The Toyota Corollas and Honda Accords of this world have their place. Sure, they’re reliable, affordable and easy; but life is too short to build a house in the Valley of the Common. However, excitement isn’t monopolized by the exotic. Oftentimes, it’s the car we rarely come across that gets the blood flowing and the mind wandering to thoughts like, “Why don’t I see that on the road more?” Well. We gathered together five uncommon yet no-less-impressive production cars ranging in price from $30,000 to just over $100,000. These are the best of the cars you may not think of often, and we’re bringing them out from their shaded corners of relative obscurity.
Best Family Hatchback Supercar: As if having a car with a twin-turbo V8 and 560 horsepower that hits 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and has room for the family wasn’t enough of a “my life kicks your life’s ass” example, Audi recently used the RS7 to showcase its autonomous driving technology, which gives those lucky owners who plunk down $105,800 one more thing to brag about. This car is the pinnacle of what European comfort, race-level engineering and Silicon Valley technology can be on today’s roads. The interior feels like a next-gen private jet cockpit, and the performance matches. The tight steering and tighter suspension had us sliding all over those diamond-stitched seats. The hefty price tag, coupled with a lot of competition at the $100,000 mark, keeps this car off most streets, but for a few discerning (and well-endowed) individuals it’s the perfect ride.
Juke Nismo RS
Best Juke-R Substitute: The Juke Nismo RS is essentially a hot hatch with a few more inches of ground clearance. A 6-speed manual accompanies the 215 horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine in a front-wheel-drive (AWD is an option) configuration, which convinced us to push corners well above “suggested” speeds. That heavy foot also spawned from to the aggressive cockpit styling: synthetic suede, a race-inspired steering wheel and massively bolstered seats. The atmosphere alone gave the impression of speed. There’s little cargo space and the rear headroom is pinched by the raked roof, but who cares — those aren’t the reasons to buy the Nismo. Buy it for hot hatch passion. The Juke itself is polarizing in its design, and the Nismo RS is an $8,000 bump, which means the owner not only likes the Juke but is willing to forego a number of other cars to capture this one; that will be a rare, but dare we say sage man indeed.
Best American Sleeper: It’s fitting the only naturally aspirated engine on the list is American (even though it’s built in Australia and is casually called the Holden Commodore). The first rear-wheel-drive car in the Chevy lineup in 17 years brings a 415 horsepower V8 to the table, and is outfitted with polished wheels, Brembo brakes, large dual exhaust tips, suede dash pieces with contrast stitching and bucket seats. The SS leaves little to check in the “options” category. The car roars at startup and on acceleration catches onlookers off guard. On the downside, it drives a little heavy and the interior, though spec-ed to the nines, still has a plasticky feel to the components. And, with a base price of $43,500, its role in the marketplace is a little vague, as it bears the markings of American muscle with gobs of power and loud pipes, but misses the bravado styling that characterizes that niche. This identity crisis and steep price has deterred most drivers, but this beast still holds a throbbing heart for the right lead-foot.
Best for the Loud and Proud: When all the king’s horses and all the kings, er, engineers got together, this is what they came up with: some sort of royal in-your-face tire melter. The Baleen whale-tail spoiler, the entertaining and/or frightening roar (mixed with some pops and cracks from the quad tailpipes) and styling features like a black gloss grill, wheels and hood vents make this car anything but a sleeper. The inside features cross stitching that matches the exterior and a sort of carbon faux-ber accent on the door trim and center console. The seats are perforated leather with an R-S embossing — just in case the lettering on the steering wheel, glove box and exterior aren’t enough. With only 100 available for purchase in the States and a price tag around $100,000, this is a rare and beautiful car indeed.
VW Beetle GSR
Best Anti-New Beetle: To be honest, most drivers will pass up the $30,000 VW Beetle GSR because, well, it’s a Beetle. But the naysayers are missing out on a car with driving dynamics comparable to the coveted GTI (or better yet, the soon-to-be-distributed Golf R). The 2-liter turbo four is good for 210 horsepower and the 207 lb-ft of torque, which hit at a minuscule 1,700 rpm, kept us on our toes shifting quickly through all six gears as we shot out of the corners. Boost gauges on the dash and yellow contrast stitching on the seats and steering wheel match the yellow ring around the top of the shifter. The interior, in this car that used to come (so wrongly) with a bud vase, is now all business. Like all Beetles, the interior space is more than you’d expect and the visibility is impressive. Sure, the spoiler is big enough to be a replacement bumper and the yellow and black are seriously bold, but it’s not a car for undercover cops. This homage to the 1973 GSR will be rare due to production numbers (a limited run of 1,750 in America) and price point, but if you see one at a dealer be sure to test it out…just check your ego at the door.