As we speed into the future, a perpetual argument rages on: what are the best performance cars of the modern era? Quite a broad question, and really, one that has no definite answer. What are the criteria that dictate what “the best” means? How do we quantify importance? And, most importantly, regardless of opinions on this triviality or that, what are the best performance cars of our time?
Many, many very important automobiles have hit the roads in recent years, vehicles that have had undeniable impacts on the motoring world. Cars that, because they have existed, will ensure that the motoring landscape will never be the same again.
In my mind, and probably the minds of many others, it’s not one car or company that deserves the title of the best or the most important. The combined efforts of many people (from many lands) have been responsible for advancing the world of high-performance automobiles in massive leaps and bounds in a very short time. They all stand on the shoulders of past giants, and, one day, they’ll be the shoulders for future generations to stand on.
So, in the spirit of paying homage to some of the most important performance cars and car companies of our time (I’ll surely forget a noteworthy mention or two; the list is rather numerous), I would like to give a nod to those I feel require undeniable accolades.
I’ll not be giving performance figures and specs in this article; it would be ten pages long if I did so, and exceedingly dull. All the cars mentioned herein can easily be found online. I hope this bit inspires you to do a little digging.
This is by no means my all-time list of notable chariots, but a list of semi-modern to modern performance cars that have truly changed the definition of what performance cars are. Cars that have pushed the boundaries of what we believed was possible to achieve, and those that continue to do so.
Shall we then?
It’s probably safe to say that the era of the supercar began in the 1980’s. The foundations were laid much earlier, in the sixties and seventies, really, with the Lamborghini Miura, but nobody else caught up until the eighties, so the Miuras were just lone freaks, way ahead of their time. The supercar era only began in earnest when everybody else started catching on.
The Stunning Miura
By today’s standards, those old tubs were almost all terrifyingly dangerous and next to impossible to control, but they rocketed past their predecessors in ever increasing leaps of technologically enhanced ability. Scary and dangerous though they were, they laid the essential groundwork for what was to follow. And for that (and to the lunatics who piloted them), we will remain forever indebted.
Though Lamborghini may have ushered in the original supercar (which eventually spawned the birth of many more), if one were tasked with crowning a single beast as the king of officially rounding the corner from simply crazy to certifiably insane, one might rightfully suggest the McLaren F1. It was the first true hypercar. It still kicks ass and takes names, and it had no peer during its reign. That’s a fact.
But all reigns end, and eventually, so did the F1’s tenure at the top….
The Original Hyperbeast
There is a car of our time (an esteemed extreme car maker, actually) that probably almost everyone on the planet knows of, and for good reason. Much like the Lamborghinis of old, Bugatti came along at a time when there was no shortage of memorable cars, and crushed them all.
The Venerable Veyron
The Bugatti Veyron was utterly over the top. Sixteen cylinders, an utterly unique design, and enough aggressive wizardry to hold the title of the world’s fastest production car for a time. It has since been outshone by other Bugattis, as well as by competing manufacturers, but it was, and will forever be, one of those creations that roared out of the darkness to forever claim an unforgettable place in motoring history.
Bugatti is in a galaxy of its own design.
The Veyron was undoubtedly something otherworldly, and was certainly one of the epic machines responsible for needing a term like “hypercar”, but there are three cars that definitely brought the hypercar classification into popular use. They are symbols of utter perfection, and the world knows them respectfully as “The Holy Trinity”.
Until these exquisite beasts were unleashed, the term “hypercar” wasn’t really something people could agree should exist. But with the arrival of the Holy Trinity, an entirely new era of apex performance machines was at hand. They were clearly well above being simple supercars.
Much like the venerable Bugatti Veyron, they asked no permissions for anything. They simply took what they wanted.
The Holy Trinity of Modern Performance Cars
The “Holy Trinity” is made up of the McLaren P1, the Ferrari LaFerrari, and the amazing Porsche 918. (The link provided leads to a very in-depth and excellent article focusing only on these extremely important cars. It’s well worth reading).
They drifted into our lives like nothing had ever quite done before. Street-legal, production cars with insane amounts of horsepower, hybrid petrol-electric systems (the Porsche, though, is probably the only true hybrid of the bunch), performance capabilities and numbers that left many heads spinning, and such exceptional styling that once you laid eyes on any one of them, they changed you forever.
They’re all immensely important creations. Feeble words hardly do them justice. They are true titans in the world of performance cars.
Although The Holy Trinity are no longer spring chickens (they’ve all been around since 2013), they can still undoubtedly get in the ring with nearly any modern car of the same class and blow its doors off. Or at least keep up.
