Maximizing the Horsepower Return on Your Car-Dollar Investment

2014 Chevrolet Camaro

It’s the classic all-you-can-eat dilemma. You’ve put down your 12 dollars, and now it’s time to see just how much food you can get for your money. This is the epitome of a lose-lose situation: The restaurant surely lost money (thanks to your gluttony), and you feel terrible after having eaten 13 mediocre fried chicken legs. Luckily, in the auto world, seeing just how much power you can get for your dollar is a much less sickening proposition. Using real data, we’ve put together a list of the 12 best values on the horsepower market.

The numbers presented are based on factory horsepower figures weighed against the current average sale price of cars listed on CarGurus. To keep it interesting, we’ve also eliminated all trucks, SUVs, crossovers, and minivans—we’re looking at coupes and sedans only. While the Dodge Grand Caravan American Value Package gives you 283 stampeding horses at under $95 a pop, nobody is actually going to boast about their minivan’s awesome power-to-price statistics.

2014 Ford Focus

12. Hatchbacks have never been the Big Three’s or Americans’ favorite body style, so it probably makes sense that Ford’s Focus ST hatchback debuted in Europe and reflected lots of input from Ford’s European RS team. Whether you like hatches or not, the Focus ST’s 252-hp turbocharged 4-cylinder is a screaming deal at an average price of $29,102, or $115.48 per hp. And purchasing a Focus (or Fiesta) ST also gets you a day’s free admission to Ford’s ST Octane Academy program in Utah, which includes autocross training and instruction in how to execute a reverse 180-degree spin. Buying an ST won’t improve your driving enough to let you drive a Gymkhana like Ken Block, but it should give you plenty of power to smoke tires and teach some coupes and sedans to respect hatchbacks at traffic lights.

2016 Subaru WRX

11. The Subaru WRX has been a long favorite of CarGurus. You can hear Aaron Cole gush about it in his test drive review. What’s not to love about this relatively inexpensive, high-performance, attractive sport compact (besides the fact it’s no longer available as a hatchback)? With an average price of $30,731 and a 2.0-liter boxer 4-cylinder producing 268 hp, the WRX’s $114 per horsepower is among the best available. Now, you may be surprised that the WRX STi was not the top of the Subaru models. Well, it seems that slightly more peppy sibling of the WRX has seen its price jump a bit at dealerships, likely due to high demand. The average sales price for a WRX STi has reached a couple thousand dollars higher than its MSRP. You’re paying a little bit more for the STi on the nameplate than you are for the extra boost in performance.

2015 Ford Taurus

10. Starting in 1989, Ford began producing one of the biggest sleepers on the market. Powered by a Yamaha-built V6 capable of running to 7,000 RPMs, the Ford Taurus SE SHO looked like your run-of-the-mill family sedan while putting down 0-60 times south of 7 seconds. Today, the Ford Taurus SHO packs a monstrous 365-hp twin-turbo V6 with 350 lb-ft of torque and all-wheel drive. It’s quite a surprise, then, that the Ford Taurus SHO is not one of the best horsepower values on the market. Neither, in fact, is the 288-hp V6 found in non-SHO Tauruses. Nope, if you’re looking for the best power-per-dollar Taurus on the market, go with the base SE trim and the optional 240-hp turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine. You’ll have to pass on all-wheel drive, but at just $114.49 per horse, the 2015 Ford Taurus SE is a tough value to beat.

2015 Chrysler 200

9. When we put together this list, we expected a few surprises. Sure, we knew we’d probably see a hot hatchback like the Focus ST, or a muscle car like the Mustang GT. What we didn’t expect was a midsize sedan from, of all possibilities, Chrysler. Sure, Chrysler has made some fast cars in the past—the Crossfire used a Mercedes engine, and the Chrysler 300 SRT8 put down 470 horses—but this is still a brand more focused on comfort and style than raw power. Nevertheless, when we ran the numbers, we were amazed to find that the 2015 Chrysler 200 S AWD delivers 295 horsepower at a rate of $113.86 per unit—good enough to make it the ninth-best horsepower value on the market today. So the next time the rental agency sticks you with a Chrysler 200, just make sure it’s got the 3.6-liter V6.

2015 Honda Accord

8. For almost 30 years now, Honda’s engineers have poured their hearts into making the Accord the finest product available. The Accord had built a reputation for being one of the most well-rounded and reliable vehicles available, and there is little question as to how this Japanese flagship had become one of the best selling cars of all time. With its rather modest price tag ($31,631) and a 3.5-liter V6 producing 278 hp, the Accord EX-L V6 has one of the best dollar-per-hp ratios available, coming in at respectable $113.78 per horsepower. All around, the Accord is one of the safest purchases in the automotive world, and you are certain to get everything you could ask for, including great performance for your money, when investing in an Accord.

2016 Nissan Maxima

7. Speaking of old, reliable, Japanese sedans, the Nissan Maxima S has returned for the 2016 model year with a new redesigned look and a 300-hp 3.5-liter V6. Nissan hopes that the resurrection will allow the Maxima compete with the likes of the Chrysler 300 and the Volkswagen CC, and it certainly has the edge over the competition from a horsepower-per-dollar standpoint. With an average price tag of $34,129, the Nissan Maxima S actually offers the best deal for the Maxima’s performance. Its $113.76 per horsepower is just pennies better than the Accord, but those pennies quickly add up. So if you’re going to buy family-oriented midsize sedan on horsepower price-point, the Maxima S would be the sedan to choose. Though, to be honest, you may want to broaden your criteria.

