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5 unlikely cars that can hit 100km/h in under 5 seconds

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BMW X3 M40i.

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KIA STINGER 3.3L.

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TESLA MODEL S P85D.

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MERCEDES-BENZ CLS 450 4MATIC.

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VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R.

Singapore

NOT long ago, if you wanted speed and sharp handling from a car, it usually came in something low-slung with two doors.

But improvements in engine, chassis and tyre technology have made high performance so much more accessible that cars in all shapes and sizes can now deliver the sort of power and acceleration (and usually the handling ability to match it) that was once exclusive to sports cars from the likes of Porsche and Maserati.

Consider the five listed here. Among them you'll find a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV), a Korean car with a mass-market label, a practical four-door coupe, a compact hatchback and even an electric car.

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All of them can accelerate from standstill to 100km/h in less than 5 seconds. That's the kind of performance served up by a basic Porsche 911 Carrera (perhaps the definitive sports car) from just a generation ago.

But unlike the Porsche, these cars offer enough practicality for family use. And in the Kia's case, it offers it for less than half the money.

Here's how to enjoy the sports car experience without the sports car.


BMW X3 M40i

Price S$308,888 with COE
0 to 100km/h 4.8 seconds

SUVs are supposed to conquer every terrain, but BMW's take on them differs slightly: It calls its X cars "Sport Activity Vehicles". But whatever sporty activity the new X3 is designed for, it's clearly aimed at drivers who want to do it in comfort.

Launched here in January this year, the latest X3 is much better built inside than its predecessor, and its plush cabin makes it feel like a credible alternative to BMW's 5 Series (traditionally its best-selling limo).

But if the new X3 in general is all about opulence and comfort, a subversive streak runs through the M40i version. Its engine and exhaust have been tuned by BMW's high performance M division, resulting in a car that both goes and sounds like fireworks.

It hits 100km/h in just 4.8 seconds, and since the sprint there is accompanied by a metallic howl from the engine with muted pops and crackles from the tailpipes, the experience is bound to induce fits of giggles.

The suspension has been reworked by the M division, too. But while it makes the X3 M40i feel more responsive and poised around corners, it also adds firmness to the ride. Over a badly repaired road, things become downright jittery inside the BMW.

That might be a small price to pay for a car that offers generous space and comfort inside, with a large boot and the ability to crack 100km/h in under 5 seconds. The X3 M40i may ride like a sports car, but it's much more useful than one.


KIA STINGER 3.3L

Price S$211,999 with COE
0 to 100km/h 4.9 seconds

The Kia Stinger's aggressive looks and low stance make it a sight to behold, and it comes with just about every convenience feature known to modern motorists. And at its price, it's hard to find another car loaded with the same level of equipment.

It has Apple CarPlay, ventilated front seats, blind spot monitors, Bluetooth phone connectivity and other features previously available only from luxury brands. But it's the Stinger's driving experience that deserves the longest salute. The 3.3-litre V6 twin-turbo model delivers a mighty 365hp. (Twenty years ago, the Ferrari F355 got by on 375hp.)

The Stinger is a large, heavy car, so it just cracks the 5 second mark in the sprint to 100km/h. Pre-production versions actually took longer but engineers fiddled with the transmission to improve the acceleration time.

The real treat is its handling. The Stinger responds immediately to steering inputs, yet its body reacts gently to quick changes in direction, resulting in a car that feels both agile and imperturbable. The rear end does feel on the verge of breaking away into a slide if you accelerate too aggressively out of corners, but the traction control system reins it all in.

The Stinger is just as satisfying on a relaxing drive - it's comfortable, quiet and soothing to be in, with decently supple ride quality from the suspension.


TESLA MODEL S P85D

Price S$476,800 with COE
0 to 100km/h 3.4 seconds

You don't need petrol to satisfy a petrolhead. That's the proposition that Silicon Valley's upstart carmaker Tesla puts forward with its range of powerful, all-electric cars.

Tesla is not officially in Singapore but Hong Seh Motors, a parallel importer, launched a range of models from the futuristic brand here last month.

For now, the Model S P85D is the one for performance junkies. It has a dual-motor layout (that's what the "D" stands for) that sends 463hp to all four wheels. Pin the accelerator pedal and the batteries unleash enough juice to launch the big Tesla to 100km/h in only 3.4 seconds.

That makes the Tesla the quickest car here by far, which should go some way towards reassuring traditional car fans that electric drive can be, well, electrifying.

A single charge of the Tesla's battery pack should see it cover 400km or so, but the lack of a widespread charging network for electric cars in Singapore means Teslas are best suited to people who have somewhere to install their own charging system, such as on a landed property.

That restricts ownership somewhat to wealthier folk, but the typical Tesla customer is likely to qualify: a Model S P85D costs just below S$500,000.


MERCEDES-BENZ CLS 450 4MATIC

Price TBA
0 to 100kmh 4.8 seconds

The new CLS follows the format that shaped the very first one: It takes the mechanical underpinnings of the plush and stately E-Class, and gives them a stylish, athletic makeover.

The latest model, due for launch here in October, introduces key new technologies that will eventually filter across the Mercedes-Benz model range. The most exciting tech is a new EQ Boost system which gives the CLS an instant kick of acceleration.

It makes use of a large electric motor inserted between a six-cylinder turbo engine and the car's gearbox. Powered by a 48 volt circuit with a compact lithium ion battery, the motor is brawny enough to start the engine seamlessly. Paradoxically, that means the latter can be shut down more often without disturbing an otherwise soothing drive, saving fuel.

But the EQ Boost's motor can also feed 250 Newton-metres of torque into the transmission, which is why the CLS 450 feels alert.

A decade ago, only Mercedes's wildest, most expensive AMG-labelled models with huge engines could blitz to 100km/h in under 5 seconds.

High performance and practicality are by no means mutually exclusive. Another lesson from the new CLS? Fuel saving technology like EQ Boost can also provide excitement


VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R

Price S$205,400 with COE
0 to 100km/h 4.6 seconds

Driving a small car can be pleasurable in its own way, and so can driving a fast one. The Volkswagen Golf R combines the two to create a compact, four-wheeled bundle of joy.

It has the smallest engine here (not counting the electric Tesla), in the form of a 2.0-litre four cylinder turbo, but the VW still offers thrilling acceleration. The 290hp engine launches it to 100km/h in only 4.6 seconds - quicker than any Maserati currently on sale here.

Its ability to leap into action is just one of its tricks. If any car makes driving fast a breezy affair, the Golf is it. Its relatively compact size allows it to be threaded through corners with confidence, and the short wheelbase helps it to change direction on a dime.

The legendary GTI is often the first fast Golf that car enthusiasts think of, but the R is more of a connoisseur's choice. An all-wheel drive system gives the Golf R much better traction than the GTI (a trait that's most noticeable on a rainy day), and as a result it's not only faster, but less wild. In comparison, the front-driven GTI can sometimes feel like a bucking bronco.

Throw in room for five adults, a decent-sized boot, and suspension that is firm but never denture-loosening, and you have an everyday car that democratises speed like few others.