Best new performance cars 2021 – evo’s guide to the most exciting new cars arriving this year

2021 is shaping up as another great year for new performance cars

The year 2020 might have been a total trainwreck for many of us, but it was a bumper year for new performance cars. The good news is that looking into 2021, this push of new metal is set to continue with plenty of all-new and derivative models on the way. 

Highlights include a very busy year for Porsche’s GT division, which will not only roll out its new GT3 model later this month, but also the next GT3 Touring and an RS version of the 718 GT4, which will be the first of its kind.

Mercedes-AMG also has plenty on this year as it finalises the next generation SL for debut in the second half of this year, while also preparing to launch its first high performance hybrid models in the new S-class

There will be a large scale influx of new electric models too, and while they might not appeal in the same manner as traditional fodder found in evo, it will be interesting to see the paths different manufacturers follow with their new EVs, and how they inevitably begin to integrate them into performance ranges. This list of new models will no doubt continue to grow as we progress through 2021, but for now here are some of our highlights due in the next 12 months. 

Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA

Alfa Romeo’s position within the freshly minted Stellantis merger might be a little uncertain as the brand prepares for yet another restructure, but there is still one new performance model to look forward to in 2021. Alfa’s Giulia GTA is still on its way as a more focused take on the brilliant Quadrifoglio.

Similar to the Jaguar XE SV Project 8 in ethos, the GTA differs by sharing the standard Quadrifoglio’s powertrain and instead focusing its extensive (and expensive) updates to the chassis. New carbonfibre body panels and arch extensions overlay revised suspension, wider tracks and fatter tyres to create a wild-looking saloon. The even more extreme GTAm takes things further, removing the rear seats and including even more aerodynamic addenda. A fitting finale for one of the best performance saloons ever.

> Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA

Aston Martin derivatives

It seems most of the news surrounding Aston Martin in the last six months has not been about its products, but rather politics and finances. With new leadership, both at stakeholdership and operational levels, Aston Martin will for 2021 focus on bringing a range of new derivative models based on existing products to market.

This will include further versions of the DBX, but might also spread to the Vantage and DBS Superleggera. After six months with a Vantage in the Fast Fleet the notion of a faster, more capable Vantage S, or even one with Aston’s V12 snuck under its massive bonnet sounds like heaven to us, so we’ll have to wait and see what exactly Aston Martin delivers. 

Audi RS3, e-tron GT RS

Audi Sport has had a huge 24 months, revitalising most of its model range by introducing the new RS6 and RS7, introducing updated versions of the RS4 and RS5 while also quietly updating its TT RS models to comply with new emissions regulations. 2021 will see the completion of its passenger car updates, with a new RS3 on its way with its superb five-cylinder engine in check. 

A rather different move within Audi Sport will be the introduction of its first performance EV though – the e-tron GT RS. The stats are impressive, matching the Porsche Taycan Turbo on which it is closely based, but it has a steep hill to climb not in not only rivalling its Porsche cousin, but also convincing us of being worthy of an RS badge.

BMW 2-series Coupe, M3 Touring, M5 CS

An all-new BMW 2-series Coupe is on track to be revealed in 2021, following a familiar path tread by the current model. The new 2-series will find its base in the CLAR platform, and feature BMW’s familiar engine range, while keeping its compact two-door body and rear-wheel drive chassis.

BMW will also expand on a few existing M models, introducing an estate version of the M3 for the first time, and in just a few weeks the first M5 CS. The new M5 CS will be the most powerful series production BMW yet with 626bhp. Given the success the CS formula has proved to be in the M2, the M5 CS has a lot to live up to. 

Ferrari 812 ‘Lightweight’

The year 2020 proved to be monumental for Ferrari revealing not just four new models, but also diverging from its well-trodden product plan for the first time in over 20 years. The Roma, a new front-engined V8, and 986bhp SF90 are just the beginning too, with plenty more in the wings. The catch is that its most dramatic new models are unlikely to appear, let alone hit the road, until 2022, keeping its immediate product plans tightly under wraps.

What we do know is that this year will see a lighter and even more powerful version of the 812 Superfast in the fashion of the F12 TDf and 599 GTO, joining the Superfast and GTS models. These three models will as such remain the only V12 Ferraris on sale in 2021 given GTC4 Lusso production has now ceased. 

Jaguar XJ, Land Rover Range Rover

Like Aston Martin, Jaguar Land Rover also saw a leadership change in 2020 which is almost ready to coincide with revitalised flagship models across both Jaguar and Land Rover ranges. This will be led by an all-new electric XJ, taking the nameplate from retro-pastiche executive saloon to cutting edge EV in just two generations. 

The new Range Rover will also likely find its debut in 2021, but is expected to hit the roads later with both combustion and EV powertrains. This duality in the next Range Rover model has no doubt complicated the new model’s development, but as a model still crucial for the ongoing financial stability of JLR, it can’t come soon enough. 

