The best performance cars don’t just come in the form of the latest supercars, if you focus on the key qualities of speed, power, and driving pleasure, there’s a wide range of cars that fit the bill. There are even some incredible performance cars to suit some more modest budgets, starting from under £30,000.
When deciding which cars offer drivers the most fun behind the wheel, we had only two rules. Firstly, they were not allowed to be limited-run special editions that no normal person can ever hope to see in the metal, let alone drive. And secondly, they were not allowed to be eye-wateringly expensive hypercars, for similar reasons. Aside from that, it was open warfare.
Naturally then, our best performance cars list consists of everything from Italian supercar exotica to roadsters and hot hatches. There should be something for everyone who prioritises performance and handling when choosing a new car.
One other thing that our chosen 10 have in common is that they are all reasonably easy to drive. That means they’re just as happy pottering around town as they are on a track day. Whichever model you choose, we’d highly recommend some advanced driver training to help you get the most from a performance car. You don’t need to hire a circuit to do this (although a track day might be a good way of getting to know how your car behaves on the limit in a safe environment), but the right kind of training can open your eyes to your car’s potential.
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Top 10 best performance cars 2022
- Toyota GR Yaris
- Porsche 911
- Maserati MC20
- Ferrari Roma
- BMW M5 CS
- Porsche 718 Cayman/Boxster
- Alpine A110
- Ford Fiesta ST
- Audi RS e-tron GT
- Aston Martin Vantage
1. Toyota GR Yaris
It may be small, but the Toyota GR Yaris is extremely mighty and highly deserving of a spot on this list. In fact, we like it so much that we named it Performance Car of the Year at the 2021 Auto Express New Car Awards. To create this ‘World Rally Car for the Road’, Toyota has done far more than just soup up a standard Yaris with a bit of bodykit and a big exhaust. Instead, they’ve added what they claim to be the world’s most powerful three-cylinder engine – giving out a whopping 257bhp – stiffened the suspension, and fitted a highly-sophisticated all-wheel-drive system. This combination makes for a pocket rocket that will pack a serious punch on the straights and then make light work of corners, all while putting an enormous smile on your face – exactly what a performance car is all about.
With a claimed 0-62mph time of 5.5 seconds and a top speed of 143mph, the GR Yaris may not be as fast as some of the other cars on this list, but it is such a fun car to drive that this likely won’t matter if you find yourself behind the wheel. Where it also shines is in its daily usability, the three-cylinder engine should return over 30mpg if you go easy on the throttle – which is a lot by typical performance car standards – it will also seat four passengers, and comes with Toyota’s five-year/100,000-mile warranty as standard.
2. Porsche 911
There are few cars that boast such a long and rich heritage as the Porsche 911. The 992 is the 8th generation of nearly 60 years of 911 production, and it continues to advance the technological and performance standards of this flagship model. There are a multitude of variants available but one thing remains the same across the range, the 911’s brilliant all-round performance as a premium sports car.
Even in standard Carrera guise, the 911 will launch from 0-62mph in just 4.2 seconds and onto a top speed of 182mph. However, if that’s not enough for you, the Turbo S (with the Sport Chrono Package fitted) makes for even more impressive figures of 2.7 seconds and 205mph. This outstanding performance, an engaging driving experience – and even enough practicality to allow you to take a weekend away with luggage – make the 911 a solid all-round choice.
3. Maserati MC20
After an 18-year hiatus from the supercar market, Maserati has made every effort to ensure the MC20 is a statement of intent, and a reminder the historic marque is still a force to be reckoned with.
With its truly stunning looks, butterfly doors, carbon fibre chassis, double wishbone suspension, and ferocious 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 engine, the 621bhp MC20 has every supercar factor covered, and even features F1-derived technology. A starting price of around £190,000 means the cost even looks reasonably good value next to some of its supercar rivals. 0-62mph takes just 2.9 seconds in the correct conditions, and it will keep accelerating until it hits an impressive 202mph. However you drive it, whether hammering it around a track or cruising through town, the MC20 is undoubtedly a very special car.
4. Ferrari Roma
The Roma is one of the most radically outstanding cars to come from Ferrari in years. The brand’s latest grand tourer differs somewhat from previous Ferrari GT cars, such as the Portofino and California. The first, and most obvious way in which the Roma differs is in its appearance, as an all new direction in styling is intended to show the world that the brand is entering a new era, with the smooth and elegant Roma looking vastly different from just about any other car to wear the prancing horse.
Don’t be alarmed, though, as this is still a fully-fledged Ferrari, and a 612bhp 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 helps to ensure that the Roma is far more than just eye candy. This car may be officially intended to go on pleasurable longer journeys – and with a 272-litre boot and room for kids in the back, it is actually fairly practical – but it will still effortlessly propel you from 0-62mph in 3.4 seconds and onto a top speed of 199mph.
