Best performance cars 2023
First and foremost, great performance cars are entertaining to drive, but they also need to be suitable for everyday use. So, which are the best and worst?...
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. And that 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.
Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid
If you’re looking for a sharper, more precise alternative to a traditional luxury saloon and fancy a plug-in hybrid, the Porsche Panamera should definitely be on your shortlist.
Our favourite 4 e-Hybrid version produces a hefty 455bhp, allowing for a rapid 0-60mph time of 4.4sec; that’s impressive for any car. And better still, you get 33 miles of electric range, according to official figures.
When you’re pressing on, the Panamera is more entertaining than the Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door, and is quite agile for a car of this size. Available as a saloon or Sport Turismo estate, the Panamera is suitably luxurious, featuring high-quality materials and great tech inside.
- Stupendous pace
- Classy interior
- Relatively low CO2 emissions from E-Hybrid
- Expensive to buy
- Touch-sensitive controls hard to navigate
- Heavy V8 versions could be more fun
Audi RS6 Avant
A stalwart all-rounder, the fast, comfortable and roomy RS6 Avant is a menacingly quick estate car that is great to drive. It’s quick, but feels less entertaining when compared with the Mercedes-AMG E63 S Estate, especially since that car features a more entertaining soundtrack.
Being four-wheel drive, the RS6 is extremely surefooted, plus it grips strongly and steers accurately through corners. And even with 22in alloy wheels, the ride comfort is better than that of the E63 S and BMW M5.
The RS6's interior feels very classy, but with a sporty edge. The flat-bottomed steering wheel, swathes of carbonfibre and Alcantara trim leave you in no doubt that you’re sitting in an RS model. And as in the E63 S, there is plenty of room in the back, plus a whopping 565-litre boot.
- Incredible point-to-point pace
- Comfortable and refined
- Outstanding interior quality
- Not as entertaining as a BMW M5 Competition or Mercedes-AMG E63 S Estate
- Distracting infotainment system
- Automatic gearbox not as sharp as those of rivals
Mercedes-AMG E63 S Estate
Fast, practical and hugely capable, the Mercedes-AMG E63 S is a performance estate that sounds amazing and handles in an even more impressive manner than the Audi RS6 Avant.
Sure, it’s not a cheap car, but its talents are wide-ranging, being both poised and agile on a winding road. Its ride is firmer than the RS6 Avant's, even in its softest setting, but this does settle down on motorways.
And all that performance comes with the benefits of an estate car, with the boot able to swallow up to 10 carry-on suitcases. Rear passenger space is also excellent, providing a good deal of leg and head room.
Inside, the E63 S doesn't feel as high in quality as the RS6 Avant, and the infotainment system can be fiddly to use when driving.
- Terrific engine noise
- Performance is outstanding
- Entertaining handling and steering feel
- 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
BMW M5 Competition
The battle between the BMW M5, Audi RS6 Avant and Mercedes-AMG E63 S Estate is very closely matched. However, the M5 has both cars pipped because it can match the RS6 for comfort, yet out-handle the E63 S in the bends.
Granted, it might not be as practical as either of them, but as a driver’s car that you can drive right the limit, the BMW M5 is the best of the three. The turbocharged V8 engine is smooth and hushed at lower speeds, but when you deploy all 626bhp it fires you up the road like no other performance saloon can.
The CS model is even more special, having been tweaked by BMW to offer a more supple ride. It’s an incredibly capable car that would make even the most potent supercars fear it.
Inside, the interior has a welcoming premium feel that neatly blends sporty materials, including Alcantara, with plush metals and carbonfibre.
- Incredible straight-line performance
- All-weather traction
- Impeccable build quality
- Expensive to buy
- Underwhelming engine note
- Lacks the drama of an E63
Packing 369bhp from a smooth 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine that drives all four wheels, the M440i is a seriously quick car that leaves rivals from Audi and Mercedes far behind it.
It’s great fun to drive too, being composed and well mannered through corners. Adaptive suspension helps here, allowing you to stiffen and soften the ride at the touch of a button.
The infotainment system in the M440i is truly excellent and is operated through a clear 10.3in display. Of course, you don’t buy a two-door coupé for its practicality, but the boot is spacious enough and the rear seats are roomy enough for adults to use for short journeys.
