Performance car contenders
* 17 categories of awards * All the winning models featured here * What Car? Car of the Year 2011 revealed...
Best buy less than 60,000
Lotus Evora 3.5 V6
List price 51,030
Target Price 51,030
Sixty grand doesn't buy you a great deal of performance car choice these days not if you want something that no one has owned before. Even the majority of high-performance saloons require a substantially larger investment.
Fortunately, Lotus can offer you something that doesnt cost as much as a house, as long as you dont mind eccentricities.
The entire Evora range undercuts our 60,000 ceiling. Theres the standard car with a 276bhp Toyota 3.5-litre V6 engine, and this year its been joined by the S which, with the help of a supercharger, ups the game to a more-than-adequate 346bhp.
For a while we were tempted to give the S the nod, but in the end we decided that the standard car will save you 9000 without feeling 9000 poorer to drive. Its a little easier on the spine over the worst bumps, too.
As for the eccentricities, well, rear visibility is terrible and the dash layout appears to have happened by accident rather than through a process of design. We can live with these, though, because the rest of the car is great.
0-62mph 4.9sec Top speed 162mph
Economy 32.5mpg CO2 205g/km
Insurance group 50
Best buy 60,000-120,000
Audi R8 Spyder V10
List price 116,660
Target Price 116,660
Normally we shy away from open-top models when choosing our favourite performance cars. Theyre less structurally stiff once shorn of a metal roof, and therefore not as precise to drive that isnt what you want in a performance car.
Were prepared to make an exception with the Audi R8 Spyder , though. It has an aluminium skeleton in place of welded steel, and is said to be as stiff as the coup and it needed only 6kg of extra metal to make it that way.
It certainly feels as solid, and with four-wheel drive nailing it to the road, the Spyder is just as crisp as the coup and every bit as solid in every sense.
There are, of course, compensations for risking frostbite. With a closed performance car what you hear in the cabin isnt the same as whats served up to passers-by.
Here, though, you get to enjoy the sounds of the mildly detuned 518bhp Lamborghini V10 engine in all its magnificent glory. Just make sure you buy it with the manual gearbox instead of the ponderous paddle-shift semi-automatic.
0-62mph 4.1sec Top speed 194mph
Economy 19.0mpg CO2 334g/km
Insurance group 50
Best buy more than 120,000
Ferrari 458 Italia
List price 169,545
Target Price 169,545
When the sky's the limit, just how do you go about making a rational choice? We could have put a Bugatti Veyron in here, or a Pagani Zonda, or any one of a number of cars you might never even have heard of.
In the end, we decided it should be something that doesnt require you to be an oil sheikh to buy, and that you might be prepared to use every day.
That made the choice surprisingly easy. There are some historic names competing in this area of the market Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche to name the most famous five yet the Ferrari 458 is so far ahead of the rest that the discussion lasted all of a nanosecond.
It is everything you might ask for in a modern supercar: something you could happily use as an only car (whether youd want to, given the carelessness of some other drivers, is another matter) but with scarcely believable talents, in every respect, once unconstrained.
The pity is that, with todays road conditions, youll probably only ever find out if you take it to a track.
0-62mph 3.4sec Top speed 202mph
Economy 20.6mpg CO2 389g/km
Insurance group 50
Choosing the best performance car looks like an easy job: just go for something that accelerates like its been dropped off a cliff and looks like its been designed to do 300mph. If only.
First off, youve got to consider engine position (front, mid or rear) and how much power youve got to play with. Then you worry about whether you go for the high-tech advances of four-wheel drive or stick with the purity of rear-wheel drive.
Coup or drop-top? Manual gearbox or semi-auto? Do you want V6, V8, V10, V12, or perhaps flat six? What about costs? We also consider what a performance car will be like to live with, because its no use being able to pull 3g in a corner if its uncomfortable to sit in. There are many things to consider and many hours of enjoyable driving, too!
Euan Doig Group production editor