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12 of the Best Sporty SUVs Ever Created

A sporty SUV helps you to play harder. Check out our top 12 choices.

Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT - Best Sporty SUV

Not every SUV was designed with the soccer mom in mind. While it’s true that the sport utility market is ideal for those who are just too cool to drive a minivan, there is also a huge segment of SUVs that were made with the adventurer in mind. An SUV can go anywhere, travel on any terrain and do anything you ask it to, especially if it has all-wheel drive. For that reason, we’ve put together a list of the best sporty SUVs ever created.

Whether you opt for a crossover SUV or the traditional models instead, there’s a little something for everyone in our top charts. Look for models with standard all-wheel drive, good fuel economy, or models that are simply enjoyable to drive.

Will yours make the cut?

What is a Sporty SUV?

Sport Utility Vehicles, SUV for short, are part of an automotive classification that designates the ability to go off-road with ease. Sporty SUVs come with features such as raised ground clearance, four-wheel-drive, and added ruggedness over the rest of the model lineup.

Some of these also have a higher seating position and center of gravity to make it better off-road. Many of them also come with a high towing capacity like that of a pickup truck, but they feature the room to carry passengers like a large sedan or minivan. One of our best car buying tips is to do your research before investing in any sporty compact SUV and make sure it features enough room for you.

In 2015, SUVs became the largest automotive segment in the world. Common names of an SUV include off-road vehicle, four-wheel drive, or four-by-four. Without further ado, it’s time to dig into our favorite sporty SUV options.

Second Generation Subaru Forester 2.0XT (2004-2008)

Leading the list is the second generation Subaru Forester 2.0XT. This vehicle was in production from 2004 through 2008 and was originally introduced to the world at the 2002 Chicago Auto Show.

During the years there were many fine-tuned improvements made over previous models. Between the lightweight aluminum hood, hydro-formed front sub-frame and perforated rails, Subaru continued to create a sportier SUV with each refinement.

The biggest change was when the 2.5-liter versions were released including the turbocharged XT model. The Forester itself began its second generation in 2002, but it wasn’t until 2004 that Subaru released the XT. This sporty SUV features a 2.5-liter turbocharged DOHC engine. The exciting part about the turbocharger is that the Mitsubishi TD04 is the same unit used in the Impreza WRX.

From 2004, the XT also had active valve control system AVCS cylinder heads. In 2006, the Forester XT received a higher compression ratio that went to 8.4:1 from 8.2:1 which increased the horsepower to 230 and 235 ft-lbs. of torque.

While this compact SUV didn’t feature a powerful V8 engine, it still packed quite a punch. It also had a much lower price tag than many of the other sport utility vehicles on the market at the time. The best part is that it wasn’t even discontinued or anything, so you can still pick a new one up at the dealership today!

Porsche Macan (2014 – Present)

At the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show, Porsche unveiled the Macan and the luxury compact SUV market hasn’t been the same since. While you wouldn’t initially classify a luxury SUV as a sporty SUV, you’ll soon see why this made the list.

The top of the line Macan Turbo SUV has a powerful 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V6 engine that unleashes 400 horsepower. All the Macan models come with a seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission plus all-wheel-drive. There are additional options including air suspension and the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) which make the Macan sportier than ever. It’s the ideal new car for busy families.

Starting with the 2017 Macan base model, there is now an inline-four 2.0-liter engine available. This also features matte black window surrounds, unique dual exhaust pipes with stainless steel and black brake calipers. They’ve also added the Porsche Communication Management System and a lane departure warning system.

What isn’t so sporty about this SUV is the price tag. Considering it is classified in the luxury category, you can expect to pay top dollar. Of course, it doesn’t have the price of a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, so that’s something to be grateful for.

2017 BMW X3

There’s no question that the 2017 BMW X3 easily ranks among some of the sportiest SUVs in the class, but to top it off, it also has an outstanding safety rating of 9.7. Maybe the secret sauce is its two turbocharged engines. The X3 comes with a standard 2.0-liter engine with 240 horsepower or the available 3.0-liter engine with 300 horsepower.

Either one of these options gives the driver zippy acceleration with sports-car-like performance. Plus, they are much more affordable than the earlier reviewed Macan from Porsche. This model even came with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

It was hard not to include the BMW X4 to the list also as it does have a six-cylinder engine with 355 horsepower. While this sporty SUV has the performance we’re looking for, quick acceleration and nimble handling, the price makes it one of the most expensive in its class.

