Do you daydream about living in the muscle car boom era of the 1960s and 1970s, when gas was cheap and power was plentiful? Well, we can’t really speak on the topic of cheap gas, but regarding horsepower, you are inarguably living through one of the all-time greatest eras for automotive performance. Horsepower has been cheaper in the past, but it wasn’t coupled with the reliability and safety of a typical modern car, let alone the handling and overall pace of some of the cars on today’s short list.
To see just how much of a bargain big horsepower is these days, we compiled a cross-section of the best horsepower-per-dollar values you might encounter in several segments known for high outputs and relatively low prices. We’ve arranged them from most expensive to the least, meaning the best values are last on the list—but even the cars that kick things off are incredible values; just being on the list means it’s the cream of the crop.
Muscle Cars and Sports Cars
You had to know the muscle segment would be front-and-center for a list of big-power vehicles on a budget. We included a few sports cars and non-V-8 Camaros and Mustangs for good measure, as their power-to-price ratio is stronger than you might think.
2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray — $122.43 per HP
Bringing up the bottom (in terms of value) of our most horsepower-per-dollar roundup is the new mid-engine C8 Corvette Stingray, with its 6.2-liter LT2 V-8 pushing out 490 horsepower. Sure, it might fall beneath the rest of the muscle/sports cars on price-per-pony alone, but the C8’s incredible handling and dynamic performance for just under $60,000 should offset that $122.43 figure for most buyers.
2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 — $117.18 per HP
Coming in just below the new Corvette is another naturally aspirated stunner in the form of the fantastically loud and effortlessly thrilling Ford Mustang Shelby GT350. Of all the cars on this list, this is likely our number-one-pick if we’re going to charge hard down a country lane on account of the insane 5.2-liter flat-plane-crank Voodoo V-8 with 526 hp. It revs to 8,250 rpm, people!
2020 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 — $101.06 per HP
It’s somewhat surprising to see a 650-horsepower Camaro so low in the rankings, but that $65,695 base price offsets the prodigious power. Still, 650 hp at $101.06 each? What a time to be alive.
2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 — $97.49 per HP
Same deal with the hottest-of-hot Mustang as the prior Camaro. The GT500’s stunning 5.2-liter, 760-horsepower supercharged V-8 isn’t helped in the value wars by its $74,095 base price, but step back and recognize how crazy it is that we can get a 760-hp Mustang that handles, drives, and stops like the GT500 does for less than $100,000. Crazy!
2020 Chevrolet Camaro Turbo Four-Cylinder — $94.52 per HP
Yeah, yeah—not really a muscle car, is it? Let’s call it a sports coupe. Regardless of nomenclature, the value is real; the Camaro’s 2.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is good for a thick 275 horsepower, and for just $25,995, making it a better power-per-dollar deal than even the Corvette and Camaro ZL1. Well, on paper at least.
2020 Nissan 370Z — $93.42 per HP
Yes, Nissan still sells the 370Z, and yes, it’s still one of the better performance bargains on the market. That free-breathing 3.7-liter V-6 puts out a respectable 332 horsepower to the rear wheels, and can still be bought with a six-speed manual transmission. Not bad for $31,015.
2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost — $91.96 per HP
It’s one spot higher up the value rankings from the four-cylinder Camaro, but that’s only because it has a bit more power: Ford’s ubiquitous 2.3-liter turbo-four generates 310 horsepower in the EcoBoost Mustang, giving it strong performance for just $28,510. For those keen observers who note the available performance pack, it’s actually a poorer power-per-dollar value than the car itself, so if it’s cheap gumption you’re after, stick with the standard EcoBoost.
2020 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat — $86.74 per HP
There was no way, no how we were going to build a list of affordable speed without including a few of Dodge’s hotrods. For brevity, consider the Challengers included on this list as spiritual stand-ins for the four-door Chargers equipped with the same engine. Even in its fifth year of production, the SRT Hellcat stands strong as one of the most compelling performance bargains in history, with 717 horsepower on tap for only $62,190.
2020 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack — $85.54 per HP
This one’s hardly surprising. The Scat Pack has established itself as the go-to source of stylish, deliciously old-school muscle car fun without being out of reach of the common person. The 6.4-liter V-8 thumper under the front hood is one of our favorites, with 485 horsepower ready to vaporize those fat rear tires.
2020 Chevrolet Camaro SS — $84.60 per HP
Looking at the top five entries for most horsepower-per-dollar, Chevrolet emerges as the leading brand. The Chevrolet Camaro SS’ 6.2-liter LT1 V-8 puts down an impressive 455 horsepower, putting it right in line with the Mustang GT—which offers just a smidge better value.
2020 Chevrolet Camaro V-6 — $80.88 per HP
Sorry, purists—you just don’t need a V-8—or a turbocharger—these days to put down strong power. Not only does the 3.6-liter V-6 in the mid-level Camaro put out an impressive 335 horsepower, but Chevy specifically re-tuned the engine to be more than the base-level compromise it used to be. With the sport exhaust wedged open, the Camaro V-6 does a commendable impersonation of our bygone long-term Jaguar F-Type S and its 3.0-liter V-6.
