A decade ago, 300 horsepower was expected only from V-8 engines. Today, that’s the output of some 4-cylinder power plants. Thanks to direct fuel injection, turbocharging and other technologies, power and speed can be bought in a range of body styles, vehicle sizes and powertrain configurations. The result is that you no longer need to go for broke to hang with the big boys on the track.
Forbes searched the market for the fastest production cars that you can buy for under $50,000. This list was compiled based on manufacturer published 0-60 mph performance numbers, taking into consideration engine output, torque, vehicle weight and “wisdom of the crowds” when track times were unavailable for particular models. Unlike fuel economy, there are no government standards for performance testing. Not every manufacturer publishes its quarter mile-dash or 0-60 mph sprint time, as the ability to achieve and repeat them comes down to driver skill almost as much as engineering.
Fuel economy: 23 city /31 highway mpg
The AMG treatment raises output of this compact sedan to 355 horsepower and 332 lb.-ft. of torque from its turbocharged four-cylinder engine, making this luxury car the highest horsepower per liter you can buy in its class. A near $50,000 Mercedes is few people’s idea of a bargain, but for the money drivers get a powerful all-wheel drive five-seater with a sports-tuned chassis that nails the 0-60 mph sprint in just 4.4 seconds before hitting its electronically controlled top speed of 155 mph. And with solid fuel economy to boot.
Fuel economy: 14 mpg city/21 mpg highway/16 mpg combined
There is a saying that everyone has a Mustang story, and with the Shelby GT350 yours should be made on the track. The legendary Shelby Mustang is equipped with a 5.2-liter V8 engine that produces 526 horsepower, and 429 lb.-ft. of torque, making it one of the most powerful production vehicles you can buy on this list. This rear-wheel drive, four-seater can be equipped with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. To help drivers take full advantage of its power, this track-ready coupe is equipped with Electronic Line-Lock that keeps the front brakes locked while the Shelby is in gear as its rear tires warm, and launch control will help smooth the edges of the commensurate burn out.
Fuel economy: 15 city / 25 hwy / 19 combined mpg (manual) 16 city / 25 hwy / 19 combined mpg (automatic)
This rear wheel drive four-seater is equipped with a 5.0-liter V8 engine that produces 435 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. of torque, and is available with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic, making the original pony car still a formidable contender.
Fuel economy: 17/26/20 (manual); 18/28/21 (automatic)
This performance version of the five-seater sedan will eat up the better part of a $50,000 budget, but for the money drivers will get 333 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. of torque from a 3.0L, 6-cylinder supercharged engine that can be paired with either a 6-speed manual or dual clutch seven-speed automatic transmission. Both drivetrain configurations will complete the 0-60 mph dash in just 4.9 seconds, and the S4 tops out at an electronically controlled 155 mph. Audi Drive Select lets you fine-tune adaptive suspension, dynamic steering, and shifting and tailor to your preferences, and Quattro all-wheel drive helps provide traction and handling. Setting the luxury sedan further apart from its competitors is the available Audi connectivity package that offers in-vehicle Wi-Fi for up to eight passenger devices and Google Earth mapping and destination search.
Fuel economy: 18 city/26 highway mpg
The 2016 Nissan 370z is equipped with a 3.7-liter V6 engine that delivers 350 horsepower and 276 lb.-ft. of torque, and is paired with either a 7-speed automatic or 6-speed manual, but numbers tell only part of this nimble coupe’s story. This performance treatment tacks on to the 370Z the Nismo aerodynamic body–with its tell-tale front and rear fascias, sills, and rear spoiler and diffuser–and it finishes it off with the Nismo-tuned dual exhaust. Peel away the souped up exterior and you’ll find a Nismo-tuned front suspension, shocks, springs, and stabilizer bar to deliver that agile cornering needed to help the 370z find and push its limit. Expect it make the 0-60 mph dash in the mid 4-second range.
Price: $46,150 to $46,150
Fuel economy: 20 mpg city/30 mpg highway
This tight little coupe can hang with the big boys on the track thanks to its 3.0-liter 6-cylinder engine that churns out 320-hp engine and 255 lb.-ft. of torque. Equipped with launch control, the M235i xDrive bullets from 0-60 mph in just 4.4 seconds, which is a couple tenths of a second faster than its rear-wheel drive counterpart that clocks in at 4.6 seconds. Keep in mind, it’s also $2,000 more to have 4-wheel “Go.”
