Best performance cars 2021 – the best of the bunch on sale right now
Supercars, hot hatchbacks or supersaloons – regardless of body style these are our favourite performance cars on sale today
It’s sometimes difficult to explain the notion of a performance car to those without an inherent interest in them. ‘Why does it do that?’ ‘Costs how much?’ ‘Why is it so uncomfortable?’ But performance cars aren’t designed to be rational, rather objects that have at their core an ability to entertain, even on the most mundane of journeys. To celebrate this, we’ve brought together a collection of cars that appeal to us grouped not by body style, price or performance, but by sheer entertainment.
So what floats evo’s boat? Involvement, response, confidence-inspiring handling but with enough of a playful edge to want to keep driving to uncover a deeper character. Each of the cars in this list does exactly that, while incorporating the ease and convenience of contemporary interior tech, and a manufacturer’s warranty.
The list below then isn’t ordered, rather a grouping of the best performance cars on sale in 2021
Best performance cars 2021:
- Honda Civic Type R
- Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
- Lotus Elise 220
- Porsche 718 Cayman GT4
- McLaren 720
- Ford Fiesta ST
- Mercedes-AMG GT63 S 4-Door
- McLaren 600LT
- Alpine A110
- Ferrari F8 Tributo
Honda Civic Type R
The Honda Civic Type R has elevated the art of the front-wheel-drive hot hatch to new levels. In terms of power, performance and grip, it treads on the toes of four-wheel-drive hyperhatches, but it does so without losing sight of what makes less exotic pocket rockets great.
However, look at the Civic and it’d be easy to dismiss the winged wonder as some Saturday night McDonald’s car park headbanger. The sizable spoiler, various vents and Super Touring stance give the Honda something of a boy racer image, but understand that it’s all for go rather than show and you’ll be able to make peace with the Type R. The first thing that strikes you as you settle into the low-set seat is the deliciously precise and consistent weighting of the controls, which feel expensively engineered. Squeeze the throttle harder and the lag-free and muscular response of the 316bhp 2-litre turbo will grab your attention. It’s not the most exciting sounding unit, but it delivers startling acceleration and is mated to a six-speed manual of rare precision.
Perhaps what’s most surprising about the Civic is how it picks apart a twisty stretch of tarmac. Despite its aggressive looks this is a car that breathes with the road, rather than pummeling it into submission. The adaptive dampers have a hard-as-nails track setting, but most of the time they serve up a mesmerising blend of cosseting compliance and cast-iron control. Factor in the limpet-like grip and near unbreakable traction and few cars at any price will catch an enthusiastically piloted Civic on most give and take roads. Of course, the icing on the cake is the fact it’s as spacious, cost-effective and easy to live with as any Honda. Sum the Honda up in one word? Brilliant.
Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
For so many years Alfa Romeo has disappointed, so the Giulia Quadrifoglio came as something of a shock – it wasn’t just good for an Alfa Romeo, it was good full stop. In fact, it’s rather better than good – it’s absolutely fabulous. The combination of 503bhp twin-turbo V6, rear-wheel drive and the guiding hand of the team behind the Ferrari 458 Speciale should have given us a clue, but with Alfa Romeo you never really know.
Even before you so much as pull on the door handle, the Giulia looks like a car that means business. The standard car’s voluptuous lines are enhanced by the mesh bonnet vents, the quad exhausts and those lovely enamel four-leafed clover badges on the front wings, which are formed in aluminium along with the door skins. Carbonfibre is used for the bonnet, roof and bootlid.
The lovely shell-backed Sparco seats are set low, while the steering wheel is perfectly placed, McLaren style. Set on the centre console is the DNA rotary controller, which like the menus in all the best restaurants features a short but tasty list of options – All-weather, Normal, Dynamic and Race. Each one ramps up the steering weight and the response of the throttle and gearbox, while the last disengages the stability control. You can also select from three damper modes, which essentially cover the comfort, normal and sport briefs.
On the road, Dynamic is best as it allows you to access the 2.9-litre V6’s instant and electrifying acceleration, plus it adds some much-needed aggression to the otherwise anonymous-sounding engine. Front-end grip is terrific, while the super-quick steering means any waywardness from the tail can be collected with a flick of the wrists.
