Think cheap Japanese roadster and you'll inevitably be picturing some form of Mazda MX-5. I should know. I bought one on a whim six years ago and haven't looked back since. But here's one you might have forgotten about, one that arguably plays the proper baby sports car more convincingly and gets you a taste of Lotus Elise-style handling for a fraction of the money.
Yup, I'm talking Mk3 Toyota MR2. One of those cars that seemed quite a regular sight at the time but has kind of vanished from public consciousness already. To the point there is a good selection of cars around from just £1,500 or so. Yes, really. That's cheap enough to stick on a credit card, pack in a couple of summer road trips, a track day or two and then sell on before the leaves fall from the trees.
And look at what you're getting. A mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive roadster – good. Toyota reliability – better still. And the kind of lightweight, minimalist driving thrills you thought were the sole preserve of specialist brands based in Norfolk. Because although it's only got 139bhp the MR2 is a sub-tonne car (just), runs on nice skinny tyres and is therefore a lively, playful little car with realistic performance you can enjoy to the full on the public road without troubling your licence.
OK, they're not beautiful cars. But there's a functional appeal to the blocky lines and, like many cars, look a load better with a little ride height chopped out of the stock chassis settings. Cheap and easy enough to do and the standard five-spoke wheels are attractive and just 16-inch in size, meaning tyres are cheap. This would be another investment worth making, the MR2's delicate balance meaning a matching set of quality rubber and carefully monitored pressures can have a transformative effect on the way it drives.