As the most performance-oriented componentry under an automobile’s hood — other than the engine itself — turbochargers provide a direct connection to a driver’s adrenal gland. They function as exhaust-driven compressors that increase airflow into an engine where more fuel can be burned and more power generated. Turbos challenge the laws of physics by delivering skyrocketing power when pushed, but down-to-earth fuel efficiency when kept in cruise mode. Here are 20 cars using this formula for success . . . some merely have a sporty side, while others are no-holds-barred performance players.
2018 Honda Civic Hatchback LX
Starting MSRP: $19,900
Meet the cheapest way into a sporty turbocharged Civic. Sedan and coupe variants offer the 174-horsepower 1.5-liter four in up-level EX-T trim, but cost more than $21,000. Those who like the Civic hatch’s angular lines get rewarded with stellar performance at the pump: the LX returns 31 mpg city / 40 mpg highway / 34 mpg combined in CVT-equipped versions, and 29 / 38 / 33 in 6-speed manual-equipped cars. Since we’re all about sporty turbos, we’ll sacrifice a couple mpg to leave the shifting to us.
2018 Honda Civic Si
Starting MSRP: $24,100
The Si runs the same powertrain as the Civic Hatchback LX — it just develops more boost from its TD03 turbo. Bumping the pressure from 16.5 to 20.3 psi increases power to 205 ponies. The Civic Si also benefits from quicker footwork with more performance-oriented tires, a stiffer suspension, and sportier styling cues. This added athleticism translates into lower fuel economy versus the LX trims: the Si delivers 28 mpg city /38 mpg highway / 32 mpg combined, but we’ll take the 31 extra ponies every time.
2018 Kia Soul ! Turbo
Starting MSRP: $22,800
Those hip hamsters from Kia’s TV ads are getting their fur fluffed out now that turbo power is part of the Soul’s 2017 redesign. Available on the Soul ! (Exclaim) trim, the 1.6-liter turbo four produces 201 horsepower. This ups the fun factor a whopping 71 horsepower over naturally-aspirated Souls while returning 26 mpg city / 31 mpg highway / 28 mpg combined, which is a scant single mpg less than non-turbo variants. Boost comes at a premium . . . in this case more than $6,000 versus the base Soul — call it a sporty investment that pays dividends every time you get press the go-pedal.
2017 Ford Mustang EcoBoost
Starting MSRP: $26,195
This midlevel Mustang gets the performance-oriented version of EcoBoost engines: the 2.3-liter 310-horsepower four cylinder — a serious motor. It’s not a step down since it outperforms the 3.7-liter V6 offered in the base Mustang by 30 horsepower, while also getting the best of the base engine at the pump — 21 mpg city / 30 mpg highway versus 18/27. A triumphant win-win scenario for the pony car aficionado, this boosted Mustang is a great-looking car, has a built-in network of aftermarket goodies, and with a turbo comes unparalleled tuning potential . . . plus you’ll have $7,000 in your pocket for modifications when compared to the top-flight GT.
2017 Fiat 500 Abarth
Starting MSRP: $19,995
Abarth Fiats, recognizable by their scorpion badges and racing stripes, are named after Karl Abarth. Born in 1908, Abarth was a racer / engineer who built Fiat-based performance cars in the 1950s. With such a legacy it’s not surprising to see this factory-tuned version of the Fiat 500 use the classic powerful engine / small chassis performance formula. The Fiat 500 Abarth weighs in at 2,513 pounds; on the power side of the equation its 160-horse 1.4-liter turbo four cylinder is a 59-pony increase over the base Fiat 500. The Abarth is rated at 28 mpg city / 34 mpg highway, while the base trim returns 31 / 38 — close enough to roll with Karl.
2017 MINI Cooper S
Starting MSRP: $25,200
Brexit parliamentary procedure aside, the MINI is pure, cheeky British belligerence at its finest. Sure, they’re built by BMW, but the aura and style are straight out of the UK. Since 2004, S variants have been turbocharged, and the combination of eager boost, a heavy right foot and go-kart handling are easily recognized calling cards of the Cooper S. A 2.0-liter 189-horsepower four is at the heart of the matter, delivering thrills and 25 mpg city / 32 mpg highway / 28 mpg combined fuel economy. With all its sporty attributes, the MINI is one of the more rousing daily drivers on this list.
