Top Gear mag’s greatest cars – sports cars


  1. For Top Gear magazine’s 300th issue, we celebrated the best 50 cars over 299 issues: here’s our pick of the best sports cars

    Surprise! The sports car is still here. No, really. Now the crossover has established itself as the must-have lifestyle vehicle, and anything moderately low, loud, light or chuckable has been vilified as environmentally unfriendly, unsafe, or worse – geeky – the sports car is evidently on its arse.


    Back in 1995, Top Gear magazine group-tested the Mazda MX-5 against the Fiat Barchetta, Toyota MR2, Lotus Elan, and MG F. Fast-forward 22 years, and the modern MX-5’s only true rival is a Fiat badge, nailed to an uglier version of itself. Whatever happened to sports cars?

    The MX-5 wobbled around on its foundations, steadily getting fatter and butcher up until the current MkIV version, which targeted a kerbweight of a tonne, while still offering all the airbags, aircon, iPhone connectivity and crash protection everyone but the most hirsute of beardy hardcore types has become accustomed to. It succeeded. It’s also got its most snickety gearchange to date, and a proper locking diff, and the best folding roof mechanism of any car in the entire world. Whether sports cars have become unfashionable or not, there’s simply no point in anyone else trying any more. Mazda has got the everyday roadster game absolutely nailed, and the new one manages to feel like a slightly naughty retro throwback and a totally modern piece of kit all at the same time. One that you will want to go out and drive for the hell of it, which is sort of the point of these things, isn’t it? It’ll do 40mpg and takes up about a tenth of a car parking space. Not so irrelevant after all.

  2. The Lotus Elise never lost its way, because it’s been the same for 20 years. It went on sale in 1996, saved Lotus, and a few new headlights and Toyota engines later, it’s still keeping Hethel’s head above water. The same strong, lightweight aluminium tub has been spun into ever madder Elises and Exiges. It’s outlived whole sports car companies, and survived more management changes than a Premier League football team. And it’ll keep on keeping on until 2020, when a replacement is promised. Besides the Land Rover Defender or succeeding Her Majesty Elizabeth II, we’re not sure there’s a tougher act to follow on these shores.

    It’s got to be light, and have the basics – the simple joy of the controls – down to a fine art. That’s what makes the Lotus Elise such a benchmark, such a tonic. It really isn’t complicated stuff. No power steering, but so much communication you wonder why every car company on the planet doesn’t have one of these things knocking around for benchmarking, turning Hethel’s local economy into an East Anglian Monaco. Does anyone care about steering feel any more? Sounds nerdy, I know, but if our combustion engines and their associated noises and transmissions aren’t all that long for this world, the other sensations a car can tingle its driver with are about to get a whole lot more important…

  3. Ought to mention the Audi TT, really. The most successful sports car in Top Gear magazine’s time isn’t really a sports car at all. It’s low, it makes some parpy noises, some are fast and all have delectable interiors. The TT proved folks will flock to a car if it’s chic, so long as it’s so-so to drive. The Toyota GT86’s failure to create a cult phenomenon is the risky flipside of building the car everyone says they want, but relatively few will take the plunge on. Pity.

    Porsche has become the king of giving people what they want. Take away manual gearbox from the GT3… then create a limited-edition 911 with three pedals, and build a new GT3 off the back of it. Just ahead of plopping a four-cylinder turbo into the otherwise sublime Cayman, finally give one to the motorsport division and create the best sports car of TopGear magazine’s 300 issues: the GT4. It is a masterpiece.

    Sounds right, goes right, steers and stops right. Right size, right driving position, right amount of work for the driver to do, right amount of safety nets when you get cocky. Hammer-head meets nail. Back of the net. And it’s slightly poignant too, because it’s almost a dinosaur.

  4. The BMW i8, with its carbon construction, its body shaped for slipperiness rather than downforce, and its turbocharged, electrically boosted 1.5-litre engine, is the tightrope the sports-car breed has been herded to by society’s pressures. It doesn’t have the tactility, the glowing feedback, of the other three cars I’ve singled out here to show how the sports car has adapted and reacted to the world post-1993, but it brings new play value; in how you manage its skinny rubber’s grip and when to deploy the best of each power source. In its own way, it’s addictive. It makes you want to keep driving. Sports cars have to change. So must our attitudes, and the breed will live on. Anyone fancy a drive?

  5. Mazda MX-5

    The Mazda continues to provide agile, fun and virtually vice-free handling, plus responsive steering and strong, progressive brakes

    Er, exactly the same. The MX-5 has become one of the “if it ain’t broke” car-recipe icons, like the 911 or Caterham

  6. Lotus Elise

    By the time I’d driven the few hundred metres from the Hethel factory to the security gate, I was grinning

    Despite being a bit heavier and suffering “special”-editionitis, the diminutive Elise is now more relevant than ever

  7. Porsche Cayman GT4

    Like the GT3 RS, it has a bulletproof, unburstably tough feel about its super-tight body movements and mesmerically accurate steering

    Still practically perfect to drive, but now the Cayman’s been sullied with an uncharismatic turbo motor that saves no fuel in the real world, the singing GT4 is even more desirable

  8. BMW i8

    A trip into Beverly Hills proves the i8’s sky-high visual impact. The unimpressible rich are impressed

    Seems even braver in 2017 than it did in 2014. There’s no hybrid Porsche 911 or Jag F-Type imminent, so BMW’s flagship is still the most forward-thinking sports car on sale