- More fun to drive than direct rivals
- Range-topping M440i is seriously rapid
- More room in the back than you might imagine
- Divisive looks
- Rival coupés have bigger boots
- Some wind and tyre noise
With the performance and fun factor of a bigger M-car, the BMW M240i is a great all-rounder that’s fast and easy to live with. Press on down a twisty road and the M240i comes alive, providing excellent handling and producing a substantial 369bhp from its 3.0-litre straight-six petrol engine.
Although the steering doesn't provide a great sense of connection with the road, the M240i remains an entertaining performance car, with the gearbox remaining smooth in automatic mode, yet reacting quickly when you pull the paddles behind the steering wheel.
Given that it's a coupé, you don’t get the same level of practicality as a BMW M3, but it’s more roomy in the back than the Audi TT and its boot can still swallow a few small suitcases.
- Brilliant engine in M240i
- Great infotainment system
- Sharp handling
- Firm ride without optional adaptive suspension
- Road noise
- Not as practical as the 4 Series
Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
This two-time winner of our Performance Car of the Year Award is one of the best sports saloons to drive on winding B-road, due to its engaging handling and characterful 2.9-litre V6 petrol engine.
Race mode provides an excellent soundtrack too, with the exhaust barking and cracking loudly as the gearbox helps you to press on.
As a daily driver, the Quadrifoglio is comfortable and quiet. On the inside, however, there are areas where it falls short of its rivals. Some materials feel less premium than others, while space in the back is lessened by the car’s low roofline.
- Wonderful engine
- Agile, involving handling
- Pliant ride
- Interior quality disappoints in places
- Inconsistent brake feel
- Race mode switches of stability control
The Giulia may be an accomplished sports saloon, but for added thrills and greater all-round performance, the BMW M3 (and its M4 coupé sibling) is a cut above.
With superb handling and exceptional body control, the M3 feels most alive when you’re really pressing on. The M3 also offers considerable configurability, allowing you to tailor the car’s behaviour to the conditions and your mood.
Moreover, stick the M3 in Comfort mode and it transforms itself into a supple-riding daily companion.
Move inside and the M3 continues to excel, with high-quality materials used throughout and a more intuitive infotainment system than in the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. And better still, there is still room in the back of the M3 for a couple of six-footers.
- Staggering pace and grip
- High-quality interior
- Surprisingly comfortable ride
- Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio sounds better
- Pricey to buy
- As expensive to run as you'd expect
Audi E-tron GT
The first fully electric car on this list, the Audi E-tron GT is a 523bhp four-door coupé that can sprint from 0-60mph in 4.1sec. It’s more subtle and comfortable than its Porsche Taycan rival, striking a good balance between all-out speed and ride comfort.
As expected of such a pricey car, the E-tron GT is well equipped inside and features a crystal-clear infotainment and driver display, albeit with the exception of some fiddly touch-sensitive buttons.
The saloon boot is a little tight to squeeze luggage into, but it’s deep enough to swallow a few cases. And despite the E-tron GT’s sleek silhouette, there is enough room in the back for two six-footers to travel in comfort.
- Potentially rapid charging
- Comfortable ride and great handling
- Very well equipped and strong resale values
- Ionity rapid chargers are few and far between
- Not as spacious as a Model S
- Low-speed motor whine and gearbox shunt
As awesome as the Audi E-tron GT is, we've always favoured the Porsche Taycan for its extra agility. And the Cross Turismo version raises the bar even higher.
Turbo and Turbo S trim levels deliver on power and performance, forsaking range for a rapid 0-62mph time of 2.9sec. However, our preferred 4S trim strikes a much better balance between performance and range – it can cover the same sprint in just 4.1sec, yet can travel 304 miles between charges officially.
The Cross Turismo wraps all of its power in a compelling package which offers greater versatility than the regular model, thanks to a bigger boot and roomier rear passenger space. Its slightly raised suspension feels tailor-made to British roads, too. Inside, the Taycan Cross Turismo is finished with high-quality materials to provide a truly premium feel.
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- Staggering performance
- Stunningly capable and fun in corners
- Wonderful interior quality
- 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...
The RS4 Avant is fast enough, but its steering is numb and it suffers from sloppy body control, making it much less rewarding to drive than rivals Read our review
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