Almost as remarkable as the Alfa is poised through the corners is its deft and cosseting ride when the Giulia is knocked back into Normal. This really is a supersaloon for all seasons.
Lotus Elise 220
Over 20 years on from its debut, there’s still nothing quite like a Lotus Elise. It’s the delicate, lightweight tonic to the ever-increasing numbers of higher powered but far more portly sports cars.
You can choose from a bewildering array of engine sizes and trim levels, but for our money the 217bhp supercharged Toyota unit (soon to be the entry-level power plant) makes the most sense. With just 904kg to haul around it’ll allow the Elise to crack 62mph in a seriously quick 4.6sec. Yet it’s the elasticity of the performance that impresses, the feeling that there’s a big motor carrying a very light body, which is essentially what is happening.
Yet the real party trick of the gossamer-light Lotus is its uncanny ride and handling balance. Few cars connect you so completely to the road, while also filtering out all the stuff you don’t need to know. The steering is alive with feedback and the transition from grip to slip so well telegraphed that you’re rarely caught by surprise. And on the odd occasion you are, the Elise’s dinky dimensions mean you’ve got more road, and therefore more options to play with.
It’s not just the driving experience that’s great, because the Lotus still looks so good. The Series 2 car’s sharp creases and organic curves give it timeless appeal, while the endless personalisation options mean you can really make it your own. Then there’s the knowledge that you’re building something pared back, with no more added to it than necessary – in these efficiency-conscious times major manufacturers could do a lot worse than take a leaf out of the Lotus playbook.
There are still niggles (cramped cabin, laughable fabric roof and very little refinement), but once you’re ensconced behind the wheel you won’t give a fig about NVH or how long it takes to raise the hood in the rain, because you’ll be too busy having the time of your life.
Porsche 718 Cayman GT4
The Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 is the model we’ve been crying out for since Porsche ripped out the lovely flat-six from the standard 718 when it was launched in 2015. Thankfully, along with the return of the flat-six, so too came the previous GT4’s GT3-derived front suspension, six-speed manual transmission and the deft calibration between each of these elements that Porsche’s motorsport department is so good at executing.
That flat-six engine isn’t an apologetic turbocharged unit either, rather a derivative of the atmospheric 4-litre unit from the GT3. It might lack the screaming top end and the 500bhp power figure squeezed out at the end of its tenure, but it remains a superb power unit that so swiftly and easily melts into the chassis – almost as if it was always meant to be there.
Some say that it hasn’t moved the game on quite enough, but the GT4, and its Spyder cousin, could only ever be the most worthy of their type, and deserve their place right at the top of our list.
Where do you start with the McLaren 720S? Less than a decade after the brand first got serious about making road cars, it has delivered a car that has redefined what a supercar should be capable of. From its shattering performance to its uncanny ability to deliver both razor-sharp handling and a supple ride, the 720S sets new standards seemingly at will.
Crucially it looks the part. With its blend of complex surfacing, flowing curves and numerous vents, the McLaren oozes supercar kerb appeal. The aluminium panels look like they’ve been shrink-wrapped over the carbon structure, while every aspect of the shape hints at the single-minded pursuit of aerodynamic performance. Of course, there are some flamboyant flourishes too, particularly those dihedral doors.
Performance is mind scrambling, with the blast from 0 to 62mph all over in 2.8sec and a top speed very much the wrong side of 200mph. And while the whooshing and sighing 710bhp twin-turbo 4-litre can’t match the aural drama of its Italian rivals, its brutal pace more than makes up for that.
Then there’s the handling, which melds tenacious grip with beautiful balance and engagement. Take it a little easier though and the McLaren rides with the easy-going gait of an executive saloon. Few other cars fuse so completely such scintillating performance, approachable handling and everyday usability. The 720’s greatness is assured.
Ford Fiesta ST
If there was proof that downsizing needn’t be a bad thing, it would likely have a Fiesta ST badge on it, so good is Ford’s latest supermini. Swapping out the previous generation’s turbocharged four-cylinder for a new 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder unit may have resulted in the loss of a tiny amount of enthusiasm at the top end, but this has been replaced by a much broader, fatter torque curve that only exercises the playful chassis even more so.
