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10 SUVs That Offer Near-Sports Car Performance

These SUVs are more athletic than they suggest and the power-to-weight ratio on some of them is comparable to a true sports car.

It seems the SUV craze persists even more than the downsizing and electrification trends in the automotive industry. While all three are intertwined, it goes without saying that you can't expect sports-car reflexes from something that comes with a higher center of gravity. While this has always been the downside of all SUVs trying to pretend they are sports cars, some manufacturers have cracked the code... kind of. 

I am a firm believer that if you want something that drives like a sports car, a dedicated sports car platform is your only bet. That said, over my years as an automotive journalist, I have driven a few of the below-mentioned SUVs and some of them come surprisingly close to the driving dynamics of a true sports car. 

BMW X3 M40i 

The BMW X3 M40i feels as athletic as a 3 Series

The Bavarian luxury carmaker has always prided itself as offering some of the sportier vehicles on the premium market, and the X3 perfectly exemplifies that. The mid-size proposition in BMW's SUV lineup is surprisingly versatile. Especially in M40i guise, the BMW X3 wants to be driven hard on the road and shows uncanny athleticism akin to something with a lower center of gravity. Part of the reasons is the X3 shares a chassis with the BMW 3 Series, which is the benchmark in the sports-luxury sedan segment.  

The combination of balanced chassis, potent, B58 engine, all-wheel-drive, and a quick-shifting automatic, make the BMW X3 M40i a force to be reckoned with, and for 2025, an all-new version of the X3 is coming out. 

BMW X3 M40i (F01) Performance Specifications 

Engine: 3.0-liter, DOHC, turbocharged inline-six 

Output: 360 horsepower at 5,200-6,500 RPM and 369 pound-feet at 1,900-5,000 RPM 

Transmission and driveline: 8-speed ZF automatic, all-wheel-drive 

0-60 MPH: 4.7 seconds 

Audi RS Q3 

The RS Q3 is a pocket rocket, powered by the last inline-five turbo engine

Audi's smallest performance SUV packs a punch, courtesy of a very special powertrain. The combination of a turbocharged five-cylinder engine, Quattro all-wheel drive, and a quick-shifting, DSG transmission, makes the Auri RS Q3 a pocket rocket with a higher seating position than many crossovers and reflexes akin to a true performance car. 

Audi RS Q3 (F3) Performance Specifications 

Engine: 2.5-liter, DOHC, turbocharged inline-five 

Output: 400 horsepower at 5,850-7,000 RPM and 354 pound-feet at 1,950-5,850 RPM 

Transmission and driveline: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel-drive 

0-60 MPH: 4.3 seconds 

Jaguar F-Pace SVR 

Jaguar's big SUV still packs a supercharged V-8 with an epic soundtrack

The Jaguar is an athletic cat and the F-Pace, despite being the brand's first performance SUV, matches the description quite well. Thanks to an aluminum chassis, the F-Pace is surprisingly athletic even in lesser trims.

Where it impresses most, however, is in SVR form, where it packs the last V-8 we are likely to see in a JLR product. At 4,702 pounds (2,133 kg) curb weight, the Jaguar F-Pace SVR isn't that much heavier than some performance sedans, even some that come with less than eight cylinders. 

Jaguar F-Pace SVR Performance Specifications: 

Engine: 5.0-liter, DOHC, supercharged V-8 

Output: 550 horsepower at 6,250-6,500 RPM and 516 pound-feet at 3,500-5,000 RPM 

Transmission and driveline: 8-speed ZF automatic, all-wheel-drive 

0-60 MPH: 3.8 seconds 

Maserati Grecale 

Maserati Grecale can also be had as an all-electric Grecale Folgore

Maserati's first compact performance SUV, the Grecale, comes in a few trims, and while all of them can be considered sporty, it is the Maserati Grecale Trofeo and Grecale Folgore BEV that battle for the title of the most high-performance variant. Both have well over 500 with the all-electric Folgore actually dishing out a bit more, but the Trofeo is lighter, with a much higher top speed and quicker 0-60 time. 

Maserati Grecale Trofeo Performance Specss 

Engine: 3.0-liter, DOHC, twin-turbo V-6 

Output: 530 horsepower at 6,500 RPM and 457 pound-feet at 3,000-5,500 RPM 

Transmission and driveline: 8-speed ZF automatic, all-wheel-drive 

0-60 MPH: 3.6 seconds 

Mercedes AMG GLC63 S 

Over 600 horsepower in a compact luxury SUV? Yes, please!

By far, one of the most controversial powertrains of late is the one we find in most of AMG's E Performance models. The PHEV setup, which relies on a combination of the 2.0-liter M139 engine and an electric motor, was meant to replace a twin-turbo V-8. Does the complexity make up for 7.5 miles you can go purely on electricity? The majority of Mercedes buyers certainly don't think so. Still, the AMG GLC63 S E Performance packs this setup and it's good for some serious performance.  

