You can have all the power in the world at your disposal under the hood, but unless it’s used efficiently and put to the ground in an effective manner, it may as well not be there at all. A huge portion of using power efficiently is make sure that the car it’s sitting in doesn’t weigh as much as a dump truck or air craft carrier, so that each horsepower is pulling less weight. There’s a term for that — the horsepower-to-weight ratio — which is used to determine how much weight the engine is pulling relative to the weight of the car.
Here’s one of the most important trends in the automotive sector at the moment: engines are becoming increasingly powerful, with turbo-fours cranking out as much as V8s were achieving 20 years ago. At the same time, breakthroughs in materials are making cars lighter than ever, despite all the added safety equipment and various gadgets and features. The Koenigsegg One:1 has perhaps nailed the holy grail for power to weight, as each horsepower only has to move one kilogram — about 2.2 pounds. But, at over $1 million, it’s a bit out of reach for the average buyer.
Over at Autoblog, they threw together a report of cars that offer the best power to weight ratios, broken down by price point. Here, we’ve laid out the ten cars mentioned for the $25,000 and under crowd, which arguably offer the best performance for the dollar.
10. 2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Under the hood, the Volkswagen (VLKAY.PK) Jetta GLI is virtually identical to the Golf GTI, as it shares the 2.0 liter turbocharged engine that puts out 210 horsepower (that’s 40 more than the Jetta SE, and 95 more than the standard Jetta.) With a curb weight of 3,124 pounds, that gives the GLI a power-to-weight ratio of 14.910 — that’s about 15 pounds that each individual horsepower is responsible for carrying. It’s also just shy of the $25K mark, at $24,595.
9. 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata
The Mazda (MZDAY.PK) MX-5 Miata doesn’t boast a huge, ferocious V8, or even a turbocharged V6, but instead utilizes a small, 167-horsepower inline-four. This is countered, however, but the Miata’s feathery curb weight of 2,480 pounds in its base spec, giving it a weight ratio of 14.850 — and also making it the lightest rear-wheel-drive car on the list. In addition to it’s lightweight nature, the weight is applied in a near-perfect 52/48 front/rear manner, making it among the most agile and fun-to-drive cars out there.
8. 2014 Honda Civic Si
The Honda Civic Si has a 600 pound or so weight disadvantage compared to the Miata, but it’s also got about 40 more horsepower to help with the effort. At 3,005 pounds and 205 horses, the hot coupe (or sedan, if you so choose) packs a power-weight ratio of 14.644. It’s cheaper, too, at $22,790 for the base model, comfortably falling below $25,000 — though it should be noted that the sedan is slightly more expensive (but three pounds lighter!)
7. 2014 Mini Cooper S Hardtop
Minis are perhaps best known as cutesy, petit city cars, but in the S trim, they’ve actually got some oomph to go with their cool racing stripes.The new Cooper S now boasts 189 horsepower (up from 181 in the last generation), and with a curb weight of 2,760, it has a weight ratio just 14.603. As an added bonus, the Cooper S can manage 38 miles per gallon on the highway, for when you’re done running it through the ringer.
6. 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI 4-Door
The gold standard of the hot hatch market, the 2015 Volkswagen GTI again ups the ante in its segment by offering 210 horsepower (10 more than the outgoing generation), shoveled into a body weighing 3,031 pounds at the curb (for the four-door; the unreleased two-door is pictured.) This gives it a power to weight ratio of 14.152, and for $24,995, it’s perhaps the most fun one can have for under $25,000 (albeit just barely.)
5. 2014 Hyundai Veloster Turbo R-Spec
The Hyundai Veloster R-Spec is among the oddest cars on the road — not only does it look rather peculiar, but it sports a unique two-doors on one side and one door on the other layout. Nonetheless, given its stats, the Veloster is likely one of the most entertaining cars to drive. It has 201 horsepower at its disposal, and since there’s not much car to move, the Veloster offers a power-to-weight ration of just 13.930. This bundle fun can also be had for just under $22,000, making it a hell of a bargain too.
4. 2014 Ford Fiesta ST
The Ford Fiesta ST takes a page from the GTI playbook, with a potent, 197 horsepower EcoBoost turbocharged engine up front, powering the front wheels of a car that weighs just 2,720 pounds. This, in turn, translates into a power-to-weight ratio of 13.807, and for a price under $22,000. It’s not quite as brawny as its older Focus sibling, but arguably just as fun.
3. 2014 Ford Focus ST
Speaking of which, the Ford Focus ST — Ford’s larger hot hatch, which although has a 500 pound weight disadvantage against the Fiesta, it boasts 55 horsepower more — giving it a superior power-to-weight ratio of 12.790. Further, the Focus ST starts at only a couple more thousand than the Fiesta and is still comfortably below the $25K threshold, making it a worthwhile purchase for the bargain hunter looking for a lot of performance.
2. 2014 Chevrolet Camaro V6
Muscle cars don’t just do power-to-weight ratios well, it’s what they were built on. The new models of the Chevrolet Camaro are no exception — in their base kit (the only model under $25K is the V6), the Camaro still churns out 323 horsepower, while keeping its weight down to an “airy” 3,719 pounds, giving GM’s flagship muscle car a power-to-weight ratio of just 11.514 — though the higher-spec Camaros are considerably better.
1. 2014 Ford Mustang V6
Topping all others in its class is the 305-horsepower Ford Mustang V6, and its 3,501 stature, which has a 220 pound advantage over its competitor at Chevy. Though it has less horsepower as well, the lower curb weight helps the Mustang slide by with a power-to-weight ratio of just 11.479, marginally better than the Camaro and enough to take first place. Work your way up the Mustang chain though, and that figure will drop substantially.