Ever since BMW decided to make a sporty version of its family sedan back in 1985, the sport sedan world has seen some pretty impressive machines. Today’s sports sedan segment is full of models easily powerful enough to embarrass sports cars and rival supercars.
Unlike today’s models, which all have more or less the same type of powertrain – a V8 with some kind of supercharging – the earlier sports sedans had engines that went well beyond the box. BMW continued with their straight-6s, but Mercedes-Benz joined the party with a big, lumbering V8 and Lancia even borrowed an engine from Ferrari. Lotus stripped down an Opel Omega and pretty much reengineered the whole car to beat BMW at their own game, and Jaguar supercharged their competitor. A little further north, Volvo and SAAB stuck ‘Turbo’ badges to everything they could get their hands on, creating some fantastic factory sleepers in the process.
The sports sedans of yesteryear are not only cooler than most of their modern equivalents, but many of them are more valuable and adored by enthusiasts. Who could have predicted a front-wheel drive executive sedan with a Ferrari V8? Here are ten classicSports sedans that make you feel nostalgic and cool.
10/10 Volvo 740 Turbo
The Volvo 740 was the predecessor of the legendary 850 and also had a more powerful model. The 740 originally featured a 2.0-litre engine, but was upgraded to a 2.3-litre for more power. Unfortunately, in the Italian market, engines larger than 2.0 liters were heavily taxed, so Volvo stuck a turbocharger on it.
Seeing success, they also added a turbo to the 2.3-liter engine, boosting output to 163 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. While not much now, it was pretty good for the 1980s. The model eventually led to the 850R – one of the most popular Volvos of all time.
9/10 Alfa Romeo 164 QV
The Alfa Romeo 164 might not be the best looking executive sedan out there, but it’s one of the coolest. Built at the same time as the Volvo, the 164 stuck to the 2.0-litre taxation rule and sold a turbocharged 2.0-litre V6 that produced an impressive 207 hp.
The top-spec 164 were the Quadrifoglio Verde and Q4 models, with a high-performance version of the Busso V6 with 230 hp. The 164 QV was one of the best sounding executive sedans on the market in the 1980s.
8/10 Jaguar XJ-R
The Jaguar XJ is the brand’s full-size sedan, rivaling the BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Audi A8. In the 1990s, the XJ was a force to be reckoned with. The model featured a 4.2-liter V8, which was then supercharged for the XJR version.
The XJR produced an impressive 370 hp and was mated to a 5-speed automatic borrowed from Mercedes-Benz. Interestingly, it featured a MOMO gear selector, Brembo brakes and wheels from BBS. Fairly large selection of aftermarket parts.
7/10 Audi 200 Turbo
The Audi 200 Turbo was the sporty luxury sedan model before Audi picked up the S and RS model lines. The 200 was fitted exclusively with inline 5 engines ranging from 2.1 to 2.3 liters – half of which had a side-bolted turbocharger.
The 200 Turbo produced an impressive 217 hp and sent the power to all four wheels via the Quattro all-wheel drive system. The 200 Turbo offers some insane customization options, and the engine can withstand ridiculous performance when tuned.
6/10 Lancia Theme 8.32
The Lancia Thema 8.32 is undoubtedly one of the coolest sporty sedans ever built. The Thema itself was a pretty boring vehicle before Lancia launched the Alfa Romeo V6s. Their biggest addition was the special model 8.32.
To beef up the car, Lancia asked if they could borrow the 3.0-litre V8 from the Ferrari 308 GTS. They had to make quite a few modifications to get the engine transversely mounted and for a front-wheel drive arrangement, but they did it. A front-wheel drive executive sedan with a Ferrari engine. How strange.
5/10 SAAB 900 Turbo
Simply put, SAAB was one of the best car manufacturers in the world. They didn’t really take orders from anyone, and nothing could distract them from their relentless pursuit of safety. One of the best examples of this is the 900 Turbo.
The 900 Turbo might only have 160bhp, but it had the torque of a much larger engine, resulting in a 0-60mph time of just 8 seconds – fast even by today’s standards. The 900 Turbo was one of the coolest cars of all time and one of the ancestors of the modern automobile.
4/10 BMW M5 E34
The BMW M5 E34 was the car that cemented BMW as the king of the sports sedan. With a new straight-6 and performance to rival some of the fastest sports cars, the M5 flew past top speed records and into the history books.
The M5 was updated halfway through its production run, receiving an enlarged engine that was more reliable and had better throttle response. The 335 hp accelerated the sedan to 6 km/h in just 5.9 seconds and further to a top speed of 260 km/h.
3/10 Mercedes Benz 500E
The Mercedes-Benz 500E was Mercedes’ answer to the almost unstoppable E34 M5. Mercedes took their humility W124 Compact full-size sedan and asked Porsche to cram their big 5.0-liter V8 in the front – because Mercedes engineers were busy developing it W140 S class.
The result was a stately sedan with slightly longer wheel arches and a 320 hp V8 under the hood. The 500E accomplished pretty much the same thing E34 M5 in terms of on-road performance, but in a more sinister way.
2/10 Lotus Carlton
The Lotus Carlton was another sports sedan specifically designed to kick ass E34 M5 from the podium – a feat he achieved with great success. The Carlton started out as the Opel Omega, which then underwent a re-engineering process to become the fastest sedan in its segment.
The Carlton received a 3.6-liter twin-turbo straight-6 that produced 377 hp and 419 lb-ft going to the rear wheels through a 6-speed manual used in the Chevy Corvette ZR1 . The Carlton was a one-hit wonder in the automotive industry and has garnered quite a following.
1/10 Alpina B10 BiTurbo
With the sports sedan speed wars in full swing, Alpina decided to throw her hat into the ring with a model of her own. Use of E34 535i as a base, they did what Lotus had done with the Opel Omega and completely redesigned the 5 Series.
The result was a twin-turbo 3.4-liter flat-six producing 355 hp and 385 lb-ft of torque, sent to the rear wheels through a 5-speed manual transmission. The B10 achieved a record run of 179 mph over Lotus Carlton’s 176, becoming the fastest production sedan in the world. Coincidentally, even at its ridiculous price, the Alpina was hailed as the best sports sedan on the market.