Little Cars, Big Power

© Subaru of America, © Ford Motor Company, © American Honda Motors, © Automotive Content ExperienceSmall Cars, 300+ Horsepower
Like prize fighters in a boxing ring, the cars on this list are on a mission to be the pound-for-pound best in the world. They are all small . . . until you open the hood. If there’s less than 300 horsepower staring back at you, the car isn’t making the card. The fight game is all about rankings, so this list of 20 contenders is presented least to most powerful and each combatant displays a few “tale of the tape” specs (ranked small to large) to reveal how they measure up against one another. Click through for the blow by blow — and when the bell rings, come out swinging your checkbook.

© Subaru of AmericaSubaru WRX STI
Horsepower: 305
Length: 180.9 inches (11th)
Weight: 3,386 pounds (9th)
The STI is the purest form of the WRX lineup, and the closest relation to the actual rally race car. Subaru’s racing division, STI (for Subaru Tecnica Internationale) gives this version even more street cred. The WRX STI goes for $36,095 — about $9,000 more than the regular WRX. Motivation comes from Subaru’s venerable turbocharged 2.5-liter Boxer four rated at 305 horses, mated with the company’s most advanced version of its Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive system to put the power down. Like big wings? Here’s your ride.

© American Honda MotorsHonda Civic Type R
Horsepower: 306
Length: 179.4 inches (10th)
Weight: 3,117 pounds (2nd)
The big news: The Type R’s MSRP is official, and at $33,900 it’s less than the $35K-plus numbers that have been thrown around. With 306 horsepower under the hood, the Type R hits all the high notes as the fastest, quickest, and highest horsepower Civic ever to grace American shores. Thanks to its featherweight physique it’s the second lightest on our list, and the Type R also is the best-handling Civic ever. Detractors will call out the Type Rs front-wheel-drive powertrain and angular, proportionally challenged looks as weaknesses. We call it envy.

© Nissan North America, Inc.Nissan 370Z
Horsepower: 332
Length: 167.5 inches (1st)
Weight: 3,292 pounds (5th)
We stumbled on a bargain here. The 370Z is one of the more athletic rides of the bunch . . . it’s the shortest, among the lightest, and has the shortest wheelbase so it can tackle twisty turns like a sidewinder snake. The coupe’s starting MSRP of $29,990 is an eye-opener, and its 332-horse 3.7-liter V6 engine and taut sport suspension make an intoxicating combination. Choose a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed automatic with downshift rev matching — both will keep the engine in its sweet spot as you carve into turns at unnerving speeds.

© Ford Motor CompanyFord Focus RS
Horsepower: 350
Length: 171.7 inches (3rd)
Weight: 3,434 pounds (8th)
Ford’s potent hatchback is the third shortest on this list, features edgy in-your-face styling and blow-your-doors-off performance from its 350-horsepower 2.3-liter EcoBoost four cylinder powerplant. At $36,120, this Focus RS is about $3,000 more than its arch enemy, the Honda Civic Type R, but delivers more power and all-wheel drive. You get advanced electronics in the cabin and under your right foot, since the RS has many driver-selectable powertrain modes including a Drift Mode that promotes hooning on a scale that would impress Ken Block himself.

© Porsche Cars North AmericaPorsche 718 Cayman S
Horsepower: 350
Length: 172.4 inches (4th)
Weight: 2,944 pounds (1st)
Looking at size and weight together, the 718 Cayman is the fittest car on this list. The up-level S variant puts 350 horsepower to the pavement and sports a $67,700 price tag. A 2.5-liter Boxer four mounted amidships provides the soundtrack. In many ways, the 718 series Cayman comes off like a four-cylinder 911 . . . it has a similar silhouette, a similar rear-engine drivetrain, and the race-proven Porsche pedigree. It’s a real go-getter that costs $23,000 less than its big sibling 911, but delivers the thrills at a ratio you’d expect from one of Stuttgart’s finest.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBMW M2
Horsepower: 365
Length: 176.2 inches (5th)
Weight: 3,450 pounds (10th)
Forget Oktoberfest — here’s the best way to get your Bavarian groove on. The M2 is the smallest chassis to get a potent M Power engine; in this case the 3.0-liter 365-horse M Power TwinPower inline six. Inside the cabin, it’s all about sporty extravagance; the interior is trimmed in a perfect ratio of leather and carbon fiber. The M2 goes for $51,700, but if you like the look and aura of the car, the M240i generates 335 horsepower and starts at $44,450. Check your wallet, bring your driving gloves and celebrate Oktoberfast.