Price: $43,650 to $45,450
Fuel-economy: 20 city /29 highway (RWD), 19 city /27 highway (AWD)
The sports-tuned version of Infiniti’s midsize sedan is outfitted with a 3.7-liter V6 engine that produces 328 horsepower and 269 lb.-ft. of torque. When equipped with rear-wheel drive, the performance sedan launches from 0 to 60 mph in a scant 5.3 seconds, and increases to 5.6 seconds with all-wheel drive, but the thrill of the Infiniti Q50S’ immediate acceleration and abundant power is only part of its appeal. Four driving modes help the driver make the most of the car’s sports-tuned suspension and drive-by-wire steering. Lithe exterior curves of this slow-slung five-seater continue into the cabin, revealing a dual touch-screen infotainment system blended with its sartorial interior.
Price: $34,695 - $39,995
Fuel economy: 17 city/23 highway/19 combined
The rally-ready Subaru WRX STI is equipped with a 2.5-liter turbocharged Boxer engine that delivers 305-horsepower and 290 lb.-ft. of torque for a 0-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds, but power and acceleration isn’t the sole raison d’etre of this all-wheel drive performance sedan. Its advanced engineering includes a driver-controlled center differential that lets the driver shift where the power and torque goes depending on the road surface, and selectable drive modes control the throttle allow it to be forgiving for the daily driver, open up for full response on the track, or somewhere in between.
Fuel economy: 16 city/25 highway/22 combined
This highly incognito performance coupe can keep up with its more well-known competitors using a powerful 3.8-liter V6 engine that produces 348 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. The power plant is paired with either a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic transmission, although manual is the only option on the race-focused R-Spec trim, which also features a track-tuned suspension and bigger Brembo brakes. Fully loaded with all the advanced safety and connectivity features on the market the rear-wheel drive Genesis Coupe’s price tops out where many of its rivals start.
Fuel economy: 23/30/26 automatic, 22/31/25 manual
This unassuming hatchback flies under the radar with top speed of 155 mph made possible by a 2.0L 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that churns out 292 hp and 280 lb-ft or torque –not too shabby for a 3,340-lb. subcompact. Equip the Golf R with a 6-speed dual clutch automatic transmission,and you hit 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, or 5.3 seconds with the short-throw 6-speed automatic. The Golf R has a “Race” mode that stiffens the dampers for performance driving, a four-mode adaptive suspension, and a three-mode Electronic Stability Control that can raise the threshold for activation or be disabled completely. Thankfully, 4Motion all-wheel drive will help keep you on the track, ensuring power is where the wheels most need it.
Fuel economy: TBA
Dropping some weight and increasing power is the simple formula for building a muscle car that impresses as much as it inspires. Equipped with a new 455-hp, 6.2L V-8 engine and paired with either a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic transmission, the rear-wheel drive 2016 Chevrolet Camaro hits the 60 mph mark in around 4 seconds and clocks the quarter-mile sprint in 12.3 seconds. A lighter, stiffer chassis, new front and rear suspension with optional Magnetic Ride Control, and Brembo brakes enables you to drive this coupe as aggressively as it looks.
Fuel economy: 14/21/17 automatic, 15/21/17 manual
The 2016 Chevrolet SS packs all the power of muscle car into an understated sedan to go head-to-head with its European competitors. Paired with either a 6-speed automatic or manual transmission, a 6.2L V8 is the standard engine, and delivers 415 horsepower and 415 lb.-ft. of torque to propel this five-seater from 0 to 60 in just 4.7 seconds. A sports tuned suspension and Magnetic Ride Control helps smooth the edges of aggressive driving, and advanced safety features—including a park assist—give this rear-wheel drive performance sedan as much brains as brawn.
2016 Dodge Challenger SRT 392
Fuel economy: 14/23/17 manual
The Hellcat equipped with a 707-hp 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V-8 boasts a 0-60 time in the low three seconds, but at near $60k, it didn’t quite make the cut. One step down the trim walk is the 2016 Challenger SRT also outfitted with a 6.4-LITER HEMI V-8 engine. This HEMI delivers 485 horsepower and 475 lb.-ft. of torque with a top speed of 179 mph, and can be paired with either a 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission. It may not beat the hellcat on the track, but the SRT is still going to leave a lot of other cars in the dust.