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Best performance cars of 2021

If you're looking for a perfect blend of performance and practicality, these three saloons are all outstanding options.

This is a specialist niche in the new car market, with driving experience taking priority over pretty much everything else.

We’re looking at high-performance versions of ordinary cars, rather than dedicated sports cars that are almost never put through Euro NCAP safety testing.

This is a category that looks set to be transformed in coming years, from today’s petrol-dominated market to a new generation of electric performance cars. We see the first signs of this in our award winners below, with a lot more to come for 2022 and beyond.

Our awards recognise both the best new models to have been launched over the last 12 months, but also the best overall cars in each category – because newer doesn’t always mean better, as you can see below.

The best performance cars of 2021

Best performance cars of 2021 – BMW M3

Best new model: 
BMW M3

Best performance cars of 2021 – Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

Class champion, overall:
Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

Best large cars of 2021 – Porsche Taycan

Class champion, electric:
Porsche Taycan

High-performance vehicles tend to score highly with motoring journalists, but all three of these cars are outstanding.

The BMW M3 saloon edges its coupé M4 sibling as the best new entry this year, although both offer titanic performance and a very similar driving experience. However, the critics’ favourite fast four-door is the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, which ends the year with an outstanding Expert Rating score of 89%.

Our large car class champion is also represented here as the best electric performance car on offer. The Porsche Taycan, especially in Turbo S guise, highlights all the performance characteristics of electric motors, yet retains great driving appeal.

Best new model: BMW M3 (87%)

Best new performance car for 2021 – BMW M3

TCE Expert Rating: 87%

Euro NCAP safety rating: 5 stars

Any car carrying an M3 badge has an enormous level of expectation, built over generations of scintillating compact performance cars. Although the latest generation model has evolved further than ever from the original racing homologation special of the 1980s, the new M3 more than lives up to the name.

Here in the UK, we only get the top-spec M3 Competition model, which is powered by a 3.0-litre, twin-turbo, six-cylinder petrol engine that produces 510hp. It is available with either rear- or all-wheel drive.

Critics have lavished praise on the driving characteristics of both the M3 and M4, although – as with pretty much any new BMW – the styling is a divisive point.

We haven’t built an Expert Rating page for the new M3 yet, although we do have all of the data. Keep checking back for the latest updates.

Class champion, overall: Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (89%)

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (2016 onwards) – Expert Rating

TCE Expert Rating: 89%

Euro NCAP safety rating: 5 stars

Critics have almost run out of superlatives to describe the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio over the last five years. Launched back in 2016 and still a firm favourite, the Quadrifoglio – along with its even higher-performance versions, the GTA and GTAm – represents the last of its kind for one of the world’s oldest car companies.

Under its new owner, Stellantis, Alfa Romeo will become an electric-only brand in a few years, although the company has pledged a new performance EV as a spiritual successor to the Giulia. So if you want an Alfa super saloon with a petrol V6 twin-turbo engine developed by Ferrari, this is your last chance.

Class champion, electric: Porsche Taycan (88%)

Best large cars 2021 – Porsche Taycan

TCE Expert Rating: 88%

Euro NCAP safety rating: 5 stars

Even in its most basic form, the Porsche Taycan qualifies as a performance car. But in top-spec Turbo S it offers 760hp – a number that puts it into genuine supercar territory.

Car enthusiasts have long feared that EVs will mean the death of sports cars, super saloons and hot hatches. But the Taycan, along with its closely related cousin, the Audi e-tron GT, have shown that this doesn’t have to be the case. Sure, things will certainly be different. But the future is much brighter than the doomsdayers would have you believe.

The Taycan offers superb driving dynamics for enthusiasts, combined with comfort and practicality for more mundane tasks like urban commuting. Obviously this is a £100K+ machine, but the lessons Porsche has been learning with the Taycan will benefit the next generation of Volkswagen Golf GTIs and similar vehicles.

Notes on eligibility

To be eligible for our Best New Model or Class Champion titles, there are a couple of requirements in addition to having a top Expert Rating score.

Firstly, the Best New Model must have been launched in the UK between 1 December 2020 and 1 December 2021. That means cars registered and on the road, not just available to order for deliveries starting sometime in 2022.

Secondly, a car must have a current Euro NCAP safety rating of either four or five stars. If a car scores three stars or less, we can’t in good conscience give it an award for being best in class. If a new model has not been tested by Euro NCAP by December 2021, it will not be eligible but we will consider it next year if it has been tested.

Our Euro NCAP requirement did not affect the performance car awards, as all of the top-scoring models have a full five-star safety rating.