most powerful cars
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2016 was a good year for horsepower

However you feel about 2016, from a horsepower standpoint it was the greatest year on record. We drove some of the most powerful vehicles ever built for public consumption, and not just a few. We arbitrarily set the cut-off for this list at 500 horsepower, which is nothing to shake a crankshaft at, and still had 22 (!!!) cars we personally drove in 2016.

This doesn't even count some of the big boys that are missing from the list, either because we actually drove them in 2015 or we didn't get into them this year. That includes some powerhouses like the Cadillac CTS-V, Corvette Z06, and the Dodge Hellcat twins. 

Enjoy this look back at at more than 12,000 horsepower worth of first drive excitement.

2016 Porsche 911 R
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2016 Porsche 911 R – 500 horsepower

Being last on this list isn't much of a problem, because the 911 R is one of the purest driver's cars around. The 500 hp on tap from its 4.0-liter flat six is borrowed wholesale from the GT3 RS. It's also naturally-aspirated, so the sound and response is superlative. The engine isn't even really the star of the show, because the rest of the car is so brilliant.

Even so, when you wind it up, the experience is intense. As our reviewer described it, "[when] the thing rips past 6,000 rpm and it all changes. Civility and sophistication disappear. The final 2,500 rpm or so are unfettered, incandescent, screaming rage. It just sounds like a charging pre-gunpowder army, concentrated into one 4.0-liter ball of fury."

Delicious.

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Tesla Model X
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Tesla Model X P90D - 503 horsepower

It's the only vehicle on this list not powered exclusively by gasoline, and there's only one other SUV (although to be fair, there are many 500-plus horsepower SUVs on the market, just not ones that we drove this year).

Stoplight pulls in Ludicrous Mode shrink the surrounding traffic to little points in your rearview mirror, and that trick never gets old. What does get old were the little idiosyncrasies in this car (our tester is actually owned by a private individual) that are representative of a startup automaker pushing out real-time updates. Still, the Model X is lightyears ahead of where Tesla was a few years ago, and it's a powerful green SUV that attracts plenty of attention. 

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2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
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2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio - 505 horsepower

Alfa Romeo building a straight-up muscle sedan? Yes, another one of the marvels of 2016, and a distinctly sexy one as well. More importantly for our purposes, the new Italian-made sedan comes packed with some heavy artillery, the top Quadrifoglio model offering 505 horsepower and returning a 3.8-second 0–60 mph run.

Despite the pony car numbers on paper, in reality the Giulia's character is very Italian and also very European. It blitzed the Nürburgring Nordschleife time of 7:32 – which, for the record, makes it the fastest four-passenger production car around the 12.9-mile circuit. And like a classic European sport sedan, the engine is more about revs than thunderous low-end torque. This is, after all, an aggressively tuned small-displacement engine that produces a staggering 174 horsepower per liter – but longer stretches of tarmac reveal the engine's true peaky behavior. It pulls strongly through the last 3,000 rpm or so until hitting the hard rev limiter at around 7,200 rpm.

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2017 Maserati Quattroporte GTS
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2017 Maserati Quattroporte GTS - 523 horsepower

There's good news when it comes to the new Quattroporte. For one, it looks pretty good. It's an improvement on the styling that debuted in 2013. The QP also gains some interior refinements and additional tech that bring it just up to par in the segment, but not any more than that. 

More importantly for the present purposes, it meets our horsepower cutoff number, so that's good, thanks to the GTS model's twin-turbo 3.8-liter V8, which puts out 523 hp and 524 lb-ft. The V8 is only paired with rear-wheel drive because adding a front driveshaft would be a packaging nightmare that's not worth the small number of added sales. 

At its core, the Quattoporte is a solidly car, but it always was. It has a wonderfully old-fashioned character, with a big engine note and big performance that doesn't ever dominate a machine noted as much for its exquisite leather stitching as for its hardware. And plenty of power, of course.

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2017 Bentley Mulsanne Speed
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2017 Bentley Mulsanne Speed - 530 horsepower

It's more super-luxurious bullet train than car, it seems. The 2017 Mulsanne Speed is a delightful throwback in some ways, with a brute-force engine philosophy that pairs nicely with old-school interior serenity.

