reliability
  • It’s so small you feel vulnerable
  • Plastic composite body not cheap to repair

Sports cars don’t come purer or better handling than Norfolk’s diminutive back-to-basics Lotus Elise, which debuted in 1996.

They are known for being fast and fragile but post 2010 cars are tougher. Low weight means Elises are not as hard on tyres and brakes as bigger, more powerful cars.

There have been several Elise series, numerous ‘special’ editions and a change from Rover to Toyota power. Some engines are supercharged giving ferocious performance.

You need a boy scout to put the roof up and refinement is poor at speed so motorway journeys are a chore. Touring pack versions benefit from sound deadening, cup holders and even carpeting.

Getting in and out while the roof is up is not a dignified experience. Versions with fixed roofs are badge Exige.

Watch out for: Car runs straight and true as doesn’t take kindly to hitting kerbs, speed bumps etc. Fuel leaks. Dropped door hinges.

Vote for your favourite


Search for and buy a used lotus Elise on sunmotors.co.uk


Mazda MX-5

Legend ... Mazda MX-5
Sun rating: 4/5
Verdict: It’s had more facelifts than a soap star but is still great to drive
THE GOOD
  • Great to drive yet easy to live with
  • Excellent reliability
THE NOT SO GOOD
  • Some roof and boot rain water leaks
  • Car may have been used on a race track which wears suspension bushes

Read the full Mazda MX-5 review


Mazda’s two-seater roadster is a direct copy of the original Lotus Elan, even down to the exhaust note, but with a metal body and added reliability.

Early cars include unofficial grey-import Eunos badged models.

Early 1.6 cars are most desirable and handle better than later 1.8 and 2-litre versions. Engines need revs and sound gruff at speed.

Great for driving fun but feels underpowered compared with many cars today. Power varies from 122 to 158bhp.

Cabin is tight, but not as cramped as a Lotus Elise.

Rifle-bolt precise manual gear change (there are five and six-speeds out there) so don’t bother with the dire automatic gearbox option.

Check roof is in good condition as it can be expensive to repair. Nearly a million MX-5s have been built over the last 25 years.

Watch out for: Check engine cam belt was renewed at 60,000 miles. Preferably water pump too. Beware paying over the odds for one of the many special editions.

Vote for your favourite


Search for and buy a used Mazda MX-5 on sunmotors.co.uk


BMW Z4 Roadster

z4
Sun rating: 3.5/5
Verdict: Great looking two-seater with decent size boot
THE GOOD
  • Great looks
  • Good handling
THE NOT SO GOOD
  • Steering feel
  • Firm ride with M Sport specification
  • Fiddly seat adjustment. Driver’s seat may not suit you

With its Dick Dastardly long bonnet and short rump you aren’t going to mistake BMW’s Z4 reinvention of the classic roadster for anything else.

There’s a large range of engines, some available in three different states of tune. Four-cylinders are cheaper to run (up to 35mpg) but the sixes feel and sound better and punch harder (25 to 30mpg).

Second generation car, from 2009, was bigger and more aggressive looking with a shark-like front.

The fabric folding roof was replaced by a folding metal and glass one.

Ultimately on a track the front engine, rear drive Z4 isn’t as agile as Porsche’s mid-engined, rear drive Boxster and even selecting different modes in the dynamic drive control system doesn’t deliver a smooth ride unless on really smooth roads.

Steering ‘feel’ is not good enough for a sports car.

Watch out for: Water in lights. Power assistance failing to steering. Trim ‘canaries’ and creaks in cabin. Some weak stereo systems.

Vote for your favourite


Search for and buy a used BMW Z4 on sunmotors.co.uk


Peugeot RCZ

Peugeot RCZ R
Sun rating: 3.5/5
Verdict: Pretty and practical with reasonable running costs
THE GOOD
  • Looks more expensive than it is
  • Welcome return to form for Peugeot
THE NOT SO GOOD
  • Dashboard rattles difficult to cure

Read the full Peugeot RCZ review


Peugeot’s striking looking RCZ has been on the road for four years but hasn’t aged.

The 2+2 coupe has a good balance between sportiness and comfort with a choice of two turbocharged 1.6 litre petrol engines delivering 155 or 197bhp.

Fuel consumption is 35 to 44mpg. You might get 50mpg out of the 161bhp HDi turbo-diesel.

Electrically assisted power steering might save you a cup of fuel now and then but is no friend to feedback of the road grip.

Even with 197bhp engine from Mini John Cooper Works the RCZ is brisk rather than fast.

Big boot, even before folding rear kiddy seats. Dated satellite navigation system does not take six digit post codes.

Watch out for: Instruments all working.

Vote for your favourite


Search for and buy a used Peugeot RCZ on sunmotors.co.uk


Mazda RX-8

Rx-8
Sun rating: 3/5
Verdict: With a normal engine would still sell well
THE GOOD
  • Unique styling. Spacious. Fast
THE NOT SO GOOD
  • Engine oil needs checking every second fuel fill
  • High CO2 emissions means high road tax

Persisting with the Wankel rotary engine where pistons are replaced by fast spinning rotors nearly drove Mazda out of business, but improvements saw more than 17,000 of the Japanese company’s clever RX-8 coupe sold in the UK.

Access to the rear seats was made easy by ‘suicide’ rear doors that cannot open until the front ones do.

The 1309cc engine came with a choice of power outputs: 192bhp or a punchy 231bhp.

Engines shouldn’t be switched off unless have reached operating temperature.

Expect 18 to 25mpg.

The RX-8 version to have is the sweeter handling PZ model tweaked by Prodrive at Gaydon, Warwickshire. Some 800 were produced.

Watch out for: Front oil and air conditioning radiators vulnerable to stone damage. Dual mass flywheels can let go. Water in Xenon headlights.

Vote for your favourite


Search for and buy a used Mazda RX-8 on sunmotors.co.uk


MG TF

Time warp ... MG TF LE500
Sun rating: 3/5
Verdict: Car’s reputation unfairly sullied by collapse of Rover Group
THE GOOD
  • MG name
  • Really drives well
  • Plentiful parts supply, even engines
THE NOT SO GOOD
  • Cabin quality poor

The TF was a re-engineered and subtly redesigned version of the MG F, the main mechanical difference being the change from Hydragas suspension to a conventional coil spring set-up.

For many years the mid-engined car was the best-selling two-seater roadster in the UK.

Production stopped in 2005 but then restarted two years later under MG’s new Chinese owners with an uprated 134bhp N-Series engine. More than 900 were built before production finally ended in 2011.

The cabin is cheap and cramped but like Mazda’s MX-5 it’s great fun, handles well and feels predictable under heavy braking for a corner.

Enthusiastic owners club means help always at hand and can increase your social life.

Watch out for: Cylinder head gasket (seal) can fail if proper maintenance not followed.

Vote for your favourite


Search for and buy a used MG TF on sunmotors.co.uk


Vote for your favourite

More Top 10 guides:  City - Electric - Hatchback - Saloon - MPV - 4x4 - Crossover - Estate Sport - Convertible
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