Best cars for drivers

Looking for the perfect ‘driver’s car’? We’ve got performance covered whether you're after anything from a sports car to a hot hatch

Chris Rosamond
Dec 9, 2020

In spite of ever-increasing traffic congestion, the rise of zero-emission cars and increasingly high-tech approaches to chasing speeders, the appeal of performance cars and driving fast remains as strong as ever for many drivers.

Car manufacturers around the world are churning out more and more of every type of performance machine, from multi-million pound exotic hypercars, supercars and super sports cars, through powerful luxury models and SUVs, right down to more affordable speedy hatchbacks and city cars.

In 2020, whether you're after petrol power, an economical diesel machine or fully electric car, there's plenty to choose from. In fact the electric Tesla Model S has even come with a ‘Ludicrous’ performance mode for several years, as if to prove the point that electric cars can be fast and exciting.

Meanwhile, here in the golden years of petrol and diesel engines - with new petrol and diesel cars set to be banned from 2030 - there’s plenty of more traditional high-performance cars to enjoy for all budgets. So with enthusiastic drivers in mind, we’ve rounded up a few of the great performance car offers that have caught our eye, available from less than £20,000 to around £40,000.

From affordable hot hatchbacks, to rapid SUVs and estates, traditional sports coupes and convertibles from some upmarket and some not-so upmarket brands, our selection provides food for thought for anyone who puts driving fun near the top of their car shopping requirements.

So read on for a taste of the driving delights on offer here at BuyaCar, then use our comprehensive search features to home in on the model that’s right for you. Click on the button above to start your search now. Happy hunting!

The best cars for drivers

1. Ford Fiesta ST

Used deals from £15,699
Monthly finance from £255

The Ford Fiesta ST combines real driving thrills and hatchback practicality in an affordable package that’s a worthy successor to multiple generations of former fast Fords. Grab a nearly-new version of the latest ST and you’ll find a rorty and efficient three-cylinder 1.5-litre turbocharged engine that packs awesome mid-engine-speed punch and sounds great.

Sporty drivers will also enjoy steering that turns keenly into corners, roadholding that’s beautifully balanced and tenaciously grippy, plus responsive brakes and a slick gearshift. With nearly 200hp to play with acceleration is impressive too. A 6.5-second 0-62mph time may not sound that extreme, but the muscle on offer at high engine speeds means there are few cars for the money that will keep up with a committed Fiesta ST driver on a challenging road.

Currently available new in three-and five-door variants, and in ST-2 and ST-3 trim levels, we’d pick the mid-range ST-2 as the best value option. It comes with an 8.0-inch touchscreen media system, superb Recaro sports seats, 17-inch alloys and projector headlamps amongst a long list of goodies. Nearly new examples start at well under £300 per month here on BuyaCar making them an affordable prospect. Earlier Fiesta STs with 1.6-litre power start at comfortably less than £10,000 - or around £170 per month.

FORD FIESTA ST BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Mercedes-AMG A35

Used deals from £32,299
Monthly finance from £361

For a combination of genuine high-performance credentials and an upmarket ‘feel-good’ factor, it’s hard to beat the luxurious and techy feel of the Mercedes A35.

Swoopy good looks and an imposingly aggressive nose set the scene, and are backed up by 300-odd horsepower from the turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, sports suspension and standard four-wheel drive, plus a smooth-shifting seven-speed automatic gearbox.

That all adds up to an involving driving experience with the sort of effortless performance and sure-footed grip that make rapid cross-country journeys a delight for keen drivers.

The real show-stopper is the A35’s interior, a technology-packed treat that is as luxurious to ride in as it is impressive to behold, especially if you find a car with the Premium Plus pack that adds a larger 10.3-inch central display screen to the stylish dashboard.

You can pick up a year-old Mercedes-AMG A35 for around the £30,000 mark, which looks pretty good value, considering that nearly new cars can come in at close to £50,000.

MERCEDES A-CLASS BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Jaguar XE AWD

Used deals from £17,995
Monthly finance from £311

You could be predictable and pick an Audi A4 with 'quattro' four-wheel drive as your family-friendly sports saloon, but if you want to feel a bit more special, why not look at Jaguar’s smallest sports saloon instead? The stylish Jaguar XE was facelifted in 2019 and gained much-needed improvements to the onboard media systems, which make it a much more appealing machine.

Pick the 2.0-litre diesel with the all-wheel-drive option and you’ll get an economical and capable high-speed cruiser that’s great fun to drive thanks to a setup that balances decent agility around corners with good comfort levels, with the benefit of extra sure-footedness in wintry weather.

A year-old diesel XE could be yours for under £30,000 in entry-level S trim which includes leather seats and a big touchscreen, and the spec may include the R-Dynamic pack giving you sports seats and an alloy wheel upgrade too, if you're lucky.

Compared to some of its German rivals from Audi, BMW and Mercedes, that definitely feels like a lot of car for the money. No, this isn't the fastest car you can get for the money, but it's still a satisfying machine to drive if you need a practical four-door saloon.

JAGUAR XE BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Volkswagen Golf R Estate

Used deals from £21,290
Monthly finance from £303

While hot hatchbacks are designed to combine everyday usability with a sporty look and feel, many drivers with a taste for performance need even greater practicality. That’s where sporty estate cars come in, and one of the best all-round packages is the wagon version of the Volkswagen Golf R.

