Seven used rear-drive sports cars for half the price of a new M2 – or less
What makes the M2 great, at an even greater discount
BMW M3 E46
Well, that was kind of obvious, wasn’t it?
If our aim is to find a rear-drive sports car for half the price of the new M2 (and it definitely is), then why walk past the obvious Äpfel-zu-Äpfeln comparison?
Similarly, if the M2 is the true spiritual successor of the old M3 (and we’d strongly suggest it is), then surely it makes a decent amount of sense to just go and get the seminal small M car it’s emulating. Particularly now that the M2 has gone from a square-shouldered, handsome little brute into... well. It’s certainly something.
Both the just-ended-production and just-what-did-you-do M2 are likely faster than an E46 M3 in most situations – there’s no getting around the gigantic peak torque difference, nor how early on that torque arrives. But pure, white-knuckled speed is every bit as un-fun and antisocial out on the road as it’s always been, so having easier access to that is a black mark on the newer cars, and an indictment of spec sheet one-upmanship in general.
And if there are any arguments against revving out M Division’s naturally aspirated, unnaturally sonorous straight-six all the way out to 8,000rpm – and making an easy 330bhp in the process – you might be on the wrong side of the dispute.Advertisement - Page continues below
Porsche 911 Carrera S (997 generation)
For a car as unique as the 911, it certainly does seem like an obvious choice. Not like, ‘hey, just get the E46 M3 instead of a new M2’ obvious, but definitely a ‘showering as soon as you get home from a night out’ obvious, if you catch our drift. Which, whether it’s an unfortunate, misguided intimation or not, does feel like something your average 911 driver has been involved in at some point.
In any case, the 911 remains a) an astonishingly good sports car, and b) entirely unique in today’s car market. Go on, show us another rear-engined sports car that’s still in production today; we’ll wait. And it’s not like the rest of the 911 is exactly common – it’s the only sports car in production with a flat-six engine (well, one of two if you count Ruf), the third longest-running sports car nameplate ever and one of only a handful of sports cars you could call practical and reliable. And on that note...
OK, fine... we admit it. We’re absolute TVR tragics. We even watched that god-awful Swordfish film – where Hugh Jackman pretends to be American, Halle Berry pretends to be interested in the source material and we pretend that’s John Travolta’s real hair – just for some Hollywood shots of a Tuscan in motion. Honest assessment? Still not worth it.
And ‘not worth it’, we’re afraid, was also the general consensus about buying the Tuscan, back when one could simply buy new TVRs. Whether it was down to it being a bit niche, a tad avant-garde in its styling, slightly laissez-faire about safety or entirely British in its reliability is something to pick apart another day; the fact is that it didn’t sell as well as it deserved.
Because the Tuscan offers the kind of driving experience that’ll leave you laughing long enough to earn admission into a laughing academy. With that said, if you’re actually considering a TVR, you may already be familiar with your local one.Advertisement - Page continues below
Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Does a regular road-going Aston count as a sports car? Surely, it’s a grand tourer, as interested in all things sporting as the person writing this very article. Well, if so much was not already patently obvious, yes.
See, it’s the ‘Vantage’ bit that rather explains how an easy 1.6 tonnes of British bulldog manages to be mentioned in the same breath as sports car. Ever since Aston first attached the Vantage name to the old DBS back in the David Brown days, it’s been the byword for the faster, sportier Aston. Of course, we now have things like the Vulcan, Valhalla and Valkyrie nicking off with that crown, but the Vantage wore it first.
In fact, with its second outing, the Vantage was also the first Aston to be mentioned in the same breath as ‘supercar’. The long-lived, lithe and rather lovely V8 coupe we’re talking about here is much more of a descendant of the Vantage than big, soft Astons of old. And while you’d hardly call it a supercar these days, all that does is illustrate how interpretative labels like sports car and supercar can be.
Ford Mustang 5.0 V8
Much like the Vantage before it, can you really call the Mustang a sports car? Well, yes. But then you could call Brussels sprouts ‘delicious’, but that hardly changes the reality of the situation.
A coupe with a five-litre V8 up front, six-speed manual in the middle and two tyres at the back hanging on in grim determination certainly seems to check all the boxes for a sports car... but then this car is American. Which then, for reasons that date back to long before we blighted the world with our opinions, makes it a muscle car.
But then a muscle car is famously a straight-line machine, as able to change direction as... oh, let’s say humanity in our near-constant push to wipe ourselves out. And the last time we drove a Mustang, it possessed an uncanny ability to turn left, as well as right. In fact, it could do both at speeds most would call sporting, we would call slightly silly, and the local constable would call us before a magistrate to explain if we tried such a thing on a public road. So perhaps we can reach some sort of linguistic truce – a sports muscle car, or perhaps a muscular sports car? Either way, the Mustang counts.
Lotus Exige S
Originally, this article called for five cars, but there’s no way we were going to leave the Exige S off this list. Sure, it might be overdelivering, but when you’re talking about a car that overdelivers in pretty much every area (OK, luggage space might still be a sticking point), it does seem rather fitting.
The engine starts life as a Toyota four-cylinder, as used in such uninspiring machinery as the front-drive Celica and Pontiac Vibe. But, thanks to a supercharger, the addition of some very un-Lotus ideas about adding power and what we presume is good old-fashioned witchcraft, it becomes something of a minor miracle in the Exige S.
Thanks to some entirely Lotus-appropriate ideas about weight, it’s the immediacy that’ll occupy your thoughts. Instant surge forward, of course – superchargers certainly help in that regard – but also uncannily quick braking and the kind of steering that is so associated with Lotuses that the company could probably patent it.
And if that’s not enough for you, the S3 Exige got an equally supercharged, equally Toyota-based and more than equally tremendous 3.5-litre V6, with an engine note of the gods and instant-onset ferocity that more than makes up for the £45,000-ish price you’ll have to pay for them. No longer half the price of a new M2, but still comfortably less...
Caterham Superlight R500
If there were any argument over the cars in this list, and whether they actually are a bona fide sports car, we doubt there’s much of a case for the opposition here. In fact, using nothing more than a process of elimination, we can prove it’s impossible to call the Caterham R500 anything else.
It’s not for cruising. It’s not for highways, popping to the shops, doing the school run or workday commute. It’s not comfortable, quiet, easy to drive, forgiving or even remotely civilised. And, to its eternal credit, it’s not meant to be.
What it is for, its single purpose that it performs singularly well, is being a sports car. Driving purely for the experience, the surfeit of sensations and cornucopia of curse words when you experience just what this manic Caterham can achieve. If you needed a figure to attach to such purple prose, we have just the thing: 0-60mph takes less than three seconds. Yeah, that probably gets the gist across.Advertisement - Page continues below