For 25 years, MOTOR has been crowning the best performance cars on the market.
From historic high-end supercars like the Lamborghini Gallardo of 2004, to more democratic champions of performance such as the Nissan 200SX or Honda Civic Type R; MOTOR has been independently and expertly nominating the zeitgeist of the performance car world for a quarter of a century.
1996 Porsche 993 Turbo
Porsche's first Turbo-badged 911 also claims the honour of MOTOR's first Performance Car of the Year, taking out the gong at the inaugural event in 1996.
As you'll no doubt notice as you travel further down the list, it also kicked off somewhat of a tradition of PCOTY victories for Porsche - 15 wins is the running count.
Its 300kW power output may seem like small-beer compared to its modern contemporaries, but this was game-changing stuff back in the 1990s. It may be outgunned today, but the 993 Turbo remains a thoroughbred blue-chip classic in its own right.
1997 BMW E36 M3
BMW's second-gen M3 nabbed MOTOR's second PCOTY championship in 1997.
Bearing all the hallmarks of a classic M3, the E36 impressed the MOTOR judges with its signature inline-six with the then-new BMW innovation, VANOS.
The E36 forged a new identity for BMW's halo sports offering, with practical packaging and all of the M-badge magic you could hope for.
1998 Porsche Boxster
Porsche claims a second PCOTY trophy with arguably its 21st century watershed model, the original Boxster.
This is the car that arguably saved the Porsche brand, which was on the ropes at the turn of the 90s suffering declining global sales. The Boxster signified a radical departure for the brand, switching the entry-level formula from front to mid-engine. Its derivative styling may have been panned when new, but the original Boxster possessed a driving experience that still holds up today.
1999 Porsche 996 Carrera
Back-to-back wins for Porsche who, in 1999, took out their third PCOTY victory with the watercooled 996 Carrera.
A hugely transitional model for the lineage, the millennial Carrera was critiqued for Porsche's newfound exploration of component sharing, but rose to the top of the PCOTY ranks thanks to its vastly improved chassis (45 per cent increase in torsional rigidity), rev-happy M96 engine and significantly improved ergonomics.
2000 Porsche Boxster S
Three wins on the trot for the Stuttgart shield, with the improved Boxster S.
A 1999 update saw the base Boxster swell in displacement to 2.7-litres, while the Boxster S boasted a 'big-block' 3.2-litre which could power the roadster to 100km/h in under six seconds.
2001 Nissan S15 200SX
2001 marked the first of two victories by Nissan, and the first win for any Japanese manufacturer in PCOTY history.
A champion of the Australian tuner scene, the ADM S15 delighted judges for its nimble agility, telepathic steering and delectable rear-driven chassis. It was the cheapest car to ever win MOTOR's PCOTY, and beat out Porsche's 911 Turbo and BMW's M5 on its way to victory.
2002 BMW E46 M3
Another M3, another win for BMW.
Munich's perennial sports coupe was revamped with the E46-generation, and remains a high watermark in the lineage to this day for enthusiasts. It stormed to glory in 2002, which history will show as being BMW's last win. The M3 came achingly close to victory over the years, with the lightweight E46 M3 CSL and V8-engined E92 M3 coming second outright in 2004 and 2008 respectively.
2003 Porsche Boxster S
The Porsche 986-generation Boxster may go down as one of the most-winning models in PCOTY history, claiming a third trophy in 2003 with the updated Boxster S.
Maintaining its 'big-engined' position in the range, the final Boxster update was one made with consumers in mind: receiving a new glass rear window, a glove box, new bonnet and boot release mechanisms and a new steering wheel. Clearly, its performance credentials hadn't given ground at all.
2004 Lamborghini Gallardo
The Gallardo was a watershed model for Lamborghini which afforded the traditionally low-volume brand with unprecedented manufacturing efficiencies and sales success. With a sonorous 5.0-litre V10 acting as the centrepiece, the Gallardo just pipped BMW's E46 CSL in the votes and remains Lamborghini's (and indeed, Italy's) only victory in PCOTY history.
