Best sports cars 2023
Sports cars are designed to do one thing, and one thing only: put the driver at the centre of the experience
Few motoring genres offer so much variety in terms of layout as the sports car. They can feature any number of different engine types in different positions, cylinder counts, natural aspiration or forced induction, manual or automatic gearboxes, two- or four-wheel drive… We could go on.
But while they come in many forms, all have one thing in common: a sports car’s raison d’être is to make you, the driver, the most integral part of the driving experience. This gives these cars intense focus – they need to be engaging, capable and, above all else, entertaining.
In its rawest form a sports car can be incredibly sparse yet also comfortable; the best manage to be accessible and amenable while still offering the purity of driver involvement and character that underpin the thrill of driving. Here, we pick our ten favourite sports cars currently on sale.
Best Sports Cars 2023:
- Porsche 718 Cayman
- Alpine A110
- Toyota GR86
- Porsche 911
- Lotus Emira
- Porsche 718 Boxster
- Toyota GR Supra
- Mercedes-AMG GT
- Jaguar F-Type
- BMW M2
Porsche 718 Cayman
Although it might have gained a noise-restricting particulate filter and a few kilos of weight, the latest 718 Cayman, especially in six-cylinder forms, is still a stunning example of what might be considered sports car nirvana.
While the astonishingly visceral GT4 RS sits at the pinnacle of the range with a GT3-derived 493bhp motor and extreme aero, it's the softer and less wearing GT4 that we enjoy most on the road. That engine is Porsche’s naturally aspirated 4-litre flat-six, putting out 414bhp and 310lb ft of torque to the rear wheels through the six-speed manual or seven-speed PDK. Both are the best examples of their type, although the manual does come with achingly long ratios.
Lesser models have nearly as much capability, with the GTS 4.0 losing some of the GT4’s edge, but replacing it with an even more approachable demeanour – not to mention price point. Of course, if you’re less bothered about a resonant flat-six there are the four-cylinder models, and while they are a little flat (no pun intended) they’re also torquey and, especially in 2.5-litre S form, perform extremely well.
The Alpine A110 was an outstanding first effort from the revived marque when it arrived back in 2018, receiving almost full marks in our review and coming just a few points short of the top spot in that year’s eCoty. Sitting in line with the likes of Porsche’s class-leading Cayman, but with a different driving experience thanks to a lower kerb weight and softer spring rates, it’s a distinctive and hugely entertaining machine.
Four distinct models now make up the range: the base car, the GT, the S and the track-focused R. All versions apart from the standard car share the same 296bhp variant of the 1.8-litre engine, but the GT matches this with a softer setup than the sharpened-up S. The A110 R goes in the opposite direction with a carbonfibre aero package and adjustable coilovers for track work. On top of this are a consistent range of special editions, often dipping into the Atelier programme for colour and trim inspirations. Yet beyond having fun on the configurator, the A110 is simply a brilliant sports car – one that makes you feel at the centre of it, which is the whole point.
If there was an ultimate template for a sports car, it might look a little something like the GR86. This is a front-engined, rear-drive, two-door coupe with a six-speed manual transmission up front (an auto is optional, but why would you?) and a limited-slip differential out back. It’s a recipe that was defined by the previous GT86, but one refined and extrapolated on in this latest iteration.
This isn’t a numbers car; with only 231bhp on tap to motivate itself it’ll struggle to keep up with a well-driven Fiesta ST. Instead, this is all about balance and involvement – which is exactly our cup of tea. Every element of the GT86’s dynamic repertoire has been fettled, sharpened and refined, resulting in a fabulous sports car that operates with a quality beyond what you might expect from its power and price points.
But there is a catch, and that’s being able to get your hands on one. Only a very limited number of Toyota GR86s were available in the UK, all of which have been spoken for. The limited supply is thanks to a European safety regulations rule change that means the GR86 will become non-homologated for our consumption – both a shame, but also an opportunity for Toyota to start working on a new one.
Porsche 911 Carrera
While it might seem predictable, the Porsche 911 is the universal sports car benchmark, and despite now being regularly equipped with the performance and capability levels more commonly associated with supercars, it continues to be that yardstick that’s impossible to ignore.
The new 992 has its compromises as a sports car, namely more weight, expense and larger dimensions, but get behind the wheel and there’s no mistaking you’re in anything other than a superbly engineered machine. The quality of its controls are immaculate, with every driver-machine interaction coming with a level of sophistication that other sports cars continue to aim for.
But while the 911 remains the standard-bearer, its sheer speed and accessibility make it one that’s fast becoming increasingly hard to exploit on the road. Whether this is a good thing when it applies to even the most basic Carrera models is for you to decide, but it marks the beginning of the 911’s transformation into something other than a sports car.
The first all-new Lotus in 15 years was always going to be a big thing, but has it been worth the wait? Initial impressions suggest that while there are a few rough edges to sort out, overall the Emira is a fabulous sports car.
On road, the Emira’s biggest asset is feel and flow, the chassis and steering portraying the very finest of detail about the road surface below. Its relatively soft suspension does mean there is some roll and pitch, even with the stiffer ‘Sport’ specification chassis, but like the best of Lotus’s efforts before this, it allows the body to breathe with challenging road surfaces. On track this manifests itself as a lack of control, though.
Yet it’s the supercharged V6 engine and the gearbox which represent its biggest weakness. While charismatic, the engine itself just isn’t as capable or exciting as a Porsche 718 GTS’s, and the transmission remains obstructive, rather than encouraging. The four-cylinder version is slightly sweeter, but the AMG-derived motor can feel gruff and coarse when extended.