It can also be easy on fuel, but you are not really buying a 600-plus horsepower engine because you want to save the polar bears. Another downside is the GLC63 S E Performance’s curb weight – 5,092 pounds. You can get the GLC63 S in traditional SUV form or in an SUV coupe form, which is more expensive, less practical, and no quicker. That said, you can always get the lesser Mercedes GLC300 and enjoy similar driving characteristics at a slower pace

Mercedes AMG GLC63 S E Performance (X254/ C254) Performance Specifications 

Engine: 2.0-liter, DOHC, turbocharged inline-four + 1 electric motor 

Output: 680 horsepower (combined) at 6,750 RPM and 752 pound-feet at 5,250-5,500 RPM 

Transmission and driveline: 9-speed MCT Speedshift automatic, all-wheel-drive 

0-60 MPH: 3.3 seconds 

Range Rover Velar P400 

The Range Rover Velar is best-enjoyed on a twisty road

Range Rover Velar was a much-needed model that filled the gap between the smaller Evoque and larger Range Rover Sport models. The luxury SUV shares the same aluminum chassis as the Jaguar F-Pace. Having driven one, I can say the Range Rover Velar feels surprisingly eager to change direction even in its more basic trims. The Velar got a mid-cycle refresh for 2023, and it brought new engine options. The supercharged V-8 is no longer on offer here. In fact, it's 2024, and there still isn't a V-8-powered Velar in sight. Similarly to the Ranger Rover Sport, the Velar could get the BMW-sourced, 4.4-liter, twin-turbo V-8, but this isn't confirmed yet. For now, the range-topping model is an inline-six. 

Range Rover Velar P400 Performance Specs 

Engine: 3.0-liter, DOHC, turbocharged inline-six 

Output: 400 horsepower at 5,500-6,500 RPM and 405 pound-feet at 2,000-5,000 RPM 

Transmission and driveline: 8-speed ZF automatic, all-wheel-drive 

0-60 MPH: 5.2 seconds 

Alfa Romeo Stelvio 

Named after a Mountain pass in Italy, the Stelvio is as athletic to drive as it sounds and looks

Just one year after Alfa Romeo gave us the first rear-wheel-drive sedan in 30 years, it released a performance SUV on the same platform. It seems the Italians don't really want to make SUVs, which is why the Stelvio, like other Italian counterparts, is more of a high-riding sports car than a SUV. Regardless, it features the Giulia QV's Ferrari-derived V-6 engine and sends power to all four wheels through a ZF automatic. It's also named after the Stelvio pass in Northern Italy, which is an epic piece of road. 

Alfa Romeo Stelvio Performance Specifications

Engine: 2.9-liter, DOHC, turbocharged V-6 

Output: 520 horsepower at 6,500 RPM and 442 pound-feet at 2,500 RPM 

Transmission and driveline: 8-speed ZF automatic, all-wheel-drive 

0-60 MPH: 3.6 seconds 

Mercedes AMG GLA45 S 

For 2024, the Mercedes AMG GLA45 S scores subtle changes. It coincides with the reveal of the new AMG GT63 S E Performance and while it doesn't pack hybrid power, it's still one of the most capable compact SUVs in its class. The new body-colored trim gives a stealthier look, although the 20 or optional 21-inch wheels will surely grab your attention. Under the hood, things remain identical as the last-year model, and that's perfectly fine. 

Mercedes AMG GLA45 S (H247) Performance Specifications

Engine: 2.0-liter, DOHC, turbocharged inline-four 

Output: 421 horsepower at 6,750 RPM and 369 pound-feet at 5,000-5,250 RPM 

Transmission and driveline: 8-speed Speedshift DCT automatic, all-wheel-drive 

0-60 MPH: 4.1 seconds 

Audi Q5 55 TFSI 

The Audi Q5 can be had as a traditional SUV or as a fastback coupe

The Audi Q5 is big enough to be called a true SUV, but also compact enough to be nimble. Despite the 55 TFSI trim being a plug-in hybrid tipping the scales at 4,574 pounds, the Q5 is still surprisingly athletic. You can also get the Q5 Sportsback, which features a fastback rear end, but why bother with the more expensive, less practical model, when it's not even quicker? The Audi Q5 55 TFSI can also drive up to 38 miles on electricity. 

Audi Q5 55 TFSI PHEV Performance Specifications 

Engine: 2.0-liter, DOHC, turbocharged inline-four + 1 electric motor 

Output: 367 horsepower at 5,250-6,500 RPM and 369 pound-feet at 1,600-4,500 RPM 

Transmission and driveline: 7-speed DSG automatic, all-wheel-drive 

0-60 MPH: 5.0 seconds 

Maserati Levante 

Maserati's big SUV has a top speed of 190 mph

Maserati's first performance SUV, the Levante, can be had in six different trims, with Trofeo sitting at the top. Like other performance SUVs on this list, the Maserati Levante is a sports car at heart, as it shares the M156 platform with sedans like the Ghibli and Quattroporte. The platform was developed for rear-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive-biased drivetrains, but the Levante features an all-wheel-drive system, which works with the company's adaptive Skyhook suspension, giving the SUV, sports car driving dynamics.  

Maserati Levante Trofeo Performance Specifications 

Engine: 3.8-liter, DOHC, twin-turbo V-6 

Output: 590 horsepower at 6,250 RPM and 538 pound-feet at 2,250-5,000 RPM 

Transmission and driveline: 8-speed ZF automatic, all-wheel-drive 

0-60 MPH: 3.7 seconds 

Which of these cars do you like the most? Please click the red link below to write your comment and express your opinion.

Dimitar Angelov's automotive interests made him an expert in a wide variety of vehicles. Japanese brands like Toyota are closest to his heart, although performance cars in general are his favorite segment, which is why he is constantly on the lookout for the best deals on the market. Dimitar Angelov's car passion and knack for the written word led him to complete a Master of Arts in Media and Communications, and classic car restoration. Dim is happy to get behind the wheel of any car and share his impressions. You can follow Dimitar on XLinked-inInstagram, and Facebook.

Image sources: BMW X3, Audi RS Q3, Jaguar F-Pace, Maserati Grecale, Mercedes AMG GLC63, Range Rover Velar, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5, Maserati Levante