2005 Porsche 997 Carrera S
MOTOR's 2005 PCOTY round will be remembered as the one where one car largely dominated the field from the very first turn of the key. It blitzed a hardcore Lotus Exige by more than a second a lap, with only Mercedes-AMG's supercharged E55 able to hold a candle on quarter mile testing. The Mitsubishi Evo VIII came closest overall with its point-and-shoot nature, low cost and hard-worn attitude, but 2005 judges were resolute in the 997's capabilities as a clear winner.
2006 Audi B7 RS4
The B7-generation is where Audi's RS4 arguably came into its own. So much so that PCOTY 2006 judges described the street sleeper as 'everything we want in a performance car'. Enamoured by the atmo V8, infallible brakes and a capable chassis, the RS4 beat out Porsche's 911 Turbo, AMG's CLK 55, a pair of BMW M cars and Mitsubishi's cheat-code Evo IX to claim Ingolstadt's maiden victory.
2007 Porsche 997 GT3
History will remember the Porsche 997 GT3 as the final outing of the iconic Mezger engine, and - although we didn't know it at the time - would send the GT3's hallowed manual gearbox on hiatus. There were a number of firsts too, including the debut of Porsche's PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) adaptive dampers, which gave the stripped-back racer new levels of versatility. It marked the second of four PCOTY gongs that would eventually be awarded to the 997-generation 911.
2008 Porsche 997 GT2
If the GT3 moved the performance game along enough to snag a second PCOTY trophy for the model, the GT2 moved the goal posts again, significantly.
Porsche's new 'ultimate 911' trounced the field in what was arguably the award's toughest competitor set yet. One forced-induction-fed lap around Victoria's Phillip Island circuit saw the reborn widowmaker beat Lamborghini's updated 5.2-litre Gallardo by 1.8 seconds, its Carrera S sibling by 5 seconds, and the more powerful (and pricier) AMG SL63 by 8.6 seconds. Mitsubishi's Lancer Evo X - a resoundingly capable track weapon in its own right - lapped the seaside circuit a full 12 seconds slower.
2009 Audi R8 V10 / Nissan GT-R
For the first time in MOTOR's 13-year PCOTY history, and the only time since, did the winner's sash get draped across not one - but two cars. The two winners offered similar levels of performance, but were vastly different in their execution. The Audi R8 V 10 offered exotic thrills and polished packaging, while the GT-R remained ultra-focused in its brief to inhale tarmac and track as fast as physics deemed possible. With votes split evenly, both cars were deemed worthy and well-earned winners.
2010 Porsche 997.2 GT3 RS
Porsche's updated 997.2 iteration of the venerable GT3 RS reset the performance benchmark at PCOTY 2011, with its flat-six engine now packing 3.8-litres of displacement, 331kW and 440Nm of howling naturally-aspirated goodness. A fourth and final trophy to add to the cabinet of Porsche's 997-generation 911.
2011 Nissan GT-R
A second win for Nissan and its world-beating GTR. The 2011 update saw huge improvements to the car's on-road mannerisms, along with a healthy dose of extra power, and saw Nissan's techno tour de force beat out the modern classic Mercedes-Benz SLS, Audi R8 Spyder, Jaguar XKR-S and Porsche's Cayman R.
2012 Porsche 991 Carrera S
As we know, history is prone to repeating itself. And, with the new 991-generation Carrera S, Porsche continues its legacy of PCOTY championship dominance. Only Porsche's own Boxster and the Toyota 86 came close to matching the 991's blend of performance, refinement and comfort. It was faster than anything else in the field, whilst also under-cutting the more expensive force-fed bent-eights on the all-important value front.
2013 Audi R8 V10 Plus
Audi created one of the world's most complete supercar packages with the original R8. Over time, they pulled the original V8 and swapped it for a Lamborghini-sourced 5.2-litre V10, drew even more power out of the engine, added carbon ceramic brakes, and found 50kg of dead weight to remove. That's how we got to the glorious R8 V10 Plus, and how it got to the top of the PCOTY leaderboard in 2013.
