You don’t have to spend an absolute fortune to bag yourself a quick car. Here’s our top 10 fast cars under £10k.

For as long as mankind has had the ability to travel from Point A to Point B by means of petroleum-powered contraptions, there’s been an ingrained desire to take a detour via Point C. Usually as quickly as possible, with white knuckles and wide eyes.

What differentiates us today from those early pioneers of fast-road thrills is that nowadays it’s possible to do it a lot more safely, in the knowledge that you probably won’t break down either. And so, with a healthy but not ridiculous budget of ten grand, we’ve pulled together a list of the best ways we can think of to go fast and generally have a laugh. Because in the electric and/or autonomous future, you might not have these options…

Top 10 Fast Cars Under £10k

The Jaguar XFR is a lot of car for ten grand.

Jaguar XFR

We’re just starting to see these muscular Jags dipping under the £10,000 mark, which is a pretty exciting state of affairs. Why? Because this sensible-looking motorway saloon is packing a whacking great 5.0-litre V8 under the bonnet, with a supercharger strapped on for good measure – that’s good for 503bhp and some pretty hysterical acceleration, like that bit in Spaceballs when they go to Ludicrous Speed.

By contrast, the interior’s like Blenheim Palace with a steering wheel, and the transmission tunnel doesn’t have anything as gauche as a gearstick or a handbrake spoiling its smooth lines, just suggestions of buttons and whispers of witchcraft.

The model you’re looking at is what Jaguar calls the X250, built from 2009-2015, and frankly it’s an absolute lunatic. It may look like your bank manager’s boring diesel execu-barge, but that’s exactly the point. No-one will suspect that you have mischievous things planned until your twenty-inch rims are leaving a fat pair of number-elevens away from the lights.

Price today: £9,995

An E85-gen BMW Z4 driving through mountains.

BMW Z4 (E85)

We’ve got a lot of time for the first-generation Z4. As a modern replacement for the Z3, it was a pretty interesting step forward; the Z3 had the classic roadster profile, like an E-Type – long bonnet, rearward cabin, short tail – and the Z4 built on these classic design touchpoints, mixing up the formula with a whole heap of unexpected lines and frankly odd design quirks (like the bit on the front wings where it looks like the BMW roundel has been stuck there to distract you from all the random creases around it).

The roadster launched in 2002 with either 2.5- or 3.0-litre engines, and then things got more enticing with the post-2006 models. The LCI facelift replaced the six-cylinder M54 engine with the newer N52, which was a good thing, and the mechanicals came in for a bit of spit-and-polish; find yourself a 3.0si and you get 261bhp! Oodles of thrust for the cash.

Price today: £7,500

Driving shot of Mini Cooper S R53

MINI Cooper S (R53)

Imagine haring along a country lane at high speed while being chased down by a huge air-raid siren. That’s essentially what it’s like driving an R53 Cooper S with an uprated pulley on the supercharger, and everyone ought to try it.

These cars are getting to the stage whereby people are starting to collect them and are regarding them as modern classics, and you know what that means – the prices will begin to go up, and it’ll escalate quickly. But nowadays it’s still possible to pick up a really tidy one for around £5,000, and you can put the rest of your budget toward turning it into a proper backroad weapon.

Start with a 17% pulley on the supercharger, joined by an uprated top-mount intercooler and colder plugs, and improve the airflow in and out with a decent induction kit and exhaust system. Now you’ll be knocking on the door of 210bhp or thereabouts – a decent gain over the stock 170. Then you can spruce up the chassis with some better brakes (the bigger brakes from the later R56 basically bolt straight on), a set of coilovers, thicker anti-roll bars and a proper fast-road setup. If you can find a model that came with a factory LSD (like the late-model Checkmate edition), great; if not, chuck a Quaife ATB in there. You can thank us later.

If you’re interested in getting on of these pocket rockets, check out our R53 buyer’s guide.

Price today: £5,000

A late-facelift Mazda MX-5 NC makes for a brilliant fast car for under £10k.

Mazda MX-5 2.0 (NC3 facelift)

It’s a truism to say that the MX-5 is one of the all-time great driver’s cars. With each generation following the principle of ‘jinba ittai’, (meaning ‘rider and horse as one’), you can expect to find light weight, compact proportions, a front-mid engine layout, and RWD for a 50:50 weight distribution.

The third-gen car, designated ‘NC’, is looking like a top buy at the moment. A clean-sheet design for 2005, it brought in the RX-8’s front wishbone/rear multilink setup and the Ford-derived MZR 16-valve engine, good for 160bhp in 2.0-litre guise. Find one with a 6-speed ’box and you’ll get an LSD as standard, and if you do your research you can chase your way through the facelifts to find something great: the NC2 of 2008 had a bit more power and some chassis tweaks, while 2013’s NC3 was further improved. With this budget, it’s the latter we’d go for – at about £9k or so you can find a really nice 2013 model.

Price today: £9,000

In 3.2-litre guise, the Alfa Romeo 159 is a hugely enticing fast car for under £10k.

Alfa Romeo 159 3.2 V6

According to the Bond movie Quantum of Solace, Alfa 159s can keep up with Aston Martins even when said Alfas are running diesel motors. So imagine the fun you can have with the balls-to-the-wall 3.2-litre V6 petrol engine!

This is a car that offers the ultimate level of automotive subterfuge in day-to-day life – it may have gone out of production back in 2011, but the design is so crisp and fresh that it still looks pretty new today. Pick up a tidy example and stick an ageless plate on it, and Doris and Nigel next door will never know the difference.

