Car buying tips
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 seekers should beware that vehicle security isn't generally as good, and refinement (such as the level of cabin noise) and handling can be compromised slightly in a car with a fabric roof.
If you want to drive with the roof down, one solution might be to choose a sports car with a retractable solid metal roof, such as a BMW Z4 or Mercedes-Benz SLC. However, luggage capacity is normally drastically reduced when the roof is folded away, which can force a choice between carrying luggage or having the wind in your hair.
2. Will a sports car suit your lifestyle?
This is a crucial question. If you ever need to use your car to carry more than the weekly shop, or for transporting more than two people, a sports car almost certainly won't fit the bill. Although four-seater coupes and convertibles do exist, they normally don't offer the same sort of rear legroom, headroom and boot space as a conventional hatchback or saloon.
Even if you're buying a second or perhaps third car for your household to supplement an everyday runaround, consider all the practical issues of owning a sports car before taking the plunge. Besides boot space, getting in and out, interior space, visibility, the 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 also require some acclimatization, and many are a lot wider than a normal car. They're often noisy beasts, too, 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 and follow your head, not your heart.
4. Best sports cars for performance
If you want to experience the ultimate in driver engagement and excitement, 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 Nissan GT-R, we also highly rate the more accessible Audi TT, BMW 2 Series Coupe and Porsche Boxster in terms of dynamic performance and road-holding.
5. Choose your spec carefully
Used values for sports cars are very sensitive to the correct specification. Certain engines and trim levels are more favoured than others in the marketplace, and this will vary from model to model. 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 most purchasers. Many new sports cars are also available with racy F1 style paddle-shift gearboxes, which widen the appeal of aggressive performance machines by making them much easier to drive, particularly in heavy traffic.
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 has a less-than-perfect record in the Which? Car survey for reliability and customer satisfaction. However, owners of the Mazda MX-5 and Audi A5 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, and hatchback-based performance models do the Mini Coupe, Cabriolet and Roadster are also reasonably accessible. The low-riding, driver-focussed Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ both come in at under £30,000, so there's a model to suit most budgets.
8. Sharpen up your skills
To make the most of your new sports car, it may pay to brush up on your driving skills. Most high-end sports car manufacturers will offer extra-cost tuition to new buyers, which can help overcome any intimidation they may be feeling about driving a powerful car, and help them get the best out of their new purchase. Manufacturers such as Porsche and Mercedes offer driving courses to the general public, so you can get a feel for a fast car in a safe environment, before deciding to buy.
9. Pull or push?
Most purpose-built sports cars are rear-wheel drive, as it is normally the best configuration to maximise handling and agility.
However, driving a rear-wheel-drive car requires more skill to drive enthusiastically than 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 tend to be performance versions of normal hatchbacks, such as the VW Scirroco. 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 can be 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.