Best used cars to buy now – our 2024 pre-owned performance favourites
Want a used performance car that’s great to drive and affordable? Whatever your budget, we’ve got some suggestions for you
Finances permitting, making the decision to buy a used performance car is easy and something we at evo encourage wholeheartedly. What’s not so easy, however, is choosing the right used performance car.
The options at any price point are wide-ranging; £10k affords you a 5.7-litre, V8-engined Vauxhall Monaro or a Renault Sport Clio 200 – simply establishing a shortlist could take hours, even days of deliberation. To save you some time, we’ve put in the legwork, and put forward our favourites from the used car classifieds across three segments: hot hatches, sports cars/coupes and supercars. So read on and find your next evo-approved used car…
We love a properly sorted hatch, and here are four crackers that won’t break the bank but will put a big smile on your face every time you get behind the wheel.
Honda’s Civic Type R is currently in its sixth generation, but the EP3 model which made its UK debut in 2001 has become a cult classic hot hatch over the years. Better yet, they're surprisingly affordable on the used market.
Central to the experience is a 2-litre engine making 197bhp, and it does so with a scream - few mainstream cars have revved as easily, or quite as high, as the Civic Type R. The whole car feels light and agile too, and while the steering is a little numb, Honda reliability makes ownership relatively painless. Prices have crept up in recent years, but the EP3 still decent value: expect to pay around £3000 for a leggy example, with well presented original cars commanding £9000.
Our next contender is the evergreen VW Golf, here in Mk2 GTI guise: practical, lightweight and a rock solid investment for years of depreciation-free fun. Funny to think that in 1984 112bhp was deemed enough to be ‘hot’, but from 1986 there was a 16v version with 136bhp. The Mk2 GTI is one of the sweetest and most analogue of them all, and the market is beginning to notice: usable 8-valve models start at around £9k, climbing to £15000 and beyond for cherished low-mileage GTIs. That's a lot for what is a near 40-year-old hatchback, but the Mk2 GTI really is wonderful to drive and has an undeniable cool-factor in 2023. The steadily climbing values sweeten the deal, too.
If a Golf’s too old or lacking in urgency then perhaps a modern classic like the Renault Sport Clio 182 would fit the bill. You’ll need to be quick, though, as good examples are now highly sought after and it’s easy to see why: punchy performance (we recorded 0-60mph in 6.6sec), interactive handling and a reputation for being one of the last of the old-school hot hatches that’s still affordable. Make sure it’s had a cambelt change, check for worn synchros and watch for accident damage, and for £5000 you can have a cracker. For around £12000 you can bag one of the limited-run Trophy editions, which with its sophisticated Sachs dampers and even sweeter dynamics is one of the all-time great hot hatchbacks.
Our modern hatch of choice is the Mk7 Ford Fiesta ST, and for good reason: with a brilliant 197bhp turbo 1.6 four-pot and entertaining handling wrapped up in a small, usable package, it was the small hot hatch to beat when new. Prices for have now dipped under £7000, making it a fantastic bargain, though owning one can be a bit like having a fast Ford in the early 1990s – the internet is rife with stories of theft, so do your best to keep the car secure.
If you don’t need the practicality offered by a hatchback then something more sporting could be in order. Our pick for a useable classic here is Toyota’s first-generation MR2. It’s a characterful thing, with an excellent engine and a sweet mid-engined balance. Despite its age, parts availability isn’t a problem...although rust is. The Mk1 MR2 has now garnered modern classic status and will continue to appreciate while you enjoy driving it. It's no longer a bargain with good examples starting from £8000, but the MR2 is an interactive and stylish mid-engined machine that seems more appealing as the years pass.
If you’re after something brawnier, our pick would be TVR’s rowdy Tuscan. Launched in 1999, all versions were powered by a straight-six, with outputs ranging from from 350 to 400bhp, and as you’d expect in something weighing little over a ton, performance is vivid to say the least. Early cars were pretty twitchy but suspension upgrades can tame them if done properly. Running costs can be high but you’ll be owning a piece of British sports car history. Prices are on the up and now start at around £25000.
