With all the hubbub lately about fuel economy requirements and “going green,” it’s easy to forget that these are halcyon days for driving enthusiasts. Want a sports car in sedan’s clothing? There’s never been a better time. You really can’t go wrong in the rarified world of high-performance sedans, but we’re going to play favorites anyway. So without further ado, here are the best sedans on the market if speed’s a top priority.
With apologies to the Mercedes mentioned below, the all-wheel-drive S4 is arguably today’s quintessential German sport sedan. Its exterior styling is purposeful yet restrained, distinguished from that of the ordinary A4 sedan mainly by a few demure badges and special wheels. Inside, there are a few more “S4” badges and unique protruding side bolsters for rear outboard passengers, and that’s about it. The supercharged 3.0-liter V6 delivers its 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque in a similarly stoic fashion, emitting nothing more than a muted growl at full throttle. Keep reading if you want your high-performance sedan to shout its identity from the rooftops, but if you’d prefer a supremely athletic car that’s the strong/silent type, the S4 is bound to satisfy.
A refined luxury sedan with a Corvette ZR1 engine under the hood, the CTS-V is the perfect marriage of American attitude and European driving dynamics. Cadillac has made much of the CTS’s development time on Germany’s famous Nurburgring race circuit, but the most horsepower you can get in the regular CTS is 318 from a 3.6-liter V6-hardly high-performance stuff these days. Step up to the CTS-V, however, and you’re rewarded with a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 that churns out 556 horsepower and 551 pound-feet of torque, as well as an exclusive suspension with adjustable dampers. Unlike most of the cars on this list, the CTS-V offers a proper manual transmission, too. With a starting price in the $60,000 range, we’d argue that the CTS-V is a bargain for what you get.
We should begin here by explaining what happened to the other models in this family: the Charger SRT-8, Chrysler 300 SRT-8, and Chrysler 300C. Put simply, the R/T is just far and away the best value of the four. The 300C shares the R/T’s platform and 370-horsepower, 5.7-liter “Hemi” V8, but it costs a whopping eight grand more-and although the 470-horsepower SRT-8 models are a hoot, they command a 50% premium over the Charger R/T. Starting at just $29,995, the R/T delivers an unbeatable mix of muscle-car moxie and family-friendly interior space for the price, along with in-your-face styling that announces your presence with authority. Incidentally, the Charger’s new dashboard is a significant upgrade both visually and tactilely over its predecessor.
As long as Mercedes offers its hand-built 6.2-liter AMG V8, no “best high-performance cars” list will be complete without it. Although most Benz V8s are now turbocharged with smaller displacements, the C63 AMG sedan soldiers on with its 451-horsepower version of the naturally aspirated 6.2. The distinctive burble of this V8 manages to be raucous and civilized at the same time, while its immediate, linear thrust will never be matched by its force-fed successors. The EPA forecasts 15 miles per gallon in mixed driving, but if you can afford the C63’s rather steep entry price, you’ll be too busy reveling in the 6.2’s roar to worry about the gas bill. Note too that Mercedes has tweaked the C63’s suspension as of late, bringing it much closer to the standard set by the BMW M3-which, we should mention, is absent from this list only because it’s on temporary hiatus while BMW readies the next-generation 3 Series.
Let’s leave these dizzying heights for a moment and imagine that you’ve only got about $25,000 to spend, which is a fairly likely scenario in this economy. No problem, says Subaru. Hop in a new 265-horsepower WRX sedan and you’ll get to 60 mph in about 5 seconds flat, putting the Subie neck-and-neck with the S4 and Charger R/T. Plus, the WRX’s surefooted all-wheel-drive system makes it a year-round solution for snow-belt dwellers. And if you slap an aftermarket exhaust on your WRX, you’ll get an exuberant flat-four rumble that’s like nothing this side of a Porsche 911.