5. BMW M5 CS
The regular BMW M5 already offers a winning combination, with the practicality of a large saloon and the level of driving excitement you’d expect from a sports car. The M5 CS takes things to an even higher level, thanks to some carefully thought out changes to its chassis and powertrain.
These upgrades result in an extra 10bhp from the same V8 engine found in the standard M5, which makes for a total of 626bhp. While this brawny unit will launch the M5 CS from 0-62mph in just 3.0 seconds and onto a top speed of 189mph, the upgraded chassis is truly the star of the show. With changes including a 7mm drop in ride height over a regular M5, adaptive dampers from the M8 Gran Coupé, and adjustments to the car’s suspension geometry, the M5 CS corners with great precision – this is especially impressive when you consider its kerb weight of over 1,800kg.
6. Porsche 718 Cayman/Boxster
While the mid-engined, two-seater sports car market isn’t exactly saturated, the cars that do occupy it face a tight battle to be the best, and the Porsche 718 Cayman/Boxster is often regarded as a pinnacle car in this sector. Even though the 718 is technically an entry-point into Porsche ownership, it provides an incredibly sharp and enjoyable driving experience that few cars can come close to matching.
The latest generation cars caused something of a stir among fans when Porsche announced that they would be downsizing the engine choices from six-cylinders down to four. Set this controversy aside, though, and you will quickly realise that these turbocharged units are more than up to the job – with the only real downside being a distinct lack of noise. However, Porsche has since reintroduced a naturally-aspirated six-cylinder engine to the GTS models. No matter which 718 you opt for, though, you will enjoy precise steering, excellent balance, brilliant handling, and plenty of power – so you will struggle to go wrong.
7. Alpine A110
A car that is firmly set on knocking the Porsche 718 Cayman/Boxster off the top of the two-seater sports car rankings is the Alpine A110. Designed as a homage to the original A110 from the 1960s, the new car is the reintroduction of the Alpine brand after a very long hiatus. This is clearly a very big deal, so parent company Renault have taken every step to ensure that the modern A110 makes a big impression on a new generation of customer.
The only engine available is a turbocharged 1.8-litre – which can be had in two states of tune offering either 248bhp or 288bhp – and this is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Combine this level of power with a car that weighs less than 1,200kg, rear-wheel-drive, and perfect balance thanks to the rear-mounted engine, and the Alpine A110 proves a very fun and capable car, especially on more twisty roads. With a 0-60mph time of 4.5 seconds – dropping to 4.4 for the S version – It may not be quite as quick as some rivals, but it certainly is no slouch.
8. Ford Fiesta ST
The Ford Fiesta ST was originally introduced in 2005 to show the world that the ‘Fast Ford’ was still alive and kicking. Now, the eighth generation Fiesta is the latest car to wear the ST badge, and it still poses a very real challenge to rivals like the Volkswagen Polo GTI and Mini Cooper S. The biggest change in the latest Fiesta ST is that the engine has been downsized to a three-cylinder. However, as we have learned from the Toyota GR Yaris, three can indeed be a magic number, and the Fiesta’s turbocharged 1.5-litre engine produces 197bhp and 290Nm of torque – plenty for this hot little supermini.
Efficiency is also a party piece of the Fiesta ST, and cylinder deactivation technology means that the engine will run on only two cylinders when only a little power is needed – the third cylinder smoothly kicking-in on demand. Thanks to this technology and the smaller engine, running costs are reasonable. Combine this with pricing that starts at £21,995 and the Fiesta ST makes a great entry point into performance car ownership.
9. Audi RS e-tron GT
While cutting emissions is a good thing, it’s even better when it doesn’t come at the cost of performance. Many electric cars offer instantaneous and sometimes brutal acceleration, but few offer an all-round performance package quite like the Audi RS e-tron GT.
The RS e-tron GT is a fully-fledged Grand Tourer that offers a refined ride, a plethora of the latest on-board tech, and a high-quality interior. Once you’re comfortable, squeeze the accelerator and the twin motors will quickly make their combined 590bhp and 830Nm of torque known, launching you from 0-62mph in 3.6 seconds – dropping to 3.3 seconds in overboost mode. Battery range is pretty good, too, at 288 miles per charge, but, as with any electric car, expect this to drop if you keep flooring it.
10. Aston Martin Vantage
The latest Aston Martin Vantage had some very big shoes to fill after the sales success and overall popularity of the car that it replaced. In order to save on costs, Aston Martin has partnered with Mercedes-AMG to source a number of components, including the twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 that resides upfront. This is no bad thing, however, as every single component on the car – Mercedes-sourced or otherwise – has been tweaked by Aston’s engineers to ensure that they live up to the brand’s expectations.
Unlike a number of competitors who have moved on to all-wheel-drive, Aston have retained rear-wheel-drive for the Vantage. This keeps things highly entertaining, especially when the Sport+ or Track drive modes are selected, and despite only having drive to the rear wheels, the Vantage grips the road very well. But, if you so wish, switching the traction control off will transform the car into an easy and thoroughly enjoyable drifter.