The Golf R hatchback is conservatively styled and so something of a ‘sleeper’, as with almost 300hp under your right foot its 0-62mph acceleration is fast enough to see off most traffic-light rivals. It’s got loads of grip thanks to a four-wheel drive setup, while the seven-speed automatic gearbox offers relaxed motorway cruising with the option to control shifts manually when you want to be more involved by using the steering wheel-mounted paddles.

The icing on the cake is a spacious boot that gives you 1,620 litres of load space with all the seats folded down. That means tonnes of room whether you need to cram in pushchairs, flat-pack furniture, mountain bikes or any other load. Express deliveries, anyone?

VOLKSWAGEN GOLF BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Cupra Ateca

Used deals from £28,740
Monthly finance from £403

The Cupra Ateca is an aggressively-styled high-riding SUV with a punchy turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine offering 300hp. That’s enough muscle to rocket you to 62mph in 5.2 seconds, and on to a 152mph top speed - performance figures that were unheard of in a family SUV until relatively recent times.

The Ateca also boasts a pleasingly unhinged character thanks to a crackling and popping exhaust, and the option of rapid manual gearchanges via the paddles on the steering wheel connected to a fast-changing automatic gearbox. Just remember that the Cupra Ateca - also sold previously as the Seat Ateca Cupra - has an engine, gearbox and four-wheel drive system that is closely related to the Golf R Estate above, though the Golf is faster and offers a bigger boot, making it the sensible choice.

Take it easy with the Cupra Ateca and this wild machine reverts to a sensible family runabout, offering comfort and space for five. As the Cupra Ateca hasn't been around for that long, prices aren't as low as with some of the other cars on our list. Again, the Golf R Estate may come to the rescue here, with more affordable used models available.

CUPRA ATECA BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Nissan 370Z

Used deals Limited stock

The Nissan 370Z often gets overlooked by keen drivers focusing on the much pricier and more exotic GT-R coupe, but it's one of the few affordable new cars that engages the person behind the wheel in the driving process.

Once you’ve fallen for its hunched and aggressive exterior style, the slightly dated feel of the interior can be excused as pleasingly ‘retro’. It has a definitely sporty ambience too, with the tight-fitting cabin boasting low-slung but comfortable seats and a well-placed grippy steering wheel.

Power comes from a hefty 3.7-litre six-cylinder engine which gives the 370Z a real ‘muscle car’ feel compared to the typically smaller engines in sports cars launched more recently than the 370Z. Rivals may be lighter on their feet and more relaxing to drive, but the Z is great fun to hustle even if it requires a bit more work from the driver. It’s not short of go either, with 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds for the standard car and 5.1 seconds for the popular Nismo version which has bigger wheels and a few high-performance tweaks.

The 370Z is not the most relaxing or practical of sports cars, with plenty of exhaust and tyre noise and a compromised boot, but that’s all part of the fun, with this old-fashioned machine. In terms of bang-for-your-buck the 370Z makes a great used buy.

NISSAN 370Z BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Porsche Cayman/Boxster

Used Porsche Cayman deals from £36,559
Monthly finance from £586
Used Porsche Boxster deals from £33,750
Monthly finance from £567

You can’t talk performance cars without mentioning Porsche, so what can you get for up to around £40,000? We’ll, we’ve got a dozen or so examples of the smallest Porsche SUV, the in-demand Macan model, mostly from 2016 or 2017 with a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine or a more muscular 3.0-litre diesel motor.

At the time of writing a single 2014 Macan 3.6-litre Turbo model was also on offer at £35,000 - an eye-catching offer for a fabulously fast SUV with close to 400bhp and performance to match. It may be a high-riding machine, but it's still very much a car for keen drivers.

However, for the best Porsche driving experience, we'd recommend the Cayman coupe and Boxster roadster models, available from £35,000. That’s enough for a 2017 four-cylinder 2.0-litre Cayman manual, or an earlier 2015 Boxster with a smooth and sweet-sounding six-cylinder engine.

Either option should provide driving thrills aplenty for enthusiastic drivers with a low-slung driving position, precise steering and agile handling around corners, but the 2.0-litre Cayman manual is often held up as one of the best sporting drives available anywhere at any price, so that's where our money would go.

8. Tesla Model 3

Used deals from £38,965
Monthly finance from £693

Who says high-performance cars have to come with high tailpipe emissions? Not Tesla, the California-based electric car manufacturer. The Model 3 is the third Tesla model (disregarding previous models made jointly with Lotus) and potentially the most significant, as it’s pitched directly at more affordable, but still desirable models such as BMW 3 Series. Priced accordingly, you can order a new Model 3 from £40,490, with the top spec AWD Performance model costing £56,490.

However, if you can’t wait to get a car with the instant punch of an electric motor - or you simply want a more affordable one - fear not, as we have a handful of Model 3s for sale right now. Yes, these desirable machines aren't super cheap, however, you can expect to cut your fuel bills dramaticalyl compared with a similarly fast petrol or diesel car.

Even at £40,000 the Model 3 is good value for a sleek and great driving upmarket machine with a comfortable 200-mile+ electric range at motorway speeds that is capable of a 0-60mph time of 5.3 seconds and a 140mph maximum. It’s a tempting foretaste of the good things coming down the line for used car buyers, and Model 3s will only get more affordable over the coming months and years as more new ones are sold.

 

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