Great cars for keen drivers needn't cost the earth – here are 10 cars that will put a smile on your face every time you get behind the wheel, and all for under £2000.
01 Mazda MX5
You can take your pick of Mk2 MX5's at under £2000, but we'd seek out a Mk1. The lighter, purer, original Miata has a perfectly balanced rear–drive chassis, which ensures it's a hoot to drive. However, they're getting on a bit now – but you can rest assured that any restoration work you do will be recouped as values rise.
02 BMW 328i coupe (E36)
In a world of M3 adoration, the BMW 3-series' top–line non-M-Sport versions have slipped under the radar. And none more than the E36 328i coupe, which can be picked up for a smidge under £2k – if you can find one. The venerable mass-produced straight six is arguably in peak form here in M52 designation before emissions regs tamed it in future incarnations, and BMW's rear-drive chassis is a peach.
03 Porsche Boxster (Cat C)
We're cheating a bit here but if you're patient and don't mind a repaired category C write-off, Boxsters sneak in under our self-imposed two grand barrier. If the dice come up in your favour, you'll be rewarded with a fabulous sports car, although problems can be costly to fix, particularly in the engine bay, and though values will possibly rise you may never recoup your repair outlay.
04 Toyota MR2 Mk3
It seems hard to believe that Toyota's light, nimble Boxster rival could be over 10 years old – it still looks fresh, drives superbly and has a zingy VVT engine shared with the Lotus Elise. Best of all, Toyota's legendary reliability should ensure trouble-free driving for years to come, if it's been looked after.
05 Ford Puma
Ford's chassis engineers are about the best in the business and the Puma was a showcase of exactly how much fun a front-wheel drive car really can be. The eager VVT 1.7 engine is perfectly suited to the twitchy, Fiesta-based coupe, and hairdresser remarks are way off target – it's a great drivers' car.
06 Mini Cooper (R56)
BMW, famed for its rear–drive chassis, made a decent fist of the Mini's forward–driven wheels. The cramped cabin was testimony to the Mini's focus – putting a smile on the driver's face. Our budget will get you your pick of first-generation Cooper S models, but we'd put our money on a second-gen Cooper for its vastly improved chassis, build and space.
08 Honda Civic Type–R
The EK9 Civic Type-R was the first officially available in the UK, and there are plenty around at this price range, and even more if you don't mind an import. The star here is the wild, high-revving engine, which brings near-superbike thrills to Honda's well-sorted hot hatch, and the stiff, track-biased chassis is playful yet forgiving.
09 Suzuki Swift Sport
Old-school '80s–style hot hatch fun with 21st century Japanese reliability? Form an orderly queue. The second–generation (ZC31S) Swift Sport is a low-key hero and the reason it's in our drivers' car list can be summed up in one word – chuckability. It's a delight to drive down narrow B-roads that would fear bigger, wider sports cars, and proves that you don't need 200bhp-plus to have fun.
10 Subaru Impreza WRX (GG)
Yes, you can buy a second–generation Subaru Impreza WRX for under £2000. But before you reach for your wallet, it will be the unloved bug-eye version, and it will be the (very practical) hatch rather than the rally legend saloon, pictured. But once you're behind the wheel you won't care, as you'll be too busy living out your Colin McRae fantasies, enjoying the glorious turbo flat–four powering all four wheels.