2017 Volkswagen Golf R
Starting MSRP: $39,375
At the top of the Golf lineup, the R version has the agility of a featherweight and the punching power of a heavyweight. Its all-wheel-drive powertrain provides confidence, while the extraordinary output of its 292-horsepower 2.0-liter engine lands the knockout blow. This is a serious driver’s car with a sport-tuned suspension, track-ready brakes, and European style . . . a title contender in every way. The Golf R’s pedigree shines through at the pump, where the hatchback puts up 22 mpg city / 31 mpg highway / 25 mpg combined fuel economy numbers with the manual transmission. When the bell rings, the Golf R comes out swinging.
2017 Honda Civic Type R
Starting MSRP: $33,900
The word ultimate gets thrown around haphazardly in the realm of performance cars. Not here, because the Type R is the most powerful, quickest, fastest and best-handling Civic ever. American driving enthusiasts have waited 10 generations of Civic to get their hands on the top-dog Type R, and now it’s here. Under the hood lurks Honda’s hottest turbo four: the K20C1 engine uses 20.3 psi to generate 306 horsepower. Considering its 153 horsepower-per-liter specific output, the Type R returns an impressive 22 mpg city / 28 mpg highway, so owners will be smiling as much blasting away from stoplights as pulling up to gas pumps.
2017 Ford Focus RS
Starting MSRP: $36,120
Ford has more EcoBoost hijinks going on under the hood of the Focus RS. In fact, the 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine in the RS pumps out 40 more horsepower than the version in the Mustang. The Focus is lighter and sports all-wheel drive, which may make it the performance choice over the pony car. At the pump this hot hatch returns 19 mpg city / 25 mpg highway fuel economy. Inside, the RS features Ford’s most engaging driver’s cabin, fitted with the company’s best performance parts from seats to instrumentation, and its hardest-hitting technology with advanced computers that handle everything from navigation to the car’s driving characteristics. How many cars have a Drift mode as standard fare?
2017 Hyundai Veloster Turbo
Starting MSRP: $22,600
You can’t call the Hyundai Veloster a cookie-cutter car. Its swoopy hatchback silhouette and 3-door design are unique on American roads. Ordering the turbo variant gets you the same 201-horse 1.6-liter powertrain found in the Kia Soul Turbo. With a 6-speed manual transmission, Veloster’s fuel economy checks in at 25 mpg city / 33 mpg highway / 28 mpg combined. Like underdogs, flying under the radar or rolling off the beaten path? Then Veloster is a prime candidate for your test-drive list.
2018 Audi A3
Starting MSRP: $31,950
German luxury, practicality and performance are in full effect in the Audi A3. The entry-level version of the sedan, the Premium features a 186-horsepower 2.0-liter TSFI Ultra turbo 4-cylinder engine that delivers 26 mpg city / 35 mpg highway /29 mpg combined fuel economy in base front-drive trim. Jumping to the Quattro all-wheel-drive version bumps the price to $34,950, the horsepower to 220, and lowers fuel economy to 24 / 31 / 27. The big question . . . Is 34 horsepower, two additional drive wheels and the loss of a few mpgs worth $3,000?
2018 Chevrolet Camaro 1LS
Starting MSRP: $26,900
A four-banger Camaro? Believe it or not, Chevy’s base pony car now sports a 2.0-liter 275-horsepower 4-cylinder engine. Before Camaro aficionados label this 4-cylinder heresy, consider that this base model has more aftermarket tuning potential than previous V6 variants. The 2.0-liter automatic is rated at 22 mpg city / 31 mpg highway / 25mpg combined, the manual at 20 / 30 / 23. It’s one of the harder-hitting four cylinders on this list, and Camaro’s tendency to be driven hard may result in some sacrificed fuel efficiency, but think of the fun you’d have generating those fuel mileage shortfalls.
2017 Volvo S60 T5
Starting MSRP: $34,100
Like Dala Horses, Swedish Fish and meatballs (guess who shops at IKEA), Volvos are some of Sweden’s best exports. Despite our grumbling bellies, let’s focus on the S60 sports sedan. The base T5 front-wheel-drive trim is motivated by a 2.0-liter 240-horsepower 4-cylinder engine that posts 25 mpg city / 36 mpg highway / 29 mpg combined fuel economy. Upgrading to all-wheel drive costs $2,000 and a drop of a few mpg to 23 / 31 / 26. This sweet Swede is one of the sleepers on our list with ample power, better-than-average fuel ratings, affordable all-wheel drive, and an unexpected level of luxury — which will certainly take some sting out of the daily grind.