The Mulsanne is powered by a 6.75-liter pushrod  V8. This humungous eight-cylinder has a history stretching back six decades – precisely the sort of tweedy legacy stuff that appeals to old money. This is the last Bentley to use this engine, and it will be replaced by a new twelve-cylinder. Until then, revel in the power, ye who can afford it.

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2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo
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2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo - 550 horsepower

The old Panamera was a wonderful car hiding inside strange, malformed costume. The new Panamera is also wonderful, powerful, and quite quick. It also looks much better. 

The big news is the all-new twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 in the Panamera Turbo. It adopts a "hot vee" layout with the turbochargers in the engine's valley. This setup allows for a short run from the exhaust manifold for minimal lag, which is further reduced by the twin-scroll turbos. With 18.8 psi of peak boost, the new V8 pumps out 550 horsepower and 567 pound-feet of torque. As we mentioned, that's just 20 hp behind the outgoing Turbo S. And the Panamera Turbo is quick - good for 0 to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds with the Sport Chrono pack. 

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2016 Superformance GT40 Mk. II
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2016 Superformance GT40 Mk. II - 550 horsepower

Yes, that's a 2016, and no, it's not on this list by mistake. It is one of the cars we drove this year, so it belongs. This Superformance-built GT40 MKII 50th Anniversary Edition is one of 20 which will be built to commemorate Ford's 1966 victory at Le Mans with Carroll Shelby.

When outfitted with Shelby's specially-prepared aluminum-block 427 FE V8, this new GT40 is considered authentic enough to earn a spot in the Shelby vehicle registry. It packs a 550-horsepower small-block 427 that's basically menace incarnate. The engine combines with a curb weight of roughly 2,500 pounds to make for simply awe-inspiring pull, the tires clawing for traction as they catapult the car to 60 in about 3.5 seconds, an effect that's bolstered by the sensation of being just a few inches off the ground.
 

2017 Ferrari California T Handling Speciale
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2017 Ferrari California T Handling Speciale - 553 horsepower

Sure, we've driven the California T before, but this one has the Handling Speciale Package and it meets our minimum horsepower cutoff, so it's going on the list. 

The $8,120 option turns the least expensive Ferrari into something that's stiffer and faster and more fun, and the trade-off is a slightly firmer ride, all the time.
Ferrari has left the core of the California T's engine untouched, so the 3.9-liter, twin-turbo V8 still has 557 lb-ft of torque from 4,750 rpm and 553 horsepower at 7,500 rpm. 

It's also fabulously fast, blistering to 62 mph in 3.6 seconds, punching on to 124 mph just 7.6 seconds later. And to think this is the "everyday" Ferrari.

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2017 McLaren 570GT
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2017 McLaren 570GT - 562 horsepower

The 570GT may be thought of as a slightly softer, slightly posher 570S, but the Ricardo-designed-and-built M838TE, a 3.8-liter, 90-degree, quad-cam, dry-sump, twin-turbo V8 that makes 562 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque, is unchanged. Also unchanged is the seven-speed, twin-clutch transmission driving the rear wheels.

What improved is a slightly softer suspension and more comfortable cabin. But don't think the 570GT is a slacker - boot the gas pedal and this car is plenty quick. It also gets lots of attention. 

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2017 Rolls-Royce Dawn
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2017 Rolls-Royce Dawn - 563 horsepower

There are few truly singluar experiences in the automotive world, but the Dawn is one of them. Many elements of this car are unique in the automotive world, but the feeling of going down the road is particularly notable.

Stomp the gas and there's a distant whoosh of turbine whirl and intake rush, like it's happening a long way off in somebody else's car. Sound is scarce, but not torque. There are buckets and gobs and shipping containers full of the stuff, delivered hot and quick. A heavy right-foot stab signals the boiler room to pile on the coal, and a freighter's worth of twist churns aft to the wheels. 563 horsepower is a fine number, but there's 575 lb-ft ready to oblige at just 1,500 rpm. The raw numbers don't do justice to how quickly a 5,644-pound convertible will muster an unreasonable speed.

When all's said and done, the Dawn embodies the classic British motoring ideal of having so much torque that gear selection is immaterial.

