Our list of 10 inexpensive powerful cars leans heavily towards American iron, with a twist. While the good old naturally-aspirated V8 is the traditionalist’s engine of choice, small displacement turbocharged 4-cylinder engines have made huge strides in recent years and any forced induction engine has significant potential for aftermarket tuning. Of course, it’s not just the total horsepower or torque rating that determines how quickly a powerful car can cover the 0-60 MPH or quarter-mile sprint. Vehicle weight and drivetrain capabilities have a significant effect on acceleration times. Lighter vehicles, launch control, and all-wheel drive present a distinct advantage. It’s worth noting that while some turbo engines may be designed to run acceptably on 87 octane regular gasoline, they deliver optimal performance when running on high-octane fuel. Be sure to check the manufacturer's specifications for fuel requirements.
10 Most Affordable Cars with High Horsepower
Photo Credit: Ford
2017 Ford Mustang GT
The Ford Mustang has brought inexpensive power to the masses for over fifty years. The base V6 Fastback starts at an MSRP of $25,185, the EcoBoost Fastback clocks in at $26,195, and the GT Fastback crosses the line at $33,195. The 3.7-liter V6 is the least powerful engine of the three, with 300 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. The 2.3-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder delivers bang for the buck with 310 HP and 320 pound-feet of torque, while the GT’s 5.0-liter V8 engine cranks out an impressive 435 HP and 400 pound-feet of torque. While traditionalists will opt for the V8, the EcoBoost offers a high degree of tuning potential.
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2017 Volkswagen Golf R
If all-wheel drive hot hatches are your thing, the 2017 Volkswagen Golf R is one of the most beastly critters, with a starting MSRP of $39,375. The Golf R’s turbocharged 2.0-liter engine cranks out 292 horsepower and can be mated to either a 6-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic or manual transmission. With a 4Motion AWD system and Haldex center diff, the DSG-equipped Golf R hits the 0-60 MPH mark in 4.5 seconds. At $25,595, the 220 HP front-wheel drive GTI is a significantly less expensive (and less powerful) alternative. As with most turbocharged engines, more power is easily attainable via an aftermarket tune.
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2017 Ford Fusion Sport
If you love sleepers, the all-wheel drive Ford Fusion Sport is right up your alley. The Fusion Sport’s 2.7-liter, twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 pumps out an impressive 325 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. An AWD drivetrain and a starting MSRP of $33,605 makes it one of the most intriguing sedans on our list of inexpensive powerful cars. It’s a performance bargain to boot, capable of a 0-60 MPH time in the 5-second range, with and a quarter-mile elapsed time under 14.5 seconds. Like all EcoBoost vehicles, the Fusion Sport benefits from high-octane fuel. A good tune and some tweaks should drop it into the thirteens.
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2017 Dodge Challenger R/T
The 2017 Dodge Challenger R/T delivers iconic 2-door muscle car style, with a thumping 5.7-liter HEMI V8 engine under the hood, blasting 375 horsepower to the rear wheels, through either a 6-speed automatic or manual transmission with a starting MSRP of $32,890. The 2017 Challenger comes in a plethora of versions, all the way up to the 707 HP 6.4-liter HEMI V8 Hellcat, which starts at $64,195. The R/T is the least expensive and least powerful V8 of the bunch. The 305 HP V6-powered all-wheel drive Challenger GT is brand-spanking-new for 2017. It carries an MSRP of $33,590 and is the first traditional muscle coupe designed for winter driving.
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2017 Chevrolet SS
With a starting MSRP of $46,625, the 2017 Chevrolet SS sedan pushes the boundaries on our list of inexpensive powerful cars, but you may find a deal on an older model. The rear-wheel drive SS is based on the Australian Holden Commodore and originally came to our shores as the Pontiac G8. After General Motors shut Pontiac down, enthusiasts begged for the car's return. GM eventually brought it back as the Chevy SS in the 2014 model year, with a similar Caprice model for police fleets. The 6.2-liter V8 produces 415 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. It’s offered with both 6-speed automatic and manual transmissions, with a factory stated 0-60 MPH time of 4.7 seconds.
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2017 Lincoln MKZ 3.0T
The 2017 Lincoln MKZ 3.0T is the luxe-sleeper of the year. With 400 horsepower on tap in the twin turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 all-wheel drive MKZ 3.0T, it’s one of the least expensive powerful luxury cars on the market today. If AWD is not your thing, a front-wheel drive version is available with a detuned engine that produces 350 HP. Both the AWD and FWD MKZ 3.0T are equipped with a 6-speed manual transmision and rated at 400 pound-feet of torque. The AWD MKZ 3.0T Select starts at $42,810 while the FWD 3.0T Select starts at $39,670. The AWD version is capable of 0-60 MPH times under five seconds, while the FWD version clocks in around six seconds.
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2017 Ford Focus RS
Folks have begged Ford to bring an all-wheel drive high-horsepower version of the Focus hatchback to America for years and our prayers have finally been answered. The 2017 Focus RS is fitted with a 2.3-liter EcoBoost inline-4 that is exclusively mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. The level of performance is remarkable, considering the starting MSRP of $36,120. With 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque on tap, as well as torque vectoring AWD, the Focus RS boasts a “top track speed” of 165 MPH. Launch control enables a 0-60 MPH time of 4.7 seconds, while Drift mode allows you to smoke the tires like Ken Block.
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2017 Dodge Charger R/T
The 2017 Dodge Charger R/T plays the “4-door muscle car” card as one of the roomiest and comfortable sedans on our list of inexpensive powerful cars. The R/T is the most affordable HEMI V8 Charger, with a starting MSRP of $34,790. The 5.7-liter HEMI delivers a healthy 370 horsepower and features cylinder deactivation to improve fuel economy while under light loads. It’s exclusively fitted to an 8-speed automatic transmission. A manual transmission is not offered in the Charger. The R/T Scat Pack steps it up with a 6.4-liter HEMI V8 that churns out 485 HP with a starting MSRP of $39,995. The 707 HP SRT Hellcat tops the range at $67,645.
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2017 Subaru WRX STi
The all-wheel drive 2017 Subaru WRX STI is one of the most versatile entries on our list of inexpensive powerful cars, with a starting MSRP of $35,195 for the base version. The STi’s 2.5-liter turbocharged boxer four is mated to a 6-speed close-ratio manual transmission and churns out 305 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. Power is delivered to all four wheels via a Driver Controlled Center Differential AWD system with a 41% front/59% rear power split. The STi Limited version ($39,995) adds leather upholstery, a power tilt/sliding moonroof, a navigation system, and a 9-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. If your travels include an array of slippery surfaces, the WRX STi always leads the list of condenders.
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2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS
The 2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS rounds out the trio of traditional rear-wheel drive American 2-door muscle coupes in our list of inexpensive powerful cars. A 2.0-liter turbocharged four is the base engine in the Camaro 1LT, with a starting MSRP of $26,690. The turbo four delivers 275 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, while the optional 3.6-liter V6 ($1,495) produces 335 HP and 284 pound-feet of torque. To step up to a V8, opt for the Camaro SS, which is priced at $37,900. The 6.2-liter V8 in the SS cranks out 455 HP and 455 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed manual and an 8-speed automatic transmission are offered. The automatic SS is factory-rated to cover the 0-60 MPH sprint in 4.0 seconds.