We reveal the winner and the full shortlist for the best performance car of 2016, as voted for by our independent jury of experts.
There are many reasons why a petrolhead craves a particular car, but speed is usually always a primary consideration. It is fortunate, then, that modern engine technology and other advances have paved the way for more speed than ever, but with fewer of the downsides.
Sadly the very same advances can numb the sensations you feel when at the wheel and therefore numb the whole experience, which is why synthetic engine notes and electric driving modes try to bring back what has been lost – sometimes unsucessfully.
So not only does a successful performance car have to cope with increasingly busy roads, deliver an ever-higher level of pace, manage to be somewhat kind(-ish) to the planet and look exciting, it has to undo some of its own competence to make a car feel more alive.
No easy feat, we must admit, but this year has seen a number of truly great performance cars of all shapes and sizes for all budgets and requirements that certainly got our hearts racing.
Best performance car of the year winner: Ford Mustang
This was no easy decision. We have a brutally fast but easily drivable car, a brutally fast and utterly dangerous car, a return to former M glory, a return to former RS glory, a reminder why V8s are great and one of the fastest family cars on earth as contenders.
The R8 Spyder really is glorious to drive and so usable; the 4C Spider is the antithesis of where motoring is heading; the M2 puts M cars back on the map; the RS an accessible hot-hatch monster; the Mustang is a charming American brute; the GTC Lusso a Ferrari like no other.
Truth be told, the M2, R8 Spyder and the new Ford Mustang were the last standing. The M2 really is exceptional fun to drive and the R8 Spyder can decimate in conditions that would make rival supercars give up and go home. But it was the Ford that gave us the most joy.
“Though it is not the fastest or most capable car in our shortlist, the new Ford Mustang V8 made the biggest impression in 2016,” Recombu associate editor Ben Griffin said. “Brimming with character and pace and with a brutish design that turn heads like nothing else, it is remarkable to think you can buy one for as little as £36,000.”
Best performance car of the year: The shortlist
Audi R8 Spyder (2016)
We absolutely love how brutally competent the latest R8 is, but it is the mixture of comfort one minute and V10-based ferocity the next that really makes it stand out. Pardon the cliche but it truly is a supercar you can use everyday, even if it rains.
In its Spyder version, the higher power output of the V10 Plus has been ditched (for now, at least), but 532bhp is ample when the lack of a roof, which can open and close at up to 31mph, negates any lost performance with an even greater sensation of speed.
Nissan GT-R (2017)
The Nissan GT-R has always been a supercar-rivalling machine, but its dominance is fading somewhat and the price of the Nismo edition puts it in dangerous waters. Even so, it is still a supercar we would bring to any supercar showdown.
It has a mechanical, hefty feel about it that is becoming rarer and rarer these days, even though the latest edition was made to be more comfortable and relaxed to make it more versatile. Yes it fails to shine as brightly as it once did, but nobody gets out of the twin-turbo-powered 2017 GT-R and feels disappointed or short-changed. This is an all-wheel drive monster with absurd handling potential.
Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
Laugh at the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider‘s 250hp, 1.75-litre engine all you want – it does sound puny. But stick it in a car that weighs around 900kg and you have the recipe for a brutally fast car, and one that counts a radio and heating as a luxury.
Whatever Alfa considered fat and unnecessary was removed to keep the weight down, while the cabin sits so low to the floor it is no easy feat getting in. As for the boot, it is miniscule. But then Alfa built the 4C Coupe and 4C Spider to annihilate just about any car on a track and that it can do without hesitation. Nothing else in 2016 offered such an undiluted and raw driving experience.
We spent a while enjoying various cars from BMW’s M division, but without ever really loving them. That was until the M2 came along, of course, complete with the personality and eagerness missing from the M4. Though slower than its siblings, it is just so much more involving.
We love how it looks, we love how it drives and we love the fact it can be affordable-ish if you hold back on the extras. It is the closest thing to the brilliant 1M Coupe and arguably better in some ways, which in itself is impressive. Few cars this year encourage you to be such a hooligan.
Ford Focus RS (2016)
Though the Ford Focus RS never quite wowed us as much as we had hoped, there is no disputing it is a lot of car for £30,000. All-wheel drive, oodles of power from its 2.3-litre EcoBoost, reasonable levels of practicality and a strong look make it hard to resist its charms.
We disliked the torque restriction in 1st and 2nd gear and the oddly high-up seating position, plus the harsh ride can grate over long distances, but it is a thouroughly quick hot-hatch, which is exactly what it was designed to be, and for that it must be commended.
Ford Mustang (2016)
One of the best cars we drove all year was the new Mustang with the 5.0-litre V8 in tow. Not only does it represent the first proper right-hand drive Mustang in half a century, it provides an affordable alternative to the BMW M division at a fraction of the cost and it does so with bags of character.
A pleasing American design does justice to the original cars, whether in Fastback of Convertible forms, while its big-old V8 engine provides a potent mix of comfortable, effortless cruising and thunderous pace. You could argue the interior is a bit cheap, but it did nothing to diminish the sense of occasion we felt on every single drive.
Ferrari is never one for facelifts, so saying the GTC4Lusso is merely the follow-up to the FF is a bit misleading. So much has been done to make it a better car and while the styling may be a bit OTT for some, this is still a V12 Ferrari that can carry the family at beyond 200mph.
Not only that, it does so without the loud stigma you get from some of the flashier Ferraris and rival supercars and yet it has similar levels of performance and handling capability, largely due to another Ferrari oddity: All-wheel drive.