For the first time in nearly a decade, SUV sales are soaring. Buoyed by a steep drop in gas prices and a recovering economy, SUVs and Crossovers accounted for 32.5% of all vehicles sold in the U.S. through November 2014, and analysts predict the segment will continue to grow in 2015. But now that gas prices are beginning to stabilize, automakers need to make sure customers stay interested in these bigger models, and luckily there are more exciting SUVs on the market today than ever before. When most people think of SUVs, the image of a big, lumbering people mover comes to mind. But in the years when full-size SUVs were thought of as gas-guzzling dinosaurs, the smaller, more versatile Crossover segment emerged to become one of the most competitive markets in the auto industry. As full-size SUV sales finally catch up with the smaller trucks, the crowded marketplace and increased competition has taken the segment into an unexpected new territory: performance. The muscle car formula is a classic recipe for performance cars: Take a small car, drop in a large engine, and head for the race track. But how do you take big cars with seating for up to seven people and turn them into performance cars? These 10 models (in order from least to most horsepower) show just how automakers take some of their best-selling crossovers and SUVs and transform them into some of the most unlikely performance cars on the road today.
10. Mini Countryman John Cooper Works The Mini Countryman may be one of the smallest crossovers on the market, but it’s the largest car Mini makes. While that paradoxically makes it the biggest Mini, it doesn’t make the Countryman exempt from getting the go-fast treatment from the company’s John Cooper Works performance division. Mini claims the hotrod Countryman is the closest thing you can buy to their World Rally Car entry, and it has the credentials to buck it up: a turbocharged inline-four tuned to make 208 horsepower, a six-speed manual transmission and heavy-duty clutch, and full-time all-wheel drive make sure the Mini can go flat out both on and off-road.
9. Nissan Juke Nismo RS AWD The Juke Nismo RS isn’t to be confused with the insanely fast and ultra-limited Juke R – the 485 horsepower ultimate sleeper car with a twin-turbo V6 from the Nissan GT-R under the hood. The real-world Juke Nismo RS won’t deliver the same power as the GT-R supercar, but it’s one of the most exciting performance-minded crossovers on the market today. The little crossover benefits from an advanced torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system, and track-focused modifications like a race-tuned suspension, upgraded exhaust, bigger brakes, and a limited-slip differential to keep power to the wheels in cornering. A tuned inline-four engine makes 211 horsepower and takes the Juke from 0 to 60 in under seven seconds – not bad for a family-friendly crossover with a sub-$30,000 starting price.
8. Audi SQ5 Audi took its strong-selling Q5 crossover and transformed it into the SQ5, a sedate-looking people mover with serious performance pedigree. Audi calls the SQ5 a “luxury crossover that seriously hauls,” and it’s got the numbers to prove it. Under the Audi’s understated sheet metal lies an updated suspension, and a supercharged 354 horsepower V6 that can take the crossover from 0-60 in 5.2 seconds – making the 2-ton five-seater nearly as quick as a Volkswagen Golf R.
7. Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG Whenever a Mercedes-Benz model goes through its in-house AMG tuning division, the result is always interesting. Shortly after the company entered the small-crossover market in 2014 with the GLA, they sent the little SUV over to AMG, and came up with one of its most interesting creations yet. The GLA 45 AMG is a snarling beast of a crossover that makes the base-model GLA’s performance look like an economy car’s. AMG thoroughly revised the car’s suspension and transmission, pairing it with a hand-built inline-four cylinder engine producing 355 horsepower, capable of taking the small crossover from 0 to 60 in a staggeringly quick 4.2 seconds. This increased performance combined with Mercedes’s tried-and-true 4Matic all-wheel drive system make the GLA 45 one of the most formidable performance SUVs of any size.
6. Cadillac Escalade For years, the Cadillac Escalade has been a consistent best-seller for 5. SRT Jeep Grand Cherokee Introduced in 2011 (long before the performance SUV boom), the SRT Jeep Grand Cherokee is still the closet an SUV has ever come to being an American muscle car. Jeep says the Cherokee SRT delivers “mind-bending performance combined with ultra-premium luxury,” and they’re not wrong. The SRT retains all of the Cherokee’s legendary ruggedness but adds a 475 horsepower V8 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission that takes the big SUV from zero to 60 in 4.8 seconds. Possibly the only SUV on the planet with its quarter-mile time proudly listed on its website, the Cherokee SRT is one of the few SUVs on the market that can handle itself both off-road and on the track.
4. Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG Introduced in 1979, The Mercedes-Benz G-Class is one of the oldest cars in production today. While little has changed on the outside, Mercedes has gradually transformed the truck from its sparse military roots into one of the world’s unlikeliest supercars. the G-Class is only available in two trims in the American market: the ultra-luxury G550, and the cartoonishly fast G63 AMG. Powered by a 5.5 liter twin-turbo V8, the boxy G63 AMG puts out an astonishing 536 horsepower, and the boxy truck rockets from 0 to 60 in 5.3 seconds. Despite the G63’s reputation for notoriously bad handling, the truck’s sheer speed and iconic good looks have made the G63 one of the most popular AMG models, keeping the old truck popular after nearly four decades.
3. Range Rover Sport SVR While Range Rover’s off-roading reputation has made it one of the most respected names in automotive history, it’s never been known for building track-refined performance cars. The brand sought to change that when it released the Sport SVR for 2015. Billed as “the most powerful Range Rover ever,” the brand has tried to highlight the SVR’s capabilities on the track, and with a 550 horsepower supercharged 5.0 liter V8, “Anti-Roll Control” for level cornering, and massive brakes, the big SUV doesn’t disappoint – it can go from 0-60 in 4.7 seconds. We’ll get an even better look at the SVR’s performance capabilities off the track later this year, as several SVR’s are set to prominently appear in the upcoming James Bond film “SPECTRE.”
2. BMW X5 M Like Mercedes’s AMG, BMW’s Motorsport division has made some of the best performance cars to ever come out of Germany. It’s worked its magic on one of BMW’s most popular SUVs, and transformed it into the X5 M, one of the most performance-focused SUVs in the world. This is the second-generation X5 M (and based on the third-generation X5), and the most powerful one yet. Like most of BMW’s performance cars, the X5 M is limited to a top speed of 155 miles per hour, and its twin-turbo 4.6 liter V8 creates a massive 567 horsepower, and the full-size SUV can go from 0 to 60 in 1. Porsche Cayenne Turbo S With Porsche’s legendary reputation for building sports cars, it only seems natural that the brand would build the world’s most powerful performance SUV. The Cayenne Turbo S is powered by a turbocharged 570 horsepower V8 that takes the fill-size SUV from zero to 60 in an unbelievable 3.8 seconds – faster than a Porsche 911 Carrera GTS. Porsche may be holding the world’s most powerful SUV title for now, but with a rapidly changing marketplace and increased competition, its days with the title may be numbered. Since announcing their plans to enter the SUV market, Bentley has vowed that their Bentayga will be the world’s most powerful SUV. The introduction of the new Volvo XC90 T8 is another important development that could radically change the definition of a performance SUV. The Volvo has a whopping 400 horsepower from its innovative new hybrid powertrain. As Tesla’s P85D has shown, the power of electric motors could prove to be irresistible to automakers who want to make their big vehicles incredibly powerful. These 10 SUVs are some of the best performance models money can buy. It’ll be very interesting to see what competition they’ll face in the next few years.
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