10 Best Performance Cars for Under $50,000

Buyers seeking a performance car can easily spend more money for more horsepower, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is that the power you’re buying is put to good use. So if a 500 horsepower engine is hauling 6,000 pounds of car around, those 500 horses won’t go nearly as far as they would in, say, a 3,000 pound car. The term for this horsepower use is call the power-to-weight ratios, and it’s among the most important figures to consider when looking into performance cars.

Essentially, the power-to-weight ratio is how many pounds of car a single horsepower is responsible for moving. It’s calculated by dividing the car’s curb weight by it’s horsepower output. Ultra-high performance cars, like the Koenigsegg One:1, sport ratios as low as 2.2 — that’s one kilogram — per horsepower. That’s an extreme case — most cars operate between 10 and 20.

Over at Autoblog, they threw together a report of cars that offer the best power to weight ratios, broken down by price point. Here, we’ve laid out the ten cars mentioned for the $50,000 and under crowd, which arguably offer the best performance for the dollar.

Volvo-S60

10. 2014 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design

Volvos (VOLVY.PK) are often thought of as safe, heavy, but generally numb-feeling cars, because that’s often what they have been in the past. However, the Swedish brand’s latest products defy that reputation, and sitting at the spearhead of the new generation is the S60 T6 R-Design. With all-wheel drive. This car, which starts at $42,700, boasts a 325 horsepower V6, while weighing in at 3,528 pounds at the curb; this in turn gives the car a power-to-weight ratio of 10.855 — quite admirably given the company’s reputation for building road-going tanks.

2014-genesis-coupe-21

9. 2014 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec

As far as performance cars go, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 is perhaps among the most overlooked. It offers more horsepower than the base Camaro and Mustang V6 models at 348, which is also more than a Nissan 370Z, the Audi S5, and a slew of other more popular cars. It also costs just $29,350, making it perhaps the most horsepower you can get for the price. It weighs in at 3,503 pounds, giving it a ratio of 10.328. We feel like there’s a lot more potential for Hyundai here though, if the car could shed a few pounds.

Hyundai Genesis

8. 2014 Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec

It’s bigger, brawnier, and also heavier than the Coupe by 737 pounds, but it also has nearly 100 horsepower more — the Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec, the luxury sedan on which the coupe is based, bests its performance-minded cousin with a power-to-weight ratio of 9.883, since it has 429 horsepower lurking under its hood. Not too shabby for a large sedan, but especially decent for under $50K — it starts at $47,400.

Nissan370Z

7. 2014 Nissan 370Z

The Nissan (NSANY.PK) 370Z comes from a long and proud history of performance roadsters and sports cars, and the latest iteration doesn’t disappoint. Power — 332 horsepower — comes from a 3.7 liter V6, and Nissan’s engineers were able to keep the weight down to 3,278 pounds — allowing for a power-to-weight ratio of 9.873. Perhaps the best part, though, is that the Z starts at $29,990, making its exceptional performance easily accessible relative to some of its peers.

2014-CLA-CLASS-COUPE-GALLERY-007-WRE-D

6. 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG

The Mercedes-Benz (DDAIF.PK) CLA45 AMG is among the cheapest AMG models on the market (though it still costs a very Mercedes-like $48,375), but it lives up to its name in every way: it’s 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder cranks out 355 horsepower, making it one of the most potent four-bangers on the market. When it’s shoe-horned into the agile and compact CLA, the results are fantastic: it weighs just 3,494 pounds, giving the pocket rocket a power-to-weight ratio of 9.842, just sliding by the Nissan 370Z.

Chevrolet SS

5. 2014 Chevrolet SS ($43,475)

Aside from the choice in color and whether you want a sunroof or not, there are virtually no other options for Chevrolet’s (NYSE:GM) SS sedan. But that’s okay, because it comes pretty well appointed from the factory. The business end packs 415 horsepower and an equally potent torque figure, and its curb weight is kept under two tons (barely) at 3,975 pounds. This gives the super sedan a power-to-weight ratio of 9.578, good enough for fifth in the sub-$50,000 crowd.

DodgeChargerSRT

4. 2014 Dodge Charger SRT

The top-level Dodge (FIATY.PK) Charger isn’t exactly a slouch, but once the engineers at SRT get their hands on it, it takes on a whole new persona. The Charger SRT is more powerful (470 horsepower) though heavier (4,358 pounds) than the Chevy SS, but that extra power helps boost the Charger’s power-to-weight ratio to 9.272. Price-wise, the Dodge is about equal to the SS, at $44,385, making for a tricky decision if you’re in the market for a powerful super sedan.

2014ChevroletCamaroSS

3. 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS

The Chevrolet Camaro with the V6 offers the second best power-to-weight ratio in the sub-$25,000 class, but the Camaro SS slinks back to third once the price bracket is lifted. It produces a hearty 426 horsepower from its 6.2 liter V8, and weighs in at 3,908 pounds (about 200 more pounds than the base model, likely due to the larger engine), giving it a power-to-weight ratio of 9.174.

DodgeChallengerSRT

2. 2014 Dodge Challenger SRT

The Dodge Challenger SRT is far and away the most expensive of the three big muscle car names, at $40,485, but it’s also the most powerful, with 470 horsepower courtesy of the 6.4 liter Hemi V8. Paired with its 4,231 pound curb weight (when equipped with the automatic, the manual is actually heavier), the Challenger boasts a power-to-weight ratio of 9.002, just fractionally missing a sub-9 pound rating.

2014 Mustang

1. 2014 Ford Mustang GT

Ford’s (NYSE:F) renowned Mustang GT is the least powerful of the muscle car trio, with “just” 420 horsepower (it also has the smallest displacement V8, at 5.0 liters), but it’s lightweight stature – 3,618 pounds, besting the Camaro by 290 pounds and the Challenger by a whopping 613 — gives it a clear advantage and a power-to-weight ratio of just 8.614. That secures its place as a the best power-to-weight ratio for under $50,000, as well as under $25,000 (the V6 model), showing that the Mustang remains one of the best performance bargains.

More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet: