Mid-engined cars

Putting the engine in the middle of a car has a raft of benefits, as these great mid-engine machines prove

James Wilson
Dec 14, 2021

Mid-engined cars are a rare breed. While most cars come with an engine in front of the driver, conveniently fitted in under the bonnet, mid-engined cars have their engines mounted behind the driver and usually as close to the car’s centre of gravity as possible, which boosts agility around corners. Locating the engine here inevitably means you can wave goodbye to the hope of spacious rear seats and a large boot - and it is for this reason that mid-engined cars are predominantly sports cars.

It might seem strange to put an engine in the middle of a car when there are plenty of models with their engines at the front - even fast ones. The best-selling sports car of all time is the Mazda MX-5 and that has its engine at the front - so what gives? The answer: weight distribution. By having the engine in the middle, you help to make sure that the majority of the car’s weight is close to its centre of gravity.

By doing this, cars normally handle around corners much better. Also, mid-engined cars are normally rear-wheel-drive meaning that the engine - located behind the driver - acts like a huge paperweight pushing the rear tyres into the road. This helps to improve grip, so it is possible to accelerate harder and corner faster. One final benefit to mid-engined cars is that they can look incredibly sleek with short, low bonnets - since there's no need to cram an engine underneath - as you'll see from the cars we've featured below.

The models below are amongst the best performance cars on the market - and they can all be scooped up second-hand on BuyaCar for less than you might think. Some are more common than others and some are easier to live with. One thing is for sure, though; all of them look seriously sporty and if you drive any of them, you are bound to turn heads.

Mid-engined cars

1. Porsche Boxster

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Although the Porsche Boxster is one of the most common mid-engined cars on the planet, it' still a seriously special car. The way it looks, feels and drives put it in a league of its own. There are plenty of other great sports cars for similar money, but few offer the same breadth of abilities. The Boxster is just as suited to gently cruising along a country lane as it is blasting around a racetrack.

One great thing about the Boxster is that there is a good variety of models with differing amounts of performance. Standard models are more than quick enough for most drivers - taking around 5.0 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 62mph, which makes them faster than most cars on the road - but there are more powerful Boxster S and Boxster GTS versions for those who like their curry extra hot. The latest Boxster was launched in 2016 so there are plenty of second-hand models to choose from, too, at a range of price points.

2. Audi R8

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Audi has had a smash-hit on its hands with the R8, which first arrived in 2007, and although the latest generation is bigger and faster than its ancestors, the recipe has remained the same. Central to this is the engine mounted in the middle of the car. You can get a massive 5.2-litre engine with 10 cylinders, which makes a highly distinctive warbling engine note when worked hard. In comparison, small new cars like the Ford Fiesta tend to come with a 1.0-litre engine with just three cylinders, with even larger models rarely having engines that are much bigger than 2.0 litres in size.

Another thing that makes the big engine stand out, is that it doesn't have a turbocharger, which is unusual for a modern car, as turbochargers typically provide an improved balance between power and fuel economy than going for a large non-turbocharged engine. The result is that this engine produces more and more power as you work it harder, making it more engaging to drive.

Despite the R8 accelerating from 0 to 62mph in less than 4.0 seconds, which is seriously rapid, it is surprisingly easy to drive, especially with Audi’s automatic gearbox fitted and the 'Quattro' four-wheel-drive system fitted to most R8 models.

AUDI R8 BUYERS' GUIDE

3. BMW i8

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When BMW launched the i8 it was hailed by many as the supercar of the future. It comes with a 1.5-litre petrol engine, which is very small for a sporty car like this, paired with a battery and electric motor. The electric assistance means that the i8 can travel up to 20 miles on battery power alone from a full charge. In the real world, you're likely to achieve less, but the fact this BMW can offer any kind of electric range makes it stand out against rivals such as the Porsche 911.

As the electric motor works as one of the i8's engines, the i8 is both front and mid-engined because there is an electric motor at the front and a petrol engine towards the back. Regardless, the i8 is an enjoyable car to drive and plenty fast enough. It still looks very futuristic - which is impressive considering it was launched way back in 2014 - and is like nothing else on the road. Throw in relatively strong fuel economy - especially if you charge the car regularly - and you wonder why more people aren’t driving i8s.

BMW I8 BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Porsche Cayman

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Hang on a minute, you may be thinking; didn’t we show you this car first? Almost, but not quite. The Porsche Cayman is the coupe version of the Boxster, meaning it does not have a folding roof, but instead has a fixed metal top. The standout feature with the Cayman - as with the closely-related Boxster - is how well it drives, as the handling around corners is about as good as it gets, regardless of how much money you spend.

Aside from the different roofs, pretty much everything else is shared with the Boxster. That means there is the same choice of four- and six-cylinder engines - with the larger engines producing a more musical sound - the same choice of great manual and automatic gearboxes and the same range of optional extras. There is one important difference, though. The Cayman is available in hardcore driver-focused ‘GT4’ spec.

GT4 models are the mad hatter of the range with more power and more panache - thanks to their huge alloy wheels and a rear spoiler - than any other trim. They are more pricey,  but if you want an exciting and desirable sports car - one that is even likely to increase in value over time - then vaguely attainable sports cars simply don't get more desirable than this.

