Top 6 Performance SUV List $15,000–$80,000

Red Audi SQ5 Performance SUV Australia

TOP 6 PERFORMANCE SUV LIST $15,000–$80,000

Okay, so you want the commanding seating position and chunky looks of an SUV, but you’re a keen driver who doesn’t want to miss out on the enjoyment of a sports car or performance sedan.

What you need is a performance SUV. Take a look at these great options that you can find on Gumtree Cars.

AUDI SQ5 (2013–2017)

Diesel? In a performance vehicle? Well, Audi had been using the slower-burning fuel to great effect in a string of wins at the famous Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, and one of the showroom spin-offs is this quicker Q5 SUV.

The Audi SQ5 arrived in 2013 with a twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 diesel and the claim of being the world’s fastest production diesel SUV – sprinting from a standing start to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds.

Slower than petrol rivals featured elsewhere in this article, yes, but the big win for buyers is much lower fuel consumption: a pretty remarkable 6.8 litres per 100km officially.

And thanks to a ‘sound resonator’ placed near the SQ5’s exhaust system, the engine makes a terrific noise – more like a rumbling V8 than a diesel.

Plenty of flexible performance, too, thanks to a sequential twin-turbo set-up that uses a smaller turbo for low-rev response and then a bigger turbo for boosting top-end performance.

A great interior still holds up well today from a design viewpoint.

Use up all of your $80,000 budget and you can even get into the latest-generation SQ5 – out since 2017 and offering much better ride quality if not any better dynamically. (Just note it’s actually slower than the older diesel SQ5.)

 

Image credit: Gumtree Cars seller

BMW X5 M (2009–2012)

The original X5 set a new benchmark for SUV handling, so it was only a matter of time before BMW created a super-fast version under its famous M performance badge.

It took until 2009 and the BMW X5 second (E70) generation to arrive, mind you, and it upset some of the brand’s followers, who believed the X5 M didn’t belong alongside legendary versions of its 3-Series and 5-Series passenger cars, the M3 and M5.

But there’s no doubt the high-riding M-car is speedy. A V8 with not one but two turbochargers sees to that.

With a mighty 408kW, all-wheel drive and a launch-control system, the X5 M slingshots from standstill to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds – saying goodbye to HSV Commodores in the process.

It was no mug around corners, either, with responsive steering and grip aplenty from its super-wide rubber. The X5 M’s big brakes need to be effective stoppers, and they are.

If the full M variant is a budget step too far, you could try the X5 M50d diesel that uses three – yes, three – turbochargers.

Or if you prefer a more coupe-like shape with the same performance, there’s the X6 M.

 

Image credit: Gumtree Cars seller

JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE SRT (2012–2015)

Jeeps are designed to go off-road, right? Usually, yes, but not the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT.

America’s famous 4×4 brand has dabbled with this high-performance SUV since 2006, giving buyers a vehicle that can get close to rivals from BMW, Mercedes and Porsche yet cost about half the price.

A maximum $80,000 budget can comfortably give you a foot up into a more recent model.

And in 2012, a year after the introduction of the fourth-generation (and current) Grand Cherokee, the SRT swapped out a 6.1-litre ‘Hemi’ V8 for an even bigger (though still old-fashioned) 6.4-litre unit – now with 344kW and 624Nm – for 0–100km/h acceleration in less than five seconds.

The engine’s guttural growl also sounds like something that belongs in a NASCAR race. The automatic gearbox changed from five speeds to eight as part of a 2013 update for the Grand Cherokee (along with some interior revisions, and a badge change to just ‘SRT’).

A deep chin spoiler, 20-inch wheels and beefy brakes add to the tough looks, even if the SRT isn’t a match for an X5 M, Cayenne Turbo or ML63 on a good driver’s road.

 

Image credit: Gumtree Cars seller

MERCEDES-BENZ ML63 AMG (2012-2015)

A performance-vehicle section just doesn’t feel complete without an AMG-badged model, so step forward the Mercedes-Benz ML63.

A successor to 2001’s ML55 AMG, the first ML63 features a 6.2-litre V8 with 375kW of power and 630Nm of torque.

Not bad, but bag yourself a 2012 model onwards and you have 386kW and 700Nm from a twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8, and a 0–100km/h time that drops from 5.0 to 4.8 seconds. Fuel economy also improves.

Or make that 4.7 seconds, if you search for an ML63 fitted with the optional AMG Performance pack, which bumped outputs to 410kW/760Nm and cut another tenth from acceleration – without using any more fuel.

ML63s run on sporty air suspension and employ all-wheel drive. The steering isn’t the best for driver feel but handling is enjoyable.

And you don’t just get extra performance over an ML500 – there are also extra features such as a fancier audio system.

 

Image credit: Gumtree Cars seller

PORSCHE CAYENNE TURBO/GTS (2007–2012)

Car fans were horrified at the introduction of a Porsche SUV in 2002, yet the Cayenne’s phenomenal sales success has helped finance the future of the car maker’s sports cars – including the iconic 911.

And the Cayenne lives up to the Porsche name in many ways – especially Turbo and GTS versions, which are worthy editions to this performance SUV short list.

The Turbo introduced in 2010 as part of the second-generation Cayenne range ups the power and acceleration of the original. And while the twin-turbo V8’s 368kW is still shy of the aforementioned BMW X5 M out around the same time, it’s just as fast with a 4.7-second 0–100km/h dash.

Lighter and lower than the BMW, and also with all-wheel drive, the Cayenne Turbo has the edge in handling.

For keen drivers, another option has been available since 2008 – the GTS. This variant forgets about any pretence of going off-road (though other Cayennes are actually handy in the rough) and instead opts for a sportier-looking body, a lower ride height, and big 21-inch wheels.

There’s also nearly 300kW from the non-turbocharged V8.

 

SUBARU FORESTER XT (2011-2018)

Subaru had enjoyed so much success in the 1990s with its rally car for the road, the Impreza WRX, that it decided to sprinkle a bit of the sedan’s magic on its Forester SUV.

The slightly hilarious result was the Subaru Forester GT, possibly the world’s first ‘performance SUV’ – using the WRX’s turbocharged engine and also featuring an air-gulping bonnet scoop.

Insurance companies soon got wind of the GT, and high premiums prompted Subaru to switch to a less-sporty XT badge for future turbo Foresters.

And engine power has only gone up over the generations, so the later the model you buy the more performance you’re going to have (though not necessarily the same choice of manual or auto gearbox).

The last XT (Subaru currently doesn’t offer a turbo model in the latest Forester range) produces 177kW from its 2.5-litre four-cylinder, and an option for less than $50,000.

Grab an XT Premium and you also get lots of nice extras.

Subaru has never built a Forester wearing its sportiest badge, STI, though it came close with the 2011 S-Edition, which runs with stiffer suspension and a fair bit more power (193kW) than the XT of the same time.


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Jez Spinks

Automotive Journalist