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Best performance cars of the 21st century: Top 10

We take a look back at some of the best performance cars produced since the turn of the century

Since 2000, performance cars have been evolving at a phenomenal rate. Despite increasing sanctions on regulations on emissions and safety, manufacturers have managed to continue producing faster, and more capable machines. We’ve picked ten of the best performance cars from since the turn of the century:

Nissan GT-R

The Nissan GT-R was the first model from Nissan that saw the legendary badge separated from the Skyline range. This was an important step, as it freed the GT-R from the shackles of its humble underpinnings, leaving the Japanese company to build the ultimate speed machine – powered by all the technology Nissan could throw at it. Built in a hermetically sealed laboratory, the GT-R was launched in 2007, quickly becoming the supercar-humbling performance car legend we all know and love today. Since then it has been improved and tweaked by Nissan (and many aftermarket companies) too. Although the price has increased over the years, it still offers great performance for the money, and is especially tempting as a used buy from around £35,000.

Ford Focus RS Mk1

The original Ford Focus RS was the outrageous hot hatch cousin of the Mk1 Focus: the car that saved Ford. It represented a return in 2002 to the hot-hatch fold for the blue oval, and a welcome return for the legendary RS badge. Its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine pumps out around 212bhp, sending it to the front wheels through an aggressive limited slip differential. It will hit 60mph in less than six seconds and its less-than subtle styling - with gills, spoilers and flared-panels – adds to the appeal. A good one can be found nowadays for less than £8000.

Toyota GT86

Released in 2012, the GT86 marked Toyota’s return to the lightweight two-seater sports car market. The GT86 was well received, although some people thought it needed more power and was too expensive. This was a car built for driver involvement though, not pure speed. The high-revving 2.0-litre boxer engine complimented the purposely low-grip tyres fitted and rear-wheel drive chassis, delivering a fun-filled and often sideways approach to motoring. Early models can be found in the classifieds for around £15,000 now, although numbers of used examples relatively small due to low numbers sold in the UK.

Lotus Exige

You might think the Exige was built in a shed in Norfolk, but its ability to corner like a horse fly comes down to engineering heritage filtered down through generations of skilled engineers at Hethel. First produced in 2000, it was a more-hardcore adaptation of the Elise, featuring a bigger 1.8 litre supercharged engine that would see it launch to 60mph in 4.7 seconds. In 2004 the series 2 was released, featuring an upgraded, even-lighter chassis based on the series two Elise. A good series one can now be found for £27,500.

Audi R8

The R8 was a significant car for Audi for a number of reasons. It represented the German-marque’s first attempt at a Porsche 911 rival, took its name from a five-time Le Mans winning machine, and came on to the market squaring up to the all-conquering Porsche 911. Launched in 2007, the first generation R8 still looks great today, and has only just been replaced. Producing 424bhp from a snarling V8, its party-piece was the car’s sublime handling, thanks to 50:50 weight distribution and Audi’s clever Quattro four-wheel drive system. Values have held up extremely well thanks to the relatively limited numbers, and almost timeless design, meaning event the oldest examples will cost upwards of £50,000.

Renault Megane R26.R

Renault Megane R26.R

The plastic windows, stripped-out interior and a roll hints that this hot hatch might be something a little bit special. Weighing in at just under 1260kg means, the track-biased R26.R can seriously shift, with new suspension, a limited slip differential and sticky Toyo tyres as standard making this one of the most focused driving machines ever put into production.

Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0

While we can’t help but adore the latest generation 991 GT3, with its 9000rpm rev limiter and super fast PDK gearbox, it’s the last-generation 997 4.0-litre RS that makes this list. It was the last swansong for the long-lived and legendary Porsche Metzger engine, and although a little too hardcore for everyday road use, the 4.0-litre Porsche is a masterpiece of engineering.

Honda S2000

The Honda S2000 was the darling of the motoring press when it first came to market, with its sharp looks and agile frame taking it toe-to-toe with the likes of the MX-5. Its real attraction however was its engine. Present in both the A1 and facelifted-A2 specifications, the 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder unit is hailed as bulletproof, with next to nothing in the way of failures ever recorded. It was also the most powerful engine of its type, meaning the great RWD chassis was far from wasted. One in excellent condition can amount up to £17,000, however a good one can be picked up for £7000.

Ariel Atom

First sketched in the student halls at Coventry University, the Atom soon became the one of the most extreme cars with a tax disc. Its performance was unparalleled, with a 0-60mph time of 2.8, and an astonishing power-to-weight ratio of 496bhp per ton. In its heyday, it could blow pretty much everything out of the water off the line, and in the bends, thanks to its space-age frame. Then came the Honda Type-R engine, then a supercharger. Pretty soon, the Atom was putting out some serious performance figures.


The M3 CSL was essentially BMW’s attempt at a touring car for the road. A stiffer chassis, reworked suspension, and 17bhp more from the vocal six-cylinder engine, meant the M3 CSL was a joy to drive. Bigger wheels, a few minor styling tweaks and a carbon fibre roof mark it out. Just 1400 CSLs were sold from new at £58,000, and prices remain above the £30,000 mark, with the best examples selling for a lot more.

Words: Joe Diamond // Images: evo magazine

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