Currently reading: Top 10 best performance coupes 2020
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Huge performance, enthralling dynamics and a swooping, delicious shape are all hallmarks of a performance coupé. We pick our top 10 currently on sale
Autocar
News
7 mins read
15 April 2020

The recipe for a performance coupé is simple: take one good-looking coupé, give it a more muscular look if it needs one, make the dynamics sharper, drop a powerful engine in the nose and aim the performance figures for the stratosphere. 

The hot versions of these slick-looking coupés each exhibit their own exhilarating traits, making them unique to own, drive and live with. The appearance in this list of some of the usual suspects may not come as a surprise, but the big question remains: who can reign supreme in our top 10 out of Mercedes-AMG, BMW M and Audi Sport, and one or two others?

1. Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupé

The Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupé is endowed with so much power, sinewy good looks and handling attitude that it’s hard not to fall adoringly under its spell. It becomes harder still when you realise that this will be the last AMG C-Class of its kind with a V8 engine, with 4cyl hybrid power in line for the next one.

The C63's twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 may not have the overall charm of its forebear’s normally aspirated 6.2-litre V8, but the way the 503bhp engine (a 469bhp non-S version is also offered) makes you cycle through adjectives – easy-going, enjoyable, enthralling, exhilarating - as your toe journeys toward the bulkhead is something else.

An Audi RS5 might be flashier, a BMW M4 more precise, but neither can match the overall appeal of Merc’s perfecting of the traditional big-bonnet, big-hitting coupe blueprint.

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2. BMW M4 Competition

While production of the last-generation BMW 3-Series saloon is now long over, the related 4-Series coupe is still alive and kicking, and that means the M Division version of same - the wedgy, razor-sharp-handling M4 - lives on for the time being also. The limited-run CS version has now disappeared from BMW's online configurator, but the lesser 'Competition' version remains; and, even in advancing years, it remains a perfomance car to be reckoned with. 

Early M4s felt wayward and loosely controlled at the rear axle, which, combined with a shortage of traction, made them spiky and nerve-wracking to drive when push came to shove. Each subsequent version has got better, and while the Competition version doesn't quite hit the heights of the GTS or related CS specials, it's a more composed and predictable car to handle on the limit of grip than the M4 once was - and a very compelling one.

Performance is rampantly accelerative, the cabin's pleasant and usable, and the ride's stiff but not too stiff to live with - as long as you appreciate a sporting compromise.

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Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupé 2019 road test review - hero front

AMG refreshes its archetypal model in anticipation of the next-gen BMW M4

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3. Alpina B4 S

Whereas the Alpina B4 always felt undeniably rapid, the B4 S coupé that replaces it is a serious high-performance machine. It’s not the power (up 30bhp to 434bhp) but that additional torque (hiked by more than 10% to 486lb ft) that provides real-world performance a clear step ahead of its predecessor's.

It’s a softer car than the M4 of which it's a sort of estranged sibling, and there’s a price to be paid in body control through very fast corners and over undulations, but it never feels nervous, as an M4 can. We’d bet the smiles of its driver would be greater, too, even if it’s ultimately not as fast around a track.

What sells the B4 S is its character and it's laid-back usability. It’s a classy, charming car. There’s nothing quite like it in the class.

4. BMW M2 Competition

Having replaced the regular M2, the new M2 Competition is now the baby in BMW’s rather magnificent M division line-up. But don’t let its junior status fool you into thinking that it’s a mere facsimile of the larger, faster M3 and M4 models: it’s far from it. In fact, we think it might just be one of the best driver’s cars BMW now makes (which is something we never really felt we could say of its predecessor) and it would rank more highly here if not for the whiff of relative subordinacy that it carries with it in this company.

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Central to this elevated status is a new engine. The old car’s single-turbo six-cylinder unit has been ditched in favour of a slightly less powerful version of the old M3’s twin-turbocharged straight six. That’s certainly not a change to be sniffed at. Modifications to the chassis and suspension also ensure that the M2 Competition is now a sharper, more focused and more agile machine that before. 