© Mercedes-Benz USAMercedes Benz AMG CLA 45
Horsepower: 375
Length: 183.8 inches (13th)
Weight: 3,619 pounds (13th)
Four-door coupes seem counterintuitive, but Mercedes Benz has embraced the concept of taking the attractive lines of a coupe and working four doors into the design; the CLA 45 is a great example. The $50,400 AMG version sports a hand-built turbo four producing 375 horsepower, making it the most powerful 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in production today. The tuner gurus at AMG — the performance arm of Mercedes — back the rev-happy engine with a 7-speed DCT transmission that includes the company’s SPEEDSHIFT technology, which gives the driver full command of the powerband.

© Audi AGAudi RS3
Horsepower: 400
Length: 176.3 inches (6th)
Weight: 3,593 pounds (12th)
The all-new-for-2017 Audi RS3 is one of the sharpest looking 4-door sedans on the road. Its beauty is much more than skin deep, since a 400-horsepower 2.5-liter 5-cylinder TFSI turbocharged engine generates the excitement. The RS3 features Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system as standard fare. This is the first time the up-level $54,900 RS3 has been available in the States, so put it on your list and drive a rather rare slice of German engineering.

© Nissan North AmericaInfiniti Q60 Red Sport
Horsepower: 400
Length: 184.4 inches (14th)
Weight: 3,727 pounds (15th)
Infiniti is a somewhat underrated luxury marque. The company produces highly refined vehicles with impressive performance specs. The all-new Q60 is a perfect example. First, it’s a tidy, good-looking coupe with none of the blatant grillework and gaudy angles on some of the other cars featured on this list. Its interior accoutrements and build quality are on par with Lexus and European luxury automakers, and its engines are highly developed and powerful. The $51,300 Red Sport features a 400-horsepower 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, and for $2,000 it can be upgraded from rear drive to all-wheel drive. The Q60 has the credentials to contend for the title and should be on your test-drive list.

© General MotorsChevrolet Corvette Stingray
Horsepower: 460
Length: 176.9 inches (7th)
Weight: 3,298 pounds (6th)
Let’s start off saying the Vette could be at the top of the card, since the Z06 sports the same blown 650-horsepower LT4 as the Camaro ZL1. Another Chevrolet product wins the main event (click through to see it) because it costs $18,000 less. The entry-level Corvette Stingray stickers at $55,450 and delivers 460 horsepower from its 6.2-liter LT1 V8 engine, which is seventh on the list and a scant nine horsepower from the fourth spot, so it’s stout. The Stingray is offered with a 7-speed manual transmission . . . yes, a manual gearbox with seven forward gears. This new transmission features rev matching where the throttle blips like heel-toe action to keep the LT1 in its powerband.

© General MotorsCadillac ATS-V Coupe
Horsepower: 464
Length: 184.7 inches (15th)
Weight: 3,803 pounds (16th)
Cadillac has done a great job adding performance to its prestigious standing as a luxury marque. In the past one would expect to find a V8, perhaps scavenged from a Corvette, under the hood. The $62,895 ATS-V takes a high-tech approach with its 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V6 a no-lift shifting feature that allows the driver to keep the gas pedal planted while working up through the gears, and a savvy launch control that develops maximum acceleration. Look out at the drag strip — someone’s getting shut down.

© Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.Lexus RC F
Horsepower: 467
Length: 185.2 inches (16th)
Weight 3,958 pounds (19th)
What are they making the RC F from, lead? Tipping the scales at nearly 4,000 pounds, this Lexus is solidly in the super-heavyweight division. At $64,165, the RC F is a perfect combination of luxury and performance. It has all the opulence you’d expect and an authoritative 467-horsepower 5.0-liter V8 under the hood. The cockpit features leather, Alcantara, carbon fiber and high-quality electronics including a trick LCD gauge cluster, ensuring all your senses are properly stirred.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMercedes-AMG GT
Horsepower: 469
Length: 179 inches (9th)
Weight: 3,560 pounds (11th)
The biggest ticket item on our list with a $112,400 price tag, the AMG GT and its 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 bring 469 horsepower to the party. Sizing up the measuring tape, the progressive-looking fastback coupe is in the middle of the pack. The GT is a sophisticated machine with driver-adjustable suspension and exhaust systems — as well as an aggressive race mode — so the car can be quickly adjusted for spirited full-tilt performance driving or mellow suburban cruising.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceAlfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
Horsepower: 505
Length: 182.6 inches (12th)
Weight: 3,360 pounds (7th)
Here is one of the more interesting small-but-mighty propositions on our list. The 505-horsepower Alfa is 345 pounds lighter than the Mustang (up next), which gives it an advantageous power-to-weight ratio. This $72,000 Italian stallion is motivated by a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6. Quadrifoglio translated into English means “four-leaf clover.” In the Alfa Romeo dictionary Quadrifoglio refers to Alfa race driver Ugo Sivocci who painted a four-leaf clover on his race car prior to the 1923 Targa Florio, which he promptly won. It is now an emblem signifying special high-performance models. Bottom line, if you see this emblem on an Alfa your eyebrows should raise involuntarily.