5. Audi R8 Spyder

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Few cars bring the drama quite as much as the Audi R8 Spyder - with ‘Spyder’ reflecting the fact that this is the convertible version of the R8 featured above. By folding the roof away, the sensational warble from the powerful 5.2-litre V10 engine is able to fill the cabin. If BuyaCar were to host Glastonbury, the Audi R8 V10 would be a favourite for headlining the Pyramid stage; it really is the kind of sound that makes people stop and stare. In a good way.

Sometimes when you get a convertible version of a car, its handling can be much worse than the hardtop version, as the body is weakened by removing the roof, but that isn't an issue with the R8 Spyder. Should you decide to take things slowly, though, the cabin is a really nice place to be. It features plenty of high-quality materials and a layout which wraps around the driver, making you feel like you are smack bang in the middle of the action.

In-car technology is another string on the R8’s bow, with the 12.3-inch ‘virtual cockpit’ digital dials being a standout feature. The virtual cockpit replaces traditional dials for things such as speed and fuel level with a large digital screen, which you can set to show different displays - it can even show a sat-nav map across the entire width of the screen.

6. McLaren Sports Series

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To the untrained eye, McLaren's model names can be bewildering; there are a lot of different numbers and letters for cars that look awfully similar. What you need to know is that McLaren offers a ‘sports series’ of cars; these represent the entry-level to the McLaren range. We say entry-level, but they still cost more than most households earn in a year - so even used models will require you to have deep pockets. What they all have in common is that they are mid-engined, fast enough to really get the blood pumping and look remarkably alike.

The models in the sports series include the 540C, 570S, 570S Spider, 570GT, 600LT and 600LT Spider. All use a 3.9-litre V8 petrol engine that produces well over 500hp, with some versions nearing 600hp. What sets these McLarens apart from the competition is their driving experience. The Audi R8 will blow the entire sports series out of the water when it comes to its touchy-feely cabin and impressive in-car tech but find the right stretch of open road - or better yet, a race track - and the McLarens are thrilling, feeling more like racing cars.

Rarer mid-engined cars

Below are a handful of mid-engined cars that are even rarer than the models above. However, though they may be harder to find, they offer plenty in return should you take the time to do a little searching to find one. 

1. Lotus Elise

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The Lotus Elise as one of the best lightweight sports cars of all time. ‘Lightweight’ really is the operative word as Lotus has been ruthless in its quest for lightness. The reason being, lighter cars should be better to drive - with lower weight levels enabling a car to turn more sharply and accelerate and brake more quickly.

In the case of the Elise, this is 100% true as it is a breath of fresh air on the open road. Unlike most modern cars, the Elise isn't stuffed with heavy in-car tech and tonnes of sound deadening that makes the cabin quieter, but adds weight and waters down the driving experience. Being light also means you need less power to go quickly, with the lack of weight meaning that the car should burn less fuel, too. So fuel bills should be lower than with bigger and heavier models, too. This is relative, of course. If you want great fuel economy, you are best avoiding sports cars altogether.

2. Lotus Exige

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Compared to the Elise above, the Exige is a much more serious affair for more serious drivers. It is bigger, more aggressively styled and comes with a much bigger engine. The latter means that performance takes a step up as well. While the Elise is quick mainly because its mid-power engine has little weight to fire around, the Exige is relatively light and has plenty of muscle, too.

It is not for the faint-hearted though, as creature comforts are at a premium; there is no power-assisted steering, for example, so expect the steering to be heavier than in most modern cars at low speeds. In today’s world, power-assisted steering is so common that many people may not even realise that cars can come without it, but in the case of the Exige, the lack of power steering adds another element of direct connection to the road.

3. Alpine A110

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Alpine is a sister brand to Renault. In fact, anyone familiar with the cabin of a modern Renault will see several similarities with the A110. There isn’t a mid-engined Renault though, so if you fancy a mid-engined modern French car, the Alpine is a good bet.

The way the A110 looks is a throwback to the original A110 from the 1960s - a driver-centric sports car - and the modern version continues that focus. When it comes to the driving experience, there is no questioning the modern Alpine, as the A110 is the perfect fast car for UK roads. This is largely thanks to it being relatively compact, light and with suspension that can handle a pothole or two, so you can really enjoy tight, twisty and bumpy country roads - something that isn't always the case in big, heavy modern sports cars.

ALPINE A110 BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Lotus Evora

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Lotus has a history of making mid-engined cars, so here's another appealing second-hand option. In a bid to create a car that was just as great to drive as models such as the Elise but more practical and easier to live with every day, Lotus created the Evora.

It is penned as a direct rival to the Porsche Cayman and in many ways it measures up well. Most surprisingly, the suspension makes for relatively comfortable long-distance journeys, although if you take into account the media system and cabin build quality, the Porsche Cayman comes out on top. So, if you want a more raw driving experience, the Lotus is a good option, while the Porsche is a more upmarket and grown up cruiser, though it's still impressively fun to drive.

*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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