More modern GT4 models aside, the Porsche Cayman R represents the mid-engined sports car at its visceral best with a wonderfully mechanical feel. Launched in 2011 and gone by 2013, it’s a relatively rare machine. It had 9bhp more than the 987 Cayman S and had been on a diet too, although speccing air con and a radio did put back some of the 55kg Porsche had shaved off. There was a limited-slip diff and some new aero, but it was the tweaked suspension that made it a step up from the S. As the most collectable and sought-after 987 Cayman, a good R costs considerably more than an equivalent S model (expect to pay upwards of £30000), but few sports cars are as rounded, communicative and balletic to drive.
Finally, there’s perhaps the purest sports car of all: the Lotus Elise. The earliest models are now 27 years old which is quite remarkable, not least because the brand new Lotus Emira can trace its chassis construction techniques to the innovate two-seat roadster.
Early, friendly-faced S1 Elises have been going up in value for a little while now, and for the most distinctly Elise-like driving experience, it's the one we'd have. The uprated Sport 135 and Sport 160 models hold the most credence, but we'd be very tempted by the 111S model which has flown under the radar in comparison. With a higher-revving 143bhp VVC Rover K-series motor, a close ratio gearbox and plusher seats, it's one of the more exciting variants without sacrificing usability.
The insect-like S2 styling is an acquired taste, but subtle changes made it slightly more liveable than the first Elise without diluting its core character character. It's less edgy and slightly heavier, but compared with modern sports cars, the S2 is still a revelation in the way that it tackles bumpy B-roads with such finesse and communication. In 2004, the S2 gained a more reliable Toyota engine in place of the charasmatic Rover unit, with these later examples usually commanding a premium on the used market.
The starting point for any Elise is now around £15,000, though you’ll want to spend a little more for those with the best history and in the best condition. Few sports cars deliver such a thrill to drive, though.
For some of us, a supercar must s to have a mid-mounted engine, and while our classic choice here might be a little short on cylinders, it makes up for it with a turbocharger and a low kerb weight.
The Peter Stevens-styled Lotus Esprit Turbo lost some of the edginess of Giugiaro’s original, but by the late 80s that design was in need of a refresh. The Esprit's 2.2-litre 16-valve four-cylinder engine remained, but it was now good for 215bhp and a 0-60mph time of 5.3sec. A 264bhp SE was launched in 1989, bringing a sub-5sec 0-60mph time. With stunning looks, decent performance and a typically Lotus feel through the steering and chassis, the Esprit is deeply desirable but rather temperamental unless maintained properly. Prices start at around £25000
There wasn’t much arguing in the office over our choice of the Audi R8 V8 as our modern-classic used supercar of choice. It simply has it all: looks, performance, an involving chassis and surprisingly manageable running costs for a supercar – if you buy wisely. It's almost certainly a future classic in the making, particularly when fitted with a manual gearbox, with early versions starting well below £40k.
We’ve always had a soft spot for the Ferrari 458 Italia, and with a sublime 562bhp 4.5-litre V8 that revs to 9000rpm and equally sharp, expressive dynamics, it's a high point for modern Ferraris. Somehow, the 458 looks and feels as fresh as ever in 2023, despite its heavy focus on chassis software at the time. This has always been the 458's trick; it has an uncanny ability to deliver a mesmerising, organic driving experience that's underpinned by an unfathomable suit of electronics that barely make themselves known. Values have barely dropped a penny in recent years, holding at £115,000 as a starting point.
