Sports cars may have a reputation for costing big bucks to buy and to run, but with ever more economical engines stuffed under the bonnets of performance cars, you can now have your cake and eat it. We’ve rounded up some of the most appealing sporty models that you can buy new for less than £25,000 that don’t skimp on driving thrills.

Whether you’re after a low-slung two-seater roadster that will make every gentle drive along a twisty seaside road feel like an adventure, a lightweight rear-wheel drive sports car that corners like a greyhound, or a powerful but practical hot hatchback with space for five passengers, there are numerous affordable performance options to choose from. We’ve rounded up the models that will put the biggest smile on your face for the least amount of cash.

The smart choice for wind-in-the-hair thrills: Mazda MX-5

The Mazda MX-5 has been around in one incarnation or another for more than 25 years. The latest model, which is now available to order, is even smaller and lighter than its predecessor, making for a pure, traditional sports car driving experience.

Even the smaller 1.5-litre engine on offer (a 2.0-litre unit is also available) boasts more than enough power to make this a fun car to negotiate country roads with ? and the MX-5’s price tag is equally appealing, starting at just £18,495 for the entry-level model.

The smart choice for fun handling: Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ

Another car that gives keen drivers a pared-back driving experience ? this time with a solid roof ? is the Toyota GT86 and its near-identical twin, the Subaru BRZ. Both of these lightweight models feature a vocal 2.0-litre motor that sends power to the rear wheels, launching them from a standstill to 62mph in just under eight seconds.

Thanks to skinny tyres neither model offers a huge amount of grip, but it’s this precise fact that makes the cars feel exciting at legal speeds on the road. Prices for the both cars start at a reasonable £22,495.

The smart choice for those on a budget: Suzuki Swift Sport

If both of these are slightly out of your budget, fear not; the Suzuki Swift Sport ? which is packed with high-end equipment ? could be yours for a mere £13,999. Despite the low price, standard kit includes powerful automatic xenon headlights, supportive sports seats, air conditioning, a digital radio, sat nav system and keyless entry.

Don’t think that Suzuki have skimped under the bonnet either, with a fizzy 134bhp 1.6-litre motor mated to a slick six-speed manual gearbox. Thanks to the Swift’s lightweight body this little car can scamper to 62mpg in a nippy 8.7 seconds, though it is still capable of reasonable 44.1mpg fuel economy.

The smart choice for practicality: Ford Focus ST

If you need a little more space, then look no further than the Focus ST. Despite sharing all of the same practicality as the standard Focus hatchback, the ST boasts a potent turbocharged 247bhp 2.0-litre motor under the bonnet, which launches it to 62mph in a rapid 6.5 seconds.

With a rorty soundtrack and the muscle to power it on to a top speed of 154mph, this Focus is no slouch. Thanks to its bold bodykit it’s also no shrinking violet, though in ST-2 form ? yours for £23,995 ? it also includes plenty of kit, such as a heated front windscreen, automatic headlights and wipers, body-hugging sports seats.

The smart choice for style: BMW 120i M Sport 3-dr

The 120i M Sport may be a mid-range model, but thanks to a turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine, it’s more than punchy enough for most buyers, sprinting to 62mph in a speedy 7.4 seconds. In M Sport trim the 1 Series also looks pretty sharp, appearing several rungs more upmarket than the Focus above, while still offering impressive handling around corners.

With a firm but comfortable ride, a plush interior and high refinement levels, the 120i M Sport should be equally at home on the morning commute as heading out for a drive on a sunny summer’s day.

Pictures: Manufacturers