Following the release of those gems, a small company in Sweden, called Koeniggseg (who have been producing intensely engineered speed demons since 1994), presented the world with the Koeniggseg One:1. This was a machine that achieved what was previously believed to be the impossible: a ratio of 1hp to 1kg of curb weight in a production series road car.
Wow! Important car?
Probably only as important as the four-minute-mile was to runners the world over.
Koenigsegg continues to defy universal laws of physics and reason, thankfully, and has been instrumental in consistently raising the bar. Which they always do. The styling of the newer beasts has taken a decidedly pleasant upturn, and now they’re not only record-breaking fast, they’re beautiful.
But even among such car gods as have already been touched upon, there must be one who rules them all. Which, like any opinion concerning elite automobiles, is somewhat subjective. However, my opinion is the correct one.
I think only one outfit has managed to combine savage power, epic performance, and exquisitely superior beauty into such magnificent packages as they do. From the original Zonda to the most recent offering from this esteemed producer of amazing machines, the Huyara Roadster, Pagani does everything right.
Horatio Pagani was clearly put on this earth to do what he loves doing, and he does it so well that he’s carved his own expertly-designed niche in automobile history. Paganis are utterly, stunningly beautiful in every way. They’re also incredibly fast, always holding a place, or places, among the quickest cars on the planet. And although the Porsche 918 Spyder is my personal favourite automobile, Porsche itself has too many models I don’t care for. Pagani has no models I don’t like. My hat is off.
All Hail The Mighty Pagani!
I feel (somewhat sentimentally perhaps) that this list would not be complete without mentioning Aston Martin, which definitely makes the prettiest cars rolling (the pretty models at any rate). DB5 anyone? DB11? There are a few ugly sisters in the family, but who cares?
Who could argue against the beauty of an Aston Martin?
Unfortunately, however, I find that the really beautiful Aston Martins lack slightly in performance compared to their peers, and the ones that tear up the tarmac tend to lack the aesthetic allure of some of their counterparts. But to omit such a hallowed institution from this list of important cars would be sacrilege, and I don’t need to be kept up at night, wracked with guilt and regret, were I to do so. They’re too pretty to ignore, and to such a degree that that alone is enough.
Call me shallow, if you must.
With manufacturers like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche (Volkswagen), McLaren, Mercedes, Aston Martin, and others consistently producing the finest cars the world has known, they seem almost too grand to challenge.
Their esteemed statuses on the world stage are well earned, and they continue to create and produce excellent automobiles to this day. But new operations like Koeniggseg, Bugatti (in its most recent incarnation), Pagani, and many others, are delving into new realms. With new ideas and energy sources, they’re taking motoring in a new and exciting direction. And it looks like that direction is electric.
Almost all modern hypercars and supercars have some form of electric power augmentation to boost the petrol-supplied ponies, but precious few have committed to full electric. The ones who have done so, and have done so well, get to share a rather small spotlight. And although the field of electric vehicles is only just past its infancy, there are already a couple of names of some note in the electric auto arena.
Tesla is probably the most well-known juggernaut in the EV world today, and creates cars that consistently set new standards. They’ve produced a few electric sedans that make primarily internal-combustion supercars look broken down in a straight-line showdown. Fast though they are, Tesla doesn’t really have one car that looks as sexy as it performs. They haven’t exactly designed something a true automobile aficionado would lie awake at night thinking about.
But Rimac has.
Here are some Rimacs. Does it even matter what models they are? Just look at them.
Rimac, the Croatian electric-hypercar manufacturer, builds physics-defying speed-demons that look like physics-defying speed-demons. They, in partnerships with some other auto giants (I’ll not list the partners in this article, as such partnerships change so quickly in the auto world that do do so may render this article obsolete or inaccurate before its time), are fast altering the landscape. And, truthfully, I think they may be almost as beautiful as any Aston Martin or Pagani. I might be in love with them a little. Or a lot.
They’re mercilessly forcing everyone else to quickly adapt or fall behind. Far behind. But that’s been the story since the second motor-carriage manufacturer was formed. And that’s a good thing. Competition forces the best to get better while the weak get left behind to die.
Lucky for us car lovers, it appears as though Rimac has every intention of sticking around. How high will they set the bar? Is there a limit to how high it can go? Will Richard Hammond ever get an opportunity to crash another one? Who will keep up, and who will fall prey to failure and be forgotten? Only time can answer these questions.
Now, short of mentioning every single fast or beautiful car of the modern era, or the outfits that build them, I think I’ve included the ones I believe have really stood out and forced the industry to push its best and brightest minds to new heights. Cars and companies that demand attention from not just gear-heads, but from everyone who knows what a car is.
It’s once again an exciting time for those of us who love going fast, and I’m very excited to see what comes about in the next five years.