© Ford Motor CompanyFord Mustang Shelby GT350
Horsepower: 526
Length: 188.3 inches (19th)
Weight: 3,705 pounds (14th)
The most potent of Ford’s Mustangs, the $56,145 Shelby GT350 has big-time knockout power with 526 horses in the ring. Motivation comes from a 5.2-liter V8 and , yes, there are other pony cars in the Blue Oval corral. The GT costs $33,150 and pumps out 434 horsepower, which would be tenth on the list. Other contenders include the Mustang EcoBoost at 310 horses ($26,195) and the base V6 at 300 horsepower ($25,185) . . . so pick your price point and saddle up.

© Porsche Cars North AmericaPorsche 911 Turbo
Horsepower: 540
Length: 177.4 inches (8th)
Weight: 3,152 pounds (3rd)
An automotive legend with decades of racing development under its tires, the Porsche 911 is a traditional combination of power, light weight and balance. The $161,800 911 Turbo features a high-tech turbocharged 3.8-liter flat 6 engine and rolls on race-tuned suspension and brake systems softened for the streets. Given Porsche’s long history people tend to forget that the 911 Turbo is a legitimate supercar designed to lap the Nurburgring at full scream and timidly idle into your garage with equal grace.

© Nissan North AmericaNissan GT-R
Horsepower: 565
Length: 185.4 inches (17th)
Weight 3,933 pounds (17th)
The Nissan GT-R is also a hard-hitting contender in the heavyweight division. The car is packed with technology: twin turbos; Nissan’s advanced ATESSA E-TS all-wheel-drive system; and a dynamic, automated launch control that join together to cheat physics and put the hefty GT-R in supercar territory. At $109,990 the GT-R is an expensive date, but thanks to the VR38DETT 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V6, you’ll come home with a smile on your face.

© General MotorsChevrolet Camaro ZL1
Horsepower: 650
Length: 188.3 inches (18th)
Weight: 3,904 pounds (18th)
The Chevy Camaro ZL1 is the heavyweight champion since it tops the power rankings at 650 horsepower as well as being among the longest and heaviest cars on the list. Remember when light weight was a precursor to performance? The ZL1 costs $61,140, which is a bargain if you look at it from a dollar-per-horsepower standpoint, where the supercharged 6.2-liter LT4 V8 checks in at $94 per pony, so go ahead and flex that American muscle.

© FCA USHonorable Mention: Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
Horsepower: 707
Length: 198 inches (20th)
Weight: 4,279 pounds (20th)
We knew there would be clamoring and questions such AS, “Where the #*&% is the Hellcat?” Well, it didn’t pass the weigh-in. It is 10 inches longer and 321 pounds heavier than the next car on the list, so at weigh-in it was deemed too big and heavy. But with a 707-horsepower supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi V8 on its resume, we couldn’t turn our backs on it completely. The Challenger checks all the boxes: boisterous V8 power, classic retro-inspired good looks, and big-time bragging rights.

© Volkswagen of America, Inc.Honorable Mention: Volkswagen Golf R
Horsepower: 292
Length: 168 inches (2nd)
Weight: 3,283 pounds (4th)
Although it’s the most powerful Golf ever sold in the North American market, the R came up eight ponies short on the power scale. The Golf R has a lot in its corner: The 2.0-liter TSI 4-cylinder engine pumps out a remarkable 292 horsepower, it features an all-wheel-drive powertrain, and at $36,930 it’s easier on the wallet than many of the contenders on our list. Like Rocky Balboa? Here’s your lovable underdog.

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