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Practical Performance: 6 vehicles that are both fast and useful

Practical Performance: 6 vehicles that are both fast and useful
Autos
Everybody should drive something fast and foolish at least once in their life, just to experience the power and performance you get when an automaker gathers its design and engineering team together to create something with a narrow, often singular focus.

Then, reality kicks in for most of us. You have to pick up Uncle Harry and Aunt Charlotte from the airport. You need a dozen sheets of 4×8 plywood and some 2x4s. The kids have soccer practice. It’s snowing outside.

Here, then, is the happy compromise that comes when performance collides with practicality — a half-dozen vehicles that handle the daily drudge, yet still deliver a generous measure of fun when opportunity arises.

Ah, yes, the hot hatch, more loved by Canadians than by our neighbours to the south. Can we get an “Amen” for the Volkswagen GTI, for 40 years the fun and frolicsome originator of the species? In the face of increasing competition, especially in the European market, VW in 2015 stepped up its game and, throwing its North American audience a bone, .

Resetting the bar for performance, comfort and style in the sport compact segment, the R – which starts at $42,495 this year – features an extensively modified version of the GTI’s 2.0-litre four, turbocharged and plied by direct-injection to put out 288 hp (on 91 octane), with 280 pound-feet of torque available from just 1,800 rpm.

These are the 5 best track cars on a budget

The GTI is sporting, the R is quick — as in 5.8 seconds to 100 kilometres an hour and a mere 3.3 seconds to accelerate to 120 km/h from 80, at least when I drove a six-speed manual version a few years ago.

Alternatively, there’s the more powerful Civic Type R, if you can deal with its ugly-as-sin looks and its lack of all-wheel-drive — that feature comes in handy in our four-season climate.

Leave it to the Germans to take everything they know about building high-performance sport sedans and coupes and applying it to their compact crossovers. Hence the Porsche Macan Turbo, Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S and, the subject here, BMW’s new $93,000 X3 M Competition — the (currently) most extreme versions of their respective model ranges.

Under the X3 M Competition’s hood is what BMW claims is the most powerful straight-six gas engine ever to see action in an M car, a twin-turbo 3.0L six churning out 510 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque, 30 more ponies than the non-Competition version. Power flows through an eight-speed M Steptronic transmission and an M xDrive all-wheel-drive system adapted from the M5 super-sedan, which means a rear-wheel bias and two AWD modes. Zero to 100 km/h takes just 4.1 seconds, says BMW, which makes the stiff-riding crossover as fast as or faster than many performance cars.

Craving something less Teutonic? Alfa Romeo’s 505-hp Stelvio Quadrifoglio is an exotic Italian alternative.

Some cars just get meaner with age. The seventh generation of the Ontario-built Dodge Charger has been around since 2011, yet FCA continues to tweak the four-door sedan, making it ever more fearsome. For 2020, . This includes new integrated fender flares that add 89 mm of body width and make room for the wider Pirelli P305/35ZR20 tires, Brembo six-piston front calipers and stiffer suspension tuning with Bilstein three-mode adaptive damping. Naturally, a supercharged 6.2L Hemi V8 engine powers the beast, with 707 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque to tap.

FCA says the car’s top speed of 315 km/h means it retains its title as the most powerful and fastest mass-produced sedan in the world. (It appears that, with a claimed top end of 333 km/h, Bentley’s new $236,100, 12-cylinder Flying Spur owns the outright fastest sedan title. Take solace in the fact the Hellcat Charger is about $160,000 less expensive.)

Alternatively, there’s the Tesla Model S, “ludicrously” fast to 100 km/h, but also substantially pricier than the Hellcat.

Porsche’s most powerful production vehicle is a plug-in hybrid crossover. Some might think the company’s founder, Ferdinand Porsche, would be spinning in his grave at the thought. Yet his first car, the Semper Vivus, built back in 1900, was in fact a gas-electric hybrid. With the company continuing to shift its focus to e-mobility, it was only a matter of time before its hugely profitable Cayenne SUV was offered as a plug-in hybrid.

But Porsche is also synonymous with performance, so the new flagship Turbo S E-Hybrid puts out an impressive 670 hp from the interaction of a 541-hp 4.0L V8 and a 134-hp electric motor integrated into an eight-speed transmission. (And, in case you’re wondering, there is no turbocharger to be found.) Combined system torque of 663 lb-ft is available from just above idle, which means this Cayenne launches to 100 km/h in just 3.8 seconds. Oh, yes, the crossover, which comes with a $182,200 price tag, can also drive for up to 40 kilometres with zero emissions, based on the European Driving Cycle.

Alternatively, we can turn to Tesla again, this time the Model X crossover. The Performance variant, about $40,000 less expensive than the Turbo S E-Hybrid, will hit 100 km/h in less than three seconds; and has a claimed maximum range of 490 km.

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear; the Germans don’t just build station wagons — they also build sportswagens (no, not SportWagen, a version of the Golf made by VW). Which is to say these are not the ubiquitous wagons that used to occupy suburban driveways more than a generation ago. Think race car with room for the family and groceries. Audi’s 2020 RS 6 Avant, , has a thundering 591-hp twin-turbo 4.0L – with a 48- volt belt/alternator/starter mild-hybrid system – that pushes 590 lb-ft of torque through an eight-speed automatic transmission with launch control and a Quattro all-wheel-drive system.

The RS 6s bulked-up body design differentiates itself from the base A6 Avant base model through numerous RS-specific parts — only the front doors, roof and tailgate are shared. No price has been announced for the thunder-wagon yet, but somewhere around $120,000 would be a good place to start.

Alternatively, Mercedes has an AMG-modded E 63 S wagon of similar power and intent.

With a name like Raptor, this version of Ford’s F-150 pickup is not destined for mundane hauling duties. No, FoMoCo always had the idea of a quasi-Baja race truck in mind when it designed the 4×4 Raptor, imbuing it with a purpose-built engine, chassis and suspension that enables it to travel quickly over desert terrain or crawl over rocks. Available in SuperCab and SuperCrew versions, the five-passenger Raptor is powered by a high-output 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 that puts out 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque and is paired with a 10-speed transmission for improved efficiency.

With four full-size doors, the SuperCrew provides rear passengers with more legroom and comfort and more space to stow gear while exploring the boonies.. The box length for both the SuperCrew and SuperCab is 5.5 feet.

Need something a little smaller and less expensive than the Raptor, which starts at about $75,000? The Chevy Colorado ZR2 is almost as macho and offers the choice of V6 and turbodiesel engines.
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