Over the years, there have been lots of solidly performing cars that have delivered well right out of the gate. From trucks that deliver the goods off-road, to sport compacts that blow us away with their nimble agility and high rev-limits, there really are some fantastic cars out there.
But not all of us are content with a base model; we want a sportier, or more rugged version, and dealers have to find a way to give us the goods. Enter the performance package, with its alloy wheels, stainless exhaust, tricky suspension, aggressive styling, and unique upholstering. It isn’t just for the buyer either, as dealers get a nice little commission check for up-selling a performance version to someone.
It seems like there are packages for everything these days, as automakers doggedly follow trends and consumers continue to ask for ways to stand out or have more fun when heading out for a gallon of milk. But not all performance kits are created equal; some packages are overpriced, while others offer too little in the actual performance department and are only designed for show.
Fortunately, the autos team at the Cheat Sheet spends time researching and testing various vehicles, and we have come up with a handful of performance options that warrant serious consideration, along with a few that are best left alone. We understand that people are going to buy what they want regardless; it just is nice to get an inside scoop on what a performance package consists of, and if it is actually worth a damn.
1. Volkswagen GTI Performance Package ($1,495)
While it may only offer 10 horsepower over the regular hot hatch, the performance pack for Volkswagen’s GTI does indeed still have quite a bit of value associated with it. From its black grille to its integrated rear spoiler and sporty side skirts, the little hatchback looks far sharper in this trim. It also has a limited-slip differential, upgraded front and rear brakes, a sport suspension set-up, and over-sized stabilizer bars. Throw in some special LED lighting up front and some 18-inch alloy wheels, and suddenly that $1,500 bump looks like chump change for what you’re getting.
2. Nissan 370Z Nismo Package ($12,000)
While $12,000 may sound like a lot for a performance package, Nissan’s 370Z Nismo sure does offer a whole lot for that stack of cash, starting with the Nismo-tuned 3.7-liter engine. It has an H-pipe dual exhaust system that reduces back pressure by up to 30% and a six-speed gearbox featuring a system that gives smooth, perfectly-timed shifts. The Nismo Z also sports competition-grade suspension, a Nismo-exclusive body that was designed for downforce, and 19-inch RAYS forged wheels that easily cost around four grand when wrapped in rubber. Throw on the largest brakes and calipers ever offered on a 370Z, along with race-spec brake hoses and brake fluid from a GT-R, and suddenly you’re looking at another $4,000 in parts. Inside, there’s that Nismo tachometer, the Recaro leather seats, and a steering wheel that has been wrapped in a blend of genuine Italian Alcantara and leather. After tallying up all of these performance add-ons we found that $12,000 was actually a very reasonable number.
3. Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road Extra Value Package ($4,730)
The Toyota Tacoma TRD really is a great truck, and we love all the performance add-ons you can get for it. For just under five grand, buyers get off-road Bilstein shocks, an electronically controlled locking rear differential, 16-inch alloy wheels with meaty BFGoodrich tires, an engine skid plate, and a front tow hook. Buyers also get a 115V/400W deck powerpoint, fog lights, remote keyless entry, a sliding rear window, water-resistant seats, a leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio controls, a backup camera, and a mess-load of TRD graphics. So if you’ve saved-up for a Tacoma you should probably keep on saving so you can get the version that really matters — just be sure to put a legit TRD supercharger on the list because they’ve got those too.
4. Ford Mustang EcoBoost Performance Package ($1,995)
As if Ford’s EcoBoost Mustang wasn’t amazing enough already, along comes a performance package to make this energy-efficient coupe even more fun to own. With this package we get a suspension K-Brace, a larger rear sway bar, special chassis tuning, larger rotors and four-piston calipers, 19-inch alloy wheels, and stiffer springs for the twisties. The car also gets some ABS and stability control tuning, an aluminum dash panel, a limited slip rear differential, and a noticeably larger radiator for cooling. All of this adds-up to being one of the best values you can get in performance packages today.
5. Chevy Colorado Z71 Trail Boss Edition ($3,320)
Not only does this truck have one bad-ass off-road truck suspension package, but the Chevrolet Colorado Z71 Trail Boss Edition also features a set of movable cargo tie-down rings, a load bar and cargo divider, black fender flares and round rocker steps, a spray-on bedliner, projector beam headlamps, fog lamps, and some all-weather floor mats that are labeled with Z71 logos. Additional features include a G80 automatic locking rear differential, a transfer case shield, mud-ready Goodyear all-terrain tires wrapped around unique 17-inch aluminum wheels, and some front recovery hooks for when the going gets tough.
6. Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec ($2,750)
The Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec may not be a rocket ship like its V8-toting big brother sedan, but with 348 horsepower and a six-speed close-ratio manual transmission that comes complete with carbon synchros, we couldn’t care less. Toss in some 19-inch alloy wheels, a track-tuned suspension, and some Brembo brakes to bring us safely to a stop, and we are pleased as punch with what we get for under three grand. But Hyundai didn’t just stop with the brakes, instead they kept on giving by hooking us up with a Torsen limited-slip differential, camber bolts, black leather race seats, and hillstart assist.
