1. Mazda MX-5
The Mazda MX-5 is one of the very best enthusiast’s cars on sale, regardless of price. There aren’t very many small, fun, rear-wheel-drive sports cars available on the modern market; most of the MX-5’s rivals are front-drive hot hatchbacks.
The Mazda might not be as practical an everyday proposition, but involvement behind the wheel is simply in another league. Powered by a choice of a fizzy 1.5 or 2.0-litre petrol engines, it’s less about outright performance and focused more on sharp handling and enjoyment.
One of the very best manual gearboxes available provides a welcome dose of engagement, while light, direct steering (now adjustable for reach) gives feedback by the bucketload. Speaking of buckets, the MX-5’s seats are supportive rather than incredibly figure-hugging, and the cabin is very snug. Tall occupants may struggle to get comfortable.
The fabric roof can be easily opened and closed from the driver’s seat despite its lack of electronic assistance – perfect for making the most of Britain’s sporadic sunshine at a moment’s notice.
2. Porsche 911
The current crop of Carrera S and 4S models is just as fast as the Carrera GTS from the previous generation and not far off the Turbo from a decade ago, such is the pace of the 911’s continued evolution.
Coupé and Cabriolet versions of the Carrera S and Carrera 4S make up the entirety of the 992-generation 911 range for now, but the obligatory GTS, GT3 and Turbo models will arrive in due course.
Our pick of the latest range is the standard, two-wheel-drive Carrera S coupé. With 444bhp on tap, it covers 0-62mph in only 3.6 seconds; the car’s trademark flat-six remains characterful, despite its brace of turbochargers, while the standard PDK dual-clutch gearbox delivers lightning-fast shifts.
The 911’s breadth of ability is what impresses most. It’s simultaneously an engaging sports car, a long-legged tourer and a comfortable companion around town if required, all regardless of road conditions.
3. Alpine A110
Drawing from a rich history of rear-engined sports and racing cars, the latest Alpine A110 is styled to look and feel much like the French brand’s iconic sixties offering of the same name. It’s as modern as they come, though; a mid-mounted turbocharged four-cylinder, dual-clutch gearbox and perfectly judged chassis all sit beneath the A110’s pretty, retro-styled bodywork. Rivals are more practical, but the Alpine stands as the best choice for keen drivers who want to stand out.
The A110 makes 249bhp from its 1.8-litre Renault engine. That might not sound like much in this company, but it’s more than enough when the car itself weighs in at a mere 1,098kg. The Alpine is just over 300kg lighter than an Audi TTS – and it’s this low weight that defines the driving experience.
Unlike its German rivals, the A110 offers a pared-back, purer drive. It flows down the road with a delicacy that can only be found in such a light car, while perfect balance, sweet steering and just a hint of roll through the suspension help inspire confidence. The Alpine is refreshingly compact, too, and thanks to a great view forwards, it’s very easy to place and not at all intimidating to drive.