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?...

Author Avatar
Mark Pearson
Published03 March 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 those 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 explain why. Plus, we reveal our top 10 performance cars, and point you in the right direction to read the full reviews or save money by viewing the best performance car deals available right now.

Buying & Owning


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


  • 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, which makes it exceptionally capable in all weather conditions.

Despite the extra bulk, its 0-62mph time of 3.6sec is just 0.1sec slower than the saloon's, and still noticeably faster than that of the closely related Alpina B3 Touring and the Audi RS4 Avant. The Touring’s additional weight doesn’t blunt the car’s handling, either; it remains beautifully balanced.

However, the M3 Touring's real trump card compared with four-door rivals such as the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, is the extra practicality it offers. There's 500 litres of space beneath the luggage cover (and considerably more above), plus the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat and the ability to open the tailgate and rear windscreen independently add to the versatility.

“I'm a big fan of adjusting a car to suit my needs, and in the M3 Touring, the driver has lots of scope for tailoring its behaviour to suit their mood or the road conditions. And given its tremendous abilities, you have to wonder why BMW didn't make this car years ago.” – Will Nightingale, Reviews Editor

Read our BMW M3 Touring review

Buying & Owning


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


  • 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 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 a still-rapid 4.1sec, yet can officially travel 304 miles between charges.

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's curved 16.8in digital instrument cluster does a good job of putting all the information you might want right in front of you, plus it's fully customisable, meaning you can prioritise the information you want, such as remaining range or directions from the sat-nav.

“The Taycan Cross Turismo's high-quality interior can seat four adults in comfort, with a relatively practical boot for their luggage.” – Lawrence Cheung, New Cars Editor

Read our Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo review

Buying & Owning


  • 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

The Audi E-tron GT is a 523bhp four-door coupé that can sprint from 0-60mph in 4.1sec. It’s not as sharp to drive as the closely related Porsche Taycan, but strikes a good balance between all-out speed and ride comfort. 

As you'd expect 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.

“You might think that an electric car built around performance wouldn't be able to go very far, but when we tested the E-tron GT's real-world range, we determined it to be around 230 miles, and that's enough for most drivers.” – Neil Winn, Deputy Reviews Editor

Read our Audi E-tron GT review

Our pick: 2.0 Turbo Veloce 4dr Auto

0-62mph: 5.7 sec
MPG/range: 38.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 167g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 480 litres
Insurance group: 34E
Buying & Owning


  • Wonderful engine
  • Agile, involving handling
  • Pliant ride


  • 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 a winding B-road, due to its engaging handling and free-revving 2.9-litre V6 petrol engine. It has plenty of performance – we managed to hit 60mph in just 3.7 seconds at our private test track – and can out-sprint the Porsche Taycan 4S to motorway speeds.

Put the Giulia Quadrifoglio into its Race mode, and it provides an excellent soundtrack too, with the exhaust barking and crackling loudly as the gearbox helps you to press on. 

On the inside, however, there are areas where it falls short of its rivals – both the BMW M3 Touring and Audi RS4 feel more premium inside. Plus, space in the back is lessened by the car’s low roofline. 

“While the Giulia Quadrifoglio undoubtedly has a licence to thrill, it is let down in other areas. I found its infotainment system difficult to get along with, hindered by being slow to respond and with graphics which don't match the car's price.” – Doug Revolta, Head of Video

Read our Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review

Our pick: 220i M Sport 2dr Step Auto

0-62mph: 7.5 sec
MPG/range: 44.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 146g/km
Seats: 4
Boot: 390 litres
Insurance group: 28E
Buying & Owning


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


  • 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. That engine transfers its power to the road via all four wheels, giving you extra traction on greasy or wet Tarmac.

Although the steering could provide more feedback, 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 that you do with a BMW M3, but at least it has rear seats – unlike pure sports cars, such as the Porsche Cayman

“Think of the BMW M240i as being the director's cut of a film. It does everything a performance car needs to do, and makes the experience relatively accessible by keeping costs sensible.” – Steve Huntingford, Editor

Read our BMW 2 Series review

Buying & Owning


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


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

In its Sportback guise, the Audi RS3 is one of our favourite hot hatches, so it should come as no surprise that we also rate this saloon version of the car.

A slight reduction in rear head room and a less practical boot are the only real compromises over the RS3 Sportback. Elsewhere, though, it’s business as usual, which means a well built, if slightly uninspiring, interior and good in-car tech. 

At the car's 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. Plus, if you pay to have the speed limiter removed and visit a track, it’ll hit 180mph, which puts it close to the more expensive BMW M3 and Audi RS4.

“When we lived with a launch edition model of the latest RS3, we found it kept the same easygoing nature as its forebears, such as the original Audi S3, yet was far more fun to drive. Our big-mile trips included a trip to the famous Nurburgring race circuit.” – Stuart Milne, Digital Editor

Read our Audi RS3 review

Our pick: 420i M Sport 2dr Step Auto

0-62mph: 7.5 sec
MPG/range: 44.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 144g/km
Seats: 4
Boot: 440 litres
Insurance group: 29E
Buying & Owning


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


  • 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. It can hit 62mph from a standstill in just 4.5 seconds – that's only marginally slower than the Mercedes CLE 450 can manage, but the Audi RS5 can do the job a fair amount quicker.

The M440i is 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 decent and the rear seats are roomy enough for adults to use for short journeys. 

"Despite its sporting credentials, the M440i still benefits from mild hybrid assistance, meaning your fuel bills might not be ruinous if you drive it carefully.” – Darren Moss, Deputy Digital Editor

Read our BMW 4 Series review

Buying & Owning


  • Higher resale values than rivals
  • Strong on safety
  • Lots of kit for your money


  • Tight rear head room
  • Small boot aperture
  • Not as fun as the best coupés

The engine in the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 S may have a modest 2.0-litre capacity, but it's hand-built using racing knowhow to produce a mighty 415bhp.

