Best sports saloons 2021 - the top 10 fast 4-doors on sale
Sports and supersaloons have a tough job providing supercar thrills without compromising practicality – here are a few that have perfected the package
It’s not hard to see the appeal of sports and supersaloons. They combine the practicality, comfort and usability of a family car with the engaging handling and powertrains of a more exciting performance car.
So while they might lack the glamour and style of an equivalent sports car, sports saloons still have a very distinct appeal of their own. This is in no small due to the motorsport heritage attached to many of our favourite examples, but mostly it’s because they appeal as everyday propositions, rather than weekend wheels.
Now in its sixth generation, the BMW M5 is still strutting its stuff, but it no longer has the sector to itself. A whole host of manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon. Not all sports saloons are the same, however, and as our countdown shows the modern sports saloons come in all shapes and sizes.
The sport saloons to buy now
- Alfa Romeo Quadrifoglio
- Jaguar XE SV Project 8 Touring
- Mercedes-AMG E63 S
- BMW M5
- Porsche Panamera GTS
- Mercedes-AMG C63 S
- Audi RS7
- BMW M8 Competition Gran Coupe
- Mercedes-AMG GT63 S
- Mercedes-AMG CLA45 S
Best sports saloons 2021
Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio has long been a firm evo favourite since it’s introduction in 2017, but as of 2021 the model has been given a light refresh with some fresh interior trim pieces and a new infotainment system.
Crucially, the hardware that has defined the Quadrifoglio has remained as before, dominated by its superb 90-degree twin-turbo 2.9-litre V6 that kicks out 503bhp. It’s mated to the rear wheels via an eight-speed auto that’s controlled from a pair of flamboyantly large aluminium paddles. The body is equally exotic, with pumped bodywork that features a lightweight mix of carbon fibre and aluminium body panels only barely concealing sophisticated double wishbone suspension, multi-way adaptive dampers and those telephone-dial wheels. Oh, and did we mention it was developed by the same man that brought us the Ferrari 458 Speciale?
On the move the Alfa’s Ferrari DNA isn’t hard to spot. The big giveaways are the wrist-flick quick steering and surprisingly supple ride. Yet it’s the car’s poise, balance and grip when really pushing on that leaves the deepest impression – this is a tremendously fast and accomplished machine that’s more engaging than anything else with four doors. Sure the optional carbon ceramic brakes lack manners at low speed and the engine lacks some aural drama (although it’s brutally fast), but these niggles can’t detract from what is a sublime saloon.
Jaguar XE SV Project 8 Touring
One look at the Jaguar XE SV Project 8 and you’ll be instantly aware that this is no ordinary Jaguar XE. From the bespoke bodywork only barely containing its widened tracks to the extensive use of carbonfibre across everything from its bumpers, bonnet and roof, and not to mention the quite incredible baritone bark from its V8 engine, there are saloons with performance addenda attached, and then there’s the Project 8.
Jaguar’s Project 8 was developed by JLR’s Special Vehicle Operations, yet has taken the mandate of creating this special edition model to the next level. To do this, SVO took the 5-litre supercharged AJ V8 from its larger models and shoehorned it into the XE’s compact engine bay. Only the engine isn’t just a carry over from other flagship models, but one with a bespoke tune of 592bhp, making it the most potent application in the JLR group.
To accommodate the substantial rise in power over the standard XE, SVO paid attention to almost every component under the skin, from unique driveshafts and axles, bespoke motorsport-derived coilover springs and dampers, rose-jointing in the suspension and forged wishbones. The results are quite spectacular, the Project 8 being less of a derivative and instead a bespoke, all-wheel drive supercar crammed into an XE bodyshell.
Mercedes-AMG E63 S
If you had to sum up the Mercedes-AMG E63 in one word, then ‘bombastic’ would just about cover it. Like many AMG products, it’s the engine that dominates the E63’s driving experience, with the twin turbo V8 delivering performance and noise in equal measure. Yet the AMG is far from being a one-dimensional driving device and as you scratch beneath the surface you’ll find deep reserves of talent and ability.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the latest E63 is its 4MATIC all-wheel drive system, which features the hooligan ‘Drift Mode’, which disconnects the front axle and allows you to vaporize a set of Michelins on the rear axle in minutes. Yet it’s arguably when left to its own devices that the transmission impresses most, as it manages to combine the feel and balance of a rear-driver with stupendous traction when the going gets slippery.