Mazda CX-5 (2017- Present)

When you are looking at sporty SUVs, one of the first aspects you look at is agility and handling. For sports-car-like driving dynamics, it’s essential to add the Mazda CX-5 to our list. The newly redesigned CX-5 has a standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 187 horsepower, which is 22 horsepower more than MY 2016. While that’s not overly powerful, it is a great option as a sporty SUV with good gas mileage.

What is most exciting is that the 2018 lineup will be the first to include a Mazda with a diesel engine to be sold in the U.S. The new model will be available with the SKYACTIV-G 2.0L petrol, SKYACTIV-G 2.5L petrol, and SKYACTIV-D 2.2L diesel engines. Included in the upgrades will also be a new ‘Soul Red Crystal’ color for the body and a new powered, remote controlled tailgate for when your hands are full.

What you might find interesting about the Mazda CX-5 is that the price is one of the lowest in its class. That means you’ll have more money to spend on the adventures you enjoy, or more money to pump into mods – these things can actually be made pretty cool.

Ford Explorer Sport (2001 – Present)

The Ford Explorer Sport was introduced to the market in 1991 as a replacement for the Bronco II. It started as just a three-door version of the Ford Explorer and it rode on a 10-inch shorter wheelbase. In 2001, the Ford Explorer Sport went from being a trim level of the Explorer to its own model.

The Explorer Sport is a great option for those looking at sporty SUVs but don’t want to pay luxury prices as we’ve seen earlier. Don’t be confused; there is plenty of luxury in this model as it comes standard with dual-zone automatic climate control, a remote starter and the MyFord Touch infotainment system.

Even with the lower price tag, the Explorer Sport boasts 365 horsepower and a turbocharged V6 engine. It also has a six-speed automatic transmission that routes the power to all four of the wheels. The zero to 60 mph time is right at 6 seconds which is great for the class. There’s also third-row seating for those who need more passenger room and a long list of safety features.

It’s no wonder that the Explorer has become one of America’s favorite SUVs, especially when looking at the Sport.

Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT – Fourth Generation (2011 – Present)

There aren’t many sporty SUVs that can be labeled both high-performance and family vehicle quite like the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT can. As a family vehicle, you have plenty of room for passengers and cargo as well as the top of the line safety features. These currently include rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, forward-collision warning plus adaptive cruise control.

Before you start screaming that this SUV is for the carpool only, let’s take a look at its equipment. The SRT currently comes with a beastly 6.4-liter V8 engine that produces 475 horsepower. This powerhouse can accelerate to 60 mph in just about 4.5 seconds. There aren’t too many sporty SUVs that can claim those numbers.

What’s nice to see is an American car keeping up with the ultra-high performance of the European models. This isn’t your typical Jeep; it’s badass, to say the least. When the engine revs, everyone is under the impression that the NASCAR circuit is around. While it may look luxurious and high-class on the inside, this Jeep has sportiness written all over it.

Ready for the downside? It isn’t priced like a typical Jeep. Unlike most other models and years, this Jeep features a steep starting price.

Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR (2015 – Present)

In 2015, Land Rover gave us the new version of its Range Rover with the Sport SVR and it lives up to its name. This sporty SUV is considered the fastest and most agile Range Rover to ever hit the market. The power from this SUV comes from the supercharged 5.0-liter V8 engine taken out of the Jaguar F-Type that produces a whopping 550 horsepower and 502 ft-lbs. of torque. If you are in the market for new cars, you can’t go wrong with this beauty.

The eight-speed transmission feeds this power to all four wheels. In fact, this transmission was programmed to shift fifty-percent quicker. It also keeps the torque converter locked once it reaches second gear. The Sport SVR accelerates to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds and offers a top speed of 162 mph.

The design of this Sport SVR is also quite sleek. It has a revised front bumper which features larger ducts and a black main grille. The Land Rover’s front quarter ducts are also completed with a black finish as well. The rear bumper has a pronounced diffuser combined with twin-circle exhaust tips. Not just that, but it also comes equipped with 21-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires.

