10 Cars You Never Knew Had Balls
Updated May 18, 2018
There are plenty of cars out there with iconic levels of performance. Cars like the WRX, Miata, Corvette, Camaro, and Mustang all come to mind. While these cars are great, some folks prefer the car that not many people outside of small groups know about. Below are 10 of our favorite cars that few people realize have the balls to contend with the aforementioned performance rigs.
Throughout its years, the Ford Taurus mostly had a reputation as a rental-lot special. It’s always had a fairly thrifty engine, enough room for the family, and a price that was friendly to rental companies. However, the Taurus had a split personality, as Ford periodically offered a performance-oriented SHO model. In its earlier generations (1989 through 1995), the Taurus SHO used a Yamaha-built V-6 engine that produced as much as 220 horsepower. The SHO continued into the bloated third-gen Taurus with a 3.4-liter V-8 that produced 235 horsepower.
The SHO took a break that began in 2000 and lasted until 2010. The version of the SHO that arrived in 2010 made use of a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 to produce 365 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque.
The Ford Contour was about as bland as they got for a sedan, but there was a glimmer of hope when Ford released the 1998 Contour SVT. Once Ford’s Special Vehicles Team got its hands on the midsize Contour, it installed a 2.5-liter V-6 engine that produced 195 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. This V-6 engine combined with an aggressive body kit and an upgraded suspension to craft one of the coolest Ford sedans ever.
By today’s numbers, the Contour SVT was slow, as official tests put it anywhere from seven to eight seconds to 60 mph, but these were tough numbers to beat in the late 1990s.
The Nissan Sentra has long been a model that gearheads ignore, but there were a few instances where is showed its teeth and went after the mighty Civic Si. These models were tagged SE-R, and Nissan produced them between 1991 and 1994, then again from 2002 through 2010. The Original SE-R used a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produced 140 horsepower and sprinted the hot import to 60 mph in just 7.4 seconds, making it one of the quickest four-bangers in the early 1990s.
The SE-R really came into its own in its second iteration, as it peaked at 200 horsepower in the 2007 through 2012 models. Unfortunately, the second running of the SE-R had suspension and reliability issues that marred its image as a superior performer.
Volvo 850 R Wagon
While modern Volvos are no stranger to high-output engines, models from the 1990s and earlier were definitely not known for their performance. There was, however, one model that stood out from the crowd, and that’s the 850 R Wagon.
While its turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder’s 240 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque are about average for today’s wagons, its 7-ish-second sprint to 60 mph was unheard of from a wagon in this era. What’s more, Volvo retuned its suspension to handle corners.
The entire Buick lineup has been pretty retiree-focused since the 1970s, save for a few models here and there (I am looking at you Grand National). The Regal has followed this trend, but in the 1980s, there were a few glimmers of hope with the introduction of several turbocharged Regals.
The turbocharged Regal was pretty much a slightly modified and detuned version of the iconic Grand National, and it peaked at 245 horsepower and 355 pound-feet of twist in 1987.
There is also a ballsy Regal available on dealer lots now, and it is known as the GS. This model uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder to crank out 259 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It also features a retuned suspension to handle the twist.
The Dodge Caliber – the replacement for the popular Neon – was not a very popular car, mostly due to its funky design and iffy performance. In an attempt to boost interest, Dodge released and SRT4 version of the funky hatchback that used a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder. This four-pot cranked out 285 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque, which resulted in a 6.2-second 0-to-60 sprint.
In addition to the extra power, Dodge also retuned the Caliber’s suspension, giving it larger sway bars, ZF Sachs dampers, and 225/45R19 Goodyear F1 rubber to handle the corners. Unfortunately, the Caliber SRT4 never really caught on, and Dodge discontinued it following the 2009 model year.
As a whole, the Forester is pretty much an uninspiring crossover that simply gets the job done for families. However, there is one version of the Forester that stands out from the crowd in terms of performance. I am talking about the XT trim level.
This potent crossover launched in 2004 as the Forester 2.5XT, and it made use of a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produced 210 horsepower. This resulted in a reported 5.3-second gallop to 60 mph, making it as quick as the Porsche Cayenne Turbo that same year.
Today, the XT continues as the Forester 2.0XT. While this new model’s engine produces 40 more horses than the 2004 model, it is one second slower to 60 mph. However, 6.3 seconds to 60 mph is not something to turn your nose up at.
You’re likely scratching your head on this one, but yes, the Omni had its own performance variant at one point. The Shelby GLHS, a modified Dodge Omni hatchback, was available in 1986 and 1987, and it came with a 2.2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produced 175 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. This resulted in a 6.5-second sprint to 60 mph for the typically sluggish hatchback.
What’s more, handling was improved by a half-inch lower ride height, larger anti-roll bars, and 205/50R15 tires.
The Mercedes-Benz technically marketed the R-Class as a crossover, but the entire world knew that it was simply a minivan that lacked the sliding rear doors. In 2007, Mercedes-Benz lost its damn mind and created the R63 AMG.
This AMG-tuned soccer-mom-mobile used a 6.2-liter V-8 to crank out an insane 503 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of twist. This launched the wagon/van/SUV/crazy-person-car to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds, assuring little Johnny and Sally made it to school before everyone else.
In the early 2000s, Mazda impressed us with the likes of the Mazdaspeed Protégé and the Mazdaspeed Miata. Then, in 2006, it went a little mental and added the “Speed” tag to its midsize 6 sedan.
This sedan was understated from the outside, but it was all business under its hood, as it made use of a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that injected 274 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. This power routed through an all-wheel drive system that helped launch it to 60 mph in just 6.1 seconds.
Unfortunately, Mazda only offered the Mazdaspeed6 in 2006 and 2007.