2015 Chevrolet Impala

6. Chevrolet’s Impala has dropped out of production a couple of times, but the first version debuted in 1958 as the flagship of the Bel Air lineup with up to 315 hp from the factory. Having turned into what became a low-riding/tuner legend back in the early ’60s, the full-size modern Impala is available with one of 3 engines, a 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder that puts out 195 hp, a 3.6-liter V6 capable of using compressed natural gas that puts out 260 hp, or a 305-hp gas-only version of the V6. That last engine, in the 2LT trim, is the one that earns the Impala a spot on this list, as its $33,939 average price makes it $111.28 per horse. Having seen the new Impala’s absolutely massive trunk, we know the Impala offers a very high golf-bag capacity per dollar ratio as well, so any enthusiast who enjoys hitting the links should be able to get strong value out of an Impala on the road and at the country club.

214 Dodge Charger

5. This is probably the most surprising vehicle on this list. Of course, we expected the Dodge Charger to be among the top tier of power and performance, but this is not the Charger we expected. This is not the 707-hp 6.2-liter V8 beast of an engine that has been getting all the press for the last year, but the modest 370-hp 5.7-liter V8 in the Charger R/T. As it turns out, the demand for the Charger SRT Hellcat has dramatically inflated the cost, which is not too surprising given that FCA had to halt taking orders for the Hellcats back in March. With an average sale price of $71,362 on CarGurus, the Charger SRT Hellcat has a rather high $100.93 per horsepower figure, while the Charger R/T has the better deal of $98.44 per horsepower (due to its average price of $36,423 being nearly half of the SRT Hellcat’s). So, if you’re in the market for a Charger, don’t feel as if you have to invest in all 707 hp (not that you can buy one until next year anyway). The Charger R/T actually offers you a better bang for your buck.

2015 Dodge Challenger

4. But “Hellcat” is one of the hottest keywords in the auto press this year. Dodge has always taken pride in its muscle-car heritage, so this year it decided to build a 6.2-liter Hemi V8 engine that produces 707 hp. That Hellcat engine now powers the flagship SRT trims of two cars, the Challenger and the Charger. The Challenger coupe is less versatile and less expensive than the Charger sedan, so even at its average price of $64,282, it costs only $90.92 per horsepower. Anyone considering a 707-hp car probably isn’t too worried about practicality or tradition, so they’ll probably love the fact that one of the lights in the Hellcat’s front grille is actually a cold-air intake. And how cool is it that you need to start the car with a special red key to unleash its full 707-hp output?

2015 Ford Mustang

3. Ford’s Mustang, which debuted its sixth generation last year while celebrating its 50th anniversary, created a new class of cars when it arrived in 1964. The “pony car” class also includes the Plymouth Barracuda, Pontiac Firebird, and AMC Javelin, not to mention two other cars on this list, the Challenger and the Camaro. The Mustang’s popularity and style have made it a globe-straddling symbol of America’s approach to cars, and the fact that the current version is the first to feature an independent rear suspension, despite decades of criticism from foreign car fans for its former primitiveness, serves as a testament to Americans’ willingness to take and stick with a different approach. That independent rear suspension isn’t the only new thing in the latest Mustang, either, as the Stang is now available with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that offers relatively good fuel economy. But we’re not looking for economy here—we want cost-effective power. And even UK auto critic Chris Harris knows the best power source for a Mustang is a 5.0-liter V8. The new Ford Mustang GT offers 435 hp at an average price of $38,198, or $87.81 per horsepower. That leaves the Mustang in third place on our list, a respectable finish, but unfortunately behind the worthy competitor it spawned in 1966.

2015 Hyundai Genesis Coupe

2. In his CarGurus review, Christian Wardlaw claimed that he enjoyed driving the 2015 Hyundai Genesis Coupe more than any other rear-wheel-drive sports coupe on the market today. He was referring at the time to the middle trim—the R-Spec—but if you’re interested in a Genesis Coupe that will provide the best bang for your buck, look no further than the Base trim. At just $84.68 per horse, the Genesis Coupe’s low price and 3.8-liter, 348-hp V6 distinguish it as the second-best mass-produced power value currently available. As shocked as we are that it beat out V8 monsters (we’re looking at you, Hellcat), we agree that this potent sports car is worth a drive.

2014 Chevrolet Camaro

1. It’s official: The horsepower king wears a bowtie. The great American carmaker (named after a French racecar driver) has made plenty of powerful cars, but few have been more iconic than the Camaro. Built to compete with Ford’s Mustang, the Camaro helped kick off the pony-car rivalry. Today, cars like the 2015 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 and ZL1 pump huge horsepower figures out of enormous powerplants (505 hp from a 7.0-liter V8 and 580 from a 6.2-liter V8, respectively), but neither one can claim to provide the most horsepower per dollar. Instead, the crown goes to the relatively lowly LS trim. Fitted with a 3.6-liter V6 engine making 323 horsepower, the car that most often gets disparaged as the rental fleet’s Camaro provides an incredible value at just $78.58 per horse. Now, Chevrolet has also announced the upcoming 2016 Camaro will be available with a new V6, to go along with another V8 and a brand new turbocharged 4-cylinder. Naturally, this means that while the 2015 Chevrolet Camaro LS provides the best bang for the buck, next year will bring a whole new set of cars to compete for the title.

What car do you think is worth the price for performance?

-John Harrington, Matt Smith, and Steve Halloran

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Used Ford Focus
Used Subaru WRX
Used Ford Taurus
Used Chrysler 200
Used Honda Accord
Used Nissan Maxima
Used Honda Accord
Used Chevrolet Impala
Used Dodge Charger
Used Dodge Challenger
Used Ford Mustang
Used Hyundai Genesis Coupe
Used Chevrolet Camaro

3 Comments

  1. The Challenger Hellcat is totally hot. Comparing horsepower specs among various cars before buying makes a lot of sense. The look and style of the challenger plus the wild horsepower has a lot of appeal to me.

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