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2017 Nissan GT-R
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2017 Nissan GT-R - 565 horsepower

The GT-R may be getting on in years, but it's been evolving the entire time, and it's still mid-pack on our most powerful cars list a full nine years after hitting the streets. For 2017, power increases from 545 to 565 horsepower, and torque gains four clicks to 467 lb-ft. Both gains come from increased boost and an ignition timing system inherited from the previous Nismo version. Don't let the slightly tweaked numbers fool you. The torque spread is more linear, and the GT-R pulls hard. 

It's taken nearly a decade, but Nissan's flagship has finally grown into a well-rounded road car that can be rightfully cross-shopped against stalwarts like the Audi R8, Chevrolet Corvette, and Porsche 911.

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2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR
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2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR - 575 horsepower

The F-Type SVR is the same car we know and love, just turned up to 11. Especially the exhaust. Lift off the gas, and the SVR sounds as though there are kids in the trunk tossing handfuls of M-80s out the back. "Big report" is what it'd say on the box if the F-Type SVR were a firework. It's dramatic, perhaps excessive. Scratch that – it's definitely excessive.

For the purposes of this list, though, it's also powerful. Perhaps excessively powerful. The SVR makes 575 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, thanks to some Project 7 bits and new intercoolers. Remember, the regular F-Type R is only good for 550 hp. Only. What a world we live in.

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2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S
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2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S - 577 horsepower

The AMG GLE63 S is the range-topping version of the 2016 GLE-Class. It takes an otherwise rational luxury crossover and turns up the indulgence factor to the point where you should feel guilty every time you fire up the 577-horsepower, twin-turbo V8 engine. It's bad in the best way. And while this SUV is certainly not perfect, there's no denying it's powerful.

The impressive horsepower output is complimented by the shove of 561 pound-feet of torque, and all that force will rocket you to 60 miles per hour in a hair over four seconds. Considering the 5,238-pound curb weight, and the class of vehicle this is, it's even more noteworthy for where it sits on our list.

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2017 Aston Martin DB11
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2017 Aston Martin DB11 - 600 horsepower

This is the new DB11, successor to the 13-year-old DB9 (the DB10 was James Bond's car in Spectre, and thus skipped in the lineage). The real story here, aside from the new aluminum architecture and striking styling, is the 600-hp V12. It's new, a twin-turbo unit, replacing a larger naturally-aspirated V12 in its predecessor.

Purists, hold your fire. Even Ferrari is embracing forced induction, and this is a move Aston had to make in the name of performance and efficiency. Developed in-house, the new engine pumps out 600 hp and 516 pound-feet of torque, pushing the DB11 to 62 miles per hour in 3.9 seconds en route to a top speed of 200 mph. Impressive, wouldn't you say?

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2017 Porsche 911 Turbo S - 580 horsepower
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2017 Porsche 911 Turbo S - 580 horsepower

Rather than radically transforming its long-evolved essence, the 2017 Porsche 911 Turbo undergoes incremental changes that makes it, well, more Turbo than ever. And there are two flavors, both well over the magic 500 hp number.

Horsepower for the Turbo and Turbo S climbs 20 each, to 540 and 580, respectively; 0-60 times drop to a scant 2.9 and 2.8 seconds, and these top dogs now have terminal velocities of 198 and 205 miles per hour, marking the first time the model has crested the 200-mph barrier. Basically, this is a car whose performance capabilities challenge your mind and body to work faster in order to rise to the occasion and match its speed and strength.

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2016 Lamborghini Huracan LP 610-4 Spyder
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2016 Lamborghini Huracan LP 610-4 Spyder - 602 horsepower

Sure, the Spyder may only be a Huracán with a fabric roof. But this caveat soft-sells the incredible performance of the Spyder's V10 engine. Although the engine, hybrid aluminum-and-carbon-fiber construction, and same all-wheel-drive are unchanged, its still a superlative experience. 

There's 602 horsepower on tap, and the compromises are minimal: there's a mere one mile per hour drop in top speed, and it's two-tenths of a second slower claimed 0-62 mph time of 3.4 seconds. That's it. It sounds phenomenal, the fact that it's one of the few cars to make this list that's not turbocharged probably helps in that regard.

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2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S
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2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S - 603 horsepower

This isn't just an E-Class with a big motor. It's a sophisticated evolution of one of Mercedes' true – if understated – icons, and it's a step forward for AMG, which could easily have slapped its fabled badge on the E-Class, jacked up the power and the sticker price, and called it a day. Instead, all of the performance pieces blend with the sedan's traditional luxury bearing, resulting in something very polished.

