The best and fastest cars out there right now, that won’t ruin the planet

Having a fun and fast car doesn’t have to break the bank – or the environment. Here are some great options

Typically when it comes to cars you need to make a choice – do you want a car that’s fast, powerful and fun to drive, or do you want one that’s efficient, economical and eco-friendly?

Well, that doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, thanks to the choice of powerful diesel engines, cleaner turbocharged petrols and accessible hybrid technology, speed and economy are becoming ever more coexistent.

We’ve rounded up some of our favourite used examples right here, all capable of doing 0-60mph in less than seven seconds but promising more than 40mpg if driven carefully. And best of all, they shouldn’t break the bank to buy, either. Why not see what your own vehicle is worth and think about taking the plunge and trading up for something fast yet efficient? You can check this free online using tools like the Parkers car valuation tool – once you know what you’ve got to play with, you can narrow down some of our top picks below!

BMW 335d Touring

You’d struggle to find a better subtle sleeper car than the 3 Series Touring. Powerful yet subtly styled, when it’s fitted with BMW’s 3.0-litre, six-cylinder diesel engine it’s properly rapid – combine that with four-wheel drive and it’ll crack 0-62mph in less than five seconds, which is barely any slower than the range-topping M3 saloon of the time.

Despite this, it’ll easily do 49mpg if driven carefully and the boot’s big enough to cope with any family holiday. The true consummate all-rounder.

Ford Fiesta ST

Hot hatchbacks have always trod the line between thrilling and responsible, and the Ford Fiesta ST – particularly this Mk7 version – is one of the absolute finest of the breed. With handling that’s more fun than just about anything else at this price point, a compact and practical body and up to 47mpg from its peppy 1.6-litre engine.

Mid-spec models are a very reasonable price and come with all the equipment you could need. It’s a fantastically fun car and one we rate incredibly highly.

Mercedes-Benz SLC 250d

A convertible Mercedes remains an unbeatable status symbol in some circles. The SLC was Merc’s smallest cabriolet, a two-seater with a folding hard-top for excellent refinement and security.

And when fitted with a diesel engine, the SLC will still cover 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds yet easily tops 50mpg, getting close to 60mpg on a longer run.

Peugeot 208 GTI

The hottest hatchback that Peugeot had made in years, and possibly the last truly petrol-powered hot hatchback the brand will ever make. The 208 GTI not only looks amazing with sleek lines, sharp styling and lovely detailing, but it’ll go like the clappers with a 0-62mph time of just 6.3 seconds.

Claimed economy of over 50mpg and great handling are other perks to this excellent hot hatchback.

Audi SQ5

The SQ5 is a surprising car for several reasons. It was the first Audi ‘S’ model to have a diesel engine, which gives it economy of over 40mpg and excellent pace. But thanks to the diesel, it’s also an excellent motorway cruiser.

That bulky SUV body endows the SQ5 with excellent interior space for day-to-day family duties, too, and the raised ride height (though it doesn’t do much for handling) means driving in town is reassuring, as you’re high up above the rest of the traffic.

Lotus Elise Sport

Definitely a left-field choice but by any standards the Lotus Elise fits into this list. Thanks to its incredibly low weight, the Elise’s dinky 1.8-litre engine gives it supercar pace – 0-62mph in just 4.2 seconds and handling that’s truly some of the finest in any car you can buy today.

But again, thanks to that light weight, it treads lightly not just on the road but on the planet, with fuel economy of over 40mpg easily achievable. These factors make the Elise an absolutely superb weekend B-road weapon or track day car.

2021 Audi SQ5 Review: Sports Car in Luxury SUV Clothing

2021 Audi SQ5

The Audi SQ5 jams the power and handling dynamics of the S5 and S4 into the taller Q5 platform. It’s a total blast, but is it worth $72,000?

Today we’re taking a look at the 2021 Audi SQ5, a muscular mid-sized SUV with a turbocharged V6 engine, snappy handling, sports car seating, and a sumptuous interior.

