It is rarely the case that a cheap car is also a sports car, but when it is, it is a car that can satisfy driving pleasure almost as well as models several times more expensive.

This is a small niche market, but for enthusiasts it is important to know that price lists continue to offer sporty and fun-to-drive cars under the £35,000 threshold.

The five components on our list are characterised by a firm tuning, a favourable power-to-weight ratio or a design that emphasises driving dynamics. Obviously, there are no SUVs in this ranking. 

  1. Toyota GR86 - 228 bhp
  2. MINI John Cooper Works - 228 bhp
  3. Volkswagen Polo GTI - 204 bhp
  4. Hyundai i20 N - 201 bhp
  5. Mazda MX-5 - 181 bhp

Toyota GR86 - 228 bhp

Although no longer for sale online in the UK, the Toyota GR86 is priced at £32,495. This is a pure sports car, with compact dimensions, developed by the Toyota Gazoo Racing sports department and developing 228 bhp.

Toyota GR86 (2022) nel test

Toyota GR86

  Curb weight Maximum power Power-to-weight ratio
Toyota GR86 manual 1,264 kg 228 BHP 5.54 kg/bhp

The petrol engine is a naturally aspirated 2.4-litre four-cylinder front-mounted boxer block, which delivers 250 Nm. Of course, the car is powered by a six-speed manual transmission and the drive axle is rear-wheel drive. Performance is good (0-60 in 6.3 seconds and a top speed of 226 km/h), but it's all about the sensation. At the moment, you can add your name to a waiting list at your local UK dealership and hope for the best.

Mini John Cooper Works - 228 bhp

The Mini John Cooper Works is priced at £32,755 and guarantees driving fun. The 228 bhp 'combustion' version will soon be replaced by a version that is, in principle, already 100% electric. 

2022 Mini John Cooper Works (exterior)

Mini John Cooper Works

  Curb weight Maximum power Power-to-weight ratio
Mini John Cooper Works 1,350 kg 228 BHP 5.92 kg/bhp

The engine is a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder with 320 Nm, which delivers its power to the ground at the front wheels via a manual gearbox or an eight-speed automatic transmission. This 'atomic flea' achieves a 0-60 in 6.1 seconds and a top speed of 153 mph (246 km/h).

Volkswagen Polo GTI - 204 bhp

Slightly less powerful than the first two models in the ranking, the Volkswagen Polo GTI is one of the few surviving sports cars on the market, and that is cause for celebration. With front-wheel drive and five doors, it is powered by the 204 bhp 2.0-litre TSI engine. 

Volkswagen Polo GTI
  Curb weight Maximum power Power-to-weight ratio
Volkswagen Polo GTI 1,286 kg 204 BHP 6.30 kg/bhp

The gearbox is the seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox, while in terms of performance, the top speed is 150 mph (242 km/h) and acceleration from 0-60 in 6.5 seconds. Prices start at £29,945.

Hyundai i20 N - 201 bhp

There is also a South Korean sports car in the B-segment. We are talking about the Hyundai i20 N which, besides being the only one with a base price of £26,530, is pending a restyling and has 201 bhp to its credit.

Hyundai i20 N (2021)

Hyundai i20 N

  Curb weight Maximum power Power-to-weight ratio
Hyundai i20 N 1,265 kg 201 BHP 6.29 kg/bhp

This front-wheel drive car is all about 'classic' sporting qualities, with the turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine 1.6-litre T-GDI with 201 bhp and 275 Nm, mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. It will do around 143 mph (230 km/h) and 0-60 km/h in 6.2 seconds.

Mazda MX-5 - 184 hp

The best-selling roadster of all time, the Mazda MX-5, is a must on a list like this. Although it's out-powered by some other budget cars, it firmly holds the crown as the king of driving fun.

Mazda MX-5
  Curb weight Maximum power Power-to-weight ratio
MX-5 SKYACTIV G 2.0L 1,053 kg 181 BHP 5.82 kg/bhp

At its most exclusive, the MX-5 is powered by the 181 bhp 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. Its front-engined (but rearmost) configuration, rear-wheel drive and six-speed manual gearbox make it a timeless classic. For some, the 1.5-litre 130 bhp version is just as enjoyable to drive. However, with the more powerful block it records an excellent power-to-weight ratio, reaches 219 km/h and takes 6.5 seconds to do 0-60. Prices start at £30,410 for the Exclusive line roadster with 2.0-litre engine.