Speed and acceleration don’t always come cheap, but there are more than enough options out there for car buyers with a budget below $40,000. In fact, Ford and Honda doubled down on their hot hatch games in recent years, giving Americans speed demons in multiple size classes.
Still, the basic parameters have not changed. Horse for horse and dollar for dollar, it’s tough to top American pony cars when looking for cheap power. Automakers abroad usually go for lighter models to get maximum acceleration from smaller engines, but the Detroit brands take the time-honored “shock and awe” approach. It ain’t broke, so they don’t seem intent on fixing it.
Here are 12 of the fastest cars available below $40,000. We considered both acceleration and speed for the quarter mile before awarding them the title of “fastest cars.” While most are well below our target price, some will climb above that mark when extras are added.
12. Ford Mustang EcoBoost
While most people expect to see Mustang’s 5.0-liter V8 model at the top of any fastest car list, the EcoBoost four-cylinder model also muscled its way into the top 12. Sporting 310 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque, the turbo Mustang has sprinted to 60 miles per hour in 5.5 seconds while running the quarter mile in about 13.9 seconds. Starting at $26,195, it represents a real value. For 2018 models and beyond, EcoBoost will be the only model available below the GT trim.
11. BMW 330i
German luxury brands have always been competitive with entry-level models, and there is no letup in the latest round. Take the BMW 330i as an example. This refined 3-Series model sprinted to 60 miles per hour in just 5.4 seconds during Car and Driver’s testing. For the quarter mile, it only needed 14 seconds. It uses a twin-turbo, inline four-cylinder engine capable of 248 horsepower. Base models start at $38,750.
10. Audi A3 Quattro
The new Audi A3 Quattro manages to (barely) outrun both Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3-Series base models while staying under $40,000, so it has some bragging rights on the competition. In Motor Trend’s first take on the new generation, A3 made it to 60 miles per hour in only 5.4 seconds and ran its quarter mile in 14.0 seconds. Starting at $34,200, it represents a solid value for the luxury car shopper who wants some oomph.
9. Chevrolet Camaro
Chevrolet did not skimp on acceleration or power in the slightest for its turbocharged base Camaro ($25,905). With 275 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque at its disposal, Camaro managed to run to 60 miles per hour anywhere from 5.1 seconds to 5.4 seconds in testing sessions. Its impressive quarter-mile mark of 13.7 seconds pushed it just above the Ford Mustang and the German luxury models here. But on the road, they’re too close to call.
8. Nissan 370Z
Sporting a 3.7-liter V6 engine, the Nissan 370Z gets even better output than it did in previous generations. In fact, it peaks at 332 horsepower, enabling it to hit 60 miles per hour in 5.1 seconds and the quarter mile in 13.7 seconds, according to multiple testers. Approaching the five-second mark for this sprint is an achievement for any ride, but the Nissan 370Z is getting it done at a base price of $29,990.
7. Subaru Impreza WRX STI
One of the most undercover speed demons available, the Subaru Impreza WRX STI delivers exceptional speed on a reasonable budget. Peak performance numbers stand at 305 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. Edmunds testers used that force to sprint from zero to 60 in just 5.0 seconds. Most test runs of the WRX STI for the quarter mile put it around 14.0 seconds. For 2017, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $36,015.
6. Volkswagen Golf R
The feisty 2017 Volkswagen Golf R ($39,375) sports a turbocharged 16-valve inline-four capable of 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Car and Driver made the zero to 60 run in 5.2 seconds, and clocked the quarter mile in 13.7 seconds with a top speed of 150 miles per hour in this hatch. Clearly, speed is no problem for this model. Speeding tickets, on the other hand, could be an issue.
5. Ford Focus RS
In the past, Ford’s hot hatch fans turned to the Focus ST to satisfy their need for speed. But now that Focus RS has arrived in America, there’s an undisputed new sheriff in town. This explosive little car starts at $36,120 and dishes out 350 horsepower (with equivalent torque figures) from its 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine. On the road (better yet, track), the Focus RS can sprint to 60 miles per hour in about 4.5 seconds, all while making quarter-mile runs in about 13.4 seconds.
4. Ford Mustang GT
The overhauled 2015 generation Ford Mustang has not disappointed fans of the original pony car whatsoever. At $33,195 for a 2017 fastback model, you get the 5.0-liter V8 with its 435 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. Car and Driver tests pegged the Mustang at 4.3 seconds when going 60 miles per hour, and 12.9 seconds for quarter-mile sprints. Because the base GT offers so much power below $35,000, Mustang is probably the best deal for speed on a bargain.
3. Dodge Charger R/T
Any questions about four-door muscle cars were answered by the Dodge Charger R/T with Scat Pack. Cars.com consistently ran the quarter mile in this Dodge Charger at 12.4 seconds, while Motor Trend took 12.6 seconds to make the run. Hitting 60 miles per hour from a standstill took just 4.3 seconds here. At $39,995, the beastliest Charger R/T pushes the limits of our price range, but delivers a huge amount of speed and space for the price.
2. Dodge Challenger R/T
Dodge has been pushing the envelope with its muscle cars in recent years, and Challenger R/T with Scat Pack ($38,995) is among the very fastest below $40,000. With an output of 485 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque from the 6.4-liter V8 engine and the 392 Hemi Scat Pack upgrade, you will be the king of most highways. Motor Trend hit 60 miles per hour in 4.2 seconds and reached a quarter mile in 12.6 seconds with this model.
1. Chevrolet Camaro SS
The latest generation of muscle cars by Detroit automakers (Italian owned or not) took the segment to new performance heights. The Chevrolet Camaro SS may be the most explosive model in the $40,000 price range. Its thunderous 6.2-liter V8 engine is capable of 455 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque. In most tests, the Camaro SS hit 60 miles per hour from a standstill in just 4.0 seconds (sometimes assisted by the performance package). Quarter-mile runs by Motor Trend zipped by in 12.4 seconds. Base models start at $37,900.
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