It ain’t what you call cheap, staring over $50,000 and as-tested at around $72 grand, but it may be one of the best all-around family vehicles on the market for enthusiasts who know that life’s too short to drive boring. (#NoMinivans)

Prefer to watch our Audi SQ5 review on YouTube?
Click HERE!

Is the SQ5 right for you? Read on!

Q5 vs SQ5

2021 Audi Q5

2021 Audi Q5. Photograph (c) Audi USA.

Let’s back up and first define the Q5 series as a whole. Recently refreshed, the mid-sized luxury Q5 is available with two engine options, three trim levels (Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige), and two body styles (SUV and Sportback). The entry-level engine is a 16-valve turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder making 261 HP and 273 lb-ft of torque. This configuration’s good for a 5.7-second 0-60 run. Or you can opt for the Hybrid system, which boosts the 2.0L up to 362-hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. This drops 0-60 runs down to 5-seconds, but it’s the heaviest of the bunch.

Audi SQ5

Chrome reduction for the win!

Stepping up the ladder, we have the sporty SQ5.

Under the SQ5’s hood, you’ll find a turbocharged 3.0L V6 pumping out 349 HP and 369 lb-ft of torque. Yes, it’s the same engine found in the S4 and S5. And yes, it’s less powerful than the Hybrid Q5… BUT, the SQ5, at 4,288 lbs, weighs 331 fewer pounds than the Hybrid. Which gives the SQ5 a straight-line advantage and an Audi-quoted 4.7-second 0-60 time. (For reference, in my testing, the best I could manage was 5.4 seconds, so your experience may vary.)

There are other variances we could discuss, but the quick version is that the Q5 is more luxury and comfort where the SQ5 adds performance driving dynamics and sportier visuals to the equation.

As Tested

SQ5 headlight

The Audi eye SEES ALL!

Audi loaned us a 2021 Audi SQ5 Prestige for review and provided one tank of premium fuel. SQ5 pricing starts at $52,900 — a $10,000 premium over the base Q5 — but our loaner included the following options:

  • District Green Metallic paint for $595
  • Prestige Package for $9,800
  • S sport package for $3,000
  • Dynamic steering for $1,150
  • Black optic package for $600 PLUS the $1,000 for the black optic wheels
  • Fine Napa leather seats for $1,000
  • Carbon Atlas inlays for $500
  • Rear side airbags for $350

Toss in destination and delivery and our MSRP hits $71,790.

Audi SQ5 side

Red brake calipers = fast! (It’s the law.)

What do YOU think of the Audi SQ5?
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SQ5 Visual Aesthetics

Audi SQ5 front grille

Lookin’ mean and green out front.

In and of itself, the SQ5 remains relatively faithful to its Q5 cousins, visually. It’s a chunky little SUV that’s been smoothed and carved away from the days of boxes on wheels. In short, it’s fine.

But add the optional Black optic package and larger wheels and suddenly the SQ5 stands out a little more from the pack. More muscular. More menacing. It’s not loud, mind you. But reducing the shiny bits draws eyes more to the SUV’s hips and curves and shiny red brake calipers.

Audi SQ5 rear

Four of these things are not real…

The other standout feature on our loaner is the paint. District Green Metallic is a bit of a chameleon. At night and under a cloudy sky, it looks a bit like an aftermarket wrap. Some type of military-style green that’s not quite shiny and not quite flat. (Think a green version of Nardo Grey.) But when the sun shines, District Green Metallic reveals its true nature — a gold metallic flake that shines and shimmers.

It’s a bit love-it-or-hate-it in photos. But in person, it’s a big win. At least for me.

District Green Metallic

Lose yourself inside the flakes of district green metallic.

In terms of negatives, I’m not a fan of the fake quad-tip exhaust tips — as in they are connected to no part of the exhaust — even though they look sporty.

Overall the SQ5 is a bit of a sleeper, aesthetically. But as configured, it’s a sharp SUV that looks terrific, even if it blends in with almost every other Audi product.

SQ5 Performance & Handling

Audi SQ5 wheels with red brakes

Where the rubber meets the road. Literally.

