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How to buy the perfect sportscar

If we all bought our cars on a rational basis we’d end up driving a mid-sized family hatchback with a small engine. But for most of us the car we buy is dictated by our heart as much as our head – for many it’s more of an emotional purchase than it is a sensible one.

That’s why sportscars are so enormously popular; we want something that’ll impress our friends and neighbours, make us feel better about ourselves and deliver a healthy dose of performance for those few brief stretches of empty road on the daily commute.

If you buy a decent sportscar you’ll also get behind the wheel of something that’s great to drive even at low speeds, thanks to the fluency of its gearchange, the precision of its steering, the seating position, the engine noise, the view through the windscreen – and a whole host of other factors that just come together to create a brilliant driving experience.

Enjoy even the briefest drive in a Mazda MX-5 or Porsche Boxster and you’ll instantly get why your mundane family hatch will never be truly inspiring to drive – it’s just not designed or built in the same way. But will a sportscar fit into your life?

What is a sportscar?

The term ‘sportscar’ means different things to different people. To some it’s just something with a sporty shape while to others it has to be fast. Some would say it’s about the overall driving experience rather than the outright grunt available. Whatever the term means to you, when buying a used example you need to have your wits about you, as with any car.

As a result you need to follow the same rules when buying a sportscar as when buying any used vehicle; for the complete low-down on what these rules are, check out our guide to buying a used car.

What to buy

Whatever your budget there will be a whole array of potential buys within reach. If you accept that a sportscar doesn’t have to be open-topped you’ll have hot hatches and coupés available alongside the more obvious convertibles. The problem is, a lot of people buy a sportscar because as often as possible they want to drive it like they stole it, whether that’s on a track or the road.

This is why more than ever, you really need to check the car’s condition. You need to be on the lookout for poorly repaired crash damage, worn transmissions, tired brakes and suspension along with general neglect. On the flipside, many owners of nice cars look after them as though they’re a family member – but if they’re selling, you have to ask why.

Front or rear-wheel drive?

In normal driving, the chances are you won’t be able to tell which end of the car is being fed power. However, drive a rear-wheel drive car and a front-driver back to back and the chances are you’ll spot the difference.

With a front-wheel drive car, one end is having to deal with braking, steering and transmitting the power to the Tarmac. Buy a rear-drive car instead and the power is going to the opposite end, which usually (but not always) makes the steering that much nicer.

However, it’s generally easier to lose control in a rear-wheel drive car, although modern electronics can save the day without you even realising it. If you’re buying something with loads of power, the chances are it’ll be rear-wheel drive, although four-wheel drive is becoming increasingly popular.

Some die-hard enthusiasts reckon four-wheel dilutes the driving experience, but if you want to use the available power without having to worry about leaving the road backwards through a hedge every time you get to a corner, we’d definitely recommend considering it carefully.

Check the running costs

A favourite trick of motoring magazines and websites is to run stories on how you can buy a used supercar for the same price as a new family hatch. It’s no lie – sportscars depreciate just like any other car, but what doesn’t necessarily diminish is the running costs.

Buy a high-performance low-volume sportscar and you’ll probably have to pay plenty for servicing because of the steep parts costs – with only limited opportunities to reduce the bills. Items like brake discs and pads, tyres, shock absorbers, radiators – things that you’ll probably have to replace when the car is a few years old – can all be very costly to renew.

Other costs that can be steep include insurance, fuel and road tax and once again, you’ve got limited opportunities to reduce these bills. So before buying scour online forums, talk to other owners and get some insurance quotes – you might find it’s the best thing you do, even if it’s just for that all-important reality check.

Think about usability

If you’re buying a sportscar as a toy, its usability probably isn’t too much of an issue. But if it’s got to get you to work every day, take in thousands of motorway miles each year or negotiate urban streets on a daily basis, you won’t want something that’s highly strung, with limited ground clearance and appalling refinement.

If you live in a dodgy area and you have no garage but you’re thinking of buying a soft-top, security could be a real issue. If you frequently need to carry lots of stuff so you need reasonable boot space, buying a coupé-cabriolet isn’t a good idea as you’ll have to keep the roof up all the time in a bid to maximise boot space.

Sharpen your driving skills

Whatever your car, and wherever you take it, it’s always worth improving your skills as a driver. We’re not talking about powersliding your way around any roundabouts or drifting through any bends – we’re talking about using your car’s performance responsibly so you’re not a liability.

Although we’re talking about road driving in the main, a track session with a decent tutor will soon show you just how capable your new acquisition is, when it comes to braking, cornering and high-speed handling. It’s at this point that you’ll really see the point of a decent sportscar – and the chances are you’ll never even consider a mainstream hatch ever again.

Richard Dredge

September 2016