The European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) is an economically important fish native to the Mediterranean and Northern Atlantic. Its complex life cycle involves many migrations through temperature gradients that affect the energetic demands of swimming. Previous studies have shown large intraspecific variation in swimming performance and temperature tolerance, which could include deleterious and advantageous traits under the evolutionary pressure of climate change. However, little is known of the underlying determinants of this individual variation. We investigated individual variation in temperature tolerance in 30 sea bass by exposing them to a warm temperature challenge test. The eight most temperature-tolerant and eight most temperature-sensitive fish were then studied further to determine maximal swimming speed (UCAT), aerobic scope and post-exercise oxygen consumption. Finally, ventricular contractility in each group was determined using isometric muscle preparations. The temperature-tolerant fish showed lower resting oxygen consumption rates, possessed larger hearts and initially recovered from exhaustive exercise faster than the temperature-sensitive fish. Thus, whole-animal temperature tolerance was associated with important performance traits. However, the temperature-tolerant fish also demonstrated poorer maximal swimming capacity (i.e. lower UCAT) than their temperature-sensitive counterparts, which may indicate a trade-off between temperature tolerance and swimming performance. Interestingly, the larger relative ventricular mass of the temperature-tolerant fish did not equate to greater ventricular contractility, suggesting that larger stroke volumes, rather than greater contractile strength, may be associated with thermal tolerance in this species.