4 Times Car Manufacturers Made Performance Versions of Boring Cars
These days, fast SUVs seem to be the word of the day. That said, making a high-performance version of an otherwise boring car isn’t a new concept. Looking through history, there are several unique examples where the engineering department overcame the bean counters to put out genuinely interesting cars.
Toyota Matrix XRS
Based on the Toyota Corolla, the Toyota Matrix hatchback is a thorough example of what it means to be boring. It came with 130-horsepower, steering that is unbelievably numb for a car from 2003, and an automatic transmission that groaned more loudly than I do when I have to tie my shoes after Thanksgiving dinner.
The Matrix XRS though, was a different beast altogether. The performance version of Toyota’s boring car delivered 180 horsepower and came only with a manual transmission. That four-cylinder unit is the same one that powered the early Lotus Elise, according to Autotrader, so its performance chops aren’t in question. Handling got a slight upgrade as well, though most of the engagement comes from the three-pedal driving setup.
Chevy Lumina Z34
The early 90’s were rife with unusual performance cars, and the Chevy Lumina Z34 is certainly counted among that list. Arriving in 1990 with 210 horsepower from a 3.4-liter V6, this sporty sedan delivered scintillating performance when compared to the boring car it’s based on. That veritable rust bucket offered just 135 ponies from its V6 powerplant, and a paltry 180 pound-feet of torque to go with it. Not quite Malaise-Era awful, but certainly nothing to write home about.
Ford Taurus SHO adds V6 performance to a boring family car
The Ford Taurus SHO may have a goofy name, but it’s performance is serious business. The acronym stands for Super High Output, and it delivers on that promise.
The base Taurus was an economical people-mover. A particularly hum-drum sedan in an era where boring was the style du jour for sedans. The original SHO packed a Yamaha-built 3.0-liter V6 under the hood that churned out 200 horsepower. In 1989, that was a show-stopping number, and took the big four-door boat to 60 mph in just 6.6 seconds.
In total, there were four total Taurus SHO generations, with the last ending production in 2019. By then, the fearsome four-door delivered 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque from a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6.
Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V performance takes a boring car and makes it fun
In it’s basic form, nobody would expect a Nissan Sentra to grab any attention. It’s a compact, efficient sedan meant for getting to work and home without burning through a full ration of fuel. However, the Sentra SE-R Spec V is a perfect example of a manufacturer making a performance car from a boring product.
While the base Sentra used a 1.8-liter four-cyilnder producing 126 horsepower, the SE-R Spec V used a completely different powerplant. In this guise, a 2.5-liter four-banger churned out 175 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. Numbers we scoff at today, but in 2006 this car was a genuine joy to drive.
Adding to the sensation were sport suspension and performance brakes, plus a six-speed manual transmission. And sure, the hotted-up Sentra wouldn’t win any speed records, but it was a surprisingly joyous way to take on the daily commute and occasional back-road romp.