Sportiest cars for less than £30,000

Money might not buy you happiness but £30,000 can definitely buy you one heck of an appealing sporty car

James Wilson
Dec 9, 2020

High-end supercars might typically cost well over £100,000 in the 2020s, but you can still get a great range of sporty cars for less than £30,000 - especially if you're open to getting a nearly new or used car. Still, choosing which fast and fun automobile to spend such a sizeable amount of money on is a hard task - partly due to the huge number of options out there.

Don't let this choice faze you, though. We've done the hard work already and found the sportiest cars available for under £30,000. So there is no need for you to do anything but read on. The cars selected range from a compact two-seater convertible to a super-practical family hatchback which can keep pace with performance vehicles two or three times the price.

To qualify for the shortlist below, each car had to be available for less than £30,000 (many can be scooped up for much less than that) at less than five years old, meaning they should have decades of life left in them. They also had to be sporty - and we're not talking just big alloys and a nice paint job sporty, but genuinely sporty to drive.

This doesn't mean that all of them have supersized engines and immense power plus extremely firm suspension, but it does mean that they prioritise driving engagement - whether you want a light and nimble car or something more subtle, quick and grippy. To ensure there is something for everyone, below is a hearty cross-section of different types of sporty cars for less than £30,000.

Sportiest cars under £30,000

1. BMW M240i

Best sporty car for those after a compact muscle car

Our pick BMW M240i automatic
Used deals from £18,949
Monthly finance from £243

0-62mph 4.6 secondsTop speed 155mph
Power 340hpTorque 500Nm

 

While many of the M240i’s rivals come with in-your-face styling such as massive alloy wheels and large spoilers, the BMW does not and instead feels like a more upmarket option. In this case, though, understated does not equal underwhelming, as the M240i is incredibly fast.

This small BMW comes with an excellent engine that sends power to the rear wheels via either a manual or automatic gearbox (both are good options) and offers plenty of muscle whether you work it hard or stick to higher gears for a more relaxed drive.

The M240i performs well in a number of driving scenarios - whether it is cruising down a motorway or enjoying a twisty back road, the BMW is equally capable. In terms of specification, M240i models are well equipped (climate control, automatic headlights and a digital radio are included as standard) and the cabin itself is very well appointed.

For those that need more practicality, as in five seats (not four), rear doors and a better-shaped boot, there is also the M140i, which is based on the BMW 1 Series and is available in three- and five-door form. There is a price to pay for the additional practicality, though, and that is slightly worse handling around corners than with the M240i.

BMW 2 SERIES BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Honda Civic Type R

Best sporty car for those who want a wild-looking, wild-driving hatchback

Our pick Honda Civic 2.0-litre Type R GT
Used deals from £25,466
Monthly finance from £373

0-62mph 5.8 secondsTop speed 169mph
Power 320hpTorque 400Nm

 

Widely regarded as one of the most capable fast hatchbacks of all time, the current generation Honda Civic Type R is a sensational vehicle to drive. Yes, it is somewhat extreme to look at, but despite that - and the fact it really is rapid - it is still usable every day as it has rear doors, seating for four, a relatively large boot and is quite comfy on the motorway.

All models come with a muscular turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine and a manual gearbox. Importantly, though, there is a limited-slip differential for the front wheels which maximises the amount of grip the front tyres have when accelerating and cornering. This is very valuable for such a powerful car that sends all its power through the front tyres.

There are three flavours of Type R: Type R, Type R GT and Type R Sport Line. The first is the basic model, the GT is packed with much more equipment, making it a more desirable option for most drivers and Sport Line offers a less dramatic look than the other two. Sport Line versions joined the range in 2020 and so are not readily available for under £30,000 yet.