2020 Ford Mustang GT — $80.60 per HP
It’s comforting to see the perennial Mustang GT is still a great performance bargain after all these years. The 5.0-liter Coyote V-8 in the GT is good for 460 horsepower, enough to snag the second-place finish in the muscle car category.
2020 Chevrolet Camaro LT1 — $76.91 per HP
Chevy dropped the Camaro LT1 on our unsuspecting heads last year, and we still can’t believe you can have this much V-8 fun for this level of affordability. Sure, you don’t get the fancy suspension options of the SS and the interior is markedly decontented, but you’re buying this for the rowdiness, not the finery. Not only does the LT1 take the first place finish for the muscle/sports car list, but this is the cheapest horsepower-per-dollar car on this entire list. Kudos, Chevrolet.
Hot Hatches and Sedans
From here on out, the list is not nearly as hotly contested, nor as power packed. Still, we’d be remiss if we didn’t stack up the most powerful variants of popular hot hatches to the rest of the field. For this list, think not of big, lairy V-8s, but of small, overboosted four-cylinder turbos. This one will be contentious; if your favorite hot hatch isn’t on the list—e.g. VW GTI, Golf R—it’s not because we don’t love it, or because it’s not powerful, too, but because it costs too much to make it onto this value-centric list.
2020 Honda Civic Type R — $124.02 per HP
Like the Corvette above, the lowest of the power-per-dollar bargains in this segment is hardly the last in our hearts. In the case of the Civic Type R, you’d have to do a fair bit of convincing to get us to pick anything else as our favorite car on this entire feature. Don’t believe us? Go read the wrap-up of our year-long test and then drive one for yourself, and sample the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder’s mighty 306 hp and super-snappy six-speed manual transmission.
2020 Hyundai Veloster N w/ Performance Pack — $111.55 per HP
Next up is the thorn in the Civic Type R’s wing—the finely honed Veloster N. Developed as an uncompromising yet more affordable alternative to the top-tier Civic, the Veloster N is one of the greatest hot hatches of all time—full stop. Not quite as sublime as the Civic Type R to drive, but a whole lot cheaper to buy, and nearly as good. For the Veloster N, the 25-horsepower boost of the Performance Pack is essentially a required option, pushing the 2.0-liter turbo-four to 275 horsepower.
2020 Toyota Camry TRD — $106.72 per HP
Uh, yeah—we didn’t see this coming either. With 301 horsepower on-tap from the naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6, the Camry TRD—the cheapest trim with the V-6—undercuts both the Corvette Stingray and the Civic Type R on the price of each of its horses. Hey, we’re not saying it’s better to drive, but in this numbers game, the facts are the facts.
2020 Subaru WRX — $105.95 per HP
Coming in above the rest of the small-ish performance car conglomerate is the Subaru WRX, with a healthy 268 horsepower from a 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-four. It’s not the most visually exciting car on this list, but the value is undeniable, especially since every WRX is fitted with Subaru’s excellent all-wheel drive system, making every last bit of the power on tap usable in a wide range of conditions.
In the popular pastime of spec-sheet comparison, trucks are often the subject of some of the most heated debates on engine size, output, towing capacity, torque, and payload. So, it stands to reason stripper-trim pickups should be a wellspring of affordable horsepower. Remember, we’re not talking about speed or handling here, just pure mechanical motivation.
2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD — $90.20 per HP
It might be the most expensive of the big three heavy duty truck families at the very base level, but the 6.6-liter V-8 in the work-spec 2500HD puts out a mighty 401 horsepower for around $36,195, still beating out the Corvette, Camaro ZL1, and the GT500. Not bad for a big brutish workhorse.
2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 w/ 5.3-liter V-8 — $88.70 per HP
We must admit, it’s a smidge frustrating trying to option the Silverado with the 6.2-liter V-8. For 2019, it was only available in the top-level trims, with the least expensive load-out stickering in at an eye-watering $50,390. Chevy updated the Silverado lineup for 2020, adding the 6.2-liter to lower trims, but the most affordable spec is still well above $40,000. So, for now, the still-potent mid-grade 5.3-liter V-8 with 355 horsepower fills the gaps.
2020 Ford F-250 w/ 7.3-liter Godzilla — $87.84 per HP
2020 Ram 1500 Tradesman w/ 5.7-liter V-8 — $85.67 per HP
Ah, Ramâwe knew it’d be good for some power deals. Go easy on the options (like, none at all) and you can have the Ram 1500 in basic work-truck Tradesman spec with the 395-horsepower 5.7-liter V-8 for just $33,840.
2020 Ram 2500 w/ 6.4-liter V-8 — $82.53 per HP
Rounding out the second place slot in the pickup power-per-dollar field is the third heavy-duty truck, this time the Ram 2500, taking its podium finish with a 6.4-liter V-8, capable of 410 horsepower.
2020 Ford F-150 XL w/ 5.0-liter V-8 — $82.11 per HP
In this king-of-the-hill rumble, the sales superstar F-150 still reigns supreme. The base-level F-150 is refreshingly available with three different engines, but we’re most interested in the tried-and-true 5.0-liter V-8 F-150, making a strong 395 horsepower for just over $32,000.