Underneath the skin resides a Torsen Type-C twin-differential (cleverly fitting the front and centre differential in the same unit with an open front diff), with all four wheels receiving their fair share of 256bhp. And just look at it – stunning piece of design, wouldn’t you agree?

Price today: £9,500

A front shot of the Honda Civic Type R EP3.

Honda Civic Type R (EP3)

The EP3-generation Honda Civic Type R is one of those cars that makes you go all heart-eyes-emoji after every journey – they’re just so damn good. They’re also one of those cars that we really wish we hadn’t sold, as we’ve had a few between us and the prices are starting to get a bit spicy now.

Whereas it is possible to pick one up for a couple of grand or so, we’d really advise that you don’t – these are cars that need to be looked after by people who understand them (and remember to check the oil every week), so a neglected one will be a one-way ticket to the poor house.

Buy a good one, however, and you’ll be sitting pretty. In stock form you get close to 200bhp of howling VTEC fury from one of the all-time great engines, with a slick 6-speed ’box whose shifter pokes out of the middle of the dash like a BTCC racer. They’re really receptive to tuning and chassis tweaks too – even with stock power, an EP3 with uprated rear camber arms and LCAs, front camber bolts and a thicker JDM rear anti-roll bar (plus a quality fast-road alignment) will run away from pretty much anything on a country road.

Our advice is to swoop in and get a good one before they get really pricy – decent examples are already touching £8-9k, with concours EP3s achieving double that at auction.

Interested in getting one? Check out our EP3 buying and tuning guides.

Price today: £7,500

If you can get over the badge snobbery, the Vauxhall Insignia VXR makes for a great fast car for under £10k.

Vauxhall Insignia VXR

The old Vectra’s taken a lot of flack over the years for being boring because… well, let’s face it, it frequently is. We have seen a fair few people turn Vectra VXRs into pretty cool projects, but for the most part it’s not a car to get the blood pumping for the general populace. And the same’s true of the Insignia that replaced it – a large, bland, neutral-handling appliance.

Until the Insignia VXR arrived, that is, because the top-of-the-line Insignia is actually a bit of a nutter. It’s got a turbocharged 2.8-litre V6 which is the very definition of overkill, serving up a beautifully unnecessary 321bhp. 6.7 seconds is all it takes to go from 0-62mph, and it all happens with an undercurrent of hilarity because nobody else on the road is expecting you to go that fast.

Sitting in the very thin sliver at the centre of the Venn diagram of Vauxhall Insignias and desirable performance cars, this is a genuinely interesting choice.

Price today: £8,500

The Renaultsport Megane is hot hatch royalty.

Renaultsport Mégane R26

Renaultsport really know their way around a chassis. There were various Clios we considered for this list, but in the end they were all pipped by its bigger brother, the Mégane – because, essentially, the R26 is a hot hatch superhero.

Its full name is a bit of a mouthful – Renaultsport Mégane 230 F1 Team R26 – and with big name comes big spec. Built to commemorate Renault’s success in the Formula 1 World Championship with the 2005 Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championship titles, it had a 227bhp 2.0-litre turbo motor and the Cup chassis package, which gave it 18” anthracite wheels with 235/40 Michelin Pilot Sport 2s, massive Brembos, and a tighter steering rack. It also had fabulous Recaros, a shouty exhaust, and – hooray! – an LSD.

The upshot of all this is that it accelerates like Usain Bolt, the canny geometry keeps that centre line on the steering wheel firmly on the dead-ahead, and you can take any corner at basically any speed because the diff is glorious. This thing will not understeer, it grips like an angry bus driver’s knuckles.

Price today: £7,500

The BMW M3 E46 coupe is a modern classic, but for under £10k, you'd have to get a cabrio.

BMW M3 Cabriolet (E46)

If you’re quick, you miiiiiight just be able to grab an E46 M3 for under ten-grand. It’ll most likely have to be a convertible with an SMG ’box, but now is probably the last time we’re going to see this iconic and legendary creation ducking under the £10k bar.

This brawny, aggressive car came with the 3.2-litre S54 straight-six, one of the all-time great engines, with six individual throttle bodies and an 8,000rpm redline. The body is exactly how Euro-muscle is supposed to look, and the handling is just wild. It has an incredible ability to morph to your driving style – keep things tight and precise and there are few cars that can cover ground quicker point-to-point; however, if you get lairy and hang the tail out, you can drift like a touge hero and detonate your tyres in minutes. This car is whatever you want it to be. Catch it while you can…

If you’re currently looking for one, have a read of our BMW M3 E46 buyer’s guide.

Price today: £9,995

Top 10 Convertibles

Honda S2000

Another Honda, and we’re ending the top-ten on a high. Honda’s S2000 has a legendary engine, the F20C, and it’s an absolute screamer of a motor: a VTEC four-pot serving up 237bhp at a howling 8,300rpm, redlining at 9,200rpm, and featuring clever cam timing, forged pistons with ultra-low-friction skirts, and all sorts of race-car tech. And if you shell out ten-large on this engine, you get a whole lovely roadster thrown into the bargain – and it’s a very good one.

It was designed from scratch to be a convertible, which means there are no compromises when it comes to stiffness and torsional rigidity, and it comes complete with a magnificently retro digital dash, crisp exterior styling that still looks pretty fresh, and up-and-at-’em friskiness in spades.

Some people will tell you that they don’t like the S2000 because ‘you have to rev the nuts off it all the time to enjoy it’, but these people can be safely ignored. It’s a myth, like all those folks who say you have to put a bag of cement in the boot of a Capri to stop it pirouetting. Nope, the S2000 is an absolute peach – stylish, rapid, tactile, well-appointed… and it’s essentially got a race car engine, which is always a decent pub boast.

Price today: £9,995