Practical performance cars

Having fun behind the wheel needn't mean compromising on practicality – these high performers should appeal to head and heart

Chris Rosamond
Jan 30, 2021

When deciding on their next sporty car, many driving enthusiasts might expect to make compromises in certain areas. Hark back to the golden days of motoring, and sports cars were often stark, back-to-basics two-seaters with flimsy and awkward - not to mention usually leaky - canvas roofs, drafty cabins with rubbish heaters, and luggage strapped precariously to a rack on the bootlid.

Then in 1975 Volkswagen showed the world that high-performance cars didn’t have to be this way, introducing the first VW Golf GTI - the car commonly credited with popularising the 'hot hatch' sporty hatchback concept. Suddenly driving a fun, sporty car could also mean keeping warm and dry, taking the kids to school safely, or taking the dog to the vet. The market for traditional two-seater sports cars quickly shrank.

The hot hatch market by contrast went nuts, and it’s still a highly popular class of car today with the VW Golf GTI being followed by raft of fast Fords, Renaults, Peugeots, Vauxhalls and more. Nowadays the Mazda MX-5 keeps the ‘traditional’ sports car concept alive, along with far pricier models from more exotic brands, but most drivers after a sporty car continue to want - and need - something a bit more practical. But what if you don't want to compromise on sportiness? 

We've selected some of the most practical and satisfying to drive sporty cars available at an affordable price. These choices illustrate just how broad the range of high-performance options has become. We have everything covered from compact hot hatches to sleek four-seat coupes, family hatchbacks and estates, and even thrown in an SUV for good measure.

The truth is, these days there are so many sporty options available, across so many different classes of cars, that we’d be hard-pressed to include them all.

However, our list includes some of the most appealing vehicles we’d be thinking of first when looking for a nearly new or used car that’s both sporty and practical. One of these is sure to inspire you too.

Most practical performance cars

1. Mini Cooper S

Used deals from £9,559
Monthly finance from £127*

If you want agile handling and nippy performance that has the potential to put a grin on your face on every journey, then the Mini Cooper S is a great place to start. Sure, the Mini isn’t the most practical of hatchbacks, but when you start thinking about it as a compact sports car, it’s really rather spacious.

The Mini was facelifted in 2018 and you can now only get the Cooper S with a 192hp 2.0-litre petrol engine, but those after a used model also get to choose from the 170hp diesel. Both are fun to drive - the petrol offering a more satisfying drive, while the diesel should noticeably cut high-mileage drivers' fuel bills.

A combination of go-kart like handling and rapid acceleration encourages you to drive the Cooper S by the scruff of its neck, and frankly it’s as much fun scooting around roundabouts on the ring-road as it is whizzing along a twisty B-road in the countryside. It has plenty of room up front too, and with rear seats that fold down when you need to clear out the garage, it’s much more practical than a two-seater like the MX-5, which is just about the only other car that offers similar driving thrills for similar money.

You can pick up a 2015 Cooper S from around £9,500 – or not much more than £150* per month on PCP finance.

MINI HATCHBACK BUYERS GUIDE

2. Ford Focus ST Estate

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Used deals from £22,250
Monthly finance from £317*

The Focus ST badge is almost as well known with keen drivers as 'Golf GTI', having been on sale in UK now over four generations, and while the Focus ST is best known as a family-sized hot hatch, the ST is also available as an even more practical estate car.

In spite of its load-lugging credentials, the Focus ST Estate offers a nearly identical driving experience to the hatchback - itself one of the most fun and rewarding hot hatches available. The estate's extra bodywork adds just 35kgs, so it barely affects performance, with a 0-62mph time of 5.8 seconds, courtesy of the ST’s 2.3-litre petrol engine, while the extremely responsive steering and agile chassis remain unblemished too.

For our purposes, it’s the boot space that’s of most interest. At 608 litres - or 1,653 litres with the seats folded - this fantastic fast Ford will swallow as much luggage as the Skoda Octavia - one of the most practical estate cars of this size.

You can pick up a year-old Focus ST Estate for around £300-£350* per month on BuyaCar, with prices starting around at around £23,000.

FORD FOCUS ST BUYERS' GUIDE
FORD FOCUS ESTATE BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Suzuki Swift Sport

Used deals from £7,250
Monthly finance from £141*

Yes, there's a high-performance Sport version of the current Suzuki Swift and while it's relatively entertaining to drive, it's nowhere near as fun as the previous model - pictured above. This version is lightweight, affordable and a joy to drive compared with practically anything else you can buy for the same money.

When it was launched back in 2013 the Swift Sport won the Best Hot Hatchback award from our sister title Carbuyer, and everyone raved about its combination of superb sporty handling and its practical easy-to-live-with hatchback body.

It’s not the fastest car on our list of sporty practical cars, recording a 0-62mph time of 8.7 seconds from its 1.6-litre engine - which needs to be worked hard for maximum performance. However, the fact you need to rev the engine hard to get maximum acceleration means that the Swift Sport is very engaging to drive - even without getting anywhere near the speed limit.

Better still, the Swift is by far the cheapest car on our list, while the car’s responsive steering and sporty suspension make it a genuine thriller for keen drivers on a budget. A 2015 Swift Sport could set you back as little as £6,500 and it's a fantastic car for the money.

SUZUKI SWIFT BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Audi RS3 Sportback

Used deals from £30,100
Monthly finance from £390*

The Audi RS badge is only stuck on its very fastest vehicles, standing above high-performance 'S' models, and the RS3 is a supremely speedy machine, despite not looking that different from the ordinary A3.

