Gone are the days when high performance and athletic reflexes are solely reserved for sports cars and coupes. Today, even the largest of SUVs boast stats and figures that would embarrass the hell out of the most expensive and capable supercars from years ago. High performance is becoming increasingly common as automakers are able to balance efficiency with power better than ever before.
In turn, this means that even the most practical of vehicles are now a blast to drive, and more companies are putting energy into pleasing those who desire the power and agility of a sports or performance car but cannot forfeit utility to obtain such a vehicle.
Kelley Blue Book assembled a list of what it believes are the 10 best vehicles, ranging from a tad over $20,000 to nearly $100,000, to suit those needs. Here they are, in the order given.
10. Mazda CX-5
The Mazda CX-5, arguably one of the best-looking crossovers on the market, isn’t the most powerful or the fastest. But it is one of the most agile and efficient, and it handles more like a compact car than a compact SUV. This makes it a load of fun in urban environments, where speed is second to handling, and at a little more than $21,000, it’s an affordable option in its segment that offers perhaps the most fun for the dollar.
9. Acura RDX
“Acura’s compact SUV does offer a 273-horsepower V6 and paddle shifters, but its fun factor is based more on practicality than pure performance,” KBB says. “Steering, braking and acceleration are all so smooth and natural that the RDX is just amazingly satisfying to drive on a daily basis.” Acura is renowned for its smooth and velvety drivetrains (though power, not as much), which — if highway driving is commonplace in your life — can make commuting far more enjoyable.
8. Nissan Juke Nismo RS
Remember when Nissan (NSANY.PK) shoe-horned the 545-horsepower twin-turbo V6 from the GT-R into a Juke? Well, this is about the closest you’ll get to owning that car, and the good news is that it costs less than $30,000. Of course, you won’t have as much power, but its 215 horses still outpace the stock Juke (and the regular Juke Nismo, too), and torque is up, as well. Coupled with the Juke’s small and agile frame, the Juke Nismo RS can add a lot of spice to your commute for not a lot more money.
7. Toyota FJ Cruiser
Fun doesn’t necessarily have to equal fast, and Toyota’s beloved FJ Cruiser is a perfect illustration of that. With all the off-road bells and whistles, the FJ Cruiser can be maneuvered just about anywhere you want it to go, but unfortunately, this year marks the last time you’ll be able to get one new, as production ends before the 2015 model year. It’s still a fully versatile and capable SUV, and as such, can be used for much more than crawling through rivers and rugged trails.
6. Land Rover Range Rover Sport
The Land Rover Range Rover Sport is one of those vehicles that just does everything exceptionally well. On one hand, it’s ultra luxurious, roomy, comfortable, quiet, sleek, and elegant. It’s also powerful and mighty when it needs to be. On the other hand, it has off-roading capabilities second to virtually none in its class, is rugged, versatile, and is a Swiss army knife in different environments. All while sacrificing essentially nothing.
5. Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
The Jeep (FIATY.PK) Grand Cherokee is a very nice car. The Grand Cherokee SRT is also a very nice car, but with much more power and a lot more fun added. “The Grand Cherokee SRT is fast enough to hold its own against the Porsche Cayenne GTS and BMW X5 M, and for a lot less money,” KBB reports. “It combines American muscle car power with a race track-hugging suspension and towing capability, and its 470 horses are by far the most power you can get in any American SUV.”
4. Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG
The Jeep’s 470 might be the most one can get from an American SUV, but head over to Germany — or at least your nearest Mercedes-Benz (DDAIF.PK) dealer — and you can get your hands on the $97,000, 518-horsepower ML63 AMG. “The ML63 AMG is a modern-day hot rod that can tow a boat,” KBB says. “Mercedes essentially handed the keys to this comfortable, luxurious family vehicle to the engineers at AMG, who gave the ML phenomenal power via a twin-turbo V8 and a throaty sport exhaust.”
3. Audi SQ5
Audi has reworked its Q5 SUV to include sport suspension and a creamy, tuned, 354-horsepower supercharged 3.0 liter V6 to create a track-worthy kid carrier that gives a sharpened edge to the crossover’s knife. “Audi has taken everything we love about driving its high-performance sport sedans and somehow infused all of it into the new high-performance version of its Q5 small SUV,” KBB said. It’s not cheap at more than $51,000, but it’s probably the most fun you can have in a small crossover.
2. Jeep Wrangler
Alongside the Toyota FJ is the Jeep Wrangler, which makes you wonder if the vehicle itself was actually built on the rocky slopes it so easily takes to. “Wherever the Wrangler goes, the driver can enjoy the surroundings with the top down, another feature that sets it apart from the crowd,” KBB points out. Sure enough, the character of the Wrangler has not been lost along the years, and they remain as popular today as ever before.
1. Porsche Macan
The Porsche Macan is brand-spankin’ new for the 2015 model year, and it is already showing considerable promise. It’s the most affordable Porsche on the market at a shade under $50,000 (cheaper than the Audi!) and boasts 340 horsepower in its most basic form. “Smaller and lighter than its Cayenne big brother, Porsche’s second SUV is even more responsive and car-like than the very successful original. Step up to the Macan Turbo and the fun quotient rises to 400 horsepower,” KBB says, though it’ll also bring you closer to $100,000.