Car Lists

12 Cars With Unexpected Performance

Where'd That Come From?

Where'd That Come From?

Most of the cars on this list are purchased for reasons besides performance, which is why some drivers may be pleasantly surprised to find out the appliance they use to get from point A to point B can actually be a blast to drive. Some on this list are more known for their performance, but they still managed to surprise us with a little something extra.

12 Cars With Unexpected Performance
BMW X3 Mazda6 Subaru Forester
Audi Allroad Bentley Continental GT V8 S Lexus GS 450h
Volvo V60 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG Ford Fiesta
Honda Fit BMW M235i Tesla Model S

BMW X3

People who buy the X3 don’t buy it for its 0-60 mph time. They buy it because it’s a luxury crossover that’s nice to look at and because it’s neither too big nor too small. That’s why some might be surprised to find the X3 is actually pretty sassy when the gas pedal is coaxed. Even MT was shocked to discover the X3 rocketed from 0-60 mph in 6.0 seconds, especially because it’s heavier than most of its competitors. Although it doesn’t look like a sports car, its handling says otherwise as it whips around corners with precision.

Audi Allroad

The Allroad looks like just another grocery getter, but it’s not. Like its name suggests, the 220-hp wagon is capable of taking on all types of roads: dirt ones, curvy ones, wet ones, snowy ones, steep ones, icy ones — you get the point. Thanks to the automaker’s esteemed Quattro all-wheel-drive system, the Allroad inspires confidence with its sticky grip and carlike handling, coaxing drivers to step on the gas a little harder, take turns a bit faster, and brake into corners a second later than they normally would.

Volvo V60

When people think of Volvo wagons, they usually think of the clunky, boxy station wagons from yesteryear, but they’ve come a long way. The V60 puts all the old misconceptions about station wagons to rest with a range of potent four-, five-, and six-cylinder turbocharged engines that make the wagon hustle in a straight line. It’s not bad on curvy roads, either, as its low profile allows it to hug corners with hardly any body roll.

Honda Fit

With a CVT and only 130 horses on tap, the Fit doesn’t sound like it’d be fun to drive. Get behind the wheel, though, and you’ll be surprised to find that the little hatchback can actually work it. The new direct fuel-injection technology helps the Fit feel quicker than it really is, and paddle shifters attached to the CVT allow you have even more fun. The six-speed manual transmission also returns livelier launches with its broader ratio spread and shorter first gear.

Mazda6

With zoom-zoom DNA, the Mazda6 is not just another boring family sedan, even in its most basic form. Very few midsize sedans are available with a manual transmission, which is ultimately what makes the ‘6 so fun to drive. Although the base 2.5-liter I-4 is no stoplight stunner, it’s well-paired with the six-speed manual, and drivers may find themselves sending the tach needle whirring to redline for no other reason than to enjoy the high-rpm smoothness of the understated engine.

Bentley Continental GT V8 S

Tipping the scales at more than 5,000 pounds, the Bentley Continental GT V8 S is a big girl, but she knows how to move. In testing, the coupe accelerated from 0-60 mph in 3.6 seconds, almost a full second quicker than what the automaker claims. It’s also slightly quicker than the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, which is way more powerful with a 731-hp V-12 and lighter at 4,000 pounds.

Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG Wagon

You already know the E Wagon is fast, but do you know how fast? The superwagon tops out at a claimed 186 mph. That’s fast enough to Vmax alongside a Porsche 911 Carrera 4S. To rocket from 0 to 60 mph, the E63 needs just 3.4 seconds, making it a clean 0.5 second quicker than Chevrolet’s all-new 460-hp C7 Corvette Z51. It’s even 0.1 second quicker than the 640-hp SRT Viper. Again, it’s a station wagon.

BMW M235i

Because the M division had very little to do with the M235i’s creation, it’s often underestimated. Even though it’s not a full-blown M car, it puts down some very impressive M-like performance numbers. At 4.4 seconds to 60 mph and 13.0 seconds to the quarter mile, the M235i is just 0.2 second behind the 1M. The M235i’s 24.9-second figure-eight lap time is also off the 1M’s pace by 0.1 second.

Subaru Forester

The Forester is now available with a new CVT, but the buttery six-speed manual is what you want. The gearbox replaced the five-speed manual for the 2014 model year, and even though it can only be paired with the automaker’s 170-hp Boxer-four, it makes the most of that power and provides an exhilarating driving experience you wouldn’t typically expect from a crossover in its most basic form. Shifts come with smooth, longish throws, which feel good combined with the easygoing clutch pedal. Although the Forester isn’t necessarily sporty, the manual gives it a little kick in the pants.

Lexus GS 450h

Don’t let this hybrid fool you. The GS 450h handles much better than you’d expect with a velvety smooth drivetrain, a drift-happy rear end, and excellent turn-in. You may not even believe you’re driving a hybrid when pushing it around bends, as the hybrid oversteers out of corners with more delicacy than a much sportier Porsche Panamera Hybrid. That’s all thanks to the Dynamic Rear Steering, which turns the front and rear wheels in the same or opposing directions depending on speed.

Ford Fiesta

Like the Subaru Forester, the Fiesta only shines when equipped with the five-speed manual transmission. It almost makes it feel like an different car. Without the dual-clutch, the engine eagerly revs to its redline, making the car genuinely fun to drive. Although the driving experience greatly changes with transmission choice, the Fiesta’s steering remains quick, light, and accurate no matter the body style or trim.

Tesla Model S

This EV can haul. It’s one of the quickest American four-doors ever built. It drives like a sports car with the same amount of eagerness, agility, and responsiveness. Its body is lightweight because it’s constructed mostly of aluminum, which is a good thing considering it puts down as much as 687 lb-ft of torque. So what do you get with a lightweight EV and a heaping amount of torque? A flying EV. Did we mention that the top-dog Model S P85D also has an “Insane” driving mode? This is most definitely not your regular EV.