Lotus Type 131

The fruits of Lotus’ Chinese investment will finally bear fruit beyond its seven-figure electric Evija hypercar when Lotus reveals its first all-new series production sports car in over 10 years. The new model, codenamed Type 131 internally, will likely sit between the Evora and Elise, finally bringing Lotus into the sports car space with a model that can rival a Porsche Cayman and Alpine A110 in desirability, rather than just superb handling traits. 

Given parent company Geely’s track record with its first large-scale European investment in Volvo and the successes it has generated, the future’s looking bright for Lotus, even if we’re still a few years away from seeing the full extent of its plans.

Maserati MC20, Gran Turismo

Just like Lotus, Maserati is also on the cusp of a product offensive, effectively relaunching the brand last summer with its first mid-engined supercar since the MC12. This aggressive investment strategy into the brand was on course before parent company FCA’s merger with PSA to become Stellantis, but unlike Alfa Romeo, is on track to continue its expansion into a full-range luxury manufacturer to rival Aston Martin, Bentley and Mercedes. 

The MC20 is certainly one of the most hotly anticipated cars of the year, but it will be joined later in 2021 by a new Gran Turismo model which like the MC20 will be offered with both a combustion and all-electric powertrain. A new GranCabrio will follow, along with an MC20 Spider too, but don’t expect to see them until further into 2022.

Mercedes SL, C-class, AMG hybrids, EQS

Mercedes is in for a big year in 2021, introducing multiple new models across a broad spectrum. Crucial volume lines like the C-class will be completely redesigned and revealed sometime in the Spring, while the upper-reaches of the range will also see an all-new SL. The SL is especially interesting as it will be reformed into a smaller model more befitting its ‘Super Light’ nameplate, ditching the folding metal hard-top and sharing an all-new aluminium platform with the next AMG GT. 

AMG will also finally reveal a range of new plug-in hybrid powertrains, some topping existing model ranges like the AMG GT Four-Door, and others being featured in the next AMG S-class. Somewhat more controversially, AMG is also expected to utilise plug-in hybrid technology in the next AMG C-class, but rather than joining a V8 as is expected in larger models, could instead be found on the end of a four-cylinder petrol, dramatically changing the C63’s character and appeal.

Mercedes will also reveal the first of its bespoke electric models, starting with the EQS, an all-electric ‘aero’ saloon it hopes will define the luxury EV class in the same way the S-class does in the traditional luxury saloon segment. It will also spawn a whole family of new models, initially confirming both a smaller E-class sized ‘aero’ saloon and SUV variants of both. This EV platform will also form the basis of AMG’s first dedicated EV.

> Mercedes-AMG C-class details revealed

Porsche GT3, GT3 Touring, GTS, Cayman GT4 RS

Porsche’s GT division also has a busy 2021 coming up, with Porsche following a relatively quiet 2020 with an explosion of models starting with the 911 GT3. While precise figures won’t be revealed until later in January, we now know enough that the package promises only to build on the GT3’s driving experience that has come to define the 911’s success on road and track.

2021 will also see the Touring derivative, a model that is being promised to have a larger distinction from the standard GT3 than in the 991.2, while its expected that the next 911 GTS will also arrive sometime in 2021, further diversifying it from lesser Carrera S models. Finally the 718 Cayman GT4 RS will be revealed later this year featuring all the usual RS-style upgrades in aero, chassis and hardware. 

> Porsche 911 GT3 tech details revealed

Toyota GR86

Toyota’s trifecta of performance models will find its completion in 2021, with the next-generation GR86, renamed from GT86 to better fit Toyota’s Gazoo Racing naming structure. While the new model is still a few months from its reveal, the new Subaru BRZ shown off in other markets does expose that the GR86’s package will likely remain true to the original.

As such, the basic structure and chassis is largely the same with a slightly larger, although still not turbocharged, 2.4-litre flat-four engine borrowed from Subaru powering the lightweight rear-wheel drive chassis. The compact 2+2 body, six-speed manual transmission and deft touch to the handling balance is also expected to remain, joining the GR Yaris and GR Supra in Toyota’s now complete performance range. 

Valkyrie test

The final golden age of the hypercar

2021 will also see the next wave of seven-figure combustion hypercars hitting the tarmac, with Aston Martin, Mercedes-AMG and Gordon Murray Automotive finishing up development of their respective models. All three have been extensively detailed already, but should now finally be on route to customers on either side of 2021/22. 

The Aston Martin Valkyrie, designed in part by Adrian Newey and his team at Red Bull, and AMG’s Project one both draw a deep connection to Formula F1, albeit in different ways. The Aston, with its Cosworth V12 and undercurrent of engineering for competition in Le Mans racing (albeit now one on ice) contrasts against AMG’s focus to create a roadcar purely to bring its F1 engine to the road. 

GMA T.50 front

The T.50 takes a different path, following Gordon Murray’s vision in pursuit of the perfect road car. It’s less powerful than the other two, but then also lighter, and more simple in design, if not execution. While the three won’t line up quite as astutely as the McLaren P1, LaFerrari and Porsche 918 Spyder did in the early part of last decade, these three do represent the very limits of combustion powertrain and chassis engineering in distinctive ways.

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