These performance SUVs are all available on a lower budget.
Hot hatchbacks were once the ideal vehicle for younger buyers on a budget who wanted a sporty experience that did not skimp on practicality. Today, crossovers have taken over the position once held by hatchbacks, but automakers have been slow to develop high-performance variants at an affordable price point. The all-new 2022 Hyundai Kona N seeks to shake up the performance crossover market, bringing never-before-seen attention to driver enjoyment.
With a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing up to 286 horsepower, the Kona N will be the quickest subcompact crossover on the market, hitting 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. Hyundai didn't release pricing yet, but we assume the Kona N will sit above the $32,250 Veloster N. Though the N will be a new performance crossover bargain, there are many potent alternatives available on the used market.
Audi first brought its sporty SQ5 crossover to the American market in 2014, using the same 3.0-liter supercharged V6 found in the S4 sedan and S5 coupe. It produced 354 hp and 347 lb-ft of torque, going out to Audi's all-wheel-drive system through an eight-speed automatic. Zero-to-sixty mph took just 5.1 seconds, making the SQ5 quicker than the Kona N. For the 2008 model year, Audi replaced the supercharged V6 with a turbocharged motor producing the same power but a bit more torque (369 lb-ft).
Used SQ5 examples are readily available for less than $30,000, with varying mileage ranging from 50,000 to 100,000. Most of these cars are out of warranty, so keep that in mind when factoring in maintenance and repair costs.
We believe the Infiniti FX is one of the most under-appreciated SUVs in history, especially the V8-powered FX50 variant. Most customers bought an FX with a 3.7-liter V6 engine, but Infiniti offered the FX50 with a one-of-a-kind 5.0-liter VK50VE V8. This eight-cylinder engine produced an impressive 390 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, which made the FX50 one of the most impressive performance SUVs of the period with a 4.8-second 0-60 time. The FX50 also bears the distinction of being the only Nissan/Infiniti product to use this V8, aside from LMP3 racing cars.
Finding an FX50 in a sea of FX37 examples might be tricky, but prices are reasonable, ranging from $15,000 to $25,000 depending on mileage. Infiniti renamed the FX to QX70 in 2014 and offered it with the V8 for one model year before discontinuing it. A V8-powered QX70 is especially difficult to track down.
Keeping in line with under-appreciated Nissan products, the Nissan Juke Nismo should receive at least some credit as a precursor to the Hyundai Kona N. The standard Juke Nismo used a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder producing 188 hp 177 lb-ft of torque, while the Nismo RS variant upped the outputs to 215 hp and 211 lb-ft torque. Those figures dipped a bit with the CVT, but we only recommend getting a used Juke Nismo RS with the six-speed manual, an option that isn't offered on the Kona N.
The sprint to 60 mph takes 6.9 seconds in the Nismo RS, but we think some buyers will sacrifice pure performance for the manual transmission. The RS model was buffed up over the standard Nismo with better suspension, brakes, and super-aggressive Recaro seats. Used Juke Nismo prices start well under $10,000, while an RS will cost around $15,000.
Though there has never been an X1 M, the first-generation BMW X1 offered a fairly sporty xDrive 35i model. The original X1 rode on a rear-wheel-drive platform, but the six-cylinder model only came in all-wheel-drive xDrive 35i form. A 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six produced 300 hp and 300 lb-ft torque, hitting 60 mph in 6.2 seconds. A new Kona N might be quicker but used X1 xDrive 35i examples now existing for around $10,000 to $25,000.
The Mini Countryman John Cooper Works is one of the most entertaining crossovers on the market, but its price point also shoots it into luxury territory. The used market is a different story. We found the previous-generation Countryman JCW ranging from around $15,000 to $30,000, mostly with low mileage. This generation of Countryman used a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 208 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque. Sixty mph took a scant 6.6 seconds, and Mini offered it with either a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual sending power to all four wheels.
Though it isn't technically an SUV or crossover, the Chevrolet HHR SS is an automotive oddity worth discussing. The HHR arrived during a retro revival period for General Motors, hot off the heels of the successful Chrysler PT Cruiser. It was an odd-looking hatchback styled to look like a 1940s or '50s Chevy pickup, and for a few model years, buyers could purchase an SS version. Powered by the same 2.0-liter turbocharged EcoTec motor used in the Cobalt SS and the Pontiac Solstice GXP, the HHR SS was shockingly quick with 260 hp and the same amount of torque.
Chevy's four-speed automatic wasn't great, but the rare examples with the six-speed manual could hit 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. Manual examples are harder to track down, but we found a few under $10,000. Tracking down an HHR SS Panel with a stick is like striking gold.
We'll admit, the Toyota RAV4 is by far the least sporty option on this list, and it wouldn't hold a candle to the Kona N in terms of handling. However, buyers who want a simple and reliable crossover that's surprisingly quick may want to consider the third-generation RAV4. This was the only RAV4 generation to offer a V6 engine, a 3.5-liter mill producing 269 hp. That's not too far off the modern-day turbocharged Kona N, and with so much power on tap, the V6 RAV4 could hit 60 mph in under seven seconds.
It may be the most mainstream option here, but it's also the most reasonably priced. You can find a V6 RAV4 ranging from $5,000 on the low end to around $20,000 on the high side. We'd suggest getting one with AWD, as the front-driven ones tend to torque steer like crazy.