But if you’re working within a budget, say below $400,000, then things can get a bit tricky.
Fear not, though. We’ve got you covered with these smart picks to suit just about any budget. Also, we know how some of our picks are priced slightly out of their price brackets, but don’t be a pedant, alright?
Volkswagen Golf GTI: $167,400
The Golf GTI has one of the most famous names in motoring, but as anyone with a famous name will tell you, living up to expectations is the toughest part. Good thing, then, that the Mark 7.5 (that’s the facelifted seventh-generation model to those that don’t speak car nerd) is very good indeed.
It’s even better than the Mark 5, though we always contend that the car’s biggest selling point is how it’s miles better than the Mark 4, which somehow managed to be even more meh than a toast sandwich.
Anyway, what makes the Mark 7.5 Golf GTI great isn’t so much its power (245bhp) or its impressive acceleration (0-100km/h takes 6.2 seconds). No, it’s how the updated Golf GTI seems to do anything with ease – from quick blasts to the grocery run, or quick blasts on the way back from a grocery run.
Kia Stinger 3.3: $206,999
Okay, you at the back. Stop giggling. The Stinger really is a hot Kia. Specifically, one packing a turbocharged 3.3-litre V6 with 370bhp and it’ll get from a standstill to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds.
Well, it’s got honking great red brake callipers and four tailpipes too, so it must be a performance car. And you can have it in fire engine red and lemon yellow. And everyone knows the red and yellow ones go faster, right?
More seriously, though, the Stinger is rear-wheel-driven, which means it’s got, uh, a sting in its tail. You can do lurid powerslides with it… or plant it squarely into the nearest tree. In short, this is no average Korean econo-box, this is Gangnam’s answer to the BMW M5.
Renault Megane RS: Arriving 3Q 2018
The recipe for making a hot Renault Megane is as follows: take an otherwise humdrum hatchback, give it a decently powerful motor and finally, perform ritual human sacrifice on its suspension. Now we’re only half-joking about the last point, because how Renault’s engineers always manage to give its hot cars stellar levels of both comfort and control can only be brought about by black magic.
And frankly, that’s the defining characteristic of cars massaged by the French carmaker’s in-house performance arm, Renault Sport. More so than the engine/gearbox, which to put bluntly, errs on the side of the unspectacular. Ditto for the way it looks, but then how sexy can a hatchback possibly be?
Now, we’re going to bookend all this by saying we haven’t actually seen what the car and its 280bhp, 1.8-litre turbo motor can do, given it’s yet to arrive. But that hasn’t stopped us from dreaming about it. And a boy can dream.
Audi S4: $304,680
The only thing more unassuming than the Audi S4 is its name. To the uninitiated, it’s merely a letter and a numeral about as meaningful as algebra to a weasel.
To the money-smart petrolhead, however, it’s the performance sweet spot. More desirable and way more rapid than Audi’s pedestrian A-badged models, but less wallet-crushing than its RS-badged ones.
Not everyone will be enamoured of its subtlety, however. Beyond some discreet S4 badging, big 19-inch wheels and the tiniest hint of a rear lip spoiler, there’s nothing much to suggest the S4 has 354bhp or that it’ll do the century sprint in 4.7 seconds.
Except you, of course. You’ll know, and for some of you, that’s enough. And as anyone who owns a nuclear bomb/orbital death ray/doomsday device will tell you, a lot of enjoyment can be had from the simple knowledge of owning one.
BMW M2: $295,888
There was a time when we feared BMW’s M Division, the people who brought us such modern legends as the E39-generation M5 and E30-generation M3 had rather lost its way, giving us rather overweight cars that had the temerity to have the hallowed M badge on its boot lid.
If there was a saviour for M, it would come in the form of the M2. It’s the least powerful member of the M lineup, with just 370bhp, but that’s not the point. The M2 represents a throwback to a bygone era, when the brand stood for handling, not outright power and certainly not luxury.
Clamber in and you’ll realise there’s little to distract you from the act of driving it as god intended. That is to say, quickly. There’s a steering wheel, a few pedals, a brilliantly judged driving position and a lithe chassis. We can’t imagine needing anything more than that, really.
Mercedes-AMG A45: $287,888
If you’re at all familiar with Mercedes-AMG, the people who take regular Mercedes-Benz models and turn them into automotive equivalents of the Hulk, then you’ll also know subtlety is not something it does.
Its basic philosophy goes a little something like this: shoehorn the most powerful possible engine into the smallest possible car. And frankly, we don’t see a lot wrong with that, especially when that mindset gives the world something like the A45, which has 381bhp lurking underneath its bonnet.
Like the Hulk, the A45 is angry, but unlike the Hulk, you’ll like the A45 when it’s angry. And we can tell you it’s very, very angry. Also like the Hulk, you can have your A45 in green, if that sort of thing matters to you.
Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio: $393,800
For the longest time, Alfa Romeo hasn’t made a compact executive saloon worth getting excited about. Actually, scratch that. It hasn’t made a car worth getting excited about. Yes, yes, the 4C was incredible, but as a tiny two-seater, its appeal far too limited to make any serious waves.
The Giulia, however, is different, as it’s a four-door that goes head to against the might of the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. A good thing, then, it has some serious firepower on its side, with a 2.9-litre V6 that puts out 510bhp, which by any measure is a lot.
But more crucially, the Giulia is a car free of major Italian quirks. All of its switchgear is logically situated, its door pockets can hold things thicker than a few sheets of paper and here’s the best part, its cup holders are sized for regular mugs, and not just microscopic espresso cups.
Porsche 718 Boxster S: $336,588 (w/o COE)
There are some killjoys who will tell you that the Boxster and its fraternal twin, the Cayman are cut-price 911s. You only buy one because you couldn’t afford a 911, they say. They are, of course, very wrong.
While the Boxster is certainly cheaper (far cheaper, in fact) than a 911 Cabriolet, we contend it’s a great sports car in its own right. It’s more balanced, owing to its engine being situated between the front and rear axles, as opposed to behind the rear axle like with the 911. That makes the Boxster more forgiving, capable of making rank amateurs feel like heroes.
Admittedly, its mid-life refresh hasn’t entirely been kind to the Boxster. It’s had three numerals added to its nameplate, lost two cylinders and gained a turbo, but in the process, it’s lost some of its charisma. Whether it detracts too much from one of the finest chassis in the business is entirely subjective, however.
Jaguar F-Type 3.0: $380,999
If you can believe it, prior to the launch of the F-Type five years ago (has it really been that long?), a compact sports car had been a notable absentee in the Jaguar model lineup for around 40 years.
What the F-Type proved was that, even four decades on from the legendary E-Type, Jaguar proved it could still make great sports cars. Of course, since 2013, Jaguar also proved it could still make great sporting sedans in the XE and a surprisingly nimble SUV in the form of the F-Pace.
But just what is it about the F-Type that makes it such a worthy choice? The fact you can get what is arguably the nicest looking coupe around from just $335,999, obviously. But that just has a titchy little four-cylinder engine, and you don’t want that. What you want is the mid-range one we’ve suggested with a proper V6, one that will score you points with the aesthetes and the petrolheads alike.