Equally impressive is the way the Mercedes disguises its bulk, with absolute body control, impressive grip and quick steering allowing you to hustle it beyond what a near-2 ton saloon should be capable of. And of course, there’s something laugh out loud hilarious about a car as refined and spacious as the big Benz that’ll also rattle off the sprint to 60mph in well under four seconds. Oh, and you can get it in estate guise, which instantly gives an extra 10 points in the street cred ratings.
BMW M5 Competition
The BMW M5 is the evergreen entrant in this class – one that has long defined the term supersaloon. While the lead it held over rivals has eroded over the years in many ways, the latest M5 Competition remains just that little bit more pure to the brief.
It’s perhaps unsurprising to see the mechanical convergence at the top of the class, most now feature twin-turbocharged V8 engines, all-wheel drive and eight-speed automatic transmissions, but there’s something different to the M5’s character. Delve into its dynamic repertoire and you’ll find that despite its anodyne steering and meek soundtrack, that the harder you push the better it gets.
Really study the specification and you’ll spot why – its coil-sprung suspension might lack the variability of its air-sprung rivals, but it reveals an innate connection with the road surface when you properly load the chassis into corners.
Switch the all-wheel drive system to its more heavily rear-biased, or indeed full rear-wheel drive modes, and the car doesn’t lose any composure. Instead, you unveil that satisfying high speed traction that the electronically controlled locking rear differential is able to generate. The real magic only reveals itself at these higher levels - beyond the comfort level of most, if not all, direct rivals. The M5 is not the most instantly satisfying super saloon, the E63 is more rambunctious, an Audi RS6 more accessible, but when pushed onto a higher plane neither can compete.
Porsche Panamera GTS
Is the Porsche a high performance four-seater coupe, a super saloon or a luxurious limousine with an outrageous turn of speed? Regardless of how you view it, there’s no denying the Panamera GTS is a deeply impressive piece of kit. Despite its size and weight it still goes and handles with the alacrity you’d expect from a car bearing the Porsche badge.
Like the BMW M5 and Mercedes-AMG E63, the Panamera is powered by a twin-turbocharged V8 that squeezes out 473bhp, which is good for 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds and will merrily haul the Porsche along at 186mph. Yet it’s the breadth of performance that’s really dizzying, with 457lb ft of twist available at just 1,800rpm. As a result it doesn’t matter what gear you’re in or what speed you’re doing, the Panamera simply takes off in a manner that suggests the super unleaded has been swapped for dilithium crystals. And yet, these figures are quite a way off those BMW and AMG figures, not to mention the latest Panamera Turbo S, and yet why we’ve chosen the GTS is for good reason.
That’s because so many modern supersaloons are not just fast, but a little too fast to really enjoy them on the public road. The GTS’s lesser power figure doesn’t feel underpowered, and has all the character of its rivals, but allows you to enjoy the noise and drama of its V8 just that little bit longer. You can specify the chassis up to Turbo S levels if you wish, but on its standard chassis the GTS feels a superbly rationalised package, and is a fair chunk less cash to boot.
Mercedes-AMG C63 S
If you can’t stretch to the Mercedes-AMG E63 (and at the best part of £100k with choice options that’s understandable), then the C63 S is a more than capable stand in. With 503bhp, the C-Class is around 100bhp shy of its big brother, but its lighter and more compact body means it’s nearly as fast where it counts. More importantly, its twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 features the same soundtrack that moves from canal boat bilge pump chug at idle through to full-blooded NASCAR bellow when worked hard. Few relatively sober-suited saloons attract more attention.
The meaty steering is quick and precise, and there’s plenty of front end bite, allowing you to place the car with confidence. Perhaps most surprising is the traction available on the exit of a bend, the combination of wide rubber and a clever electronic differential helping to fire you explosively along the next straight. Of course, this is still an AMG, so turning off the traction control and pinning the throttle will result in some localised and very heavy fog in your rear view mirror, but such is the Merc’s balance that these lurid, showboating slides are hilarious rather than heart-rate raising.
When you don’t want to play the hooligan, then the C-Class is every bit as easy to live with as C220d. Yes the ride’s a little firmer and the thirst of fuel is quite a bit more alarming, but in all other respects its a practical, reasonably roomy and well-equipped family saloon. It just so happens to have an alter ego that makes Mr Hyde look like Mr Bean.
