This week, the U.K.’s Autocar reported that Mercedes-Benz is planning to slot a car between the entry-level C Class and the C63 AMG, a high-performance monster of a sedan that features an outrageous amount of power and an equally hefty price tag. The new car would borrow some attributes from the AMG to differentiate it from the normal C Class, but cost less, to offer a middle ground for those looking for more of a balance between power and cost.
This got us thinking a bit. If Mercedes is serious about catering to this middle market, there must be a prominent group of people looking for the ground between high-end and high-price. So what else out there falls into the same category?
Nearly every car on the market has a variety of engine options that offer more or less power (and therefore costs more or less), but in several cases, there are full model lines slotted between the entry-level vehicles and the high-performance pseudo-track cars.
As it turns out, there are many models that cater to that middle crowd, and we’ve listed a few of them below, ranging from Camaros to Caymans. This is by no means a comprehensive list, so add your suggestions in the comments below.
1. Porsche Cayman
For many years, Porsche’s (POAHF.PK) lineup straddled the gap between the entry-level Boxster and the high-end, high-performance 911. Noting that there were likely many buyers who fall between the spread of the $51,000 Boxster and the $84,000 911, Porsche created the Cayman family, which falls between the two on virtually every measure of performance. It starts at the lower end, around $52,600, but offers performance that is neatly centered between the two cars. If the base Cayman isn’t enough, there’s also the Cayman S, and the brand new Cayman GTS, which further fill in that gap.
2. Volkswagen GTI
The Volkswagen (VLKAY) Golf is a fine, sensible automobile that is efficient, easy, and fun to drive. The Golf R is a 256-horsepower, all-wheel drive monster confined in a hatchback’s body, which although arguably practical, might come across as excessive — and a bit pricey, at well over $30,000 before options. Between the two, there’s the GTI, arguably the most finely-tuned hot-hatch on the market, that delivers more fun per dollar than just about any other car. It’s somewhat efficient, offers superb handling, and is generally easy to live with.
3. Audi S4
While many believe that the Audi S4 is a direct competitor to BMW’s M3, that job is left to the RS4, a new model of which has yet to be released. The S4 competes with the 300 horsepower 335i (which we’ll discuss in a second), as it produces a more comparable 333 horsepower, thanks to a supercharged V6. The S4 is by no means a cheap car — it costs nearly $50,000 — but it’s well balanced, fast, as capable as its pedestrian A4 sibling, though doesn’t look dramatically different, making it an ideal sleeper car.
4. BMW 335i
Speaking of sleeper cars, the BMW 335i is perhaps the reigning king. It looks nearly identical to the less powerful 320i and 328i siblings, though it packs a 300 horsepower punch to pair with its optional all-wheel drive, thanks to a twin-turbo inline six. It falls between the 32oi (180 horsepower) and the M3 sedan (425 horsepower), and at $45,200, it’s a bit less than the S4 — though it’s a bit less powerful, too.
5. Lexus IS350 F-Sport
On one end of Lexus’s design spectrum for the IS family you have the IS250, a simple and straight-forward 204 horsepower sedan that prizes style and design over tire-shredding performance. On the other is the IS F, which uses a 5.0 liter V8 to generate 416 horsepower, though it hasn’t made the jump to the new design language. In the middle is the 306-horsepower IS350 F-Sport, which adds Adaptive Variable Suspension and some aggressive styling details, among other things. It starts at about $43,585, well below the $63,000 IS F and slightly above the IS250?s $36,000 or so starting price.
6. Chevrolet Camaro SS
Chevrolet‘s go-fast formula has worked for many years, and today’s Camaros are among the best they’ve ever been. From the base 1LS model up through the mighty ZL1, there’s virtually a Camaro for everybody. The 1SS falls between the 323 horsepower 1LS and the 580 horsepower ZL1 with 426 horsepower, thanks to GM’s excellent 6.2 liter V8. As its priced from $33,000 or so, the Camaro is one of the easiest and most affordable 400-plus horsepower vehicles available — in addition to its arch rival Mustang, of course.