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Affordable performance cars for under £10k: Top 10

There’s a whole world of affordable performance cars available for less than £10,000 today. Here are ten of the most fun and biggest bargains.

If you look at it one way, £10,000 doesn’t get you much nowadays. If you live in London it will stretch to a few nights at a top-level hotel, with a couple of fancy dinners. In terms of new cars, few thrills can be found for under the £10k mark. Generally you’ll be looking at a range of cheap and cheerful tiny capacity zero horsepower eco city cars that will only excite your bank manager. 
So why not take a look at what less than £10,000 can buy you in terms of modern performance machinery? Our top ten includes some future classics as well as a few high grin-factor cars. Thanks to a mix of rapid depreciation and age, they have become so affordable that not buying one would be downright rude...

Mercedes E55 AMG
Fast cars are great but not everyone can justify a small convertible or hatchback. They might be great down a windy country road, but if you have a family to think about, or have a fair amount of motorway cruising, then you have to look elsewhere. The answer is of course a super saloon, and for less than £10k you can just about find a well-used Mercedes E55 AMG. The 2003-on model features a supercharged 5.4-litre V8, producing a massive 476bhp. Comfy seats, bearable ride quality and a huge boot should keep the family happy, while 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds will make overtaking a warp speed event. Like the acceleration, maintenance is not for the faint hearted but at this sort of price it’s still a massive performance bargain.
Renaultsport Clio
If you prefer your sporty cars small and rorty then few do it better than Renault. The newest Clio has recently gone the way of the paddle shift and turbocharger, perhaps losing a bit of the magic of its predecessors. Not to worry though, our budget puts us firmly in the territory of the older, naturally-aspirated manuals. You can get a whole lot of performance starting at just £1500, which is what a 2004 172bhp Clio Sport goes for. At the other end of the scale, a last generation 2012 197bhp Renaultsport model comes in at around £10,000. Manic, revvy and characterful, these cars are the perfect back road companion, without prohibitive running costs.
The successful Boxster is now in its third generation and has recently been (somewhat controversially) updated with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine for the latest. Not something we need to be concerned about here, as a budget of under £10k will get you into the version that started it all. Prices actually start as low as £6000 for a facelifted 2.7-litre 986, but if you want to really enjoy yourself, the smart money is on a late 255bhp 3.2 S. Manual gearbox and full service history are essential on these cars.
Legendary both on the worlds rally stages and in impromptu drag races around the globe, the Subaru Impreza and Mitubishi Evo have long been the modders’ favourite, thanks to hardy internals and four wheel drive grip. Starting with the Impreza, 2.0-litre ‘bug-eye’ models from the early 2000s are on the market for under £3000, while a 2009 WRX hatch with 252bhp from its 2.5-litre boxer engine could be yours for just under our £10,000 limit. 

Another Japanese sports car that scared the establishment, the Lancer was the ultimate weapon of choice when things got slippery and slidey. The massively powerful FQ400 is a bit pricey, but there are many others to choose from that still deliver massive turbocharged four-wheel drive performance. In both instances, stay away from extremely modified examples and you could have a bulletproof daily driver, which can thrill down a greasy back road like no other. 
Our budget includes could include a number of desirable fast Audi’s, however the B7 generation S4 Cabriolet is a somewhat unique option, combining a smooth-revving naturally aspirated 339bhp V8, with Quattro all-wheel drive and seating for four. The Tiptronic box is a great match for this laid back performance car, and it makes for a great long distance tourer with a removable roof for those rare sunny days. Thanks to Audi’s evolutionary design philosophy, it still looks pretty modern too.
Honda Civic Type R
Not that there is anything wrong with the current crop of turbocharged hot hatches – far from it – but if you’re a fan of high-revving, naturally aspirated engines there is very little to choose from. The good news however is that you can buy a Civic Type R today, complete with one of the best-sounding four cylinder engines ever made, from as little as £2500. This will get you one of the earlier EP3 Type Rs, but even the great-looking third-generation models start at around £4500. Spend £10,000, and you can get one of the cleanest, low mileage 2012 cars available. They may be reliable, but few are likely to have had one lady owner so a comprehensive maintenance record is important.
The Mazda RX-8 has had a lot of negative press over the years, mainly due to the reliability issues surrounding its rotary engine. True, this unique engine design has never been known for its longevity, but when they’re on song – nothing else comes close. £2000 is enough to pick up an RX- these days, and while a 0-60mph time of 6.4secs might not be earth shattering, this is one of the best balanced sportscars this side of a Cayman. Well maintained examples are generally reliable too, and £7000 will get you one of the last R3 versions, with enough money in the bank for an engine rebuild should you need it… 
Sure the Golf GTi is a great car, lots of power, practical and cheap to run, but thanks to its popularity every other guy seems to be driving one. Why not take a look at the last naturally aspirated R32 instead? 3.2 litres, 247bhp and a soundtrack that no turbo four can match, make it a unique hot hatch prospect. The practicality remains and it still looks good today, despite being a few years old. Sure, fuel consumption will be a tad higher, but consider that an entertainment expense. Those in the know will appreciate it, while the rest will think it’s just another kitted out Golf. 
The original boxy E30 M3 may be in the realm of 'collector' classic today, the more useable and faster E46 M3 is still well within our price range. Rear sub frame cracks and a few iffy Vanos issues aside, these cars are tough as nails and can be had with either manual or SMG gearboxes in coupe or convertible body styles. Pick of the bunch is a face-lifted late 2003-on manual coupe, with 343bhp from its award winning straight six engine it is massively entertaining.
Words: John Tallodi

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