What makes a great performance car? It doesn’t always have to be power, a super-quick gearbox or a rowdy rear-wheel-drive layout. Some of the best performance cars on sale are collected together here, with two picked from each genre to ensure it’s not a Lamborghini and Ferrari fest. So, in no particular order… Ferrari 458 Italia
The 458 Italia (and its 458 Spider
convertible cousin) is our favourite supercar on sale at the moment. Its 4.5-litre V8 engine provides 562bhp and helps fire the mid-engine, rear-drive Ferrari to a 202mph top speed, via a 3.2sec 0-60 time. It also looks spectacular, sounds glorious, and thanks to its manettino switch to toggle between levels of stability control, will flatter drivers of all talent levels. The price? £178,526. Porsche Boxster S
The Boxster has been described in some corners as boring. Though that only seems to be a reaction to its utter dominance in the roadster market since its launch over 15 years ago. For a mixture of fine mid-engine balance and total usability, the Porsche is king. And with a 311bhp 3.4-litre flat-six engine giving the Boxster S a 173mph top speed and 5.0sec 0-60 time, all for less than £50,000, it represents decent value too. Lotus Exige S
The future of Lotus may still hang in the balance, but the British sports car company still knows a thing or too about making a great chassis. The latest Exige S – powered by a 345bhp supercharged V6 – is one of the most exciting cars on sale, and with its barren interior and six-speed manual gearbox, it’s a great antidote to the increasingly complex coupes it rivals. So good, it was joint winner of evo Car of the Year 2012.
The Lotus was forced to timeshare its trophy with the Pagani Huayra, the twin-turbo follow up to the Zonda and simply one of the fastest, most exciting cars on sale. With 720bhp powering its skinny 1350kg frame, the gorgeous Huayra could demand only one rival when we took one to the south of France – the Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse, all 1183bhp and 254mph of it. Ford Fiesta ST
From our list’s most expensive (£1million) to its cheapest (£17,000). You might be able to buy 59 Ford Fiesta STs for the price of a Pagani, but the Italian certainly isn’t 59 times more fun. In fact, on wet, grimy and busy British roads, the Fiesta is more likely to put a smile on your face with its punchy 179bhp turbo engine, slick six-speed gearbox and fun, chuckable chassis. Its our junior hot hatch champion. Mercedes E63 AMG
Mercedes performance arm AMG makes some of the lairiest and most fun sports saloons on the market, and the latest E63 is our favourite of its wares. There are two versions – the ‘basic’ 549bhp E63 AMG and the madcap 577bhp E63 AMG S Model, which when equipped with optional four-wheel drive, will whisk the big Merc to 62mph in 3.6sec – quicker than a Ferrari F40. There’s even an estate version… Audi R8 Spyder
Our favourite convertible on sale is the Audi R8 Spyder, in its V8 or V10 formats, though the former is arguably the better balanced car. Why is it so good? It takes the superb chassis and high quality of the regular R8 and gives it an extra dose of desirability and, with the soft top folded, better access to the Audi’s intoxicating soundtrack. With a 194mph top speed, it also boasts supercar levels of performance.
Porsche 911 GT3
There’s been plenty of fuss about the new 991-generation Porsche 911 GT3’s adoption of a seven-speed PDK paddleshift gearbox rather than sticking to the more involving manual transmission of old, but in truth, that’s just a diversion from what is possibly the best drivers’ car on sale. With a superb 3.8-litre flat-six engine which provides 468bhp and revs to 9000rpm, it sounds and feels fantastic. And with a £100,540 price tag, it could even be considered a bargain when compared to £150,000-plus supercar rivals. BMW M5
The sports saloon class honours return to the BMW M5’s bulging trophy cabinet. It saw off the E63 AMG, Porsche Panamera and Jaguar XFR with some conviction upon launch, not only on the road, but on track and in a straight line – check out our BMW M5 drag race video
. With a ballsy 552bhp twin-turbo V8 engine and a super quick twin-clutch gearbox, it’s monstrously fast, while a new Competition Pack option promises to sharpen it further still. Renault Megane 265 Cup
Leader of the hot hatch pack and one of the best value performance cars on sale, the £25,000 Renaultsport Megane serves up a precise and satisfying driving experience many cars three times its price struggle to offer. Its 261bhp 2-litre turbo engine makes it good for 158mph top speed, while a new RB8 Red Bull Racing edition increases its desirability further and enables you to play at being Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel. Best performance cars | evo