Opt for the Performance Pack and the included limited-slip differential unlocks the Fiesta’s full potential, while the chassis, although stiff, finds superb traction as the Michelins claw their way into the road surface, making the ST more than brisk across the road.
No supermini hot hatch right now goes as hard, turns in as eagerly or entertains quite as much, and yet it feels together, finely honed and extremely well-judged. As an involving and entertaining hatchback, the Fiesta ST hits all the right notes – to do it at its price point only sweetens the deal.
Mercedes-AMG GT63 S 4-Door
AMG is known for shuffling around the same combination of ingredients in various forms, but it’s the GT63 S 4-Door that, despite the dubious name, is AMG’s most impressive four-door.
As a coupe, the GT63 S is too big and too heavy to be a true sports car, but as a saloon, few hit harder, with the ‘S’ version powered by AMG’s most powerful iteration of the 4-litre twin-turbo V8 with 631bhp. All of the power is sent to the road via AMG’s 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system that is able to decouple the front axle for those with the inclination to do so.
As a result of the headline power figure, the GT63 S will reach 62mph in just 3.2sec, and go on to an unlimited top speed of 196mph, figures that high-end EVs aside, positively trounce the competition. It’s not cheap though, starting at over £135,000, giving it a supercar price to go along with its supercar performance.
McLaren as a brand has often been associated with immensely fast, but ultimately soulless supercars. However, its creations proved it had what it takes to make a real performance superhero, such as the brilliant 600LT. Its bigger brother, the 720S, might have given McLaren its first eCoty gong a year before, but the 600LT proved this was no fluke winning in 2018, with a set of attributes that appealed in different ways to its faster and more complex cousin.
The 600LT is not defined by its powertrain, effective though it is, rather a real sense of excitement and involvement that few rivals offer. Detail elements such as the perfect driving position, excellent visibility, feelsome hydraulic steering and superb brake feel don’t just accentuate the powertrain, they overshadow it as a piece of superbly finessed engineering.
Throw in some wonderful design details and the occasional flash of exhaust pipe fireworks from just behind your head and the 600LT certainly deserves its eCoty title, and indeed its place on this list.
If the McLaren 600LT above was the outright winner, superstar supercar that stole the hearts and minds of the team, the Alpine A110 was the moral victor, proving that an investment in lightweight engineering and design pays dividends for enthusiasts and manufacturers alike. Like the McLaren above, the Alpine’s aluminium space-frame construction and minimalist ethos doesn't rely just on the powertrain to deliver the goods.
The A110 instead relies on an almost otherworldly ability to float over even the roughest and most undulating tarmac without flinching, all the time giving you, the driver, a total understanding of what the chassis underneath you is going through. The engine and transmission are willing partners, but play second fiddle to the chassis’ inherent brilliance in a package that perfectly suits the congested road networks of 2020.
The Alpine A110 is a 21st century performance car hero, one that decouples the tenuous connection between outright speed and enjoyment.
Ferrari F8 Tributo
It’s fair to say that we at evo have had a love/hate relationship with the 488 Pista. Its performance on eCoty 2018 wasn’t its finest showing as the levels you need to drive it at to give back some joy are just too high for the road. Well, that’s where the F8 Tributo comes in, as it shares the Pista’s quite astounding 710bhp 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 engine, but combines it with a somewhat more chilled out chassis tune with a more proficient duality between road and track bias.
As a result, on the road the F8’s a far more involving, and forgiving, machine, helping the driver feel less like the under-developed learner driver in the passenger seat and more like the object of the supercar’s attention. Its performance is just as soul-stirring too, while the confidence inspired by the world-class chassis electronics and faithful control feedback make it an enjoyable drive regardless of the conditions or location.
As Ferrari prepares for a total shake-up of its traditional range with the new hybrid-assisted SF90 Stradale, front-engined Roma 2+2 coupe and even an upcoming SUV, it’s good to know that it still has an absolute hold on the design and engineering of its core mid-engined V8 supercar.