Used Car of the Year Awards: Sports cars
With living costs on the rise, getting a good deal on your next car is more important than ever. That's where our Used Car Awards come in. These are our favourite sports cars...
They say life is about the journey, not the destination, and if you agree with that philosophy,
you might well own an Audi TT. Whether you’re going to the dentist or Denmark, the TT promises to paint a grin across your face.
While there’s a varied range of petrol and diesel options to choose from, our favourite engine is a punchy 227bhp 2.0-litre petrol. You can have it with front-wheel drive or quattro four-wheel drive – the latter helping to deliver a 0-60mph time of just 5.3sec when we tested it.
If you’d like even livelier pace, there’s the TTS and TT RS. The RS is the quickest TT of the lot: it has a great-sounding 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine and can out-accelerate an Aston Martin DB11 to 60mph.
A sports car is about more than just straight-line performance, though, and the TT delights in the handling department as well. Aided by its compact size and low centre of gravity, it’s nimble and composed on a twisty road, cornering with very little body lean. In front-wheel-drive form, the TT grips well, while quattro models provide even more confidence-inspiring traction. Overall, the TT is much sharper to drive than rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupé.
The TT’s classy interior features premium materials throughout, a minimalist design and an intuitive infotainment system. And despite the car’s athletic ability, it’s not overly compromised for everyday use.
More so than the Toyota GT86, the TT is a quiet, comfortable cruiser. It’s more practical than a fair few rivals, too, with a good-sized boot (and a large hatchback opening), plus small rear seats for occasional use, whereas some sports cars, including the BMW Z4, are strictly two-seaters. It’s more reliable than its peers, too, ranking first out of 14 models in its class in the 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey.
While the TT is the most well-rounded car in this class, you don’t have to pay a lot on the used market for the privilege of owning one. An entry-level model from 2014 can be had for around £12,000, rising to £14,000 for our favourite engine/trim combo. You’ll need twice that amount for a Porsche 718 Cayman.
Best budget buy
Ford Fiesta ST (2013-2017)
Price from £8000 Our pick 1.6 Ecoboost ST-3
Hot hatches are all about everyday machines wielding extraordinary abilities. The Ford Fiesta ST is a prime example, because this practical, inexpensive hatchback is more fun to drive than some performance cars, let alone hot hatch rivals such as the Vauxhall Corsa VXR and Volkswagen Polo GTI.
Keen drivers will find plenty to like here, from the ST’s communicative steering to its playful handling and tight body control. And with 180bhp (rising to 197bhp for short periods) on tap, the 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine delivers more than enough punch to get your adrenaline going.
The ST isn’t as classy inside as the Audi TT, and you have to be willing to put up with a firm, jiggly ride, but you can tap into its joyful nature for as little as £7000 as a used buy, and even if you want one in our preferred top-spec ST-3 trim, you’ll need to spend only a little more.
Best for open-air thrills
Mazda MX-5 (2015-present)
Price from £11,000 Our pick 1.5 Sport Nav
Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus, had a motto for building cars, and that was to ‘simplify, then add lightness’. You can see similar thinking in the Mazda MX-5. Go for our favourite version, with a rev- happy 1.5-litre petrol engine, and this small soft-top is pushing only around a tonne. Even with the beefier 2.0-litre engine option, it’s a light machine.
As a result, the MX-5 doesn’t need big power to feel lively, meaning you’ll save money at the petrol pumps. It doesn’t need stiff suspension to handle well, either, so it’s actually quite comfy and usable on a daily basis, even if it isn’t as practical as the Audi TT. And its simplicity means it’s far more affordable than comparable rivals.
But it’s on sunny days and twisty roads when the MX-5 truly excels. Its manual gearbox is a delight, as is its well-weighted steering and rear-wheel-drive dynamics. This is a car you’ll drive for the sheer joy of it.
Best for driving pleasure
Mercedes-AMG A45 (2019-present)
Price from £36,000 Our pick S
The Mercedes-AMG A45 is a Jekyll-and-Hyde kind of car. On one hand, it’s a posh, stylish, practical family hatchback, and on the other, it’s a supercar-baiting performance car.
Its 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine produces 415bhp – more than the Ferrari 360 Modena’s V8 – and this, coupled with four-wheel drive and a quick-shifting automatic gearbox, results in a 0-62mph time of just 3.9sec.
The A45 also impresses in corners.The steering isn’t hyper-quick, but it gives you a confidence-inspiring sense of connection with the front wheels – more so than in the rival Audi RS3. Body lean is minimal, too, helping the car to corner with ferocity.
Although adaptive suspension is a desirable feature, it’s available only on the top-spec A45 S Plus. These go for around £40,000, but we’d save our money and stick with the regular S, which is no less rapid or thrilling to drive.