Subaru XV Crosstrek (2013 – 2018)

This Subaru might be the lowest power option on the list, but that isn’t all we are basing our choices on. This compact crossover is a sporty SUV that has plenty of attitude and a raised suspension when compared to the Impreza hatchback.

The Crosstrek models include a 2.0-liter boxer engine with 148 horsepower and a five-speed manual transmission. All-wheel-drive also comes standard and this little Subaru excels at going off-road.

What’s truly exciting about this vehicle is that 2018 has brought some redesigns and new offerings. The newer model has an upgraded horsepower of 152, generous cargo space and more athletic handling to it. There is also exceptional rear-seat space considering the size of the sporty SUV and amazing amounts of ground clearance to tackle those unpaved roads.

The best part is that the 2018 Subaru XV Crosstrek is quiet, fuel-efficient, fun to drive and one of the lowest priced options on our list.

Jeep Renegade (2014 – 2017)

What would a list of the best sporty SUVs be without yet another option from Jeep? The Jeep Renegade hasn’t received any monumental changes since 2016, but it doesn’t need any. This trail-rated, sporty drive has an insanely upscale cabin and true, iconic Jeep feel.

There is a 160 horsepower base model with a six-speed manual transmission. You could also opt for the 180 horsepower upgrade with the nine-speed automatic transmission. There’s also a Trailhawk model available as well which features Jeep’s Active Drive Low four-wheel drive system and a lift kit. The Trailhawk comes complete with aluminum wheels, skid plates, and unique front and rear fascias.

In the 2018 Renegade, there have been a few upgrades. First, the redesigned interior components include newly placed Selec-Terrain controls and USB ports to give more front-row storage space. Quite honestly, only people that have previously owned a Renegade are going to notice the change. They’ve also added a backup camera to be standard equipment which is a nice step forward.

Mercedes-AMG ML63 – (2007 – 2012)

While this sporty Mercedes SUV is no longer in production, it lives on in our hearts. This cutting-edge sport utility vehicle operated like a Mercedes passenger car filled with the luxuries you would expect from this German company.

The ML63 boasts of having a 5.5-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine and 518 horsepower. The seven-speed automatic transmission sends power to all four of the wheels. How can one be disappointed with a sporty SUV that hits 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds?

One of the highlights of the Mercedes-AMG ML63 is the exhaust note. Even in the last version, Mercedes did an exceptional job of preserving the sound despite a smaller engine displacement and the two turbochargers being placed in the path of the exhaust. It creates a loud and deep sound under full throttle, but still manages to be respectable enough for the high-class events.

2019 Volvo XC60

The Volvo XC60 features one of the finest interiors in its class, making it a top sporty SUV. The relaxing, elegant interior comes equipped with numerous tech and safety features. It also features a smooth ride and superb handling. With a 3,500-pound tow rating, you could even take your vehicle on weekend trips to the lake with your boat.

That allows this sporty mid-size SUV to offer a lot more than your typical family car. Of course, it’s direct competitor is the Audi Q5 which we are going to talk about next.

2018 Audi SQ5

If you want a newer Audi SQ5, but you don’t want to spend more than $50,000, you might be able to find a sporty used SUV leftover at the dealership. This model year offered a fully redesigned look and lots of the same technology found in the Q5.

What makes this model even more fun to drive is the turbocharged V6 engine. It has the same horsepower as the previous supercharged motor but produces an additional 23 pound-feet of torque. They’ve also included an air suspension system which offers a nice ride.

This is one of the top choices as the best sporty mid size SUV for daily driving. Don’t let that stop you from heading out on a road trip as well.

The Final Sporty SUV Verdict

There are many more sporty SUVs that could’ve made our list and we’d love to hear what your favorites are. Whether you are using your sporty SUV to travel in snow, go off-road, tow a trailer, or tote the kids and dog, we salute you. Driving a high-performance, all-terrain vehicle is an adventure worth experiencing – even if it is only to run the kids to school every day.

About Brian Jones

Brian Jones spent over 30-years at various dealerships as an ASE Certified Master Tech. These days he works with those dealerships to create quality automotive content while spending more time with his family near Dallas, TX. In his spare time, you'll still find him playing with tools, cars, and many other "manly" gadgets. Brian's passions include traveling, pickup trucks, and anything related to motorsports.