As a result, the car can hurl itself from 0-62mph in 4.1 seconds, aided by a four-wheel drive system that provides excellent traction. Plus, it can vary the amount of power sent to each rear wheel, improving agility and allowing AMG to build in a thoroughly mischievous drift mode.

You pay a hefty amount for all of this, which makes it all the more disappointing that the interior feels a bit cheap in places. But those caveats aside, it's a very appealing car.

“You're unlikely to be buying a coupé for its practicality, and while the CLA's 460-litre boot is reasonably big, a high load lip and small saloon-style aperture hinders practicality.” – Dan Jones, Reviewer

Read our Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 review

Buying & Owning


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


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

A stalwart all-rounder, the comfortable and roomy Audi RS6 Avant is a stunningly quick estate car that's hugely grippy.

This helps it feels surefooted even when the rain is hammering down, although the BMW M3 Touring is ultimately more entertaining.

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, while the boot is big at 565 litres.

“When we tested the Audi RS6 Avant against its Mercedes-AMG E63 S Estate rival, we found that the Audi would be cheaper to run for a typical driver over three years of ownership, and that the Audi would be worth more at the end of that period.” – George Hill, Staff Writer

Read our Audi RS6 Avant review

Our pick: S8 Quattro Vorsprung 4dr Tiptronic

0-62mph: 3.8 sec
MPG/range: 24.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 261g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 505 litres
Insurance group: 50E
Buying & Owning


  • Savage straight-line pace
  • Comfortable and incredibly refined
  • Plush interior


  • Not the most agile performance car
  • Muted engine note won’t appeal to all
  • Fiddly infotainment system

If you’re looking for a more luxurious take on the performance saloon, the Audi S8 should definitely be on your shortlist.

Its sheer size means it's not as agile as the other cars on this list, but it controls vertical body movements well over undulating roads and can carry a surprising amount of speed through corners thanks to its monstrous grip.

The interior is immaculately finished, too, with luxurious materials, including lashings of soft leather, and a standard of assembly that's second to none. What's more, you hear little from the outside world and there's loads of space for four. You'll need to get a Mercedes S-Class to find a boot that's just as big.

“The S8 certainly isn't short on grunt thanks to its 563bhp 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine, but it's let down by numb steering, and the fact that its engine note is more of a cultured growl than an almighty roar.” – Claire Evans, Consumer Editor

Read our Audi S8 review

For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here

Read more: Best and worst sports cars >>

And the performance car to avoid...

Audi RS4 Avant

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

How we choose the best performance cars

While we put every performance car on the market through its paces on the test track, we’ll spend as much time measuring the boot, interior space and taking down the fuel economy. That’s because performance cars are often used daily – something our testing reflects.

We do all of this through the lens of a performance car buyer, of course. And to determine the key areas that matter most to sports-car buyers, we use data from more than 20,000 people who completed our annual reader survey. These are:

Performance – an important factor for 95% of performance car buyers

Power, acceleration and speed are of utmost importance in a performance car. As such, we conduct 0-60mph testing on our closed course to see if a car lags behind, matches or even betters its official time. We also test how quickly a car can go from 50-70mph, so you can see how capable it’ll be at overtaking and getting up to motorway speeds.

To make sure it’s got the stopping power to match its straight-line performance, we also perform emergency brake tests from 30mph and 70mph to measure how far it takes the car to come to a complete stop.

Handling – an important factor for 76% of performance car buyers

Our handling tests are conducted on track and on the road, where our experienced road testers analyse the driving dynamics. The steering must be well weighted, precise and confidence inspiring. The suspension must be able to deal with undulating roads and control body movements well through sweeping and tight bends.

Interior quality – an important factor for 73% of performance car buyers

Performance cars are often expensive items, which is why our experts spend time going over every inch of a car’s interior, analysing where a car maker has spent money and where it might’ve cheapened out. This way we can tell you which performance cars have the most premium-feeling interiors and which ones are style over substance.

Our tests don’t end there. Regardless of the type of car, we put every model through an unrivalled test regime to deliver our definitive verdict. This is outlined in our how we test cars feature.


What is the best performance car under £100k

The BMW M3 Touring is the best performance car available for less than £100,000. It blends all that’s brilliant about the M3 saloon – huge performance, agile chassis, surprising comfort and a brilliant interior – with the added practicality afforded by its estate car body. If you want one performance car that can do it all, then the BMW M3 Touring is the one we’d recommend.

What is the best performance car brand?

This is not an easy question to answer, but while a BMW tops our list of the best performance cars with the M3 Touring, Audi makes more appearances, with the E-Tron GT, RS3, RS6 and S8 all making appearances.

Of the brands that make multiple appearances in our list, BMW finished highest in our list of the most reliable car brands. Its eighth place result was streets ahead of Audi’s 26th place finish. By comparison, Mercedes finished 24th and Porsche 20th.

What is the fastest accelerating car?

While the American Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170 recorded a 1.66sec 0-60mph, and the electric Aspark Owl can accelerate from 0-62mph in 1.72sec, you’ll rarely – if ever – see either in the UK. You may, however, see the occasional Tesla Model S Plaid (0-60mph in 2.3sec) and Porsche Taycan Turbo GT (0-62mph in 2.3sec).

What is the fastest car in the world?

The Bugatti Chiron Supersport is currently the world’s fastest car with a 304mph top speed that would’ve been barely believable just a decade ago. However, the record hasn’t been officially ratified because it didn’t make the two runs that are required for it to get into the record books.