The McLaren MP4-12C is a contemporary rival to the 458, and while it offers a highly distinctive character with its turbocharged V8 and sophisticated hydraulically cross-linked suspension, it never quite reached the heights of its rival from Maranello. Still, it betters the 458 in some ways – chiefly in its ride quality and tactile steering – and it's even more powerful with 592bhp, which makes the 12C's used values seem almost unfathomable. Early cars have now dipped below £70,000, which is remarkable for such an advanced carbonfibre supercar. McLarens do have a reputation for electrical maladies and the company’s early infotainment systems were woeful, but buy well (and buy a warranty) and few supercars are as pleasant to use daily.
VW Golf GTI MK2 - Andy Gregory (VW Heritage)
‘As you’d expect of a car of this era, the thing to really watch out for is rust. They can vary a huge amount depending on whether they’ve been pampered or led a hard life, but you still need to check the sills, the seam where the floor panel meets the sill, the wheelarches, the doors, the lower bulkhead and the front suspension subframe.
Mechanically they’re strong and easy to work on too – you can have a stab at finding out what’s wrong without resorting to a specialist as they’re pretty simple. They can get a little smoky, mainly down to old valve stem seals, and they can become a little rattly on the bottom end. Gearboxes are generally strong but watch for a failing second-gear synchro. Suspension and brakes are straightforward; rear brakes have a tendency to seize if the car’s been standing.
‘Most parts are still available and we’ve had quite a few made for the Mk2, too. The factory Recaros are super desirable but the standard sports seats are pretty good and we now stock the cloth to have them re-trimmed.
The Mk2 Golf GTI is a very achievable classic. You can buy one for a grand – it’ll be rough, but you can get them – and for £5000-6000 you should be able to buy a very good example.’
Porsche Cayman R - Philip Raby Porsche (Philip Raby Porsche)
‘The Cayman R is a brilliant machine. Any Cayman is really good and begs the question as to why you’d buy a 911 – and I’m a big fan of 911s. The handling is very neutral and predictable – it’s an easier car to drive fast than a 911.
‘I drove a Cayman R to Scotland when they were new and even in no-air-con, no-radio spec it was incredibly useable on the drive up there, and of course when we arrived it was brilliant fun on the mountain roads.
‘While there were plenty of changes for the Cayman R it’s the suspension that makes it feel so good – there’s a bit of weight saving, but that’s more a marketing thing as far as I’m concerned, and if I were buying today I would want air conditioning and a radio; I think most people buying would want these in a modern car.
‘All Caymans hold their value pretty well, and here the rarity will add value, as will the R badge. If it was badged as an RS it would be worth even more! Sometimes you just can’t predict what’s going to happen to values but, that said, I think it would be worth taking a punt on a Cayman R – people love anything that’s slightly rarer.
‘If you’re buying, ensure the car you’re looking at has an excellent service history – history is key with these cars as many will want them as an investment – and also low mileage and low owners.’
Audi R8 V8 - REPerformance (Ricky Elder)
‘The R8 is a fantastic car and the earlier V8s represent superb value for money, but there are a number of things to look out for. Probably the most expensive potential pitfall is the mag-ride dampers, as they can leak. They’re £1000 each, plus labour. Personally I find them too stiff for road use so I wouldn’t say they’re a must-have option.
‘Clutches can be problematic, especially on early cars. The slave cylinder can seize up – a heavy clutch pedal is the sign. The knock- on effect can be transmission damage or premature clutch wear, and a new clutch is £3600 [fitted, at a specialist]. Some people don’t rate the R-tronic gearbox but I think it's fine if driven properly, with a slight lift on upshifts.
‘Brakes can suffer from corrosion where the steel slider plates bolt to the aluminium calipers. This can cause the brakes to start to seize on, which can lead to warped discs. ‘Ensure the air con works. The front-mounted condensers can take a battering but it’s the compressor that’s the big worry because replacement is an engine-out job.
‘The engines are incredibly strong but ensure the car has an impeccable history. You can get into a V8 from around £35k, but many cars at the cheaper end of the market need work. A pre-purchase inspection is money well spent.’