Why should driving be a chore or a bore? A good sports car can turn every drive into a romp. We've picked ten sportsters that make great first-time buys and are conducive to a good driving education. We'll urge you, however, not to explore your car's limits on the streets—autocrossing (a type of entry-level racing) is a great way to learn what these cars can do, as is a performance driving course with a professional driver.
10 Best First Sports Cars to Buy
Photo Credit: Mazda
Mazda MX-5 Miata
The MX-5 Miata checks all of the classic-sports-car boxes: Rear drive, well-balanced suspension, and a convertible top. What makes the Miata a great first sports car is that it has enough power to build up the momentum you need, but not so much that you can blast yourself clear off the side of the road with an injudicious application of the throttle. Its modest tires and well-tuned suspension mean that you can probe the Miata's limits at less-than-ludicrous speeds. We would never recommend such hoonage on public roads; instead, take your Miata to local autocross events, and you'll have a great opportunity to build your skills. (Make sure you buy the mid-level Club trim; that's the one with the sharpest suspension.)
Scion FR-S/Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ
Pretty much everything we said about the Miata applies to this rear-drive sports car, a joint production of Subaru and Toyota. The FR-S/86/BRZ has excellent balance and was specifically set up for easy drifting, and yet its engine and tires will allow you to reach the limits of traction (which is where the real driving is done) at speeds that are less likely to be fatal should you get it all wrong. At the risk of sounding like your mom, we must reiterate that the street is not the place to experiment: Autocross events or track days are the best places to explore what this brilliant little car can do, and we recommend professional instruction. Think of it as an investment, because with the right guidance, the FR-S (or the 86 or the BRZ) can help turn you into a magnificent driver.
Ford Fiesta ST
The Fiesta ST stormed onto the scene in 2014, and it was (and is) everything a hot hatch should be: Scandalously inexpensive, very quick, and huge fun to drive. Based on the already-good Fiesta, the ST gets unique suspension components, tighter steering, and a 197 horsepower turbocharged 1.6 driving the front wheels through a six-speed manual (sorry automatic drivers, there's no two-pedal option). The Fiesta ST makes a great set of training wheels, because it behaves consistently and predictably right up to—and past—the point where its tires lose their grip on the pavement. Combine a first-time sports-car owner, an autocross course, and a Fiesta ST, and you have the makings of a great education—and even as your skills grow, the Fiesta ST will continue to put a grin on your face.
Hyundai Genesis Coupe
People may have trouble with the idea of a Hyundai sports car, but the truth is that the Genesis Coupe puts in impressive performance on the track, and with the optional V6 engine it'll keep pace with fast sixes like the Nissan 370Z. The Genesis Coupe uses a rear-wheel-drive platform, which means it offers classic sports-car balance, and while it's not quite as tail-happy as some of the other cars on this list, it does take to power-on oversteer (opening the throttle to break the tires loose and cause the car to fishtail) better than some of the less-powerful entries on this list. If you are thinking of breaking into big-power racing, a Hyundai Genesis and some track time is a good way to start.
Photo Credit: Volkswagen
Volkswagen Golf GTI
The GTI introduced America to the concept of the hot hatchback, and while other hot hatches have come and gone, the GTI endures—and remains one of the best you can buy. The GTI's powerful, lightweight turbocharged engine gives it strong acceleration and nimble turn-in, and while front-wheel-drive has its limitations from a performance perspective, the GTI does teach one patience when getting on the power coming out of a corner. If you buy a GTI, you're going to want one with the Performance Package, which gives the GTI an extra ten horsepower and, more importantly, an electronic limited-slip differential, or ELSD. (Without the ELSD, the GTI tends to spin its inside-front wheel when you accelerate out of a turn.) In our opinion this device should be included with any front-drive hot hatchback, and we take issue with VW making it optional; the good news is that as of 2017 it does come standard in all but the base-model GTI.
Photo Credit: Subaru
Subaru forever changed the sport-compact segment when it introduced the WRX. Why? All-wheel-drive, a.k.a. AWD. In a two-wheel-drive car, applying power coming out of a turn is tricky: Front-drive cars are prone to acceleration-sapping wheelspin, while rear-drivers can break the bac endloose and oversteer (fishtail). With AWD, you can pour on the power with reckless abandon, and the car just grips and goes. Of course, AWD isn't the WRX's only advantage: It has a powerful turbocharged engine and excellent steering, suspension and brakes. It'd be a great car with two-wheel-drive, but AWD gives the illusion of being exempt from the laws of physics—plus it also makes the car grippier (and safer) in rain and snow. We recommend the WRX with the manual transmission; the automatic WRX uses a continuously-variable transmission (CVT), which is not a great match for a performance car.
Photo Credit: General Motors
Wait, isn't the Camaro a muscle car rather than a sports car? Well, yes—if you believe the marketing folks. Drive one and you'll see that it can run with any sports car on this list. General Motors' suspension engineers don't get enough credit for the good work they do, and the Camaro's rear-wheel-drive chassis has a natural balance that is missing from its muscle-car competitors. Chevrolet redesigned the Camaro in 2016, and the new version is smaller, lighter, and far more agile. We recommend the new entry-level engine, a turbocharged four-cylinder that packs an unexpectedly potent punch and puts far less weight on the front wheels than the V6 or the V8, increasing agility—though, that said, you really can't go wrong with any Camaro. This car is capable of building up some serious speed before you hit its limits, so we recommend investing in a driving instructor and track time to explore its prodigious limits—and trust us, the rewards are well worth the expense.
Photo Credit: Porsche
Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman
The 911 may be the most famous Porsche, but the Boxster and Cayman—convertible and coupe versions of the car now known as the 718—are arguably the best, as they employ a mid-engine layout that gives ideal weight balance (as opposed to the rear-engine 911, which can be a real handful when the rear end loses its grip on the pavement). This is one of the best-handling cars you can buy, and it's a bargain by Porsche standards, especially if you can find one without too many options piled on. It's designed to generate a lot of grip before the tires break loose, so proper training and time on track is important—an uninitiated driver pushing his Porsche too hard on public roads can only end in pain.
Photo Credit: Chevrolet
We are not including the Corvette out of a simple sense of patriotic duty: The latest version (and the previous two, come to think of it) is a serious world-class sports car. Among the things we like best about the Corvette is its multiple-mode electronic stability control (ESC) system. ESC helps to prevent the driver from losing control of the car by applying corrective action that the driver can't take (such as braking a single wheel), and the 'Vette has performance modes that loosen the reigns a bit. You can get on the power and slide the tail around, and the ESC system will let you do it, only stepping in if it looks like things are about to get too far out of control. Of course, one cannot change the laws of physics, so it is possible to push too hard and hurt yourself (and your Corvette), but with a gentle foot you can drive the Corvette like the hero that you aren't.
Aston-Martin Vantage V8
Let's say you've got some dough to spend on your first sports car, so why not do it right? The Vantage is Aston-Martin's smallest and most agile car, and it's a reminder of how much the British know about high-performance handling. Some European manufacturers have softened their sporty entries to make them better suited to the boulevard-cruiser role they most commonly occupy, but not the Vantage: This is a serious sports car that will teach you discipline, as it acts promptly and decisively on any input you make, be it steering, accelerator, or brake. Again, our lawyers and our conscience prompt us to remind you to exercise caution: The Vantage can build up quite a head of steam before the tires break loose, and while it does have electronic stability control (ESC), it is possible (and very easy) for even an experienced driver to get in over their head. Professional driving instruction is a must-have to get the most out of this car. If you're going to buy one, buy one soon, as it's about to be discontinued.