BMW couldn't have imagined the branding gem it had when it launched the BMW M1 back in 1978. Built as a low-production race car to meet homologation requirements, the Lamborghini-produced supercar eventually paved way for more affordable M cars such as the M3 and M635 CSi. Today, BMW slaps the red and blue stripes on most of its line-up, from the superb 1M to the superfluous X6 M.
That lucrative niche hasn't been lost on other automakers, and nowadays nearly every company has followed suit with its own take on a luxury performance nameplate. Audi offers two grades with the S and RS, with the latter being more aggressively tuned. Infiniti and Volvo are relative newcomers with the IPL and R-Design lines, respectively, and both focus on subtler performance upgrades. Mercedes-Benz's AMG has evolved over the years from the detached Autobahn tourers of the 80s to hard-edged track machines with the Black Series today. Even Cadillac quickly established itself as capable of taking on the Bavarian big shots with its V-Series CTS sedan and coupe. And although not a dedicated luxury sub-brand, Chrysler has branched off its high-performance cars with a separate SRT badge, which include the Viper and 300.
Here are 8 noteworthy 2012 and 2013 models from their respective carmakers.
Much like popped-collar shirts, five-door hatchbacks have been popular in Europe but not in the United States. Audi bucks that styling trend with the handsome A7, and for 2013 it has upgraded the S7 with a turbo V-8. Although down 15 horsepower from the previous Lamborghini-sourced V-10, the 420-hp turbo V-8 is nearly 90 pounds lighter and features an unobtrusive cylinder deactivation technology, leading to a 25% improvement in fuel efficiency to 17/26 mpg. With Quattro AWD and beefy tires, it's not a car you'll go sideways in, but with its sultry ride, you wouldn't want to.
With the redesigned 3 Series, the M3 is due for an all-new model in 2014. But the current M3—which comes in coupe, sedan or convertible form—is still the gold standard for luxury sports cars. Naturally aspirated M cars are a dying breed (rumors are the next-gen gets a turbo inline six), so enjoy the melodic wail of an 8500 rpm redline, 414-horsepower V-8 while you can. Moreover, the communicative hydraulic steering is legendary—you'd have to drag your hand along the asphalt for more direct road feedback.
Coming from a company known for land barges that induce sea sickness around corners, Cadillac likely surprised BMW with the CTS-V, a car that can keep up—and even trump the M5. Granted, BMW recently released an all-new version of its super sedan that's quicker, but M5 sales have temporarily halted due to a faulty oil pump, whereas the V sedan has withstood the test of time. The CTS-V drives like a Corvette in sedan form, using a similar Magnetic Ride Control for suspension and a supercharged V-8 good for 556 hp. Although not as compliant as an M5, it's also more than $20,000 cheaper, making it a relative performance bargain.