HONDA CIVIC BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Jaguar XF S

Best sporty car for those who like a little luxury

Our pick Jaguar XF 3.0d V6 S
Used deals from £17,699
Monthly finance from £283

0-62mph 5.8 secondsTop speed 155mph
Power 300hpTorque 700Nm

 

Those thinking that a diesel cannot be sporty need to think again, as the Jaguar XF S is powered by a strong 3.0-litre diesel engine which will out-accelerate many a sporty petrol car. Not only is the XF S speedy, but it handles corners well; much better than you'd expect for an upmarket car of this size. Then of course there is the easy-on-the-eyes styling. You get no choice of gearbox or which wheels the engine turns with the XF - all models are automatic and rear-wheel drive, a setup which suits the car's sporty but relaxed feel.

Being the same size as large cars such as the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6, the XF is nice and practical. There is space in the back for fully grown adults to travel in comfort and the boot offers a substantial 540 litres of luggage capacity, which is amongst the best in class.

Standard equipment levels are also good. There is an estate version of the XF, too (called Sportbrake in Jaguar-speak), should you need even more boot space. When the XF S was first launched a few years back there was a petrol version but it was soon discontinued, so you're more likely to come across a diesel version than one powered by petrol. Both are appealing comfortable but fast machines, though.

JAGUAR XF BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance

Best sporty car for those who want an excellent all-rounder

Our pick Volkswagen Golf 2.0-litre TSI GTI Performance
Used deals from £20,495
Monthly finance from £280

0-62mph 6.2 secondsTop speed 155mph
Power 245hpTorque 370Nm

 

Even though there are more powerful (and faster) versions of the previous-generation Volkswagen Golf, GTI Performance models are arguably the cream of the crop. Taking corners at speed is a delight, thanks to well-weighted steering and a chassis which feels nicely balanced around corners.

Compared to standard GTI Golfs, Performance GTIs come with more power, bigger and better brakes and a limited-slip differential. This last feature helps the front-wheel drive Golf GTI to make the most of its power, maximising the amount of grip the front tyres offer when accelerating and cornering.

Unlike the standard Golf, there is no estate GTI Performance available. You do get a choice of automatic and manual gearboxes, though. As a note, VW refers to its automatic gearboxes as ‘DSG’. While automatic models are the more common, manual versions are more enjoyable to drive for those who want an involving drive. Being based on the standard Golf, practicality, build quality and equipment levels are all strong.

VOLKSWAGEN GOLF GTI BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Skoda Superb 280

Best sporty car for those who want a super-practical hatchback

Our pick Skoda Superb Sport Line 2.0-litre TSI 4X4
Used deals from £16,900
Monthly finance from £255

0-62mph 5.8 seconds
Top speed 155mph
Power 280hpTorque 350Nm

 

Skoda may be part of the same company as Audi, Volkswagen and Seat, but as the budget brand, it often misses out on the most appealing bits of kit that find their way into more expensive Volkswagens, Audis and Seats. However, someone managed to convince bosses to fit the engine and gearbox from the incredibly fast Seat Leon Cupra into the Skoda Superb to create a rapid, sporty but low-key machine. Prior to this ‘sporty’ and ‘Superb’ were not said in the same sentence. Fortunately, the result is really quite good.

Not only do 280hp Sport Line models handle better around corners than any other Superb but they can out-accelerate cars such as the VW Golf GTI Performance mentioned above. What is especially impressive is that they can do this while transporting five people (and their luggage) in comfort.

All models come with an automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive. As a result, whether you're a racing driver or if this is the first fast car you've driven, the Superb is a suitably rapid machine when you stomp on the accelerator pedal. You get great grip when pulling off thanks to the four-wheel drive, with the automatic gearbox quickly and smoothly changing gear for you.

SKODA SUPERB BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Hyundai i30 N

Best sporty car for those who want a left-field hot hatch

Our pick Hyundai i30 N Performance
Used deals from £19,795
Monthly finance from £321

0-62mph 6.1 secondsTop speed 155mph
Power 275hpTorque 353Nm

 

No one (probably not even Hyundai) expected the i30 N to be quite as good as it is. Why? Well, it was the first proper sporty hatchback that the South Korean carmaker had ever made. As the i30 N’s biggest rivals are the likes of the impressive VW Golf GTI and Peugeot 308 GTI, standing out was no easy task - but crucially it does.

