We’re all starting to do the right thing by dumping gas-chugging SUV s, but is it for all the wrong reasons? Sure, making the switch helps the environment, but these days, driving an overpowered little monster is as fashionable as it is noble. And to make sure we never forsake them again, carmakers are serving up a lineup of mighty little growlers. They’ve stiffened the chassis, tuned the suspension, and turbofied the little four-cylinder scamps so they’re doing the quarter-mile like a supercar and we’re feeling every dimple in the pavement. Here’s a look at some of today’s big-performing little brutes and why they’re so hot.
Volkswagen R32 ($32,990): For Volkswagen’s new racer, the company took its lovable Rabbit/GTI and pumped it full of muscle. Released as the new VW R32, the two-door coupe hotshot is a limited edition of 5,000. It’s loaded with a fearsome new narrow-angle 3.2-liter, six-cylinder engine that dishes out 250 horsepower and goes from 0 to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds. The R32 handles all that raw power gracefully, thanks to the surefooted 4Motion all-wheel drive (AWD) system and a standard electronic stability system. Unlike off-road four-wheel drive, which sends power to the four wheels continuously, this sophisticated AWD uses sensors to read the road, the car’s velocity, and other factors to decide which of the wheels gets power when. To balance it all, the car makes the most of its low-wide stance like a muscular Rottweiler—or a steroid-pumped rabbit.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X ($30,000): Think of the Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution X as a rambunctious kid that needs a strong hand. The small car (just 177 inches long, 71.3 inches wide, with a 104.3-inch wheelbase) comes packed with an all-new turbo 2-liter, four-cylinder aluminum engine with 291 horsepower and 0-to-60 mph acceleration in a searing 5 seconds, which makes flooring one feel like riding a rocket. To tweak performance even further, engineers loaded this edition with the new MIVE C variable intake and exhaust-valve timing and a new turbocharger. Because of its tiny size and massive power ratio, the Evo demands to be driven with undivided attention and a strong grip. Don’t be afraid to bully it around.
Subaru Impreza WRX STI ($35,600): The hunter-killer of this class of small but powerful automotive predators is without a doubt the Subaru WRX STI. The WRX STI is already an icon among tuner fans for its quickness, agility, and all-wheel-drive prowess. The newest edition is a five-door hatchback, despite the howls of aging tuner kids who prefer the undercover look of the dull little sedan. Under the hood hides an updated 2.5-liter H-4 flat-four that hits a staggering 305 horsepower with added pickup from a new variable-valve timing system and the IHI turbocharger system. The short-throw 6-speed manual transmission is smooth, clean, and durable enough to handle the massive 300 pounds of torque per square inch. Hit the streets and let the hunt for competition begin.