2018 Subaru WRX STI
Starting MSRP: $36,095
One of the more visceral machines on our list, this all-wheel-drive thrill ride is for those who push the envelope on the daily commute. STI, which stands for Subaru Tecnica Internationale, is Subaru’s racing division and the entity responsible for guiding the automaker to World Rally Championship glory in the early 2000s. So the WRX STI possesses an undeniable legacy and a rally-bred drivetrain joined to a stout 305-horsepower 2.5-liter Boxer four cylinder. With all this frenzied performance, the STI suffers from rather lackluster performance at the pump, posting 17 mpg city / 22 mpg highway . . . but put your foot down and run through the gears and you won’t care.
2017 Ford Fiesta ST
Starting MSRP: $21,140
The Fiesta ST has the aspirations of the mighty Focus RS, but is more down to earth in its drivetrain, price and power output. It’s a front-driver not all-wheel drive, costs $14,000 less, and comes up 153 horses short. Still, combining 2,720 pounds and 197 horsepower from a 1.6-liter EcoBoost four cylinder makes for a high-energy commute. You get better-than-pedestrian suspension and brakes, and Ford’s advanced Torque Vectoring Control for improved footwork in the turns. All this fun behind the wheel while enjoying 26 mpg city / 33 mpg highway / 29 mpg combined fuel efficiency at the pump.
2018 Subaru WRX
Starting MSRP: $26,995
While lacking some of the race car DNA found in its big sibling WRX STI, the standard-issue WRX does share the same rally-inspired family tree, rolling the same all-wheel drive / turbo Boxer powerplant formula. The 2.0-liter bullet in the WRX produces 268 horsepower. Even burdened with driving four wheels, the Subaru manages 21 mpg / 27 mpg highway. Quite good considering that the WRX is one of the most sporting and tunable cars on our list.
2018 BMW 230i Coupe
Starting MSRP: $34,800
You don’t need a BMW with an M in its name to get a furious fully-boosted ride. The 2 Series base trim is called Sport Line, and it includes an intoxicating twin-turbo 248-horsepower 2.0-liter TwinPower four-cylinder powerplant. The big fork in the road is the transmission. The 230i comes with an 8-speed automatic with plenty of pushbutton sport modes. It returns 24 mpg city /35 mpg highway / 28 mpg combined fuel economy. Work the gears yourself via the no-cost option 6-speed manual transmission and give up 3 mpg (21 / 32 / 25). Manual gearboxes used to deliver better mpg, but advanced computer-controlled automatics have taken the lead in many cases.
2018 Porsche 718 Boxster
Starting MSRP: $57,400
Keeping in the Euro zone, the Boxster is a bit of a surprise on our list, since Porsche is known more for jaw-dropping performance than being thrifty at the pump. The 718 Series Boxster features a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive design powered by a 2.0-liter flat four rated at an impressive 300 horsepower. An open-air convertible, the base Boxster posts 22 mpg city / 29 mpg highway / 25 mpg combined with Porsche’s PDK sport shift automatic. If you want to shift your own gears, you get 21 / 28 / 24 fuel economy ratings. Go with three pedals.
2018 BMW M2
Starting MSRP: $53,500
Strap up some lederhosen, a BMW M2 is in the house. Here we have another small car, heavy motor formula — the M2 combines a 2-Series chassis and BMW’s potent M Power-enhanced 3.0-liter 365-horse M Power TwinPower inline six engine. The M2 includes all the complementary componentry you’d expect from an Ultimate Driving Machine: rear-drive, grippy race-bred brakes, and a performance-tuned, Nurburgring-ready suspension. It’s a bit tough on the wallet, but this BMW delivers the goods when pushed to its considerable limits.
2017 Nissan GT-R
Starting MSRP: $109,900
Let’s finish this list off on a high note — namely the Nissan GT-R. In a world where many supercars flirt with single-digit fuel efficiency, the GT-R’s VR38DETT 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V6 returns 16 mpg city / 22 mpg highway. Drop the hammer and put 565 horsepower to work running one of the most technologically advanced all-wheel-drive powertrains on the planet. These stout engines, hand built by a small group of technicians called Takumi who sign every V6 they construct, are ultra-reliable — a trait that can escape more traditional supercars. Drive it every day; the GT-R is a feel-good story that belies its triple-digit price tag.