Sure, you know these cars are fast at first glance, but the rest of the motoring public will need to see a smoky, tire-screeching display of power before they have a clue.
Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8
Never mind the Swiss Large Hadron Collider: Chrysler's engineers in Auburn Hills, Michigan, are more than capable of bending the laws of physics, as evidenced by the latest Grand Cherokee SRT8. This is, after all, a 5150-pound SUV that can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, hit a top speed of 160 mph, and pull 0.9 g in corners...at least, according to the conservative physicists at SRT.
Much of that ability comes courtesy of -- you guessed it -- a monstrous Hemi V-8. Displacement grows to 6.4 liters for 2012; output jumps to 470 hp and an equally stout 465 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission and a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system carry over. Flared fenders, a tall air dam, twenty-inch wheels, and giant hood-mounted heat extractors lend this Grand Cherokee a menacing presence.
The SRT8's acceleration and shocking levels of grip are enough to make any driver question reality, but the Jeep's off-track performance is perhaps most incredible. Previous SRT-tuned Grand Cherokees sacrificed virtually every semblance of comfort in the name of performance, but the 2012 model flawlessly bridges the gap between track-day terror and daily driver. Adaptive Bilstein dampers help curb body roll when dialed into sport and track modes but otherwise provide a compliant, cossetting ride. A redesigned exhaust system provides room for a beefier receiver hitch and a heftier 5000-pound tow rating, and if you can ease up on the go pedal, a cylinder-deactivation function on the big Hemi promises a mild improvement in highway fuel economy.
A Jeep capable of warp speeds may still be a niche vehicle, but considering the SRT8's tenacity and tractability, it's a niche worth being in.
ON SALE: Now | PRICE: $55,295 | SUBTLE: Grand Cherokee roots | ANYTHING BUT: Physics-defying handling
Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG
as is its practice, AMG has kept the exterior modifications to its updated E63 AMG to a minimum so it can fly under the radar when you don't have your foot in it. The new 5.5-liter V-8 with twin turbos and direct injection matches the 518-hp rating of the old 6.2-liter normally aspirated V-8 with port injection and bumps torque up to 516 lb-ft, an increase of 51 lb-ft. The engine incorporates start/stop technology when the car is set to controlled-efficiency mode. The powertrain changes also help the E63 avoid a gas-guzzler tax, with an estimated 15/22 mpg EPA rating. As before, the seven-speed automatic uses a wet clutch in place of the torque converter.
The exhaust note with the turbo engine is a bit more subtle than the normally aspirated V-8's, but that only supports the E63's sleeper image. A $7300 performance package cranks maximum boost to 18.8 psi, up from 14.5 psi in the stock car, and increases output to 550 hp and 590 lb-ft without affecting fuel economy. The ultimate sleeper, though, is the E63 AMG wagon. It's 0.1 second slower off the line, but the rear-facing third-row seats mean your kids can wave to the audience as you perform 4.2-second sprints to 60 mph.
ON SALE: Now | PRICE: $89,775/$92,375 (sedan/wagon) | SUBTLE: A station wagon | ANYTHING BUT: Nearly 600 lb-ft of max torque
Audi A8L W12
The heart of Audi's A8 flagship, the 6.3-liter W-12 engine, has been given a bit more oomph for 2012, thanks to an increase in displacement and the addition of direct injection. It now puts out a healthy 500 hp and 463 lb-ft of torque. For all its muscle, the W-12 can't match the twin-turbocharged V-12 BMW 760Li's staggering 550 lb-ft of torque, but then, it doesn't have to. With its aluminum-spaceframe construction, the A8L W12 weighs about 4773 pounds, a good 250 pounds less than the Bimmer. Not surprisingly, it's mind-numbingly fast: the trip to 60 mph flies by in 4.4 seconds, according to factory figures. What's really impressive, though, is the smoothness with which this all transpires. The W-12 does its job in near silence until you ask for warp speed, when it responds with a refined, throaty roar.
ON SALE: Now | PRICE: $134,375 | SUBTLE: Understated luxury | ANYTHING BUT: Twelve-cylinder authority
Honda Civic Si
A larger 2.4-liter engine doesn't spin with quite the same enthusiasm as the old 8000-rpm screamer but adds 31 lb-ft of torque to combat the previous Si's weed-whacker-like character. At a relaxed pace, the Civic Si doesn't have the fun factor of a Volkswagen GTI, and in harder driving it doesn't have the bite of a Mazdaspeed 3, but Honda beautifully balances both sides of the sleeper coin if you value civility as much as you do liveliness.
ON SALE: Now | PRICE: $22,975 | SUBTLE: Economy-car origins | ANYTHING BUT: 201 hp channeled through a limited-slip diff