There’s nothing quite like horsepower until you don’t have any. A recent test of the European Skoda Fabia S hatchback and its diminutive 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine drove the point home.
With just 59 horsepower and 70 foot-pounds of torque, it could barely move the front bumper, never mind the rest of the car and its driver — the 16.4-second run from zero to 100 km/h proved it to be the epitome of slow.
That’s definitely not the case with these five horsepower leaders, all priced under $50,000 (based on the MSRP before manufacturer discounts). All five are charismatic rides with the ability to wow the driver and rider alike!
$87.58 per horsepower
Leading the way is the Ford Mustang GT Fastback. The 5.0-litre V8 develops 460 hp and 420 lb.-ft. of torque and drives the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox that rev-matches on downshifts.
It also comes with some fancy drag-inspired technologies. It has a launch control system and a line-lock setup. The latter allows the front brakes to grab the rotors, but leave the rear brakes off, so doing a burn-out to warm the rubber is as easy as it gets.
The GT is also very nicely balanced. It is comfortable on an everyday basis, yet body roll is controlled and the tires let the driver know when they are reaching the traction limit. Punch the gas at this point and the back end breaks away in a controlled manner that is easily caught. The adjustable steering also lets the driver pick the right weight.
The numbers? With a base MSRP of $40,289, it costs just $87.58 for each of the 460 stallions. It runs from rest to 100 km/h in 4.2 seconds; does the more important 80-to-120-km/h passing move in 2.4 seconds; and it has a quarter-mile time of 12.2 seconds. The posted average fuel economy, not that it matters, is 13.3 litres per 100 kilometres.
2019 Chevrolet Camaro 1SS
$97.20 per horsepower
The 2019 Chevrolet Camaro has new front and rear fascias along with some tweaks to the equipment list. The sleeper in the lineup is the Camaro 1SS — it is a true wolf of a ride that never fails to entertain. In this case, the 1SS arrives with a 6.2-litre V8 that fires 455 hp and 455 lb.-ft. of torque through a six-speed manual transmission with rev-matching downshifts.
It also gets 20-inch wheels wearing 245/40 front and 275/35 rear tires; four-piston Brembo brakes; and a performance suspension, along with a limited-slip rear differential. Track Mode puts everything into hyper, including the exhaust note.
The serious punter will add the 1LE Track Performance package. It is not cheap at $8,495, but it gets bigger six-piston front Brembo brakes, a magnetic ride control suspension and Recaro bucket seats, among other things, all of which make a massive difference for the track aficionado. The Camaro is not quite as forgiving as the Mustang when the back end lets go — the traction is prodigious, but when the tail disappears, it takes fast hands to catch things.
With a base price of $44,245, each of the Camaro 1SS’s horsepower cost $97.20. It runs to 100 km/h in 4.2 seconds; does the 80-to-120 km/h passing move in 2.5 seconds; and has a quarter-mile time of 12.4 seconds. The posted average fuel economy is 12.6 L/100 km.
2020 Dodge Challenger R/T
$106.82 per horsepower
While the Dodge Challenger and Charger are essentially the same, it is the two-door model that’s the focus here. This year, the 840-hp Demon goes away, but the 797-hp SRT Hellcat Redeye joins the lineup. Anyway, back to the real world!
The Challenger R/T arrives with a 5.7-litre Hemi V8 that pushes 372 hp and 410 lb.-ft. of torque to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission — there is a six-speed manual gearbox available ($1,000). At 1,917 kg, the Challenger R/T is not quite as fast in a straight line, nor is it as sharp through a corner as the Mustang GT or Camaro 1SS, but the handling is forgiving and the grip levels are high.
The upside is the highway ride is more comfortable. The Performance Handling group is worth the coin — the $1,795 brings performance-oriented 245/45ZR20 tires, Brembo brakes and a performance steering setup.
The Challenger R/T has a base price of $39,740 and a cost of $106.82 for each horsepower. It runs to 100 km/h in 5.4 seconds; does the 80-to-120 passing move in 3.5 seconds; and has a quarter-mile time of 13.5 seconds. The posted average fuel economy is 13.1 L/100 km.
Sadly, the Challenger Scat Pack 392 (pictured) sits $1,445 over the $50,000 cap. However, with a $106.07 cost for each of its 485 hp, a 4.4-second run to 100 km/h, a 2.6-second 80-to-120-km/h passing time and a 12.6-second quarter-mile, it is money very well invested!
2020 Kia Stinger GT AWD
$123.27 per horsepower
When the Kia Stinger GT arrived, it raised more than a few eyebrows. With its stylish Euro-inspired five-door design, the GT added a much-needed halo car to a brand made famous by its economy rides. The GT’s drive characteristics are the equal of its looks — the 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6 makes 365 hp and, more importantly, 376 lb.-ft. at a low 1,300 rpm. This means there is no lag off the line, and the enthusiasm builds all the way through the mid-range.
It drives all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The all-wheel-drive system, which includes a limited-slip rear differential, adaptive dampers and P225/40R19 front tires and P255/35R19 rear tires, means it sticks to the driver’s line when pressed through a corner as well as any of its more expensive peers. It also gets fade-free Brembo brakes, a launch control system and a variable-ratio steering setup.
Interestingly, the next-generation all-wheel-drive system (D-AWD) will have a Drift Mode — when set to “Drift,” 100 per cent of the power goes rearward, and with the stability nanny turned off, it flicks the tail out whenever the driver asks!
The Stinger GT has a sticker of $44,995, meaning each horsepower costs $123.27 (the sister Genesis G70 is way more expensive and beyond the $50K cap). The GT runs to 100 km/h in 5.3 seconds; does the 80-to-120 km/h passing move in 3.4 seconds; and has a quarter-mile time of 13.4 seconds. The Stinger GT has a posted average fuel economy of 11.8 L/100 km.
2020 Nissan 370Z Nismo
$139.99 per horsepower
While the Nissan 370Z Coupe is no slouch in its own right, the Nismo model ups the horsepower by 18, to 350 hp. The torque is also up six to 276 lb.-ft. of torque thanks, in part, to the Nismo-tuned free-flow exhaust. It drives the rear wheels through a six-speed manual transmission.
The power increase is worthwhile, but it is the handling upgrades that are, arguably, more important. The Nismo-tuned suspension has increased spring, damper and anti-roll bar rates; there’s a three-point front strut tower brace; and you’ll also find upgrades to the brake hardware. The combination brings a car that seems to relish a fast corner almost as much as the driver.
The Nismo’s numbers are interesting when compared to the base Coupe. With a list price of $48,998, each of the Nismo’s horsepower is the most expensive, at $139.99 per. It has a zero-to-100 km/h time of 5.2 seconds; an 80-to-120 km/h passing time of 3.2 seconds; and a quarter-mile time of 13.4 seconds. The posted average fuel economy is 11.5 L/100 km.
The smart money, however, will stick with the base Coupe. It has 332 hp and a sticker of $30,498, which means the horsepower cost drops to $91.86. More importantly, the performance numbers do not change. Yes, the Nismo goes around a corner is a flatter fashion, but at a cost penalty.
These five high-horsepower cars priced under $50,000 are very different. The Mustang GT Fastback, Camaro 1SS and Challenger are pure muscle, but manage to handle a corner almost as well as they do a drag strip. The Stinger and 370Z take a more refined approach to speed and what defines a powerful sports car.