When we think of performance cars, we tend to automatically leap to the question “how much horsepower does it have?” It’s a perfectly reasonable and appropriate jump to make, as a car with more horsepower will more than likely be more powerful. But horsepower is only a part of the automotive performance equation. The other half is torque, which outside of heavy duty truck circles, is largely overlooked but just as important to consider.
“Horsepower is defined as the amount of energy required to lift 550 pounds, one foot, in one second,” automotive authority Edmunds explained. “From this definition you can see that the components of horsepower are force, distance, and time. Distance and time are self-explanatory but force, specifically a twisting force, is what torque is all about,” it added. Torque, meanwhile, is a measure of twist — or how much twisting force the engine can produce. It’s similar to horsepower, but without the aspect of time at play.
Ultimately, that twisting force is translated into the power that will turn the wheels, hence why it’s such a crucial factor in pickup trucks that are bred for towing. However, it’s also a critical part of helping give performance cars the abilities that they have. The fine folks over at Autoblog crunched some numbers and determined what the 10 cars with the most favorable torque-to-weight ratios were, which we’ve listed out here. The cars are ranked by pounds per pound-foot, or how much weight is carried by each pound-foot of torque.
10. 2014 Hyundai Veloster Turbo R-Spec ($21,600)
Kicking things off is the Hyundai Veloster Turbo (specifically the R-Spec), which is still among the more underestimated pocket rockets available today. It produces a healthy 201 horsepower, but also a near-equal 195 pound-feet of torque, which goes a long way in a car that weighs just shy of 3,000 pounds at the curb, giving it roughly 14.359 pounds of car per pound-foot. If the Ford Focus ST or Volkswagen GTI are too mainstream for you, the peculiar three-doored Veloster is worth a look.
9. 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI ($21,295)
Diesel engines aren’t just economical from a fuel consumption point of view, they’re also torque-rich and offer more twist at lower RPMs. This makes them a favorite powertrain for heavy duty pickups, but Volkswagen has found huge success in the U.S. with its small, passenger car-sized units. The 2015 Jetta TDI boasts over 230 pound-feet of torque in a car that weighs about 3,000 pounds, giving it a ratio of about 13.73 pounds per pound-foot of torque.
8. 2015 Volkswagen Beetle TDI ($24,595)
The Volkswagen Beetle TDI uses the same diesel setup as the Jetta, but at 13.517 pounds per pound-foot, it ever so slightly edges the sedan out for a more favorable torque-to-weight ratio, though the Beetle is somewhat less practical. The Beetle has largely shed its feminine, cutesy image with the latest redesign, and it’s now a more sporty, aggressive model that’s more in-line with the Beetles from years past.
7. 2014 Ford Fiesta ST ($21,400)
The Ford Fiesta is incredibly popular in Europe, though a bit less so here in the U.S. But capping off the range is the hot, 197-horsepower ST, which also generates 202 pound-feet of torque, to give the 2,720 pound whip a torque-to-weight ration of just 13.465 pounds per pound-foot. In a car as nimble as the Fiesta, you’ll feel every bit of it, too; it’s arguably one of the best city cars for performance enthusiasts thanks to its small stature and perky engine.
6. 2015 Chevy Camaro V6 ($23,705)
The Chevrolet Camaro was the number two car ranked (also by Autoblog, which we covered) for horsepower-to-weight, but when it comes to torque, the Camaro slides back to sixth. The potent pony revival packs 323 horsepower, though torque ranks at 278 pound-feet for a ratio of 13.378 pounds per pound-foot — marginally better than the Fiesta.
5. 2014 Mini Cooper S Hardtop ($24,100)
Besting the Camaro ever so slightly — by just 0.04 pounds, literally — the 2,800 or so pound Mini Cooper S holds its own with a pound to pound-foot ratio of 13.333. The Cooper S — which is powered by a 189 horsepower, 207 pound-foot four-cylinder that helps the new Cooper S reach 60 in 2.3 seconds less than its predecessor. It may have lost some of its charm in the redesign, but it’s on a new level performance-wise.
4. 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI
Though the Volkswagen Golf TDI uses the same powertrain seen in the Jetta and Beetle, it has the advantage of being somewhat lighter, helping it break into the top five best performers as far as the torque-to-weight ratio goes, with a figure of just 13.051. This is done with a curb weight of 3,080 pounds, which isn’t an immense improvement over the 3,115 pound Beetle, but it’s enough to fluff its number enough to put it in fourth place.
3. 2015 Ford Mustang V6
The Ford Mustang was the number one contender for horsepower-to-weight, and it fairs exceptionally well when it comes to torque as well. The new ‘Stang, in its basic 3.7 liter V6 form, produces 300 horsepower and 280 pound-feet, while weighing in at 3,526 pounds — for a ratio of 12.593. Higher trim Mustangs fair even better, but exceed the $25,000 threshold.
2. 2014 Ford Focus ST
Perhaps one of Ford’s greatest engineering achievements for the price, the Ford Focus ST makes exceptional use of all four of its cylinders and produces 252 horsepower and a monstrous 270 pound-feet of torque. However, a relatively cumbersome curb weight of 3,223 pounds keeps the Focus ST relegated to silver with a pound per pound-foot ratio of 11.937.
1. 2015 Volkswagen GTI
The Volkswagen GTI once again shows why it dominates the hot hatch segment and why it’s used as a benchmark for all others: with 258 pound-feet of torque and a curb weight of a mere 2,972 pounds, each pound-foot that the GTI has is responsible for carrying just 11.519 pounds of the car’s weight, besting the Focus ST by roughly half a pound. The Focus is a viable competitor in every way, but the GTI only gets better with age.