In the past, cars that boasted serious horsepower also boasted a serious price tag. Big power meant big money, and companies like Ferrari, Lamborghini, and others were only too happy to oblige those with the means to pay. That perception began to change with the introduction of the Corvette, the Mustang, and the movement that followed, but exotics — like today — still boasted the cutting-edge numbers.
However, the difference is that today, many vehicles offer sufficient horsepower to keep the gear heads happy at a price that’s a few zeroes shy of the serious, low-volume supercars. What’s more, these vehicles are no longer relegated to the Corvette and Mustang nameplates.
No longer a luxury for the rich, automakers’ ability to shoe-horn immense power into a small package has proven to be a successful formula for appeasing auto enthusiasts who pine for the Ferrari but can realistically afford a Ford. From $20,000 to $100,000, here are some of the most affordable plays for high horsepower available now. We calculated the cost per individual horsepower simply by dividing the MSRP by the car’s base horsepower figure, yielding how many dollars one pays per horse for any given vehicle.
All cars are measured in their base spec at their base prices, and this is by no means a comprehensive list. Here is the Auto Cheat Sheet’s ‘Most Bang for the Buck’ list in 2014:
1. Chevrolet Corvette
The Chevrolet (NYSE:GM) Corvette has long been associated with horsepower value. The new model is no different, boasting a minimum of 460 horsepower at a price of $53,000, which equates to roughly $115 per horsepower (a comparable 400 horsepower Porsche 911 Carrera S costs $247 per horse — and it only goes north from there). Obviously you’re treated to more than just horsepower, so you’ll also get a comfortable and greatly improved cabin, lots of torque, and nearly 30 miles per gallon highway thanks to cylinder deactivation.
2. Cadillac CTS-V
The Cadillac CTS-V is a steep proposition at $64,900 base, but that amount comes with 556 horsepower for a price of about $116 per horsepower, on par with the Corvette. However, the CTS-V comes in three flavors (wagon, coupe, and sedan) and offers all the Cadillac refinement that one would expect, as well as a throaty V8 soundtrack that is absolutely captivating. If that still sounds expensive, a comparable BMW M5 costs $165 per horsepower.
3. 2015 Volkswagen Golf R
The GTI is heralded as Volkswagen’s (VLKAY.PK) performance-brand Golf, but the Golf R is far and away the king of speed in the Golf family. The previous generation — which didn’t come back for the 2014 model year in the U.S. — made 256 horsepower that was routed to all four wheels. For 2015, though, that’s been upped to 290 horsepower or so, again put out to all four wheels. Pricing for the 2013 model started at $34,795, and assuming that the 2015 model sticks to that figure (formal prices haven’t yet been announced, and it’s possible it will be a bit more expensive), you’re looking at about $119 per horse.
4. Ford Mustang GT
At $32,925 for the 2015 model, the Ford (NYSE:F) Mustang GT is one of the most affordable plays for a V8 engine, which in this case happens to be Ford’s trusty 5.0 liter eight cylinder. It now puts out 435 horsepower for a horsepower price of about $75 per unit. Its nearest competition, the $33,355 Camaro SS, falls at the same mark with 426 horsepower — about $78 per horse. The fight continues up the food chain to the 662-horsepower Mustang Shelby GT500 ($83 per horsepower) and the 580 horse Camaro ZL1 (about $95 per horsepower.)
5. Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec
If you were playing a word association game and someone said “Hyundai,” chances are high that “horsepower” wouldn’t be the first word to your head. Yet the Genesis 3.8 is a performance coupe that boasts 348 horsepower and costs less than $30,000 ($29,350, specifically). This means that a single horsepower in the Genesis Coupe costs $84, making among the cheapest in the class after the Mustang and Camaro — though, remember, this is coming from a V6. The Genesis Coupe is certainly one of the most overlooked options for cheap horsepower.
6. Ford Focus ST
Following in suit of the Golf R, Ford’s impressive Focus ST hot hatch is a similar concept in a different package. Its $23,625 MSRP will buy you 252 horsepower, or about $93 each. That’s considerably less than the Volkswagen’s $119 per horsepower figure, as the Ford runs over $10,000 less on an MSRP basis, though it falls about 40 horsepower short — it is also a front wheel drive car, forfeiting all-wheel drive in favor of a more wallet-friendly MSRP.
7. Nissan GT-R
Like the Corvette, the Nissan (NSANY.PK) GT-R is a supercar at a bargain price. It’s more expensive than the ‘Vette — it costs $101,770 — but offers far more horsepower, too, at 545. That’s about $186 per horsepower; compared to the Corvette it’s a lot, but compared to the Porsche — or any car with which it competes — it’s still a hell of a bargain, considering the GT-R can manage 0-60 in about 3 seconds thanks to all-wheel drive and an incredible hand-built 3.8 liter twin-turbo V6.
8. Dodge Viper
Like the Nissan, the Dodge (FIATY.PK) Viper is not a cheap car at $102,485. However, it also boasts 645 horsepower for the 2015, more than enough to propel the car into the books as one of the best bargains for a 600-plus horsepower whip. This equals out to roughly $157 per horsepower, making it less than the GT-R and far less than its competition (a 700-horsepower Lamborghini Aventador will run a whopping $567 per horsepower.) It might just be the performance bargain of recent years.
9. Chevrolet Corvette Z06
The anticipated Chevrolet Z06 is the ride to look into if the traditional Stingray is too docile. 650 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque come together for an MSRP of just shy of $79,000, leading to a dollar per horse ratio of just $121 — and while it’s more than the hot hatches, it’s considerably less than others in the 600-plus class, like the McLaren 650S or the Ferrari 458, which clock in at $437 and $409, respectively, while offering more horsepower than both.
10. Dodge Challenger Hellcat
Dodge might have redefined the muscle car game with the 707-horsepower Challenger Hellcat, which not only makes for the most potent pony car to date (outpacing Ford’s GT500 by over 40 horsepower), but also makes it perhaps the most horsepower you can buy for the least money — new, that is. At about $60,000, the Hellcat demands only $84 per horsepower, which is far and away the best deal you’ll find on a car with more than 700 horsepower lurking beneath the hood.
11. Chevrolet SS
If you have a hankering for hot family friendly sedans, Chevrolet might just have the cure: Its $43,475, 415-horsepower four-door SS has a price-per-horsepower figure of just $104. The SS is picking up where the ill-fated Pontiac G8 left off — it’s a hot sedan, GM’s only model in the U.S., that promises a whole lot of fun to drive but with enough room to make it versatile, useful, and functional for families.
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