How to buy the best sports car
By Martin Pratt
Article 7 of 11
How to buy the best sports car
Sports cars are expensive so make sure you spend your money on the right one for you with our how to buy guide.
High-performance supercars may be a daunting prospect - both to drive and to own - but there are plenty more mild-mannered and wallet-friendly sports cars out there if you're after a bit more fun from your motoring.
Our expert guide for buying a sports car will help you decide which model best suits your needs.
Find out which cars we recommend by viewing our best sports cars page.
1. Convertible or coupe?
Many sports cars are offered in two distinct body styles: closed-roof coupe, or open-roof convertible. Which one you go for is obviously a matter of taste, but sun lovers should beware that vehicle security isn't generally as good, and often refinement (such as the level of cabin noise) is compromised with a soft top.
If you want to drive with the roof down, one solution might be to choose a convertible with a retractable solid metal roof, such as a BMW Z4, Mercedes-Benz SLK or (if buying second hand) the Peugeot 308 CC or Volkswagen Eos. However, many of these are much worse in terms of luggage capacity than a soft top, as the folding hard top often eats into boot space.
2. Will a sports car suit your lifestyle?
This is a crucial question. If you ever need to use your car to go shopping or for transporting more than two people, a sports car almost certainly won't fit the bill - although four-seater coupes and even convertibles do exist, they simply don't offer the same sort of rear legroom, headroom and boot space as a conventional hatchback.
Even if you're buying a second or perhaps third car for your household to supplement an everyday runaround or two, consider all the practical issues of owning a sports car before taking the plunge. Besides boot space, the entry/exit to the cabin, interior space, visibility, driving position and seat comfort can all be very, very different to what you're used to.
The sheer power and performance of some sports cars may be more than you really want, and they're often noisy animals - so make sure you're going to be able to live with anything on the extreme side before you buy.
3. Make sure you can afford it
Sports cars are expensive, too. Not only are they pricey to buy, running costs can be astronomical: fuel consumption, tax, servicing, parts and, in particular, insurance costs are often much higher.
The one piece of good news for sports car owners comes in terms of depreciation (loss of value). Second-hand buyers love sports cars, so popular models with the right equipment (see below) tend to keep their value well. Our advice is to do all your sums carefully before you buy.
4. Best sports cars for performance
If you want to experience the ultimate in power and handling, look for cars that have received five-star ratings in our sports car reviews for both performance and handling. Besides the top-end exotics, such as the Audi R8, Mercedes-Benz SL and SLS, Porsche 911 and BMW 6 Series, we also highly rate the more accessible Audi TT, BMW 1 Series M Coupe and Porsche Boxster, for example, as well as the BMW M3 and Nissan GT-R.
5. Choose your spec carefully
Used values for sports cars are very sensitive to the correct specification. Certain engine/gearbox combinations and trim levels are more favoured than others in the marketplace. For example, choose an Audi A5 coupe with a 3.2 FSI engine and it'll be worth only around 39% of its list price after three years and 36,000 miles. Go for the S5 model (only a few thousand pounds more expensive) and it will keep a much healthier 50% of its value.
Choosing the right options is also crucial. Sports car values are very sensitive to colour, decent alloy wheels are essential, and leather trim will be expected by many purchasers.
6. Are sports cars fragile?
The best sports cars feel like thoroughbred racehorses but, unfortunately, some seem to be just as highly strung and fragile. For instance, the Porsche Boxster and Volkswagen Eos are both examples of sports cars with a less-than-perfect record in the Which? Car survey for reliability and customer satisfaction, but owners of the Mazda MX-5, BMW 1 Series coupe/convertible and Audi A5 coupe/convertible report a much stronger track record.
7. Best budget sports cars
Not all sports cars are expensive. If you're looking to maximise your fun but minimise your outlay, the Mazda MX-5 currently starts from less than £20,000 new, as do the Mini Coupe, Cabriolet and Roadster; the Volkswagen Scirocco is only a little more than that, and the Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ both come in at under £25,000.
8. Sharpen up your skills
To make the most of your new sports car, it may pay to brush up on your driving skills. No driver is perfect, and you never stop learning.
Many sports car owners also choose to participate in track days in their own cars at organised events on one of the UK's many circuits. However, make sure you have adequate insurance cover if you're thinking of doing this - most policies exclude driving on racing circuits. Some manufacturers may offer training courses - sometimes as part of a purchase package - using their own vehicles, such as the Porsche experience days at Silverstone or the Mercedes-Benz driving experiences at Brooklands.
9. Pull or push?
Many sports cars are rear-wheel drive, because engineers favour sending the drive to the rear wheels as the best way to achieve the sharpest possible handling and steering.
However, driving a rear-wheel-drive car requires more skill than steering something with front-wheel drive. You're more likely to encounter oversteer, where the rear end of the car starts to swing around at the limit of grip, which requires experience to correct. Driving in slippery and snowy weather is also trickier, although the sophisticated electronic stability control systems (ESC) and traction control of most modern sports cars mean that you needn't get over-concerned about this, unless you're expecting to deal with some very extreme conditions.
Front-wheel drive sports cars available include models like the Volkswagen Scirocco and Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet, and there are also four-wheel drive options, including quattro versions of Audi's models and even of the Porsche 911.
10. Choose an 'on-trend' sports car
No class of car is as sensitive to changing fashions as sports cars. It's a very faddish and fickle market, so choose carefully. If you choose one of yesterday's favourites, you could find it hard to sell on or worth a lot less than you thought. As a rule of thumb, a car that's only been out for a year or two will keep its value and be easier to sell than an older model.
Find your perfect new car with our expert impartial car reviews.