The best one: BMW 2 Series Coupé
This is where BMW’s DNA resides. “Sheer driving pleasure” is the tagline but it has been turned into something of a mockery by some of the models under the moniker. As it struggles to chase every niche in the market, the brand seemed to forget what it was all about. This 2 Series Coupé shows that some engineers in Munich still harbour the recipe that made BMW the most desirable car brand for driving fans in the 1980s.
The beauty of the 2 Series Coupé is that you don’t need to go nuts with the price tag to have a truly rewarding car to drive. Go for the most basic 218i and you’ll still have a fun, pretty, really quite practical car which will bring your heart and your adrenal gland to life on a twisting road, but which will do the commuting schlep and the school run with equal aplomb. There’s (just) enough space in the back seats and the (slightly shallow) boot to make it a practical daily proposition, and given that we’re all supposed to hate diesel now, BMW has thankfully been on the case and created a 136hp 218i that has 125g/km Co2 emissions. Since when was 136hp not enough? Oh, you want more? Okay then, how about a 340hp M240i? Now that’s a fun car, with a snarling turbo inline-six and more power than its rear tyres know what to do with. Still not enough? Ah, well then you need the M2. All 370hp and nigh-perfect point-shoe balance with a subtly swelled bodykit. If you like to drive, you need look no further than this.
Worthy contender: Mazda MX-5
We are coming up to the 30th anniversary of the MX-5 (it’ll be in 2019) and still no-one has managed to come up with a motoring recipe quite so simple, quite so tasty, and quite so appealing. Mazda has learned the lessons of the too-heavy third generation MX-5, and this fourth-gen car sees its weight slip to just under a tonne (minus the driver) and its agility and performance take commensurate benefit. Of course, performance is not what this is about. This is about driving pleasure. You only need the basic 131hp 1.5-litre petrol engine (the extra power of the 2.0-litre model is nice but unnecessary) as the chassis balance is so good that you simply maintain momentum on all but the tightest roads. The boot is too small, the cabin cramped and the build quality issues is not quite up to par for Mazda standards but it’s still too much fun to ignore. Folding hardtop RF model has the coolest roof this side of a Porsche 911 Targa.
Best model: Roadster 1.5 for €27,995
Price range: €27,995 to €36,695. Finance from €306 per month
Co2 emissions: 139 to 161g/km
Sum up: Purity on wheels.
Worthy contender: Toyota GT86
The revised look for 2017 is only noticeable to the wearer of the heaviest motoring anorak. The new tech features are not going to cause any sleepless nights in Silicon Valley. And sales figures for the GT aren’t going to worry competitors. Yet at its heart this is the essence of blue collar sports coupés, the sort of cars that Asian brands used to offer before they abandoned fun in favour of flavourless family cars.
The GT86 will not be arriving in Ireland in huge volumes. Yet there is an historic appetite for such cars in Ireland. Consider the popularity of the Hyundai Coupé in its day. This Toyota is infinitely better than that car ever was. The price is undoubtedly a limiting factor, but it’s a far more practical car than the MX-5. And for all the traction systems on board – including track mode – the most impressive facet of this GT is that, when we switched them all off on a test track session, the natural balance of the car was the real joy.
Best model: 2-litre manual for €42,995
Price range: €42,995 to €43,100. Finance from €411 per month.
Co2 emissions: 164 to 181g/km
Sum up: Toyota proves it still has a racing pulse
Wild Card: Lexus RC
It’s based on a saloon, it’s really quite hefty and you can have it as a fuel-sipping hybrid. So why, exactly, is the Lexus RC Coupé one of our picks for the sports car category? Well, it’s complicated, but here we go . . . First off is the styling, which is really striking, and makes most other mid-size two-doors look positively dowdy. Then there’s the interior which is, true, looking a touch dated now thanks to lifting from the IS300h saloon, but which is still enormously impressive in both its build quality and its comfort. Then there are the powertrains. Unfashionably (but likely to become increasingly fashionable in short order) there’s no diesel option. There is a 2.0-litre 200t petrol engine, but even though it has 240hp and is incredibly smooth, it does struggle to shift the 1,725kg RC with any conviction. The RC300h, with its hybrid engine, does a little better, and anyway with Co2 emissions of just 113g/km, you’re not quite so bothered about performance. Then there’s the RC-F, with its 477hp 5.0-litre, naturally aspirated V8 engine which makes Ford Mustang noises and goes like an AMG C-Class. Plus, the chassis is beautifully balanced (on all three models) and it’ll still be running, flawlessly, in a decade’s time.