In a world where sports cars routinely run to 60 in under four or three seconds, the SQ5 ain’t gonna win you any bragging rights. Still, its power-to-weight ratio delivers a relatively thrilling experience. Especially for an SUV.

Mash the pedal to the ground and the SQ5 leaps forward. Turbocharged torque hits hard and races you up to illegal speeds with only a touch of torque steer. Toss the SQ5 into a corner and it’s wonderfully balanced in its lowest air suspension modes. Speaking of which, the SQ5’s suspension is terrific — both tight and sporty in the corners, but able to mask all but the harshest bumps. And, if you’re looking to do some light off-roading, you can raise up the SQ5, which only adds to the sensation of driving on a pillow.


Forget what Audi you’re driving? No problem. Just look out back.

As I said earlier, the SQ5 drives very much like a sports car but sacrifices none of the comforts. And with this power level, it’s a vehicle where you can enjoy its abilities at a full ten-tenths. Which of course encourages you to find its limits.

Overall, it’s a joy to drive, but there are two downsides.

As with most turbocharged engines, this 3.0L V6 dies out a little early in the revs, which makes the SQ5 feel quick off the line when the torque hits, but slower at highway speeds. Further, the SQ5’s transmission isn’t the quickest to downshift. Which, when coupled with the engine’s turbo lag, can feel like two back-to-back power-kicks at some speeds.

P Zero tires

Cursed be these inferior summer tires! (<– Opinion based on personal experience.)

The other thing I’d like to see is Audi dumping the Pirelli summer tires on this particular package. Taking the SQ5 around a tight corkscrew freeway onramp, I found the squealing edge of the Pirellis’ grip, something I never feel when driving Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires at similar speeds.

Overall, though, the SQ5 is a total blast. And equally at home commuting as it is playing in the twisties.

SQ5 Interior

SQ5 interior

Is your leather from Napa or Sonoma? And what’s the vintage?

I’d venture to say that, after its all-wheel-drive systems, Audi might be best known for its quality interiors. And the SQ5 is no different. The optional fine Napa leather seating wraps around perfectly bolstered heated sport buckets. Rear seating includes just enough leg and headroom for taller passengers, although not as much as a similarly sized EV crossover like the Mustang Mach E. Touch surfaces and materials aren’t the fanciest Audi offers, but they’re very good overall.

Click on any of these photos to see the larger file!

In the tech department, Audi’s gauges and infotainment touchcreens are sharp, clear, and snappy to operate. And the upgraded Prestige stereo system sounds quite good as well. But I don’t love the way Audi organizes the system’s menu systems and it would be nice to see wireless Apple CarPlay at this price point. I was also a bit surprised to see cooled front seats missing from a $72,000 vehicle. But they are available as part of a $600 package that also includes window shades.

center console

Shift this, man!

Lastly, the vehicle’s center console layout is a bit odd to my tastes. There are several small cubbies that would work well for a phone, but don’t quite fit them. And trying to use the cup holders with the phone charger and the armrest is a bit of a challenge. Minor quibbles, of course.

Overall, Audi’s interiors are generally excellent, and few nitpicks aside, this one’s no different.

Who Should Buy an Audi SQ5

Audi Sq5

Fun and sporty, but is it large enough for your lifestyle?

Is the Audi SQ5 right for your lifestyle? That depends, of course. If you’re into sports cars, the SQ5 isn’t going to blow you away. This isn’t a full RS model, after all. Nor is the SQ5 for anyone who needs a larger SUV for families with more than four people or lots of cargo.

Instead, the SQ5 finds a happy middle ground. Perfect for smaller families. An amazingly comfortable commuter. And all the fun-factor of the S4 and S5 with a little extra cargo room in terms of overall value. The 3.0L turbo V6 provides a lot of torque and smiles per gallon with an adjustable, tight suspension customizable to your tastes and needs. Picking up the kids. Running to the Home Depot. Roaring through the canyons.

You name it and the Audi SQ5 is a total blast.

But if you prefer extra capacity to sportiness, check out the Q7, which also offers this 3.0L turbo V6 along with three-row seating. Cheers!

Photos: Michael S. Palmer