Audi’s first RS7 always felt a little flat-footed and undercooked despite its impressive performance capability, but this new version has taken on a subtler yet even more capable tune. While it might share a familiar 592bhp twin-turbocharged powertrain with its predecessor, the new RS7’s changes lie in its superb new chassis, especially when fitted with the optional Dynamic Ride Control and carbon ceramic brakes.
When fitted, these two elements help turn the RS7 into an absolute weapon on the road, with a level of compliance and total traction that makes use of every horsepower. This pace across the road doesn’t come at the expense of high-speed body control either, as it’s crosslinked dampers do a superb job of controlling its 2-ton mass. The rear-wheel steering then kicks in to give the near 5-meter long hatchback incredible agility, with a light but accurate steering rack. And while the uprated brakes make short work of the RS7’s mass, a bigger effect is felt in the reduction of unsprung weight right where the big Audi needs it.
Push to the absolute limits on track and things can get a little scrappy, but on the road where most buyers will inevitably keep it and the RS7 finally offers the sort of all-weather performance it always promised.
BMW M8 Competition Gran Coupe
BMW’s M8 Competition Gran Coupe ostensibly takes the M5 Comp’s package and slips it into a longer, lower and wider package, which has both its pros and cons. On the negative, the M8 is actually the heavier of the two, and despite being able to sit lower down in the chassis, it can feel the more cumbersome of the two, especially on cramped UK roads.
Its wider tracks and new geometry have made its handling ever so slightly more opaque at low speeds too, only highlighting the lifeless steering which can make it a tricky car to drive in the upper reaches of its dynamic window on the road, initially.
It’s that word initially which is key here, however, as like the M5 but to an even more astute level, the M8 Competition reveals its true self over time, and with acclimatisation. That lower driving position which at first inhibits soon brings you closer to the action, its lower centre of gravity gives unlocking even more grip and agility. This is a car one needs time to acclimatise to, as underneath its shortage of feedback is a super saloon with composure and adjustability beyond that of rivals like the RS7 and Porsche Panamera.
Mercedes-AMG GT63 S
Similar in concept to the M8 Competition above, the AMG GT63 S takes the familiar powertrain and chassis from the more traditionally-shaped super saloon and relocates it within a longer, lower body shell. In the GT63 S’s case, the powertrain does feature a subtle 20bhp advantage over the lesser E63 S, but despite its insinuated connection to the AMG GT supercar, also shares its chassis and underlying structure with the E-class.
Yet, the GT63 S packs an even bigger punch, both in terms of its outright performance, and capability of its chassis. The sheer speed the GT63 S is able to pile on from its immense engine defies its mass, while the braking performances from its vast carbon rotors and the turn in from its glued in front axle facilitate this supernatural ability.
But while this sheer capability impresses, it feels somewhat less satisfying than some rivals, making you feel like you’re being pummeled by the car’s ability without entirely involving you in the process. It’s also big, and feels it on British roads, outsizing most single-carriageway roads by simultaneously brushing the white lines on the road edge and cats eyes in the road center. Like so many other big hitters in this list, with space and acclimatisation the GT does let you in, but does so at the expense of feedback and enjoyment. As a hot rod though, the GT appeals in much the same way as the E63S, only with an extra £40k tacked onto the price tag.
Mercedes-AMG CLA45 S
How far can we push that notion of a super saloon? Read the specifications and you’d think that any 414bhp, all-wheel drive saloon with a dual-clutch transmission and torque-vectoring rear differential would cut the mustard, and yet this one has a four-cylinder mounted sideways under its relatively short bonnet.
So while it may be a smaller interpretation of the iconic super saloon, there’s no doubting its place given the impressive performance it’s capable of. It’ll reach 62mph in just 4sec in any weather and cover ground at an incredible pace, but it’s the fluidity and sophistication of which it does so that’s so impressive.
Unlike its sterile predecessor the new CLA45 is a much finer instrument. It flows with the road surface in its gentler damper modes, the steering accurate and while not full of feedback reveals the front end’s tenacious grip levels. Its rear end can both be loyal to the front or get involved with proceedings with either a subtle lift or a prod of its torque vectoring differential under power. It’s a superb tool, and one that channels more than a bit of 90s WRC homologation special about it, all wrapped up in a sleek package.