But ok, we're here to talk about the power, right? This also happens to be an E-Class with a big motor. Specifically, a 4.0-liter V8 has two twin-scroll turbochargers – instead of the single-scroll units AMG used previously – and they help the E63S make 603 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque. This thing flat-out roars in a visceral manner. Sixty miles per hour can happen in 3.3 seconds (quicker than the Cadillac CTS-V and BMW M5) en route to an electronically-limited top speed of 186 mph.

Yup – this is a Mercedes sedan that outmuscles a very respectable Lamborghini. 

2016 Audi RS7 Performance
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2016 Audi RS7 Performance - 605 horsepower

The RS7 has been around a little while, but that doesn't mean it's a slouch. In fact, it's an overachiever thanks to some upgrades that comes with the Performance moniker. The big story is that power is up from 560 horsepower to 605. And while the advertised torque rating of 517 pound-feet doesn't change, Audi says the car will actually produce 553 lb-ft during brief moments of overboost. That's good for a top speed of 190 miles per hour, and it'll run to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds – our informal stopwatch tests suggest that may even be conservative.

While that rather astonishing horsepower figure is why we're talking about it, it's worth noting that the RS7 is viceless high-speed cruiser that'll dispatch windy road with aplomb.

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2017 Mercedes-AMG SL65
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2017 Mercedes-AMG SL65 - 621 horsepower

The SL65 is Germany's high-speed train, made to span countries and continents at speeds normally followed by the phrase "in a vacuum." 

The twin-turbo, 6.0-liter V12 in the SL65 posts 621 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque. For 2016, a slight tune means the hand-built motor doesn't let every one of its horses out of the corral until 5,500 rpm, instead of the previous 4,800 to 5,400-rpm. All 738 pound-feet of torque show up to the party from 2,300 rpm to 4,300 rpm. Despite some carryover hardware, the SL65 is stout enough to be fourth-horsepoweriest on our list.

2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
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2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 - 650 horsepower

Barnum, Bailey, and all the Ringling Brothers combined aren't even half as entertaining as GM's supercharged LT4 small-block V8. This direct-injected, variable-timed, intercooled, all-aluminum, one-cam, 6.2-liter hyper-clown idles with an evil chortle, rips upward singing like Marvin Gaye at his "Let's Get It On" peak, then finishes way past 6000 rpm with the maniacal cackle of Frank Gorshin as The Riddler.

The LT4 is rated at an astonishing 650 horsepower and until right now there've only been three ways to get it. First, in Chevrolet's two-seat Corvette Z06. Second, in Cadillac's four-door CTS-V. And, third, in a crate from GM Performance Parts. But it's this fourth way that's the best way. That's the LT4 powering the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.

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2016 McLaren 675LT
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2016 McLaren 675LT

At the heart of this green machine is a twin-turbo 3.8-liter V8 found in all McLaren models, but more than half of its components are new for this application. The camshaft is new, the block gets lightweight connecting rods, the fuel pump is upgraded, the twin turbos are the same size as those on the 650's engine yet more efficient. Final output is 666 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, an increase of 25 hp and 16 lb-ft over the 650S.

While those seem like moderate gains in relative terms, the end result is the second most powerful car we drove in 2016. Considering the company it keeps, that's extremely impressive.

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2017 Ferrari GTC4Lusso
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2017 Ferrari GTC4Lusso - 681 horsepower

Here it is: the most powerful car we drove in 2016. It also happens to be one of the most unique Ferraris around. This descendent of the FF features four seats and a liftgate, not typical Maranello fare. While Ferrari recently announced a turbo V8 version of this car, our most recent drive featured a properly old-school V12.

The basic 65-degree, 6.3-liter, quad-cam engine is revised to provide 30 more horsepower. The engine shrieks to 8,250 rpm, but peak power is 681 hp at 8,000 rpm with peak torque of 514 pound-feet produced at 5,750 rpm. Top speed remains the same at 208 mph, but the 0–62 mph acceleration time comes down slightly to 3.4 seconds. The engine is completely brilliant, providing a growl, gurgles at medium speeds, and a series of whirring yelps as the revs rise towards the redline.

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