2018 BMW X3 M40i blue driving ・ Photo by BMW
Small sport utility vehicles have finally found the spotlight, and with good reason. Because they are based on sedan platforms, they have the virtues of good handling and lighter weights. But in general, small SUVs have greater ground clearance than their sedan counterparts, along with flexible interiors that are more accommodating to people and cargo. In other words, they provide the best of both worlds. And now that the genre has been established, buyers are demanding more. Specifically, they want more power. And manufacturers are happy to comply.
For the purposes of this article, we’re using the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s classification for "Small SUVs" to determine which vehicles are eligible. To judge power, we're ranking the horsepower ratings of each SUV's most powerful engine. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s explore the 10 most powerful small SUVs for 2018.
Lexus’ smallest SUV launched as a 2015 model, which at the time was the first production Lexus with a turbocharged gasoline engine. The 2018 Lexus NX 300 (a new name for this model year, but a carryover model) still uses the same 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine tuned to produce 235 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.
The nearly two-ton NX 300 AWD can get from zero to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds and is rated to achieve 22 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined – speed and efficiency in balance. There is also a hybrid gasoline/electric version of the NX, called NX 300h, which is tuned for more efficiency (33 mpg city/30 mpg highway/31 mpg combined) and less speed (0-60 mph in 9.1 seconds) using less combined horsepower (194 hp). But where’s the fun in that?
Photo by Lexus
Available in a two-door convertible or five-door fixed-roof configuration, the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque was a polarizing vehicle when it was launched as a 2012 model. Land Rover purists were concerned that the compact crossover suv wouldn’t have the off-road ability that the brand represented.
But those fears were dispelled when the Evoque’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine kicked in with 240 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque, and 0-60 mph acceleration runs that took 6.7 seconds. Fuel economy ratings of 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway/25 mpg combined were also attractive, and Evoque’s off-road chops have proved to be adequate – even for a Land Rover.
Photo by Land Rover
A surprise entry on this list of the most powerful small suvs, the 2018 Kia Sportage boasts impressive power and efficiency. Now in its fourth generation, Sportage was Kia’s first SUV in the United States. Using a turbocharged 2.0-liter direct injection inline four-cylinder engine, Sportage SX FWD can produce up to 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque.
The 3,666-lb Sportage gets an EPA fuel economy rating of 21 mpg city/26 mpg highway/23 mpg combined. Kia doesn’t quote 0-60 mph speed, but the Sportage is undeniably peppy enough to provide some fun stoplight-to-stoplight runs.
Photo by Kia
Ford’s EcoBoost engines were trendsetters in the turbocharged/small displacement powerplant genre. Stick a 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder engine in a top-of-the-line 2018 Ford Escape Titanium, and you’ve got the most powerful Escape yet built, with 245 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque on tap.
The Titanium trim level also gives you access to intelligent 4WD, a forward sensing system, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with brake support, blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, and a host of other available advanced safety systems.
Photo by Ford
Subaru sales are soaring, thanks in part to standard all-wheel drive and smart packaging. But performance is also a brand pillar – think of the rally-inspired WRX and STi. Some of that power has trickled down to the 2018 Subaru Forester 2.0XT, which comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter boxer (horizontally opposed) four-cylinder engine that puts out 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.
Folks in inclement climates and those who like to continue driving where the pavement ends will appreciate Forester’s X-Mode, which provides great traction on low-friction surfaces. Choose the top-of-the-line 2.0XT Touring to add active torque vectoring, which can enhance cornering performance on all surfaces.
Photo by Subaru
With roots that go back to the World War II era, the 2018 Jeep Wrangler is all-new this year. Any makeover of the Wrangler is big news, and this one has been met with applause from the public and from the press. Once controversial, the standard 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine is now widely accepted, especially with its output of 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque.
Available as a two-door or four-door “Unlimited” – both with convertible tops – the Wrangler remains one of the best off-road SUVs made today. Thanks to the interior's continued gentrification, the new Wrangler is also daily-driver comfortable, no matter what the driving conditions. In a climate where too many vehicles get called “iconic,” Wrangler is a true icon on the automotive landscape.
Photo by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Though Lincoln doesn’t get the attention it desires in the crowded premium car field, the 2018 Lincoln MKC makes its case with a sleek exterior design, luxurious interior, and optional 2.3-liter twin-scrolled turbocharged engine, which is capable of producing 285 hp and 305 lb-ft of torque. That healthy output allows it to stand above other popular offerings and draws attention to its six-speed Selectshift transmission with wheel-mounted paddle shifters, definitely appreciated by driving enthusiasts.
Lincoln backs up its powertrain with a six-year/70,000-mile warranty, a statement of confidence in the 2.3-liter turbo. Fuel economy ratings are 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway/20 combined, which should have drivers scooting past the pump in style and comfort.
Photo by Lincoln
BMW’s SUV lineup stretches from 1 to 6: X1, X2, X3, X4, X5, and X6. The company likes to call them SAVs – Sports Activity Vehicles – rather than SUVs, but let’s leave that alone.
The most revered letter in the BMW alphabet is M. The 2018 BMW X3 M40i isn’t an official “M” model like an M3 or M5, but it does benefit from a host of performance features and accessories inspired by those storied models. Prime among the X3's enhancements is a 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline six-cylinder engine with direct injection – the sort of powerplant that you’d expect to find in a 3 Series sedan. In the X3, it is tuned to produce 355 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, putting it in elite territory with a 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds.
Photo by BMW
AMG is Mercedes-Benz’s in-house performance unit, like BMW's M. It takes Mercedes-Benz models and pushes them toward their performance limits with hand-built engines, specially tuned suspension and steering systems, body kits, and interior enhancements. All the knobs go to 11.
When AMG got its hands on the GLA, the result was the 2018 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLA45. It puts out 375 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque from its turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine with direct injection. Equipped with a seven-speed Speedshift dual-clutch automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, it rockets from 0-60 mph in just 4.3 seconds. That’s almost dangerously fast for a small SUV that weighs only 3,457 lbs.
Photo by Mercedes-Benz
Volvo has pulled out all of the stops with the 2018 Volvo XC60 T8. The all-new compact crossover has a hybrid gasoline/electric powertrain that uses turbocharging, supercharging, and gasoline direct injection in its engine, then adds electric motors to the equation. The total system horsepower rating winds up at 400 hp, and torque comes in at 472 lb-ft of torque.
The hybrid system not only adds efficiency to the package but also speed and acceleration. The XC60 T8 can go from 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds. It's rated for 26 mpg combined in normal driving, and 59 mpg-equivalent when you've added some juice by plugging it in.
Photo by Volvo