Despite what my high school algebra teacher might have told you about my math skills, I've always been a little bit of a stats geek. I grew up organizing my baseball cards by batting average and ERA, before falling into the wonderful, nerdy arms of the Strat-O-Matic corporation (I'm offering a virtual high-five to those of you that know what that means without having to click the link).
These days, of course, my predilection to sorting by numbers often runs to the world of the automobile, where statistics are plentiful and often meaningful for real-world application. As usable objects, cars are suffused with subjective qualities that inflect heavily on their objective data points, but that doesn't mean number-crunching can't lead to some interesting results.
An excellent case in point is the relationship between a vehicle's curb weight and its power and torque outputs. The oft-referenced power-to-weight ratio has always made more sense to me when expressed as weight-to-power, where I can see exactly how many pounds each horsepower (or pound-foot of torque) is being asked to lug, which is why you'll find the numbers below in the pounds-to-horsepower format. In any event, the ratio represents a single number that affects a vehicle on a number of dynamic fronts. And it makes for great bar trivia, especially when new, very powerful cars like the Dodge Challenger SRT "Hellcat," or very light ones like the Alfa Romeo 4C get thrown into the mix.
Of course, the very lightest and most powerful cars are generally the most expensive, too. But what does the "performance car" space look like if we set some price caps? It bears noting here that this list doesn't include trucks, SUVs or crossovers, and we attempted to pick from the most performance-oriented products on sale (or nearly on sale). Let's start low, and build up.
Under $25,000 – pounds per horsepower
- 2014 Ford Mustang V6 ($22,510) – 11.479
- 2014 Chevrolet Camaro V6 ($23,555) – 11.514
- 2014 Ford Focus ST ($23,625) – 12.790
- 2014 Ford Fiesta ST ($21,400) – 13.807
- 2014 Hyundai Veloster Turbo R-Spec ($21,300) – 13.930
- 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI 4-Door ($24,995) – 14.152
- 2014 Mini Cooper S Hardtop ($24,100) – 14.603
- 2014 Honda Civic Si ($22,790) – 14.644
- 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata ($23,790) – 14.850
- 2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI ($24,535) – 14.910
A small measure of the Mazda MX-5 Miata's magic formula can be seen by its inclusion in the top ten at this price point. The Mazda is the lightest rear-wheel-drive car you'll find here.
Moving back to the top, where you'll find every one of our price categories is heavily represented by the Blue Oval, I'm happy to report a pair of ST models. The Fiesta ST is good enough that it might actually win a straw poll amongst Autoblog staffers to upset the Miata as our favorite car to drive on this list overall, though the numbers do bear out that its bigger brother outguns it on the scales.
Notable exclusions here include the Subaru WRX (12.190) and Scion FR-S (13.790)/Subaru BRZ (13.810), all of which just miss the $25k price cap. Also, those looking for the Mazdaspeed3 will be sad to note that 2013 was its final (for now) model year.
Under $50,000 – pounds per horsepower
- 2014 Ford Mustang GT ($31,210) – 8.614
- 2014 Dodge Challenger SRT ($40,485) – 9.002
- 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS ($34,350) – 9.174
- 2014 Dodge Charger SRT ($44,385) – 9.272
- 2014 Chevrolet SS ($43,475) – 9.578
- 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG ($48,375) – 9.842
- 2014 Nissan 370Z ($29,990) – 9.873
- 2014 Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec ($47,400) – 9.883
- 2014 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec ($29,350) – 10.328
- 2014 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design ($42,700) – 10.855
As of right now we know the weight (3,704 pounds) and price ($32,100) for the 2015 Mustang GT, too, but we don't know the power. Ford has only indicated that it would be some amount better than the current 5.0's 420 hp. If you assume a very modest, say 5-hp gain in power for the '15 car, it would net out at 8.715-pounds per horse, still enough to lead this class. A jump up to 430 hp would be required to match the ratio of the outgoing car, however. Fingers crossed.
I was a bit surprised to see the Volvo S60 sneak in here – proof of that car's being a pretty solid performance bargain for the luxury compact class.
The featherweight Alfa Romeo 4C would have just snuck into this group (10th place with a figure of 10.401 pounds per horsepower), if only it were a bit cheaper. The starting sticker of $53,900 may help pay for the carbon fiber tub, but it also kicks the Italian off the list.
Under $100,000 – pounds per horsepower
- 2014 Ford Shelby GT500 ($55,110) – 5.808
- 2014 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe ($99,000) – 6.615
- 2014 Chevy Camaro ZL1 ($55,355) – 7.103
- 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray ($53,000) – 7.248
- 2014 Jaguar F-Type S ($92,000)– 7.416
- 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 ($72,300) – 7.564
- 2014 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe ($64,900) – 7.585
- 2014 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan ($64,900)– 7.590
- 2014 Porsche 911 Carrera S ($98,900) – 7.688
- 2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S ($99,770)– 7.697
There's no doubt that the 662-horsepower Shelby GT500 (2013 model pictured above) is an impressive beast, however, some might quibble with its inclusion here. For starters, the car is sold out and to compound that, there's a good chance that many of the examples were marked up beyond its impressive $55,110 MSRP (though I'd guess most stayed under the $100,000 cap). Still, my hat is off to you, King Mustang.
The GM power players – ZL1, Corvette and CTS-Vs – a pair of Jaguars, and our lone Porsche (most killed off by their price tags on the lists above) round out a very compelling group of cars.
But yesterday's news out of Dodge begs the question: where would the devilish, 707-horsepower Challenger Hellcat come to rest within this group (assuming that Dodge keeps it under six-figures, which I do)? The truth is that I don't know, as the weight of the car is still unclear, but we can make some educated guesses.
If the Hellcat ends up tipping the scales with the same heft as the 2014 Challenger SRT 392, that's 4,231 pounds, it would still finish just below the Mustang GT500 with 5.984 pounds per pony. In fact, the Hellcat would have to lose more than a hundred pounds versus the existing car to best the Mustang. With that said, when the 2015 model year comes around in earnest, there's little doubt that the Challenger Hellcat will reign in the sub-$100k category.
These are your winners, folks. Please feel free to debate the merits of each top ten, tell us what we may have missed, or suggest new metrics (we could easily drum up torque-per-pound comparisons or power-per-dollar), in Comments.