There was a new model released in 2018, but this is still seriously pricey, typically costing more than £45,000, so we're focusing on the previous model, which is available from around £26,000 for 2016 models, with around £30,000 being enough to net a relatively low mileage car.

That might seem like a lot for a hatchback, but for that money you’re getting a true road warrior with an enormous 367hp under the bonnet - courtesy of a 2.5-litre engine that produces a very appealing thrum when you work it hard - 'quattro' four-wheel drive, which helps you to make the most of the power, whether the road is dry or wet, and a rapid 0-62mph time of 4.3 seconds. That's faster than the entry-level Porsche 911 at the time. And the 911 is nowhere near as practical as the RS3.

The handsome Sportback body is a five-door hatchback that offers decent passenger and boot space. Compared to the regular A3 Sportback, the RS3 does lose a bit of practicality - with 20 litres less boot space - as the four-wheel drive system takes up a bit of room, but it’s still a roomier option than the Ford Focus RS which offers similar performance.

AUDI A3 BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Porsche Macan

Used deals from £27,495
Monthly finance from £399*

As it’s one of the best-looking SUVs on the market today, and because it bears one of the sports car world’s most prestigious badges, we couldn’t ignore the Porsche Macan from our list of practical sporting drives.

The Macan is not a cheap car new, but with a budget of around £30,000 you should be able to find quite a few examples of the Macan to choose from. What a car for the money too, although at that price you’re likely to be looking at lower specification 3.0-litre diesel Macan S versions from around 2014-16. The Macan is only available with petrol power new, but the older diesel motor offers a decent balance of performance and economy, so it suits this heavy car well.

The former entry-level diesel produces a substantial 258hp, so it can zoom up to 62mph in barely six seconds - speedy for a car of this size and weight. While the Macan is based on the Audi A5 - which isn't the sportiest car in the world - it was thoroughly revamped by Porsche for sporty handling and it's the most agile car of this type, making it a great practical performance car.

Despite the high-performance and upmarket feel of the Macan, it’s a family-friendly machine too, with space for three kids in the back and plenty of luggage in the roomy boot.

PORSCHE MACAN BUYERS' GUIDE

6. BMW M240i

Used deals from £18,949
Monthly finance from £231*

The six-cylinder M240i from BMW may play the understudy to the seriously fast range-topping M2 Coupe, but it’s a sparkling sports car in its own right with tonnes of power and notably better practicalilty than rivals such as the Audi TT Coupe and Porsche Cayman.

With 340hp under its bonnet, the M240i is no slouch. Go for the automatic and you’ll be able to blast from 0-62mph in just 4.6 seconds, while well-weighted steering and roll-free suspension means this is a car that will devour your favourite driving route and come back for more. The M240i offers a very good balance of comfort and sportiness behind the wheel, with the cabin making it a usable only car.

Practicality is covered by a rear seat that adults can fit into reasonably comfortably, and a boot that’s much more practically shaped for day-to-day use than the load areas provided by the TT or Cayman, even if it’s not actually much bigger in volume terms.

Grab an older 2016 or 2017 version and you should be able to get behind the wheel for around £20,000. A year-old car will be closer to £30,000, but either way, the M240i is a fast, fun and practical sports car for the money.

BMW 2 SERIES BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Jaguar F-Pace

Used deals from £20,199
Monthly finance from £285*

Another sporty SUV favourite, the Jaguar F-Pace offers a great combination of fun driving, terrific style and family-friendly practicality. Jaguar’s first SUV was launched back in 2016, and it does a great job of tackling rivals like the Porsche Macan, BMW X4 and Mercedes GLC.

Thanks to a great range of engines and technology derived from Jaguar's XE and XF models, the F-Pace handles as neatly as a sporty saloon. Lower powered diesel variants aren’t quite as appealing as the petrol versions, but even the entry-level 180hp 2.0-litre petrol F-Pace offers sporty looks and performance.

It won’t break the bank either, with plenty of examples of the F-Pace available from around £20,000. Step up to the seriously punchy 3.0-litre diesel and you’ll be looking at around a £30,000 starting price for a 2016 car.

JAGUAR F-PACE BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Kia Stinger GT-S

Used deals from £24,950
Monthly finance from £371*

The Kia Stinger GT-S is a bit of an upstart in the world of practical high performance cars - as Kia doesn't have a name for making high-performance machines - but it’s at least as much fun to drive as the much pricier Audi RS5 Sportback. Unlike the Audi, you can expect to grab a Stinger from less than £30,000, too. In fact, you can find 2018 Stinger GT-S models for £25,000 or even less, which is probably one of the biggest performance bargains on the road today.

The GT-S has a powerful 365hp 3.3-litre six-cylinder engine under its swoopy bonnet, which delivers a rapid 0-60mph time of 4.7 seconds via a slick automatic gearbox. Adaptive shock absorbers - which allow you to tailor the feel of the suspension to the type of road you're driving on - and a limited-slip differential, which helps to boost traction, ensure the Stinger feels surprisingly agile for what is a pretty big car.

On the practicality front there’s loads of room in the Stinger, although taller adults will find headroom a little tight in the back. Lift up the tailgate and there’s a roomy 406-litre boot with split-folding rear seats that’s big enough to take most of what the average family is likely to throw at it.

KIA STINGER BUYERS' GUIDE

*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.

 

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