Best performance cars 2021

First and foremost, great performance cars are entertaining to drive, but they also have to be suitable for everyday use. So which are the best and worst?...


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Best performance cars

What makes a great performance car? On the surface it's simple: gobs of power from a charismatic engine, along with agile, involving handling.

However, while pure sports cars are often weekend toys, performance cars have to be practical and comfortable enough to use every day, which means they also need at least four seats, a decent boot, a compliant ride and a plush, user-friendly interior.

Here, then, we count down our top 10 buys, and reveal the performance car to avoid. If any of the models on the list take your fancy, just click on the relevant link to find out more or see how much of a discount you could get by using our free New Car Buying service.

10

Mercedes-AMG CLA 45

The CLA 45 is ridiculously fast, but more than that it's this four-door coupé's agile and engaging handling that earns it a place on this list. Just bear in mind that rear head room is tight and some of the interior plastics feel disappointingly cheap – particularly given how much you're paying.

Pros

  • Savage acceleration
  • Entertaining handling
  • Interior looks great

Cons

  • Seriously expensive
  • Some cheap plastics inside
  • Limited rear head room
9

Mercedes-AMG E63 S Estate

Hugely expensive, but hugely fast and practical, the E63 S also sounds amazing and offers handling that's safe and secure when you need it to be, yet entertaining when the opportunity presents itself.

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Pros

  • Terrific engine noise
  • Performance is outstanding
  • Entertaining handling and steering feel

Cons

  • Not as comfortable or relaxing to drive as the Audi RS6
  • Expensive to buy outright and pretty hefty depreciation
  • Road and wind noise on the motorway
8

BMW M2 Competition

This is a rival to pure sports cars such as the Alpine A110 and Porsche 718 Cayman, but while they feel light and agile, the M2 is more of a heavyweight – albeit one with terrific grip, traction and handling. As a bonus it offers a pair of rear seats so you can take your friends along for the ride.

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Pros

  • Searingly fast
  • Practical for a sports car
  • Entertaining handling
  • CS is not in limited production like the Porsche Cayman GT4 is

Cons

  • Competition is not as delicate as an Alpine A110
  • Slightly notchy manual gearbox
  • So-so interior quality
7

Porsche Panamera

If you're looking for a sharper-handling alternative to traditional luxury saloons and plug-in hybrids, the Panamera should definitely be on your shortlist. It may not ride quite so fluently, but it's very agile for such a big car, particularly if you opt for one of the V6-engined models.

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Pros

  • Stupendous pace
  • Classy interior
  • Relatively low CO2 emissions from E-Hybrid

Cons

  • Expensive to buy
  • Touch-sensitive controls hard to navigate
  • Heavy V8 versions could be more fun
6

BMW M5 Competition

The M5 isn't as comfortable as an Audi RS6 Avant or as vocal as a Mercedes-AMG E63 S, but for those looking for the last word in driver interaction, it's the best of the three.

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Pros

  • Incredible straight-line performance
  • All-weather traction
  • Impeccable build quality

Cons

  • Expensive to buy
  • Underwhelming engine note
  • Lacks the drama of an E63
5

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

This two-time winner of our Performance Car of the Year Award remains great fun on a winding road, and surprisingly quiet and comfortable in everyday use. However, the interior is feeling its age, and there are now rivals with higher limits.

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Pros

  • Wonderful engine
  • Sweet handling
  • Pliant ride

Cons

  • Interior feels cheap in places
  • Iffy infotainment system
  • Inconsistent brake feel
4

BMW M440i

Packing 369bhp from a smooth and sonorous 3.0-litre turbo engine that drives all four wheels, the M440i is properly quick, beating its Audi S5 and Mercedes-AMG C43 rivals in the dash from 0-62mph with a time of just 4.5sec. It’s more fun to drive than those cars, too, staying remarkably flat and composed through corners.

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Pros

  • Range-topping M440i is seriously rapid
  • More fun to drive than direct rivals
  • More room in the back than you might imagine

Cons

  • Divisive looks
  • Rival coupés have bigger boots
  • Some wind and tyre noise
3

BMW M3/M4

We mentioned that some Giulia rivals have higher limits, and that includes the latest M3 (and its M4 coupé sibling). As a bonus, you get a similarly comfortable ride, a higher quality interior and a much more intuitive infotainment system.

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Pros

  • Staggering pace and grip
  • High-quality interior
  • Comfortable ride

Cons

  • Mercedes-AMG C63 S sounds better
  • Needs to be driven hard to really engage
  • Fairly pricey
2

Mercedes-AMG C63 S

The C63 S delivers muscle car brutishness, courtesy of a thundering V8, but it's so much more than just a drag racer. It steers well and has a delightful chassis balance, along with a comically easy ability to entertain with its sideways antics. The BMW M3 may have a slight edge in terms of outright speed, but the C63 S is more involving.

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Pros

  • Fabulous engine noise
  • Great performance
  • Playful and easy to drive

Cons

  • An M3 offers more precise handling
  • The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio exhibits a more pliant ride
  • Road noise on the motorway
1

Porsche Taycan

Some might view it as heresy that an electric car is in the number one spot, but the Taycan proves such machines can be every bit as rewarding and usable as the best petrol rivals, and then some. It offers exceptionally precise, tactile steering and incredible poise and grip in corners, while the brakes are monstrous. It's even reasonably practical and wonderfully classy inside.

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Pros

  • Staggering performance
  • Stunningly capable and fun in corners
  • Wonderful interior quality

Cons

  • It's very expensive...
  • ...and you’ll probably want to add some options
  • Its range is useful but far from class leading

And the performance cars to avoid...

Audi RS4 Avant

The RS4 Avant can be comfortable if you spec it right, but the body control is sloppy and the steering numb. If it's a fast estate you want, the C63 is a far better choice. Read our review