It’s a supremely balanced and composed car, this; one that takes to the task of being ragged on track with as much sidewindow-first enthusiasm as it does to a blast down a battered B-road. Keen drivers will not be disappointed.

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5. Lexus RC F

The Lexus RC F is an important step along the road for a young performance brand and adds much needed variety to this part of the market. It has been created with no shortage of budget, effort and commitment. It’s fresh, bold and different, and it’s pleasingly unreserved and true to its purpose – an easy car to like.

The RC F isn’t quite so easy to justify, though. As effusive as the car’s V8 powertrain can be, it can also be underwhelming and even frustrating at times, partnered as it is to a mannered automatic gearbox of rather too many gear ratios. The chassis spec also makes dynamic promises that the handling fails to fully deliver on.

It’s big on charm and bigger still on V8 noise, then, if a little short of real-world pace and well-rounded cruising manners.

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6. Ford Mustang GT & Bullitt

For this money, the sensible thing to do would be to buy an Audi TT or a BMW 2 Series Coupé, wouldn’t it? And if you did, that would be a huge shame.

Yes, this car does have significant drawbacks in the UK. Yes, you do have to think twice about where you’re going to park it in town, as well as factor in the far greater number of visits to the fuel pump than your peers will make. But no other car at this price – or several price points higher – can do what the Mustang does.

Its powertrain brings with it an appeal that engines with fewer cylinders simply cannot and its inherent chassis balance is absolutely peachy. Go for the range-topping Bullitt version and you'll get a car with proper V8 power and combustive character, as well as significantly enhanced road-holding and brimming with visual presence, for less than £50,000. Sensible be damned.

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7. Mercedes-AMG E53 Coupe

This flagship E-Class Coupé comes equipped with a 429bhp, 384lb ft turbocharged straight six in its nose - which is supplemented by a 21bhp and 184lb ft starter/alternator motor. The E 53 Coupé therefore boasts a suitably rapid, and impeccably smooth, turn of pace. It’s a rich, mellifluous motor, this, if not quite as raucous as the full-fat AMG V8; but it counters with a not-insignificant amount of socially responsible hybrid-electric intrigue.

Its ride may be a touch on the firm side, but it still makes for a convincing long-distance cruiser, and it handles with enough conviction to satisfy an interested driver. It’s a luxurious place to spend time, too, if one that’s a little light on AMG-related paraphernalia.

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8. Audi TTS

Lesser versions of the Audi TT are doubtless better value but there is real dynamic capability beneath the TTS, not least as it shares so much with the excellent Volkswagen Golf R

Is it as much fun as the cars at the top of this list? Let’s not be silly. A BMW M240i? Probably not – although you’d need a back-to-back test to decide for yourself.

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Fact is the TTS has always been about more than just that. It has always been a good coupé that gives you sound reasons to buy it. That it’s now rather good fun to drive is another one.

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9. Audi RS5

The best reason for buying the old Audi RS5 previously was to access the last resting place of the Audi 4.2-litre V8; a reason now manifestly gone. The twin-turbo V6 that replaces it no longer dominates the driving experience.

Any deeper appreciation of the new RS5 rests on a preference for the model’s tactful repositioning. Dig the monster GT vibe, and the car’s established gifts for interior splendour, technical prowess and sharp-edged looks start to make considerable sense.

Seen from this alternative vantage point, which has almost nothing to do with the hard-charging handling flair and dynamic exuberance that exemplifies its rivals, the RS5 simultaneously appears limited and perhaps more appealing than it ever has.

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10. Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupé

Although the C43 might be considered an AMG-lite by some, Affalterbach hasn’t merely added power to its twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 and said: "That’ll do." For the chassis is overhauled, too, and it combines with the engine to make a rapid, sure-footed and fine all-round sports coupé.

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Go for the full-fat C63 if you can afford it, because it’s an absolute riot. But if you’re not bothered about all that V8 blood and thunder, then at £15,500 less than the C63, the C43 Coupé is a comfortable, all-weather, cross-country beast. And any doubts that 367bhp isn’t enough turn out to be poppycock. It's plenty quick enough.

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