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Delivering poise, control, and confidence; these are the best handling cars of 2021.

What’s “Handling” Anyway?

In the seemingly unending ticker tape of horsepower figures and 0-60 times, we can forget that straight-line speed and raw power does not an enjoyable driver’s car make. Those things are nice, but real driving thrills, the kind that never feel played out, that never get old or stale, are those delivered from a well-handling car that grips, slingshots you of the corners, and plasters an irrepressible grin across your face.

There’s a lot that contributes to good handling: suspension, tires, braking, steering feel and responsiveness, weight and balance. For engineers and manufacturers, achieving impressive handling in a car takes a degree of fineness, know-how, and patience that far exceeds the ability to drop in a crate motor and stomp on the throttle (not that that’s not fun, by the way). As Conor McGregor said, it’s not about the power, it’s about the precision. And so it is with the best sports cars. Below is our list of the best handling cars of 2021.

Porsche 911 GT3

2021 Porsche 911 GT3 - porsche.com
2021 Porsche 911 GT3 - porsche.com

Ah, the storied Porsche 911. Yes, it’s fast in a straight line, supercar fast. But what truly sets the 911 apart from other sports cars is that quintessential Porsche handling. The level of confidence and control is like nothing else on four wheels. For our list we chose the latest (and greatest?) 911 variant, the newly revamped, track focused GT3. The new 2022 911 GT3 ran the Nürburgring in just 6:58:92, a full 17 seconds faster than the prior version of the car. In the arms race of track weapons, the GT3 is a ballistic nuke of a car.

BMW M3 Competition

2021 BMW M3 Competition - press.bmwgroup.com
2021 BMW M3 Competition - press.bmwgroup.com

As with Porsche, BMW’s lineup is full of vehicles that handle great. Our choice for the best handling car of the bunch is the M3 Competition. Starting with the legendary E30 all the way through to today, the M3 has delivered where it matters most, in the corners. The new AWD system on the 2021 M3 offers a rear-wheel drive mode for maximum drift potential. The M3 even comes with an M Drift Analyzer to display all the details of your drift, including length (in time and distance) and slip angle. We recommend the base model with it’s exclusive six-speed manual transmission for optimal engagement.

Audi R8

2021 Audi R8 - audiusa.com
2021 Audi R8 - audiusa.com

You can fixate on that naturally aspirated V10 roar or that cameo as Tony Starks favorite whip, but the real story with the Audi R8 is how well this car behaves on the road. The midship layout lends a graceful balance to this impressive machine. Even at higher speeds, the R8 remains poised in ways most supercars just aren’t. In either RWD or classic Quattro, the R8 is as agile as it powerful.

Mazda Miata MX-5

2021 Mazda Miata MX-5 - mazdausa.com
2021 Mazda Miata MX-5 - mazdausa.com

There’s a good reason car people refrain that the answer is always the Miata; it’s just that good. In the spirit of the classic British roadsters of yore, the Mazda Miata MX-5 proves that balance and agility more than compensate for unremarkable horsepower numbers. The Miata’s goal has always been and remains to be delivering the most fun per mile possible. The light, direct steering and satisfyingly snappy manual transmission provide a driver-to-car connectedness that borders on telepathic and makes it one of the best handling cars.

Mustang Mach 1

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 - media.ford.com
2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 - media.ford.com

This one might surprise the uninitiated. We all know the Mustang as a classic of the muscle/pony car era gleefully smoking its tires at spotlights and dragstrips before shooting off at incredible speeds. But what you might not know, unless you’d driven one, is the latest generation of the ‘Stang is just as good in the curves as it is in the straightaways. Though we’ll miss the GT350 and GT500, the returning Mach 1 Mustang inherited some of their choice aero and track performance bits. Best of all is the cue ball manual shifter to help you channel your inner Steve McQueen.

Nissan GT-R NISMO

2021 Nissan GT-R NISMO - usa.nissannews.com
2021 Nissan GT-R NISMO - usa.nissannews.com

The Nissan GT-R NISMO is a special edition limited run nestled between the 2021 and 2022 model years chock full of extra spicy features that take the GT-R legend to the next level. There’s the 600-horsepower twin-turbo 3.8L V6, the 20-inch alloys, the carbon fiber hood and roof that all translate to lightness, stability, and power. The result? A car worthy of the nickname Godzilla.

Toyota 86 / Subaru BRZ

2020 Toyota 86 - pressroom.toyota.com
2020 Toyota 86 - pressroom.toyota.com

Like the Miata, the 86/BRZ eschews displacement in favor of balance and lightness. The 86/BRZ took 2020 off (must have been nice) so there’s no 2021 model. Instead we’re eagerly awaiting the upcoming revamped 2022 model. First among the updates is a new larger 2.4L flat-four making 228 horsepower. The 86/BRZ will also be lighter and have a lower center of gravity for improved handling. Frankly, we were already enamored with the 86/BRZ, so we can hardly wait to see the new, improved incarnation.

Chevrolet Corvette

2021 Chevrolet Corvette - chevrolet.com
2021 Chevrolet Corvette - chevrolet.com

Why exactly is it that we waited with bated breath for decades for a midengined Corvette? One word: balance. As good as the C7 Corvette was, it was always an unruly beast ready to shuck you into the ditch or into a utility pole at the slightest provocation. The C8 contains that fury and allows you to apply it at will. Sharp steering, great grip in the corners, and flat out speed (3.1 seconds to 60 mph) perfectly compliment the new engine layout and make the C8 Corvette one of the best handling cars you can buy.

Mercedes-AMG GT R

2020 Mercedes-AMG GT R - mercedes-amg.com
2020 Mercedes-AMG GT R - mercedes-amg.com

The Sound and the Fury isn’t just a Faulkner novel, it’s also a raucous two-seat sports car from Mercedes-AMG otherwise known as the GT R. The hand-built AMG motor delivers a throaty roar while the transaxle is eager to downshift and deliver neck-snapping power. But of course, there’s a whole slew of traction, suspension, and drive modes that allow you to translate all that naturally aspirated power into razor-sharp driving dynamics. For instance, the yellow traction control knob, centrally located on the dash, allows for incremental adjustments; no more binary on/off. Mercedes allows you to drift as much or as little as you like in the GT R. Nice.

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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