In years past, the narrative of supercar ownership was one of pain and suffering, but the 2013 PCOTY judges reckoned that the R8 V10 Plus - more than any other car - was the one that rewrote the book.
2014 Porsche 991 Turbo
For a moment, it seemed that the most talented and all-round 911 would post the first DNF in PCOTY history. Eagle-eyed spectators of PCOTY's 2014 proceedings may have noticed that the 911 Turbo S undertaking testing switched from a gleaming metallic blue example to black. You can thank a broken radiator, which everyone ascribes to former Editor Dylan Campbell, for that.
With a replacement car amazingly organised post-haste, the 991 911 Turbo impressed the judges with its bipolar versatility. It's performance figures were mind-bending, its driving experience potent; and yet, you'd not so much as hesitate giving it to your nanna to drive to the shops in.
The 991 GT3 marked Porsche's 12th victory in PCOTY's 20-year running at the time, but the 991 GT3's victory was by no means a forgone conclusion. AMG launched a double-pronged assault with the C63 S sedan and the AMG GT S, while Jaguar brought out an AWD version of its third-placed F-type coupe. There was also the track-honed Renault Megane RS275 Trophy-R, the latest and greatest of the local Red and Blue outposts, and the sublime ND Mazda MX-5.
In the end; the frenetic 911 GT3 wasn't just judged the best of 2015, but one of the best there ever was.
Another three-peat for the boffins at Porsche. 2017 was a hard-fought battle in particular, with Lamborghini and Ferrari represented by the Huracan LP580-2 and 488 GTB respectively.
There was also the Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe, BMW M2, updated Audi R8 V10 Plus and Nissan GT-R challenging for the throne. In the end, the best car won. Not only that, but the Turbo S' performance figures also named it the fastest car ever tested in PCOTY history at the time.
Honda's FK8 Civic Type R arrived in somewhat of a purple patch for the brand, which enthusiasts had believed lost its performance mojo some years ago. The Type R returned serve, and aced; winning the 2018 MOTOR PCOTY title, as well as our annual Bang For Your Buck challenge - the only car ever to win both of our annual awards.
It was a surprise package and a technical masterclass. 2018's Performance car of the year, and Honda's performance car of the decade.
With huge performance credentials, and an equally huge pricetag, the weight of expectation weighed as heavy on the 911 GT2 RS as its aggressive aero pack produces at speed.
It was a hard-won battle, with BMW's M2 snagging three of five first place votes. The GT2 RS, however, came away with the overall win in the final tally totals. Ludicrous performance figures aside, the 991.2 iteration of the GT2 RS belied its notorious 'widowmaker' reputation with surprisingly accessible performance.
Another new 911, and another resounding victory for Porsche - this one marking 15 of 24 for the brand.
Proving PCOTY is far more than a mere numbers game, the 992 Carrera S wasn't the fastest around the track, nor was it the most powerful car on the grid. Mercedes-AMG's nuclear GT63 S 4-door was arguably the biggest surprise of the event, posted faster numbers, and was believed to be winning material... just not that year. The 911 simply does more things, better, more of the time.
2021 Mercedes-AMG GT R Pro
2021 will go down in MOTOR history as the year PCOTY very nearly didn't happen. Like many events on the annual calendar, PCOTY testing was very nearly put out to pasture by the Covid crisis. But as Melbourne's brutal restrictions fell away, the team headed for the hills in the ten best performance cars you can currently buy.
It was the Mercedes-AMG GT R Pro that came away victorious, impressing with its stunning on-track performance (setting a new Production Car lap record at Winton Raceway in the process), and surprising with its civil on-road behaviour. There's a delectable blend of old-school analogue V8 character mixed with fiendishly clever aero, suspension and driver assist electronics. A maiden win (after coming achingly close over the years) for Mercedes-Benz, and a credit to the engineers at Affaltarbach. Read the full winner's profile here!