Power and performance is remarkably attainable.
Once upon a time, you needed serious money to get serious power under the hood of a factory car. In 1999, a Ford Mustang SVT Cobra made 320 horsepower and 317 ft-lb of torque, and cost $28,190. Adjusting for inflation, that would be $44,235 in today's money. Nowadays, a base model four-cylinder Ecoboost Mustang will get you 310 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque for $26,670. That means that for well under $50,000 today, you should be able to get something remarkably fast in a straight line. And you can, but you're not limited to traffic light racers by a long shot. So let's have a look at some of the best options for 2020.
A new muscle car with old school charm, the Challenger is all about grunt and not so much about handling. With the R/T Scat Pack version, you get a 6.4-liter HEMI V8 under the hood pushing a raucous 485 hp and 475 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. That brings a zero to 60 mph time of 3.8 seconds and a claimed quarter-mile time of 11.7 seconds at 115 mph. For $38,995, it leaves plenty of room for some options, such as the Shaker Package for $2,595, which adds a special hood and intake system as well as some purely aesthetic additions.
It has four doors and, with the Scat Pack option ticked, a 6.4-liter V8 with 485 hp and 475 lb-ft of torque. Even better, like the Challenger, the Widebody version is the same price. Unlike the Challenger, the Charger shows genuine agility through corners with the Scat Pack addition of high-performance suspension, Brembo brakes, a limited-slip rear differential, and heavy-duty engine cooling. For getting off the line, it also includes launch control to help give the kids in the back seat the full roller-coaster style feeling.
The Mustang encapsulates modern affordable horsepower: A base Ford Mustang GT comes in under $40,000 and nets you a 5.0-liter Coyote V8 generating 460 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. In 1999, those numbers were astronomical in a production car. The 0-60 mph time is claimed at 3.9 seconds while the quarter-mile is taken care of in 12.1 seconds at 118.8 mph.
Add the Level 2 Performance Package for the sum of $6,500, and you add a host of chassis improvements. On top of that, you gain a set of wider wheels and tires, Brembo six-piston calipers up front with larger rotors, a machine-turned aluminum fascia trim, and a unique front splitter and rear spoiler. Now, for $42,130, you have something that would have been poaching supercars on the track at the turn of the century, but with much-improved reliability and cheaper maintenance.
Like the latest generation of Mustang, the Camaro brings horsepower and handling to the game. In the case of the LT1 trim, that power is supplied by a 6.2-liter V8 making 455 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque. That will get you to 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds, and put a smile on your face all day long doing highway pulls. At $34,000, that leaves some room to improve performance going through corners. For $42,000, the 2SS trim adds some serious handling and grip to the Camaro through a set of Brembo front and rear performance brakes with four-piston front and rear calipers, and a performance-based suspension setup. Topping the extras list off is magnetic ride control and a factory performance differential cooler and transmission oil cooler.
If you're considering a BMW 3 Series, we suggest you cross-shop with the Genesis G70. The high point of the G70's range isn't an M3 killer, but it does pack a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 under the hood, making an exciting 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque. With the rev-matching 8-speed automatic transmission, the engine will push the G70 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds and pull the quarter-mile in 13.2 seconds. Get off of a straight piece of tarmac, and the fun keeps on coming with a taut chassis and plenty of grip.
Creeping in at just under the $50,000 mark, the S4 brings a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 engine making 349 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque to the party. It doesn't out sprint the Charger, but it uses all-wheel-drive and a sharp chassis to make it one comfortable sleeper. The 0-60 mph sprint takes just 4.4 seconds, a tenth of a second faster than its direct Mercedes rival and more horsepower than the nearest BMW contender.
Some people don't want to hear it, but electric power is delivering. The Performance trim Model 3 is over $50,000, but the Long Range model will still get you to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds via its dual-motor all-wheel-drive system. It makes 346 hp on top of 376 lb-ft of instantly delivered torque, making it a lot of fun sitting at traffic lights next to performance cars with large engines drinking gasoline.
For a BMW M240i xDrive, you're not going to be adding many options and keeping it under $50,000. However, you are getting a luxury vehicle with BMW's 3.0-liter turbocharged straight-six B58 engine shoving 335 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels. The all-wheel-drive X-Drive system adds $2,000 to the price but helps launch the M240i to 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds. You wouldn't take the M240i to the drag strip, but you would definitely take it to the track where the combination of power, handling, and grip makes it quite the weapon for under $50,000.
On paper, putting 309 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque through the front wheels of a hot hatch sounds like a bad idea. Through some clever engineering, though, Honda has virtually eliminated torque steer off the line and lowered the chances of the Type R going off the road and headfirst into a tree. The Type-R also remains glued to the road through corners due to its masterpiece of a chassis. It lags behind the all-wheel-drive Golf R from 0-60 mph at around 5 seconds, but costs over $3,000 less and we find the Type R more exciting to drive.
While we find the Golf GTI more engaging to drive, the Golf R lays down more power. The larger turbo allows the four-cylinder engine to put 288 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque through the front wheels. With the DSG dual-clutch system and launch control optioned, the engine and all-wheel-drive system will happily rocket the little hatchback to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds. On top of that, the Golf R is a super practical car that's as fearsome on a back road as it is off the line.