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5 killer performance arms of car manufacturers - and the best cars they've souped up

From Abarth to AMG.

SPANISH CAR maker SEAT launched its Cupra badge as a standalone brand last week.

Previously, Cupra was the performance division of SEAT and was responsible for producing the company’s hot hatches and other memorable performance variants. These days, practically every car brands seems to feature a similar in-house performance arm.

Their function is to create the halo cars often essential for building a brand’s image. And like Cupra, they sometimes evolve into brands in their own right, creating hotter higher-spec performance models of regular passenger cars.

Some of the most well known performance arms of car manufacturers are Audi RS, BMW’s M Division and Renaultsport.

And here are some of my personal favourite car souper-uppers.

1. Abarth

Source: Abarth

The Abarth brand started out in 1949 following the demise of the Cisitalia racing team. Its founder Carlo Abarth forged a healthy relationship with Fiat cars early on in the company’s life – and in 1971 he sold the company to Fiat, where it became the company’s motorsport department overseeing its rally cars.

The name was used by Fiat for its faster road cars, but in 2007 the company was re-established as a standalone firm producing faster versions of the Fiat 500 initially. More recently the company has added the 124 Spider to its range, which is the Fiat derivative of the latest Mazda MX-5.

2. Mercedes-AMG

Source: Daimler AG

The AMG name is synonymous with high-performance Mercedes-Benz cars, but the company began back in 1967 solely as an engine developer for motorsport. From there it started to produce modified versions of regular Mercedes road cars and offer upgrade packs and accessories to owners.

In 1999, Mercedes-Benz’s parent company, Daimler, bought a majority stake in AMG, leading to the creation of Mercedes-AMG. These days the Mercedes-AMG produces versions of almost every regular Mercedes model and even lends its name to a specification grade in the standard car range, much like BMW M Sport.

While some may see this as diluting the brand, AMG still has a rich history of incredible models like the legendary 300CE 6.0 AMG, known as ‘The Hammer’.

3. Polestar

Source: Volvo Cars

You may not have heard of Polestar yet, but you will do soon. It is the performance subsidiary of Volvo Cars.

The company had motorsport activities and produced upgrade parts for Volvo cars, but in 2015 it was bought by the Swedish carmaker. The motorsport section continues, now known as Cyan Racing, while the Polestar name is a new sub-brand that will produce high-performance electric vehicles based on Volvo cars. Its first model will be imaginatively called the Polestar 1.

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4. OPC

Source: Opel Media

All of Opel’s fastest cars carry the OPC badge, which stands for Opel Performance Centre. Although older Opel models that had some pep wore the GSi badge, it has only produced OPC cars since 1997.

Models like the Astra and Corsa have come in for the OPC treatment, but so too have less obvious models like the Meriva and Zafira. However, only the Corsa OPC is available in Ireland, and following the takeover of Opel by PSA, the future of OPC is not entirely clear.

5. Nismo

Source: Newspress

If you grew up playing Gran Turismo on a PlayStation, then you’ll know what Nismo is, even if you’ve never seen one in real life.

Deriving its name from Nissan Motorsport, Nismo is the Japanese company’s in-house performance division. It began back in 1984 and to date has helped guide Nissan to great success in motorsport along with helping develop road cars.

Like AMG, its name has also made its way onto regular models that have some performance look to them – but you can buy a GT-R Nismo in the UK that has been appropriately fettled. Sadly, it’s not officially sold in Ireland.

READ: Review – The BMW 6 Series GT is one large, luxurious limo >

READ: 5 of the most challenging driving roads around Ireland >

About the author:

Melanie May  / https://www.melaniemay.com

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