Our vehicles may be getting collectively faster, but it would seem that the family man (or woman) who still has a taste for velocity has precious few choices. In a world where German car companies stuff 500-horsepower engines under the hoods of station wagons, it's a bit perplexing that there aren't any properly fast minivans.
While there may be no superquick minivans, if you look carefully, there are a few cars that can haul people and things, and haul them very, very quickly. They blend (somewhat) quiet good looks with plenty of power in a package that allows even those who have children to carve up the fast lane. We call these cars the Fast Family Haulers.
To arrive at this list, we scoured the American car market for crossovers and SUVs that have more than 300 horsepower, and seat a minimum of five people. So slip the kids some Dramamine, strap them in the back, and see just how quickly you can get to soccer practice with these.
The Green Monster: Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid (total system power: 380 hp, 428 lb-ft)
The original Volkswagen Touareg was a bit slow: base models were saddled with a 217 hp V-6 engine and a sizeable curb weight. When time came to completely redesign the car for the 2011 model year, VW made some major changes, the biggest of which was slashing the SUV's heft. The new Touareg is more than 400 pounds lighter than the previous version. To make the car even greener, the new top of the line engine is no longer a gas V-8 or a bonkers V-10 diesel -- it's a hybrid.
If you're scratching your head as to how the Hybrid could be the muscle in the model range, look at this: the powertrain starts with a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 (borrowed from big brother Audi) which produces 333 hp and 325 lb-ft, and then adds an electric motor. Combine the two and the Touareg Hybrid makes a total of 380 horsepower and 428 lb-ft of torque, enough to make it the most powerful vehicle VW sells in the States.
Lest you think that the tower of power Touareg Hybrid is a gas guzzler, we would remind you that it is, after all, a hybrid. The hybrid motor setup is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission which keeps fuel consumption low. At 20 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, the Hybrid even bests its V-6 gas sibling.
The Center Forward: Volvo XC60 T6 AWD R-Design (325 hp, 354 lb-ft)
In soccer, a center forward is one of the primary players who score goals. He is versatile, quick on his feet, and accurate when the time comes to put his foot (or head) to the ball. Look out over the sea of family haulers and you'll find one that loves speed, accuracy, and soccer: the Volvo XC60.
The XC60, when kitted out with the R-Design package, pumps out 325 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque from a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 engine. If those numbers sound vaguely familiar, that's because the XC60 R-Design has exactly the same power output as the S60 R-Design sedan -- Volvo's fastest-ever sport sedan. Those numbers best just about anything in its vicinity, even its bigger brother; with the death of the XC90 V-8, the larger SUV now makes less power than the smaller XC60.
The XC60's output is sent through the same six-speed automatic transmission and an electronically controlled all-wheel drive system as the S60, and also features brake-based torque vectoring to hug the corners. Volvo claims that the XC60 R-Design can do 0-60 in 6.9 seconds.
To keep that speed from seeming irresponsible, the XC60 has the cadre of futuristic safety technologies that we've come to expect from Volvo. The XC60 has City Safety on board, which uses a laser sensor behind the rear-view mirror to automatically detect obstacles or hazards, and then stop the car from up to 19 mph if the driver doesn't. If that's not impressive enough, the XC60 now does the same thing with pedestrians -- it can track up to 64 pedestrians and apply up to full brake power to avoid hitting them if they stray into the car's path and the driver (distracted perhaps by a car full of kids) doesn't react.
The Track Star: Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 (470 hp, 465 lb-ft)
If you take a quick look at the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, you might think that there's something a bit wrong with it. It's styled much like the Jeep Grand Cherokees now cruising down grocery store parking lot aisles, but it's got Z-Rated tires and a meaner look thanks to a ground-hugging front fascia. There's a reason why this Grand Cherokee is like none other: it's secretly a race car.
The Grand Cherokee SRT8 is one of four vehicles released by Chrysler this year that wear the SRT8 badge. Like all of the others, it's powered by a gigantic, 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 that's good for 470 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque. Like the other SRT8s, it's quite fast. Despite the fact that it's a high-riding SUV, it can get from 0-60 mph in an estimated 4.8 seconds, which bests the Porsche Cayman S.
Unlike the Dodge Charger, Dodge Challenger, and Chrysler 300 SRT8 models, however, the Grand Cherokee sends its mountain of power through an all-wheel drive system that, when put into Sport or Track mode, shifts 65 percent of the power to the rear wheels. When it's time to slow down the 5150-pound beast, don't worry -- the brake rotors measure 15 inches up front and 14 inches out back, and were developed in conjunction with Brembo.
The Grand Cherokee also has something the Charger, Challenger, and 300 don't: lots of cargo space. How many other cars can carry 68.7 cubic feet of stuff and do a mid-13-second quarter mile?