Porsche 718 Boxster
OK, so the Boxster might seem a tad too close to include alongside the Cayman, but the two do offer some differences (if not in specification, then experience). The folding roof does the business, making the Boxster a marginally less practical but no less entertaining sports car.
The best bit is that there’s almost no compromise in the driving experience, with perhaps only the smallest loss in torsional stiffness. Of course, with the roof dropped we’d challenge you to notice, and when combined with one of the six-cylinder engines creates a real supercar-in-miniature experience with the rasping intake situated somewhere just behind your head.
And if the Cayman’s lack of glamour is an issue, you’ll also be given access to the fetching 25th Anniversary Boxster GTS, with its gold detailing, red roof and red interior. Beyond just feeling like another derivative, the Anniversary also has a specialness that permeates the experience more than its specification would lead you to believe.
Toyota GR Supra
We’ve had a love-hate relationship with the GR Supra because it has often fallen short on account of its prickly handling and dull powertrains. But over time, Toyota has acknowledged its flaws, and smoothed over its rough edges to help it become a much more interesting proposition in 2022.
This started with the four-cylinder 2.0 version, which goes some way to addressing the 3.0’s handling issues, being more balanced, more responsive and less snappy. Things got even better with the launch of the six-speed manual for the 3.0 car – the over-torqued rear axle of the auto is now more settled and the handling limits now more approachable thanks to small changes to the suspension set-up and differential.
The manual transmission also plays the role of upping interaction, making it feel a little bit more like an old-school muscle car with overtones of sports car-like agility. It's not perfect, but the Supra’s never felt better.
On face value, the new Mercedes-AMG GT is more compromised than the last one. It's no longer a two-seater sports car, but a larger four-seater based on the SL – a car that came stone dead last at evo Car of the Year in 2022. And yet the new GT is being pitched squarely at the Porsche 911 and aims to be faster, more engaging and more practical than before. The building blocks seem incompatible with this, but somehow, Mercedes-AMG has pulled it off.
It starts with the engine. Mercedes' 4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 has been muffled slightly in this application (thank emissions rules for that), but it still generates 577bhp and 590lb ft in the top-spec GT 63. Thanks to four-wheel drive, the new GT makes better use of its power than before to sprint to 62mph in just 3.2sec, matching the previous Black Series model.
The engine is housed in a stiffer space frame chassis that uses a plethora of electronic systems – from rear-wheel steering to active anti-roll bars and hydraulically cross-linked dampers – to deliver precision and capability that is a match for the best in class. But there's breadth here too, as the GT can be dialled down to Comfort mode to deliver a cosseting, low-effort driving experience for every day use. We haven't driven the new AMG GT in the UK yet, but our initial impressions suggest that the 911 Turbo may have its hands full.
Jaguar’s F-type is another sports car that’s holding on to life by its fingertips, manning the fort of Jaguar’s sole sports car heritage in coupe and convertible forms. Of course, to mistake the F-type as a car without interest would be foolish, because in its V8 forms it’s still a brilliant sports car.
Without the boorish attitude of its V8-powered predecessors, both the P450 and P575 R models have found a new level of civility that suits their demeanour just fine. Sure, it’s not the Porsche 911 GTS rival that it probably should be, but there’s a unique character, wrapped up in a stunning body that has matured but yet remains striking.
One caveat would be the 296bhp base four-cylinder model – its powertrain and chassis just don’t quite cut it against those of smaller sports car rivals. Best stick to the V8s. And when you do, you’ll be left with a sports car that has a joy all of its own.
BMW may have opted for a Mini-derived platform for the latest 1-series, but the 2-series remains a true BMW right through to its DNA. It borrows its CLAR architecture from the 4-series, and this forms a fantastic basis for the new, 453bhp M2.
The last M2 didn't quite hit the spot at launch by virtue of its unrefined, jumpy dynamics, but it evolved into an evo Car of the Year winner by the time the CS version landed in 2020. The latest G87 model has started off on the right foot, though, with an indulgent rear-drive chassis, a stellar powerplant and the option of a manual gearbox. It's shorter, stiffer and keener than the M3 and M4, and it feels every bit the junior M car we'd hoped for.
There's also a more hardcore CS version in the works, which could bring the package to even greater heights when it arrives...
The one that got away... Nissan 400Z
If you’re reading this list somewhere outside the UK and Europe, it’s likely you’ve noticed that there’s another certain Japanese coupe missing from this list. Nissan’s new Z will not be making its way to our shores because of various factors, including new safety regulations that will cause some problems, as well as the emissions regs that its twin-turbocharged V6 has not been homologated to pass.
Since its debut the Z has proved to be an intriguing new part of Nissan’s global line-up, but the disappointing reality is that it will remain a conspicuous absence here. And with the demise of the GT-R in the UK it looks as if, for now, Nissan will put its sports cars to bed, with an eye to returning when technology will facilitate a move to electrification without obvious compromise.
Best selling sports cars 2023
The fate of Toyota's GR86, the Audi TT and Nissan's 400Z may spell bad news for the sports car market, but global sales figures supplied by Car Industry Analysis indicate that there's still an appetite for affordable, engaging driver's cars. More than 73,400 mid-sized sports cars were sold around the globe last year, and while that is six per cent down on the previous period, it doesn't entirely reflect the gloomy outlook that prevents some manufacturers from investing in the sector.
The BMW 2-series is easily the most popular in the class with 18,200 units sold worldwide, followed by the Porsche Cayman which found 12,600 customers. Toyota sits in third place having shifted 7600 Supras, with Audi selling 6500 TT's as the model nears its demise. After the Alpine A110 (3600 units) and the Jaguar F-Type (2800 units), market share drops of considerably, with the Nissan 370Z and 400Z fighting for scraps against Lotus's Exige and Emira – each of which sold in the hundreds.