What Are The Fastest Cars Under $5000?
April 21, 2022
Every now and again, we catch a comment or fall into a conversation or overhear someone talking about how the current generation of automobiles is the worst of all time, with all this hybrid technology on its way in and internal combustion engines on their way out, horsepower restrictions in favor of emissions, manufacturers setting dates they'll be going full electric by, and just lowering the displacement of engines until they're gone.
That's a lot to all take in at once, but we'd argue that right now will actually go down in history as the greatest automobile generation of all time if not one of them. The Supra is back, Civics come with 300 horsepower from the factory, we've got a new Z coming out that looks like all the old ones combined together, a 395-horsepower STI, modern V8s on Mustangs and Camaros just shy of 500 ponies, the list goes on. And you can't convince us that there is a lack of enthusiast cars when you can just go buy a 700 horsepower sedan for $40,000. There's never been a better deal.
So, we started thinking - what exactly is the cost of all that horsepower on the cheapest used Hellcat in America? And are there any other cars out there that can even come close? Certainly, there's not even the slimmest chance that there are any cars out there for under $5,000 to compete with the Hellcat's bargain on horsepower. Right? Not quite - pull up a chair, put on your reading glasses, and check out some of the fastest vehicles you can get on a budget!
Table Of Contents:
How Do We Calculate the Value of Horsepower?
Alright, so you like your horsepower scooped up on a plate of value because you're a price-conscious consumer who wants the most product for their hard-earned money, right? And when that product is horsepower, it's not subject to a price difference based on quality because it's not actually a physical object - in order to assess value to the amount of production a vehicle can make, we'll be dividing its MSRP by the horsepower it produces to see which performance cars give you the best bang for your buck.
For example, a 2016 Dodge Charger Hellcat that we found on AutoTempest is being sold for $45,000 thanks to COVID inflation - with the benefit of the doubt, we'll call this a $40,000 evaluation. It also makes 707 horsepower, so divide those two figures, you get a cost of $56.57 per unit. That's not bad at all, but frankly, even the first car we talk about will blow it out of the water.
Performance And Value of Fourth-Gen General Motors F-Body Vehicles
We told you - GM's fourth-generation F-body models ring in at $18 per horsepower unit. They offer such good performance for the money that we can't believe more people want them, which is good, because that makes them cheap.
Most people prefer the facelifted LS-1 versions of these cars, which means that a 275-horsepower LT-1 Camaro/Trans-Am/Firebird Formula can be found for about $5,000. 275 horsepower might sound like a ton but for that price, you can have a really hard time finding a 14-second car in this range with the same reliability as a Chevy truck. Plus, with a couple cheap bolt-ons, you can get these cars deep into a 13-second range.
Performance and Value of the 2004-2007 Volvo S60 and V70
You know what doesn't have a big V8 but beats out the LT-1 powered F-body by almost two whole dollars per horsepower? Let us introduce you to one of the best-sounding cars to ever hit the road, in the 2004 to 2007 Volvo S60 and V70.
Both models in this generation came with a 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine, and it made 300 horsepower, at the time embarrassing for bigger muscle cars. They were also all-wheel-drive, and it didn't take long to start throwing bolt-ons and ethanol fuel at these cars to pick up 100 additional horsepower easily. You can pick these things up for $5,000 all day - they won't be in cool colors or offer manual transmission, but for $5,000 you're only spending $16.60 per horsepower. Not bad for mom's sedan.
Performance and Value of the Chevrolet Impala SS
Moving onto something a little less traditional - imagine for a moment that it's 2005. The Mustang GT is 300 horsepower; the Camaro didn't exist yet; the S2000 had 240 horsepower; the PT Cruiser was still being built; and the Chevrolet Impala had become a front-wheel drive economy-level sedan, as compared to the older V8 rear-wheel drive luxury cars. However, the 2006 Impala offered an SS trim that came with 303 horsepower 5.3-liter Atlas V8, good for low-fourteens in the quarter mile.
Now, these cars were littered with undesirables - after all, you can't just convert a front-wheel drive chassis into a rear-wheel drive one. Well, you can, but it's still strange, especially to have a FWD V8 - how do you even build a solid front-wheel drive transmission that can even handle that torque? To avoid making the Impala SS too expensive, Chevy just ignored the issue and pumped them out with the same transmission as before - it was ridiculous, and every one has had the replacement.
Still, at $16.50 per horsepower, the Impala SS is still one of the cheapest 300-horsepower cars you can get into, even if the transmission does have a tendency to self-destruct with no warning. Good with the bad, we suppose.
Read More: Top 5 Car Wheels Under $1400 For 2022
Performance and Value of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe
When the next car on our list came out, it made some big waves - in 2009, Hyundai (now known for its value-focused luxury and sport-oriented cars) didnt' have such a high reputation. They basically stood for unreliable, hard-to-work-on boxes and only people who financed cars at Buy Here Pay Here lots would drive them because they had to. The brand is Korean, and there's nothing inherently wrong about that, but Korean products just aren't standardized here in the US the way that Japanese and Canadian products are.
Between then and today, they had to do something crazy to break the stigma surrounding the brand, to gain the trust of the American market. And they did that in spades with the Genesis Coupe. This model produces 311 horsepower out of a 3.8-liter V6, and comes with a rear-wheel drive configuration and manual transmission. It was right at the throat of the Mustangs of the time, and may have been a little better for less money.
You probably haven't heard much about the Genesis, then, because just after it launched, horsepower saw a huge uptick on many of the pony cars of that era - the Mustang and Camaro, for example, both came out with models that produced upwards of 400 ponies. Thus the glory that could've been the high-end Genesis coupe was overshadowed by the oddly perfect timing of the muscle car comeback, but since that shadow looms over it, it keeps prices low. If you're looking for a car that presents a ton of value for just $16.20 per horsepower, adopt a Genesis Coupe 3.8 and give it the forever home it deserves.
Read More: Hyundai Genesis Coupe Fitment Guide
Performance and Value of the R129 Mercedes SL500
Lastly, coming straight out of left field with an insane $15.80 per horsepower valuation, the R129 1989-2001 generation of the Mercedes-Benz 500SL - or SL500 - is a crazy good value for the money. For starters, 315 horsepower comes directly out of a five-liter V8 engine and is transferred to the rear wheels by an extremely reliable yet incredibly boring automatic transmission.
It's not all boring, though - if you pushed both pedals at the same time it'd do a big smokey burnout to keep up, which is cool. But back to these models' value - not only does this generation of the SL500 meet and exceed our expectations in terms of performance, they're absolute steals. These cars are historically some of the most expensive cars ever engineered - they started at $99,000 when first introduced in 1989, which is $180,000 in today's money. Now you can just go and buy one for five thousand bucks - what?
Sure, this vehicle won't win you any autocross battles, but if you do pull out the incredibly complicated and unreliable hydraulic suspension, and you can do with a BC Racing coilover treatment, you've got yourself a slushbox Mercedes-branded Corvette killer, with the most comfortable seats you'll ever sit in. Win-win to us.
Shop Wheels, Tires and Suspension At Fitment Industries
Each of the models listed above absolutely demolishes a Hellcat in terms of performance and value, and we're happy to help you get even more power out of whatever you drive. Shop for wheels, tires and suspension components for your favorite cars today, or check out our fitment gallery to get the inspiration you need for your next build.