As a new year draws ever closer and promises a glut of new, faster and more desirable cars, we must not forget how enthusiastic reducers have been spoiled for choice with a wide range of cars from driver in 2021.
New cars, despite the supply issues, continued to compete for our money. Fast sedans, coupes and downright sports cars, all delivered to thrills. There were also a few longtime favorites making one last fight, the Elise for one, disappearing from showrooms to make way for the highly anticipated Lotus Emira and Evija.
A lot of redesigned and rejuvenated machines reminded us of how good machines we have had to drive for so long. BMW, Porsche and Nissan have all raised the stakes for 2021, offering more bang for your buck in an endless circle of driver demands over products from manufacturers. Before the end of the year, here is a selection of the best driver cars of 2021.
Lotus Exige Sport 420 Final Edition
In 2021, Lotus announced plans to downsize its model lineup, killing both the Elise and the Exige. In the process, ending the brand’s most successful road car series. However, rather than simply fading into history, Lotus aims to stand out from the crowd with a range of final editions.
No one could ever accuse the Exige of being undernourished. Lightweight aluminum tubs glued together always seemed faster than the numbers shown. For its latest outing, Lotus fitted the Exige with a supercharged 420bhp V6, good for a claimed top speed of 180mph. Does the Exige still live up to its reputation? Without a doubt, every time.
While Lotus is busy retiring its lightweight sports cars, little-known French automaker Alpine has taken over and paused on the horizon at incredible speeds. The A110S follows a similar path of light, sleek engineering, matching the Exige in rev stakes at 2,456 lbs.
The minimal weight makes it one of the most maneuverable sports cars you can buy, backed by a 1.8-liter Renault-Nissan and Alpine turbocharged engine developing 288 hp, propelling the A110 to 60 mph in 4 , 4 seconds. Speed and agility are normally synonymous with a mind-blowing ride, not in the A110S, conservatively sized wheels and a more compliant suspension setup make the experience more enjoyable.
Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0
It’s rare for a lower-performing car to outperform its big brothers, especially when it comes to Porsche, where despite huge gains in performance and feel, anything less than a 911 will simply do the trick? However, ignoring traditionalists can yield huge rewards. The latest 718 Cayman GTS 4.0 is a scorching driver’s car.
Tucked away behind the cockpit, Porsche’s naturally aspirated 4-liter flat-six produces 394 hp and delivers its power in lag-free acceleration, 60 mph takes 3.8 seconds. Aside from the impressive performance numbers, one of the 718 Cayman’s biggest strengths is that you can still get one with a 6-speed manual, no robotic automatics, just the driver and machine in tune.
Honda Civic Type-R
Go beyond eye-catching looks and the Honda Civic Type-R just might be the best affordable performance car on the market, blazingly fast with supreme durability is, in our books, a winning combination. So good that it’s incredibly easy to forget that despite jaw-dropping acceleration, hitting 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, the Type-R is still just a front-wheel drive platform.
Some of the Honda magic is at work here, the Type-R is not only fast in a straight line, reaching the Nürburgring in 2017, it set the fastest lap time of any front-wheel drive car. Cheap to buy and blazingly fast, Type-Rs offer the perfect blend of speed and ease of use.
Chevrolet Corvette C8
Under optimal conditions, you won’t find anything so fast at the same price. Chevrolet’s decision to switch to a mid-engine configuration for the Corvette C8 is easily validated by a 0-100 km / h time of three seconds, using nothing more than the base Vette specification. The placement of the engine between the axles could have been controversial, but the impact of a 6.2L LT2 V8 between the axles did wonders for grip.
Better balanced and better suspended too, with magnetorheological shock absorbers at each corner, grip is never lacking. Push hard on a turn in older Corvettes and you’ll never see the other side, the C8 just grabs and feeds the other side.
Wool-dyed, purists will say until the cows come home that this is not a true Supra. Of course, its DNA contains more than a hint of BMW about it, but it’s how this German-German collaboration works that matters. Blowing the hood across the range revealed a choice of two original BMW engine options, four or six cylinders, with the latter receiving a few tweaks for 2021, so it now produces 382bhp.
Big power figures inevitably deliver great thrills, 60 mph comes in 3.7 seconds with a top speed limited to 160 mph, higher with the right tools and knowledge. Any worries about comfort are unfounded, the crisp and precise steering offers a true supercar feel without compromising its smooth ride.
Nissan GT-R NISMO
It’s rare these days for a performance car to stay ahead of the pack for so long, the twelve-year-old Nissan GT-R is still a technological masterpiece of engineering and performance. Since its introduction in 2009, fasting has only gotten faster and more efficient, in part thanks to NISMO’s involvement.
The changes for 2021 are subtle, limited to a few cosmetic tweaks on the outside. Under the skin, it’s business as usual. The 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged VR38DETT V6 engines produce 600 hp with a four-wheel drive transmission managed by a 6-speed automatic transmission. Boasting levels of power and grip bordering on insanity, the NISMO GT-R can be a little intimidating, but even then Nissan has all the bases covered with a fully adjustable suspension setup.
BMW M3 Competition
No driver car list would be complete without the performance sedan against which all others are judged. The M3 is a real sports car in an executive style suit. On the one hand, practical and affordable, on the other, it packs a punch.
BMW, not content with a fire-breathing super sedan, is also offering a power upgrade. Competition cars with a 3-liter turbocharged inline-six developing 503 hp. The gains may be relatively small, but the M3 Competition is no slouch, it takes 3.5 seconds to hit 60mph and downright good at 174mph.
Ford Mustang Mach 1
The original blue-collar performance car has come a long way since six-cylinder engines provided acceptable performance, with dozens of hot versions filling the gaps in the Ford lineup. Which brings us to Mach 1, a mildly heated daily driver using all the best fundamentals of the outgoing GT 350 with the latest magnetorheological damper setup.
Normal, Sport and Track are self-explanatory, even on the softest setting, the Mach 1 responds to every input from the driver with a skill that belies its mass of 3,800 lbs. Brakes are also beefed up, Brembo six-pot items ensure that diving into a corner late on stoppers will not be a cause for alarm. The Mach 1 might be on the lower end of the range with just 480bhp, but it’s more than enough to be fun, fast, and usable.
These cars were so hideous that we find it hard to understand why anyone would pay money to be seen driving them.
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