The Drive’s Best Performance Car of 2022 Is the Chevy Corvette Z06
Fun ICE cars aren’t dead yet. Among a field of two stellar hot hatches and a pair of track-ready German rides, the flat-plane-crank Z06 shone brightest.
While there's always power in building a sturdy pickup truck or reliable daily, performance cars just hit the bloodstream differently. Oftentimes, they marry cutting-edge, high-speed tech with the most responsive on-road feedback. The result is almost perpetually that of joy. With so many of today's cars being one SUV after another, the vanishing of the manual transmission, and electrification at every turn, it's easy as performance and driving enthusiasts to feel forgotten in the swirl of advancement. Performance cars are our last bastion.
I have no idea how or what performance will look like in five years' time. But in the year of our lord 2022, it still looks pretty damn good. We have an unbelievable variety of JDM cars to choose from, all of them with manual transmissions. Porsche's still doing its 911 thing with seemingly no ceiling in sight. General Motors refuses to let its sky-knocking V8s die. It's still a great time to love fast cars. You'll just have to dig deeper into your wallet than you did in years past.
These are the best performance cars we drove this year. And what a list it is.
Runner-Up: Porsche 911 GT3 RS
"The performance threshold of the GT3 RS is so much higher. Not only higher than the GT4 RS, but higher than all but a very few other road cars on the market today. Because you are going so much faster on track, things happen so much quicker in the car.
"Fortunately, everything else on the car works so cohesively well in supporting the massive performance. Each one of those things adds a small bit to the driver's ability to keep everything going in the right direction. The brakes and suspension do a fantastic job of supporting whatever the engine and aero throw at them.
"The 2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS is one of those cars that will make anyone lucky enough to get behind the wheel a better, faster driver. It’ll challenge you, and you’ll either rise to the occasion or you won’t. Ultimately, isn't that what we all want our cars to do for us?" —Robb Holland, Contributor and professional race car driver
Runner-Up: Toyota GR Corolla
"Nothing—and I mean nothing—felt like it could unsettle this thing. Brake at the ultimate, very last millisecond, rip at the wheel and the shifter like they owe you money, slam back on the gas—none of it mattered. The Morizo Edition refused to lean, refused to slide, refused to give up grip. As a matter of fact, it actually seemed to be able to do some spooky witchcraft, magicking up even more grip where there should have been none.
"The GR Corolla is one of those rare sports cars that works with you rather than against you. Seeing as it has the correct amount of horsepower, you never feel in danger of the engine clapping back as you’re feeling out its limits (as well as your own), nor do you ever feel like you’re disappointing the car if you don’t go fast enough. It’s perfectly happy keeping pace with you, like the world’s chillest and most supportive professional dance partner. All it cares about is if you have a good time. Most of us don’t even have friends this good.
"Ghosts of the old Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions, specifically the X Final Edition, live on in this car. Suddenly, its revviness, wont for abuse, and Herculean levels of grip become the echoey but familiar intonations of a long-lost, nearly forgotten language. Realize that, and we can recognize the GR Corolla isn’t new territory. We’ve been here before." —Kristen Lee, Deputy Editor
Runner-Up: Honda Civic Type R
"In case you haven’t already gathered, I love the 2023 Honda Civic Type R. I love it even more than I did the old one. It’s more livable than that car in multiple senses. Its handling edges feel a tad more rounded without losing that vital dynamism while the exterior looks markedly classier, and the interior and tech are clear upgrades.
"The agility, the balance, the torque, the tactility remain gloriously first-rate. Clearly made by people who both understand enjoyable driving and happen to be supremely good at their jobs, it is one of the all-time greats. An all-time great Honda. An all-time great automobile. A hot hatch of the highest order.
"Climbing out of my final track session in it, I pulled out my phone per usual but did not open up the Notes app as I regularly do for the purpose of jotting down the impressions you've just read in this review. Instead, I fired up the calculator to figure out what a monthly payment on one of these things would be and whether or not I could afford it. That, my friends, is the mark of an outstanding car, and if it weren’t already sold out up here in Canada, I’d have one on order yesterday."—Chris Tsui, Reviews Editor
Runner-Up: BMW M4 CSL
"Behind the wheel of the 2023 BMW M4 CSL, I had just done a wickedly fast run of Palm Springs’ Pines to Palms Scenic Byway and was starting to feel short of breath and slightly nauseous. It wasn’t the motion that was making me sick but rather pure adrenaline.
"Immediate, alert, hard, and raucously capable, the CSL’s dynamics make it worthy of its legendary name and probably my favorite BMW I’ve driven so far, new or old.
"Dynamically, it is one of the greatest machines I have ever had the pleasure of piloting, and, thankfully, the thrill-induced nausea eventually subsided. But instantaneously collecting a lower gear, foot to the floor, and listening to the titanium-exhaust straight-six reverberate against the yellow rock walls of CA-74 uninhibited by weather, police, or other motorists is an experience that has lived and, I suspect, will go on to live in my head rent-free for many months afterward."—Chris Tsui, Reviews Editor
Winner: Chevy Corvette Z06
America! One for the home team. Given how good the C8 Corvette's platform already is, it's no surprise that the C8 Z06 stands on the shoulders of giants. The Z06 has always had a reputation for eating Ferraris for breakfast; this current version will happily devour the entire world for high tea and demand more. With a 670-hp screamer of a naturally aspirated flat-plane V8, it is the stuff of legends.
"This is the Corvette’s defining moment," our Staff Writer Peter Holderith wrote. "It hasn’t been compared head-to-head with anything yet on a track, but after driving it, it’s extremely safe to repeat my earlier statement: This is the real deal. After years as the butt of jokes, the Burger Car, it has completed its arc. This isn’t a 'supercar killer,' it’s a full-blown supercar. Its competition can’t touch it simply because of its price, and in terms of quality, there is no asterisk anymore.
"All of this is happening as the high-performance world changes to the way of hybridization and turbocharging. The Z06 rejects this reality. We don’t build those kinds of cars in Kentucky. Those vehicles may be technologically more advanced and definitely more efficient, but we all know they’re just not better. Not only is this an amazing Corvette, but it’s a rallying cry for the sorts of cars enthusiasts know, love, and sometime soon, will miss sorely. I wish it could stay forever."
And though I am personally salty that the GR Corolla did not win, Peter's right. Everyone and their mother is turbocharging, hybridizing, or forgoing gasoline altogether. It's the undeniable way of the future. But for the right here and right now, Chevy's got our backs.
Take the W, Corvette Z06. You deserve it.