The i30 N is fast, exciting to drive and thanks to several distinct driving modes, works well whether you're going on a high-speed drive along country roads, or cruising quietly around town. Hyundai didn’t rest on its laurels, though, as it revised the i30 N in 2020 so it better suited UK roads. This means that if you can afford it, going for a newer model could be worth it here, as you get a more capable car. Fear not, however, if you are on a budget; pre-2020 models are still speedy and engaging to drive.

There are two flavours to choose from - N and N Performance - but if you're after the sharper car, it's an easy decision to make. The N Performance offers 25hp more and comes with an 'e-diff'. This electronically controls power from the engine to the wheels, to maximise the amount of grip available when accelerating. Hyundai also offers a sleek fastback version of the i30 N, that offers added elegance while remaining practical.

HYUNDAI I30 BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Mazda MX-5 RF

Best sporty car for those who want a foldable roof

Our pick Mazda MX-5 RF 2.0-litre GT Sport Tech
Used deals from £13,995
Monthly finance from £208

0-62mph 6.5 secondsTop speed 136mph
Power 184hpTorque 205Nm

 

Sat at the top of the all-time best-selling sports car list is the Mazda MX-5. This is no fluke, as the small Japanese roadster is excellent. It is fun to drive, easy to live with and packs more than enough speed. For the latest generation MX-5, Mazda created an RF version - with 'RF' standing for 'Retractable Fastback'. Unlike soft-top non-RF MX-5s, there is an electronically folding hardtop here - which offers added refinement and saves drivers from having to manually open and close the roof.

A budget of £30,000 is enough to scoop up one of the very best RF models - specifically desirable GT Sport Tech variants. These come with sporty looking 17-inch alloy wheels, heated seats, a reversing camera, adaptive headlights, keyless entry, a soft Nappa leather interior and pretty much anything else you could possibly want from a two-seater sports car.

Mazda updated the MX-5 in 2018 and again in 2020, with the most important improvements coming in 2018 when the 2.0-litre petrol engine was given a power boost. It was never underpowered beforehand, but 2018-on 2.0-litre models offer real punch, with the muscular engine suiting the car's agile handling well. If you're on a tighter budget and looking at pre-2018 models, however, the smooth and fast-revving 1.5-litre petrol is well worth considering, as the engine may not be hugely powerful but feels very quick to respond.

MAZDA MX-5 RF BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Alfa Romeo Giulia

Best sporty car for those after a sleek saloon

Our pick Alfa Romeo Guilia 2.0-litre TB 280 Veloce
Used deals from £22,099
Monthly finance from £297

0-62mph 5.7 secondsTop speed 149mph
Power 280hpTorque 400Nm

 

Want a sensible four-door saloon that doesn't look like a sensible four-door saloon? The Alfa Romeo Giulia could fit the bill. It is a saloon which, especially in Veloce form, looks good, sounds good and is great to drive. Veloce models straddle the gap between cheaper Giulia models (the entry-level petrol and diesel versions) and the bonkers super-powerful Quadrifoglio version.

All Veloce versions come with an automatic gearbox and a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that sends power to the rear wheels - like an old-fashioned sports car. Standard equipment levels are good, with cruise control, parking sensors and automatic lights all included.

One slight gripe with the Veloce version is that its media system isn’t quite on the same level as alternatives from BMW and Mercedes. That said, as of 2020, Alfa Romeo has updated the Giulia’s on-board technology so there is a new 8.8-inch touchscreen display that is Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatible. Being so new, though, these models are not yet available for sub-£30,000. Wait a couple of months, however, and you should have more choice, if you're after the most up-to-date model.

ALFA ROMEO GUILIA BUYERS' GUIDE

 

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