Best performance cars 2024: the thrillers to buy – and avoid

The best performance cars combine sports car-rivalling acceleration and engaging handling with impressive everyday usability, but which should you consider – and which are best avoided?...

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by
Mark Pearson
Updated19 January 2024

What makes a great performance car? On the surface it's simple: lots 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.

Our team of highly experienced reviewers have the never-arduous job of testing these cars in all of these areas – and more – to ensure their verdicts meet the needs of the performance car buyer. And following that extensive testing, they agree that the BMW M3 Touring is the very best performance car to buy in 2024.

Best performance cars - Audi E-tron GT and Porsche Taycan

Below, we count down our top 10 best performance cars and point you in the right direction to read the full reviews, and how to save money by viewing the best performance car deals available right now.

Strengths

  • Staggering pace and grip
  • Surprisingly comfortable ride
  • High-quality interior

Weaknesses

  • Doesn't sound that special
  • Pricey to buy
  • As expensive to run as you'd expect

We had to wait more than 35 years for an estate version of the BMW M3, but its place at the top of our performance car table demonstrates it was worth the wait. Not only is the BMW M3 Touring the most practical M3 yet – and by a long way – but it has four-wheel drive as standard making it exceptionally capable in all weather conditions.

Despite the extra bulk, its 0-62mph time of 3.6sec makes it just 0.1sec slower than the M3 saloon, but still noticeably faster than the closely related Alpina B3 Touring plus the Audi RS4 Avant and Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. The Touring’s additional weight doesn’t blunt the car’s handling, either, because it remains beautifully balanced.

But the real trump card is that practicality – a real rarity in this class. Its 500 litre boot is a little larger than the saloon, but the 40/20/40 folding rear seat and the ability to open the tailgate and rear windscreen independently is superb, even if the RS4 has a slightly wider boot opening.

Read our BMW M3 Touring review

Strengths

  • Incredible point-to-point pace
  • More spacious rear seats than in the coupé
  • Wonderful interior quality

Weaknesses

  • You'll want to add a fair few options
  • Range isn’t spectacular
  • Non-electric rivals have bigger boots

If you want the best blend of electric power and driving excitement, then look no further than the Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo.

Turbo and Turbo S trim levels deliver on power and performance, forsaking range for a rapid 0-62mph time of as low as 2.8sec. 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 – even though you can fit more inside the combustion-engined Audi RS6 Avant and Mercedes-AMG E63 S Estate

Inside, the Taycan Cross Turismo is finished with high-quality materials to provide a truly premium feel.

Read our Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo review

Strengths

  • Potentially rapid charging
  • Comfortable ride and great handling
  • Very well equipped and strong resale values

Weaknesses

  • Ionity rapid chargers are few and far between
  • Not as spacious as a Model S
  • Low-speed motor whine and gearbox shunt

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. That being said, performance-oriented versions of the Tesla Model S are even more accommodating for taller passengers.

Read our Audi E-tron GT review

Strengths

  • Wonderful engine
  • Agile, involving handling
  • Pliant ride

Weaknesses

  • Interior quality disappoints in places
  • Inconsistent brake feel
  • Race mode switches of stability control

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 – welcome to the wonderful Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. 

Putting this Italian performance car into its 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 – both the BMW M3 and Audi RS4 feel more premium inside. Plus, space in the back is lessened by the car’s low roofline. 

Read our Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review

Strengths

  • Brilliant engine in M240i
  • Great infotainment system
  • Sharp handling

Weaknesses

  • Firm ride without optional adaptive suspension
  • Road noise
  • Not as practical as the 4 Series

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 (now discontinued) Audi TT and its boot can still swallow a few small suitcases.

Read our BMW 2 Series review

Strengths

  • Bonkers acceleration
  • Sounds fantastic
  • Remarkably comfortable with adaptive suspension fitted

Weaknesses

  • Expensive to buy
  • Some rivals are even more agile through the corners
  • Limited interior options for UK buyers

The Audi RS3 in its Sportback guise is one of our favourite hot hatchbacks, so with a sleeker bodystyle, it’ll come as little surprise that the RS3 Saloon is also one of our top performance cars, too.

A slight reduction in rear headroom and a less practical boot are the only real compromises over the RS3 Sportback, but that’s par for the course with many saloons. Elsewhere it’s business as usual, which means a neat, if slightly uninspiring interior and decent tech. 

At its heart lies a sonorous 340bhp 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine feeding power to all four wheels via an automatic gearbox. Traction is incredible, and as a result it can accelerate from 0-62mph in 3.8sec, and if you pay to have the speed limiter removed it’ll hit 180mph which puts it close to the more expensive BMW M3 and Audi RS4.

Read our Audi RS3 review

Strengths

  • More fun to drive than direct rivals
  • Range-topping M440i is seriously rapid
  • Back seats are more usable than you might imagine

Weaknesses

  • Divisive looks
  • Rivals have more versatile folding rear seats
  • Some wind and tyre noise

Packing 369bhp from a smooth 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine that drives all four wheels, the BMW 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. 

Read our BMW 4 Series review

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

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

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.

Read our BMW M5 review

Strengths

  • Incredible point-to-point pace
  • Comfortable and refined
  • Outstanding interior quality

Weaknesses

  • Not as entertaining as a BMW M3 Touring
  • Distracting infotainment system
  • Automatic gearbox not as sharp as rivals'

A stalwart all-rounder, the fast, comfortable and roomy Audi 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.

Read our Audi RS6 Avant review

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

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

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. 

Read our Porsche Panamera review


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