Fast Family Haulers
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?
The Bionic Cheetah: Infiniti FX50 (390 hp, 369 lb-ft)
We'd like to note that the nickname "bionic cheetah" was given to the Infiniti FX SUV not by Automobile Magazine, but by Infiniti, who claim this SUV was designed with a "bionic cheetah" in mind.
We think the moniker fits for one reason: the FX is seriously quick. Underneath the cheetah-like body beats a 5.0-liter V-8 heart that pumps out 390 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, which is dispensed via a seven-speed automatic transmission to an electronic all-wheel drive system. While the power figures are only a shade off those of its bigger brother, the QX56, it's quite a bit smaller than the QX, which means the FX is fast.
The FX is so fast, in fact, that it's the ride of choice for 2011 Formula One Champion Sebastian Vettel, who has one as his personal vehicle. Vettel liked his FX so much that he teamed up with Infiniti to make a special edition of the car, aptly named the Infiniti FX Sebastian Vettel Edition. With only a couple of tweaks to the Engine Control Unit, the aerodynamic kit, and the exhaust, Vettel and Infiniti were able to make an FX that is capable of a top speed of 186 mph.
While stock FXs can't hit that speed, it's still a nice fact to bring up to the other parents standing on the sidelines at your child's sports practice. If that doesn't work, put the seven-speed transmission into manual mode and use the magnesium paddle shifters to downshift the car at every stoplight. The transmission will blip the throttle on every downshift, sending plenty of V-8 engine noise through the dual exhaust pipes.
The Elephant Super Sport: Cadillac Escalade (403 hp, 417 lb-ft)
Calling the Cadillac Escalade large is a bit of a misnomer -- it's very large. Even in non-ESV guise, the Escalade is seventeen feet long and 5700 pounds (when equipped with all-wheel drive). Predictably, this SUV needs a large engine just to get it moving.
Cadillac did not make a name for itself making adequately powerful cars, and so the Escalade comes not with a merely adequate engine, but with a 6.2-liter V-8 engine that makes 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. Do a little bit of math and you'll discover that it carries around 14.2 pounds for every horsepower, less than a Volkswagen GTI.
Comparing the Cadillac to a GTI may be a bit odd, but the Escalade's mix of absolute power and absolute mass is pretty odd. After all, when the most recent iteration of Escalade with the 6.2-liter V-8 hit the streets, it had the same power as a base-model Chevrolet Corvette.
The combination of power and mass also leads to a problem -- fuel economy. The AWD model gets 13 mpg city and 18 mpg highway. Keep in mind this is with Active Fuel Management, which shuts off four of the truck's eight cylinders under light throttle.
Then again, this is a Cadillac Escalade, the luxurious choice for SUV buyers. If you have to grouse about the fuel bills, you probably can't afford this luxo-truck to begin with.
The Turbocharged Anti-Minivan: Ford Flex EcoBoost (355 hp, 350 lb-ft)
We didn't bother to put any minivans on our list of high-powered family haulers for a reason -- there aren't any. The most power available underhood on a minivan is about 290 hp, courtesy of the Chrysler Town and Country/Dodge Grand Caravan with its new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine. Instead, our family hauler for power-hungry people is an American anti-minivan, a car with no sliding doors but three rows of seats: the Ford Flex EcoBoost.
To start, the Flex has a polarizing design that looks very little like anything else in the segment. Then, under the hood, it carries a strange sort of engine: a 3.5-liter, twin-turbo V-6. The Flex was the first of Ford's larger vehicle offerings to get the engine, which pumps out 355 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. (It's also available on the Lincoln MKT and MKS, the Ford Taurus SHO, and the Ford F-150 EcoBoost.) To put that in perspective, the Flex EcoBoost's power output actually exceeded the Mustang GT's figures for a short time.
In the F-150, the EcoBoost V-6 is good enough to tow up to 11,300 pounds, so what happens when you put it in a seven-seat family vehicle? Speed ensues -- it's enough that Associate Web Editor Evan McCausland said the Flex EcoBoost is "as close as you'll come to fulfilling that childhood dream of stuffing a 428 Cobra Jet into your mom's Country Squire." For those looking to take a trailer along, the Flex will also tow up to 4500 pounds with ease.
Stupidly Quick: BMW X5 M (550 hp, 500 lb-ft)
The BMW S63B44Tu is a 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8 that powers the upcoming BMW M5 sport sedan. Automobile Magazine's West Coast Editor Jason Cammisa said of the new M5: "it's very, very fast," and, "it goes like stink." No surprise, given its 560 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque. What keen BMW fans will remember, however, is that the M5's engine, in a differently tuned form, powers something else: the humble X5 Sports Activity Vehicle.
The X5 M invites a lot of hyperbole. It seats five and looks nearly the same as a basic turbo-six-cylinder X5, but has 555 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque, which is available between 1500 and 5650 rpm. That makes the X5 M one of the quickest, most powerful SUVs ever built. BMW claims a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds, which puts it about on par with a Porsche 911 Carrera GTS Cabriolet. Keep in mind that while the Cabriolet makes do with 4.4 cubic feet of trunk space, the X5 M has 35.8 cubic feet in its trunk...and that's before you fold the rear seats down.
But the X5 M isn't just a hot-rod SUV that only moves in a straight line. Its all-wheel-drive system has electronically controlled torque vectoring, which means the SUV hugs corners despite weighing nearly 5400 pounds. When it's time to slow down, the X5 M has 15.6-inch brakes up front and 15.2-inch brakes out back. To put that in perspective, those discs are each more than an inch larger than a large pizza from Domino's.
How much will all this madness cost you? A whopping $86,575, or nearly 40 grand more than a base X5. Considering that it's about $26,000 cheaper than that Carrera GTS Cabriolet, however, we'd call the X5 M a bargain.