1. 2015 Dodge Charger R/T Mopar Performance Kit ($3,550)
Now we get to the underside of the performance game, and it all starts with Dodge’s Mopar Kit for the 2015 Charger R/T. This street-legal performance package includes a cat-back exhaust, a cold-air intake, a fuel control module, and a high-flow oil filter. This kit also comes with Scat Pack badges, graphics, and door sill entry guards. Owners also get a certificate of authenticity, a Mopar ’15 Performance Package brochure, some sort of vintage replica Scat Pack poster, fender badges, a Mopar magnetic mechanic’s tray, and a few other odds and ends. The whole package also comes in this cool looking branded and numbered Mopar ’15 crate.
But for $3,550 you sure aren’t getting a whole lot of performance, as this kit only gives the R/T 18 more horsepower and a similar boost in torque. Dodge could surely do better in our opinion, and since these kits are being limited to only fifty units, we feel that buyers are better off going with aftermarket products from Magnaflow and K&N to get a bigger bump in power, while saving a lot of dough.
2. Nissan GT-R Nismo Package ($48,220)
The Nissan GT-R Nismo Edition truly is a stunning car to behold, and from what we have read it is also fantastic to drive, with its custom-tuned, 600-horsepower engine leading the way. It also has an aerodynamic body that is made from carbon fiber, forged 20-inch RAYS wheels, a unique exhaust, and additional cooling ducts for heated track days. Inside you’ll find Nismo-edition Recaro leather seats sporting red Alcantara inserts and a special tachometer that screams, “POWER!” But that’s about it, and we cannot help but feel a little ripped-off knowing that we just dropped almost fifty grand on something that isn’t all that much superior to its base version. We would sooner keep that money and put it toward aftermarket parts from companies like Extreme Turbo systems (ETS), who can get us up above 800 horsepower with that kind of cash.
3. Dodge Mopar Equipped Dart Limited ($8,585)
Dodge’s Limited Dart Mopar Package is one of the saddest things we’ve seen. Not only does it look almost exactly like a base model SXT Dart, but it also doesn’t have any major performance gains over the more basic model. Sure, it has 17-inch aluminum wheels, a crosshair grille, Nappa leather interior, and an infotainment center resting beneath a power sunroof, but none of them are going to make your Dart any more powerful. There’s also the Mopar add-ons: There’s an interior auto transmission package for $375 that doesn’t add any more power; a single exhaust upgrade for $520 that just adds a lot of noise, and we can opt for additional graphics for about a grand, or we could get a Mopar wireless charger that ups the power in your phone, but doesn’t do diddly for the performance department. Where’s the Dodge Dart of the 1970s that was equally parts dangerous and fun to drive?
4. Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart ($8,900)
Okay, now we are seeing some bumps in the power department, and Mitsubishi for once doesn’t look like the lame duck in the flock. Mitsubishi’s Lancer Ralliart edition sports 237 horsepower instead of a measly 168, it has all-wheel-drive, bigger sway bars, and comes with a twin-clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission (TC-SST). It rolls on 18-inch alloy wheels, has a 6.1-inch touch panel display, a rear-view camera, drive mode-selection for tarmac, gravel, and snow, and it has a noticeably sportier grille and bumper. But is all that worth the nine grand you pay over the base version? Absolutely. The only problem is that the base model is already overpriced, and since Subaru’s WRX has more power, better fuel consumption, and costs about $3,500 less than this performance version, it just doesn’t seem to be of good value.
5. Toyota Corolla S ($4,545)
The Toyota Corolla S has got to be one of the most underwhelming performance packages of all time. It really is just a plain old Corolla with a spoiler (which also comes on the LE Eco model), a black grille, 17-inch alloy wheels that aren’t even a part of the package and must be purchased separately, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a chrome exhaust tip, and some fog lights. That’s it. No engine upgrades, no stiffer suspension, no unique aero parts (save for the spoiler), and no performance seats. This 132-horsepower lackluster is about as sporty as a bowl of cottage cheese, and to make matters worse Toyota will charge you an additional $2,300 if you opt for a six-speed gearbox. This means you will have spent over four grand on a car that has the same power numbers and suspension as the most base model, thus making you look slow because … well … you are.
6. Mini John Cooper Works ALL4 Paceman ($7,000)
Mini John Cooper Works ALL4 Paceman is quite a mouthful, and it is fairly pricey one as well, as upgrading a standard Paceman to this package will immediately set you back about $7,000. Outfit one with all the John Works bells and whistles like we did, and you’ll be dropping close to $30,000 on add-ons alone! This micro machine cranks out 208 horsepower, has tuned sport suspension, uses special performance wheels and brakes, rocks a strut brace, has plenty of knickknacks inside and graphics outside, engages a performance clutch, and has a special exhaust that looks and sounds quite nice. But we don’t feel it is worth seven grand, especially since it only has 27 more horsepower than its base version and is heavier than all other Paceman models. Plus, when we built our model just the way we wanted it, its sticker price nearly gave us a heart attack!