When picturing a modern sports car, you might imagine anything from a lightweight track car or a modern hot hatchback to a mid-engined two-seater or a front-engined grand touring coupé.
For the purposes of this top 10 chart, however, we can narrow our terms of reference down a bit: Caterham Caterham Sevens, Ferrari 488s, Audi R8s, Alpine A110s and BMW M cars are ranked and dealt with elsewhere. Here, we’re interested in full-sized, fulsomely endowed, dedicated sports cars with rich and enticing multi-cylinder engines priced between about £60,000 and £120,000. Only grown-up, big-hitting, multifaceted and purpose-built options get in.
Front, mid and rear-engined offerings are included, likewise rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive layouts, and open and closed cockpits. There are plenty of routes towards the level of indulgent performance, vivid handling poise, immersive driver engagement and character you’d expect of a true sports car, after all. But which should you take – and why?
1. Porsche 911
The derivative range of Porsche's latest-generation 911, the '992', has filled out quite a bit since its introduction in 2019. The car is now available in 380bhp Carrera, 444bhp Carrera S and 473bhp Carrera GTS forms, all powered by a 3.0-litre turbocharged flat six engine; in coupe, cloth-top Cabriolet and 'folding fixedhead' Targa bodystyles; with either rear- or four-wheel drive; or with eight-speed twin-clutch 'PDK' automatic or seven-speed manual gearboxes. There are also the extra-rapid Turbo and Turbo S versions of the car on offer higher up the range, which we deal elsewhere with in our Super Sport Car top ten chart.
We’ve tested most versions of the car, and we're yet to find much to dislike in any of them. Although it has certainly become a better and more refined and sophisticated luxury operator than ever it used to be, this eighth-generation, rear-engined sporting hero is every inch as great a driver’s car as the '991' it has replaced – and, if anything, stands ready to take the game further away from its rivals.
Having grown longer and slightly wider, all versions of the the '992' now use what used to be called the 911’s ‘widebody’ shell (which has been lightened by more extensive use of aluminium in its construction), while four-wheel steering is now an option even on non-GT-level cars and mixed-width wheels and tyres come as standard.
Although there’s as much reason as ever for the keenest of drivers to stick with the car’s purer rear-driven mechanical layout, the 992’s wider front axle track and quickened steering ratio seem to have sharpened its handling very effectively. Its turbocharged engine may not have the textural qualities of Porsche’s old atmospheric units, but it makes for very serious real-world performance – and, overall, for a car that remains without equal among direct contemporary rivals for usability, for rounded sporting credibility and especially for the accessible, everyday-use, any-occasion brilliance of its driver appeal.
2. Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0 / Boxster GTS 4.0
Yes it's a Porsche one-two at the top of the charts, but the German firm knows what it's doing when it comes to screwing together a sensational sportscar. No more so than when Zuffenhausen took the decision to answer the critics and return an atmospheric flat six back into this car in 2019, it created series-production 718 derivatives with prices well above £60,000 before you put a single option on them. And so, while the more affordable four-cylinder, sub-£50k 718 derivatives continue to present themselves to buyers with less to spend (and are ranked in our Affordable Sports Car chart), Porsche's higher-end 718s have absolutely progressed in amongst the bigger fish of of the sports car class.
Not that they struggle in such treacherous water. Porsche's latest six-cylinder, naturally aspirated boxer engine is an utter joy, offering as much outright performance as any road-going sports car really needs but also wonderful smoothness and response, and an 8000rpm operating range. Unusually long-feeling gearing makes the six-speed manual versions slightly less appealing to drive, in some ways, than the seven-speed paddleshift automatics.
The 718's beautifully poised handling, incredibly linear handling response and effortless body control at speed are now widely celebrated. This is the kind of sports car that can seem word-perfect in how it takes apart a cross-country road tough enough to expose a lesser machine. If you like a sports car with more power than its chassis can easily deploy, or whose dynamic quirks and flaws present something of a challenge to be 'driven around', you might even think a GTS 4.0 too good.
Compared to some cars in this list, there is also perhaps a slight lack of desirability about this car; but its usability is first-rate - and, now at least, its powertrain can be considered every bit as stellar as its ride and handling.
3. Lotus Emira
The last hurrah for internal combustion power at Lotus, the all-new Emira certainly has a lot resting on its shoulders. And the good news is that the Norfolk newcomer gets so much right, from its junior exotic looks, through to a chassis that maintains the decades long tradition of Hethel handling greatness.
There are some novelties for a Lotus too, such as an interior that delivers previously unheard of levels of luxury and quality, plus all the latest gadgets and gizmos. It’s decently practical too, proving easy to get into and out of than an Evora and packing handy storage. This is an everyday usable sports car.
However, this extra usability and refinement comes at a cost, with the Emira weighting in at a very un-Lotus 1440kg, which is heavier even than a Porsche Cayman GTS 4.0. That means the supercharged Toyota 3.5-litre V6 doesn’t feel quite as strong as you’d expect, its efforts aided and abetted by the slightly slack six-speed manual gearbox. That said, this is still a quick car, with the 0-62mph emergency start taking 4.3 seconds.
