What is a sports car? Opinions vary, but we believe a sports car should have no more than two seats, feature a retractable roof and, ideally, offer rear-wheel fun. With this in mind we’ve selected 20 of our favourites that can be yours for £10,000. Choose your B-road weapon.
Porsche Boxster S
Could this be the ultimate £10,000 sports car? Launched in 1996, the Boxster was designed to give Porsche a global seller to sit alongside its global icon: the 911. If the BMW Z3 and Mercedes-Benz SLK were soft focus, the Boxster was seriously hardcore. We’d opt for either the 2.7-litre or the 3.2-litre S, both of which were introduced in 2000.
Lotus Elise S1
Drive a Lotus Elise and it’s as though you’re at one with the car. Small, light and perfectly formed, the original Elise was a revelation when it was launched back in 1996. The on-paper performance figures of the original car’s K-series engine are hardly headline grabbing, but the 731kg kerb weight tells you all you need to know. It’s becoming increasingly tricky to find an Elise below the £10k mark.
The turn of the millennium was a golden era for affordable two-seater sports cars and the S2000 was the high-revving weapon of choice. And when we say high-revving, we mean 9,000rpm. Many loved the fast and frenetic nature of the beast, but others preferred the broader appeal of say the Z3 or Boxster. The most reliable sports car to make our shortlist?
There’s an unwritten rule that says you must mention the Mazda MX-5 in any feature focused on sports cars. Across four generations, the MX-5 has cemented its reputation as the best affordable sports car you can buy. For the ultimate in cheap thrills, opt for a first or second generation car, but the Mk3 MX-5 offers great all-round abilities.
If you want somewhere to store your overnight luggage, walk away. But if you’re after brilliant roadster, the Toyota MR2 could be for you. At 975kg, it weighs about the same as a first generation Mazda MX-5, which – when combined with a 140hp 1.8-litre engine – gave it the best power to weight ratio in its class.
Often unfairly overlooked by those who should know better, the MG TF offers an interesting alternative to the MX-5 or MR2. Admittedly, it’s a little more soft-focus than the Japanese pair, but the MG is more practical and is also supported by a network of specialists and a strong supply of parts. The 160hp 1.8-litre engine is the pick of the bunch.
It was based on the Lotus Elise and built alongside its sister car in Hethel, but to some, that wasn’t enough. Against the Lotus, the Vauxhall always struggled to sell in big numbers and that’s despite a more durable 2.2-litre engine. The 2.0-litre VX220 Turbo offers supercar-taming levels of performance, but for this budget we’d stick to a well-sorted 2.2-litre NA.
Alfa Romeo Spider
The Fiat Tipo-based Alfa Romeo Spider was a huge hit for the Italian firm, with buyers attracted by its gorgeous styling, affordability and dynamics. It’s an Alfa Romeo that will be at least 10 years old and possibly up to 20 years vintage, so be prepared for a few mechanical and electrical gremlins. But try finding a more attractive topless sports car for this budget.
The signs aren’t great. While the Mazda MX-5 took its inspiration from the classic Lotus Elan, the Fiat Barchetta was based on the Fiat Punto. Yes, the front-wheel drive Punto. But don’t let that put you off, because not only does the Barchetta handle surprisingly well, it is dripping in Italian style. Just a shame the Barchetta is left-hand drive only.
If the BMW Z3 was a disappointment, the Z4 was a huge step in the right direction. Finally, BMW had a sports car that could at least take the fight to the all-conquering Porsche Boxster. The 3.0-litre straight-six engine is an absolute peach and the ‘flame surfacing’ styling has aged beautifully.
Nissan 350Z Roadster
There’s something delightfully old-school about the Nissan 350Z Roadster. It’s a hairy-chested alternative to the Boxster and Z4, with a pair of exhausts emitting the ‘great’ smell of Brut. The 3.5-litre V6 engine provides plenty of poke, but don’t expect it to be cheap to run. That said, dare we say it’s more exclusive than its German rivals?
Mazda RX-7 Convertible
The second generation FC RX-7 was Mazda’s answer to the Porsche 924/944. It was also the only RX-7 to be offered without a roof. You’ll have to be patient, because you’re not exactly spoilt for choice, but you’ll grow to love that free-revving rotary engine. Just make sure you’ve got a specialist close to hand.
OK, we admit this isn’t the sharpest tool in the box, but the second generation R171 SLK is far superior to the original R170. Roll into town in one of these and you’ll look like a million doors. Lower the Vario roof and your stock will rise quicker than you can say ‘deployable in 22 seconds’. The optional Airscarf is almost essential equipment in Britain.
Do ya feel lucky? Well, do ya? Finding a sub-£10,000 TVR won’t be easy and we don’t deny there are risks attached. But there’s just something so wonderfully British about the S series of cars. The Ford-sourced V6 engines should also ensure maintenance is relatively simple.
The Suzuki Cappuccino was designed to meet Japan’s strict kei car specifications and there were no plans to export it to other markets. Fortunately, Suzuki GB negotiated a deal to import a relatively small number into the UK. With a launch price of £11,995, Suzuki sold 1,110 cars in the UK, the majority of which were red.
The M100 Elan was guaranteed to upset the Lotus purists. The mere thought of a front-wheel drive Lotus was enough for some to choke on their warm beer. The M100 is very much of its time, not that Lotus will want to be reminded of the early 90s. The Norfolk firm reportedly lost money on every Elan it sold.
Fancy a pint-sized Mercedes-Benz SLK? The tiny Daihatsu Copen could be for you. Did we mention how tiny it is? Tall drivers need not apply, unless they appreciate peering over the top of the windscreen. The folding metal roof is almost guaranteed to get you noticed. A future classic in the making?
Jaguar XK Convertible
Hasn’t this aged well? We’re not saying a Jaguar XK will be cheap to run, but just think of the image. As good looking as a new F-Type and as much presence as an Aston Martin DB7? We think so.
The Fiat X1/9 remains, relatively speaking, a cheap classic. Think of it as a fun-sized Ferrari and you won’t be too far wide of the mark. As with the Jaguar above, the Bertone styling has aged beautifully, but you might want to check for rust. Something this lady is clearly doing.
Audi TT Roadster
Like the aforementioned SLK, the TT Roadster is more style over substance, but we acknowledge that not everybody expects their sports car to kiss the apex on a Sunday morning. For Sunday afternoon drives, the TT Roadster is a fine choice. And that interior is one of the best in the business.