The ABCs of In-House Tuners and Performance Divisions
Models from divisions such as AMG, M, and N offer buyers something special with the backing of a factory warranty.
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An automaker's performance-oriented division is like an ice cream shop specializing in hand-crafted, complex flavors. Plain-old vanilla isn't on the menu. Instead, low-volume, high-performance vehicles meant for twisty roads, race tracks, or the dunes of Baja are the house specialties.
Every automaker's recipe comes from a different kind of kitchen. Some have decades of race-proven heritage, like BMW's M. Others, like Hyundai's N, aren't even 10 years old. For buyers wanting a special ride with a factory warranty, these in-house performance divisions are ready to serve them up.
Audi Sport — previously Quattro — dates back to the legendary 1930s Silver Arrow race cars of the Auto Union. In the 1980s, the Audi Quattro with permanent all-wheel drive dominated the world of rally and was also successful on the racetrack. Today, Audi Sport offers a range of unique models, including the R8 mid-engine supercar, the RS6 Avant, and the compact RS3 sedan.
BMW M — for Motorsport — was initially the company's in-house racing arm. The first M model was the 1971 3.0 CSL, and the mid-engine M1 supercar, along with the original M3, helped make the badge iconic. There's now an M version of most BMWs, and those with the optional Competition package are the most aggressive.
In the 1960s, Alpina founder Burkhard Bovensiepen launched his company by offering an innovative dual-carburetor setup for the BMW 1500. But it would be nearly six decades before BMW purchased Alpina and officially brought the German tuning house into the company fold. Recent Alpina vehicles — such as the 631-hp Alpina XB7 — have distinguished themselves from M models by offering both performance and luxury upgrades. In a nod to its heritage, the Alpina crest features a carburetor and a camshaft.
Stellantis' SRT — for Street and Racing Technology — performance division has had a hand in numerous Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram models. Vehicles currently wearing the SRT badge are some of the highest-performing Dodge Charger, Challenger, and Durango models available. You can also find evidence of SRT's handiwork on the Ram 1500 TRX and Jeeps such as the Wrangler 392 and the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.
Ford Performance modifies existing models to make them more potent both on- and off-road. The division also offers a wide range of accessories available through Ford dealers and developed both generations of the GT supercar. Ford Performance vehicles currently include the Edge ST and Explorer ST SUVs, the Mustang Mach 1, and the Baja-ready F-150 Raptor and Bronco Raptor.
Honda Performance Development
California-based subsidiary Honda Performance Development applies knowledge gleaned from the automaker's more than 60 years of racing to a wide range of vehicles, including the Acura NSX and TLX, along with the Honda Civic Si, Civic Type R, and Ridgeline Sport. HPD also offers a range of aftermarket accessories.
Developed on the demanding Nürburgring track, Hyundai N models speak with a German accent. Established as Hyundai Motorsport in Europe to enter the World Rally Championship, the first N model sold in the United States was the 2019 Veloster N. The Kona N and the Elantra N are recent additions to what the South Korean automaker calls its lineup of "everyday sports cars."
General Motors Performance
General Motors Performance applies its decades of racing experience to vehicles from Cadillac and Chevrolet. Recent examples include Cadillac's V-Series portfolio, such as the CT4-V and CT5-V sport sedans, the Escalade-V, and the track-capable Blackwing CT4-V CT5-V model. GM Performance has also developed hotter versions of the Chevrolet Corvette and Camaro.
Jaguar Land Rover Special Vehicle Operations
Products from Jaguar Land Rover Special Vehicle Operations showcase speed and style. Its SV- and SVR-badged halo models, limited-run editions, and uniquely engineered projects, such as the roofless Jaguar F-Type Project 7 and the Virtual Vision Gran Turismo SV, also prove its work can be as whimsical as it is potent. The Jaguar F-Pace SVR and Land Rover Range Rover Sport SV are the company's two current SVO models.
At Lexus, F stands for Fuji Speedway, the racetrack where the company tests prototypes before production. The Lexus F division's first vehicle was the 2008 IS F, a V8-powered sports sedan that was then the fastest production Lexus. Other F models have included the LFA supercar and GS F sedan, and Lexus has also used the F Sport name on several racier versions of its cars. But the only current F model is the RC F coupe.
Founded by Hans-Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher, AMG began as an independent engine builder in the late 1960s. Today, the Mercedes-AMG division operates out of a special facility in Affalterbach, Germany, where it has developed models such as the sleek GT Roadster and Coupe. In addition to offering Mercedes-AMG versions of many models, from the CLA compact, to the hulking G-Class, to the electric EQS, the latest SL is exclusive to AMG.
Mini John Cooper Works
Now owned by Mini parent BMW, John Cooper Works models share a tradition dating back to the first Mini Cooper in 1961. JCW-badged Minis add extra performance, handling, and signature design elements to the brand's already go-kart-like models. Mini currently offers JCW versions of its Hardtop 2 Door, Convertible, Clubman ALL4, and Countryman ALL4.
Once a race team, Polestar has evolved from Volvo's in-house modifying division to its electric-only nameplate. The 619-hp Polestar 1 was released for 2019, and Volvo owners can still add a Polestar Engineered optimisation software upgrade to many current and recent models. The limited-edition Polestar 6 EV roadster, which is based on a concept shown at the L.A. Auto Show in 2022, will be released in 2026.
Toyota Gazoo Racing
Toyota Gazoo Racing is the culmination of more than 60 years of experience gained at events such as the Monaco Grand Prix, the Dakar Rally, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. What started as a pet project involving various Toyota engineers and factory drivers now includes company heir, ardent racer, and board chair Akio Toyoda. The GR86 and GR Supra sports cars, and the GR Corolla hatchback are the current GR models.
Toyota Racing Development
Toyota Racing Development has been competing in North America for more than 40 years. Over that time, it's won everything from the Baja 1000 to NASCAR championships to the legendary Indianapolis 500. TRD badges are now a familiar sight on 4Runner, Tacoma, and Tundra models, and a wide selection of aftermarket parts is also available. Recently, TRD expanded its offerings to the Camry sedan and RAV4 crossover.