More importantly, it drives like a Lotus where it matters - in the corners. The extra mass means it doesn’t feel quite as lithe as the old Elise, but the Emira is beautifully balanced and damped, helping it breath with the surface where others attempt to pummel it into submission. The steering is quick and feelsome, and as a result the Lotus dives through bends with quick-witted agility, its ability to shrug-off unsettling bumps further boosting confidence.
The Emira feels like it's a few development tweaks away from greatness, but for now it’s a fine send-off for suck, squeeze, bang and blow sports cars.
4. Chevrolet Corvette C8
Much has been written about General Motors’ decision to gamble with this, the eighth-generation of its iconic Corvette sports car, by switching from a front-mounted engine to a mid-mounted one. There were objective reasons to do it: because it improves the car’s weight distribution and enhances its outright handling potential. And there was a more complex argument: that a mid-engined layout has become expected of an operator within this part of the sports car market, and the old C7 Corvette’s front-engined configuration made it something of a relic to the latest generation of sports car buyers.
Whatever it took to finally convince GM to make the switch, you could say it was worth it. The C8 Corvette has all of the metal-for-the-money and bang-for-your-buck value appeal as any of its forebears possessed, its supercar-looks-for-spotscar-cash schtick earning it the 'Dream Car' accolade in our 2022 Awards ceremomy. Yet there's more to its appeal than simple showroom sparkle and prices that run to £81,700 for the coupe and £87,110 for the convertible (think Porsche 911 Carerra cash).
Bristling with small-block-V8 combustive charm, the C8’s engine has excellent throttle response, has a wonderful mid-range power delivery; it likes to rev to beyond 6500rpm and sounds superb doing it. For outright performance, it feels broadly in line with the old C7 Corvette. Perhaps not quite fully ‘supercar fast’, then, but for this money, you’re unlikely to quibble with any run-to-60mph figure that starts with a three.
The C8 also handles with plenty of stability and precision, feeling instantly more benign and easier to drive quickly than any of its front-engined forebears, even if the slightly numb steering and a predilection for on-the-limit understeer might take the edge of its appeal on track days. In a subsequent twin test with a Porsche 911, however, it stood up and held its own remarkably well; and any sports car that can retain its own particular appeal under pressure from a car as complete as a Porsche '992' must be a pretty good one.
Yes, its cabin has plenty of ergonomic quirks and it's still lags behind the best for perceived quality, but we can't help feel grateful that a car like the Corvette exists at all, and in righ-hand drive form to boot. It's not an unequivocal recommendation, but the caveats are small and easily offset by the car's big-hearted character.
5. Jaguar F-Type
The sales fortunes of Jaguar’s much-hyped successor for the Lyons-designed E-Type will tell you much about the development of the modern sports car market. When it launched in 2013, we imagined the buying public would value it as a sort of prettier and more dependable modern TVR – favouring the biggest-hitting eight-cylinder engines and viewing it as a cheaper and more powerful front-engined rival to the 911.
For a while, buyers did exactly so. But as the car aged and the focus of the purist sports car market migrated (both upwards towards mid-engined super sports cars like the Audi R8, and downwards towards cheaper mid-engined machines such as the Porsche Cayman and the Alpine A110) the F-Type had to move with it. The six-cylinder models grew in popularity, until Jaguar created another wave of interest in the car by furnishing it with a four-cylinder engine.
So, after its latest facelift at the beginning of 2020, the F-Type straddles even more market territory than it used to, and it's to Jaguar's considerable credit that the car can manage that to such cohesive effect. At the top of the range, the new R version remains a bleeding-heart, 567bhp upper-level-911 and cut-price Aston Martin Vantage rival; at the lower end, it costs less than £60,000 and makes do with just under 300bhp; and in the middle, the V8-engined, rear-wheel-drive, £70k 'P450' version might even be the pick of the range. Note, however, that Jaguar no longer offers its rich-sounding six-cylinder engine in the F-Type.
Jaguar’s new styling treatment for the F-Type certainly gives it some fresh and distinguishing visual appeal, though. We have thus far only driven the range-topping R AWD coupé, but it charmed us with its somewhat antediluvian V8 hotrod speed and noise, and yet impressed with its outright handling precision and chassis composure too.
The F-Type has never been quite as complete as its key rival from Porsche, and is now considerably less ritzy and technologically sophisticated inside. There is, however, still an awful lot to like about it, and plenty of reasons to grab one while you still can.
6. Mercedes-AMG GT
With the spaceframe body structure of a supercar, a front-mounted engine from a muscle saloon, suspension tuned for maximum attack on the track and yet the practicality and luxury allure of an elegant coupé or roadster, the Mercedes-AMG GT is an even more bewildering addition to the sports car world than the Mercedes-Benz SLS was.
With lower-end (if you can call 523bhp 'lower-end') versions available for less than £110,000, however, it deserves to be considered next to higher-end examples of the Porsche 911 Carrera and Jaguar F-Type. In fact, thanks to its bombastic hot rod character and somewhat rough-edged, unreconstructed and to-the-point handling, it's at this level that the car probably the greatest appeal.
Of course, there would be times when you’d grow tired of the GT's high-adrenalin temperament and lack of civility; but cheaper versions of this car have that bit less wearing aggressiveness about their character than the pricier ones, and the car's highs would always outweigh the moments when it annoyed. The GT is certainly capable and versatile – as much as cars twice its price – and it's so charming and lovable with it, even if not quite as delicate as alternatives.
7. BMW M240i xDrive
Straddling the line between sports car and coupe, the fairly freshly minted 2 Series makes a compelling case for itself as a driver’s car, particularly in racy M240i xDrive guise. This is the most focussed version of the two-door machine until the all-new M2 arrives later this year, but it shares quite a bit of its Motorsport-infused DNA with its brawnier brother.
Muscular haunches hide a shortened version of the 3 Series platform, while the long nose houses a 368bhp version of the tried, tested and turbocharged B58 3.0-litre straight-six. It’s mated to a four-wheel drive system that has a sense of humour, diverting enough torque rewards for some tail-happy corner exits if you’re in the mood. The rest of the chassis is pretty good too, meaty steering, strong grip and eager agility drawing you into the action.
Yet the BMW’s party trick is its ability to turn into an everyday cruiser, a touch of a button slackening of its adaptive dampers for a cushioned ride, while styling that’s at the sit-up-and-beg end of the coupe spectrum allows room for four and a decent boot.
We still can’t wait for the full-blown M2, but for now the M240i is an engaging and entertaining understudy.
8. Ford Shelby Mustang GT500
That's right – another American car on this Europe-centric list of driver-focused sports cars. Still, the Shelby GT500 isn't your average Mustang. For one thing, it's the most powerful production Ford in history, with 749bhp courtesy of the supercharged 5.2-litre V8 that lurks beneath the endless, vented bonnet. It also has a dual-clutch transmission, and bespoke suspension with unique spring, damper and anti-roll bar settings, all to make it the best-driving Mustang there is.
So is it? Well, yes. Or rather, the similarly setup but lighter-in-the-nose Mach 1 probably is. Both cars have very few of the vices of the Mustangs past. The rear axle is well located and along with the smoothness of the DCT gearbox, putting more than 600lb ft to the road isn't the hair-raising experience you'd think it might be. The handling is also predictable – though the car is undeniably heavy, at almost 1900kg, and the balance quite understeer led. A proper driver's car? Not exactly, but fine sports cars, and an immensely exciting one.
There is at catch, and it's the fact you can't get one officially in the UK. However, if you're that keen, then specialist dealers such as Clive Sutton will be able to source you one (or might even have one in stock ready to go). If you prefer the warm embrace of the bona fide Ford dealer network, then the less powerful but almost as entertaining Mach 1 should be just the ticket.
9. Audi TT RS
There is nothing small or unassuming about Audi's warbling five-pot TT RS save, perhaps, its size. This range-topping compact coupe has a stonking 395bhp five-cylinder engine and, in upper-level trims, a price tag closing in on £70,000. Thanks to 'quattro' four-wheel drive it can do 60mph in comfortably less than 4.0sec, and if you pay extra it will run on to as much as 174mph. That's right: this is a 170mph Audi TT. What a brilliantly unhinged idea.
The car's 'chi-chi' design appeal probably doesn't have the same allure among cars like this that it might amongst Mazda MX-5s and Toyota GT86s, and it isn't the most mult-faceted or engaging driver's car in this class either. The four-wheel drive layout makes for a slightly lack of throttle-on cornering balance on the limit of grip, with the TT RS's controls feel slightly remote and over-filtered.
On the flip side, of course, those controls and that stability-first handling make the TT RS a singularly effective sports car, and one of the sports car segment's most notable giant-slayers, when it comes to point-to-point ground-covering speed.
10. Lexus LC
As a keen driver, you feel inclined to make a case for the LC. It has a superbly charismatic and likeable V8 engine, while balanced, spry, involving handling makes it feel, at times, more of a natural rival for the Jaguar F-Type or Porsche 911 than the mix of two and four-door sporting grand tourers that Lexus identifies as its true opponents. Hence its inclusion here.
But the LC seems large, heavy, leaden-footed and a bit cumbersome on the road at times, so you never quite escape a feeling of ambivalence towards it. On song, its V8 engine is hugely special, and on a smooth surface, its sheer agility and balance are quite something. Equally, the cabin, while remarkably luxurious, wants for much in the way of storage space, while the car's touring credentials are undermined by a particularly unpleasant run-flat-shod secondary ride.
Ultimately, depending on how much you’re moved by its virtues or irked by its shortcomings, the LC is either a bit of a rough diamond or the dreaded curate’s egg. For us, it’s much closer to the former.