The latest of the reincarnated American muscle cars, the Chevy Camaro dispenses with the 1990s-era cheese-ball styling in favor of a muscular homage to the 1966 original. The Camaro has two engine options and five styles, ranging from the 306-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 LS ($22,680) to the top-of-the-line 426-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 2SS ($33,745).
Both engines are impressive, but the V8, which can be had for as little as $30,745 in the 1SS, is without a doubt the current champ of the horsepower-per-dollar competition. And unlike muscle cars of yore, the Camaro can actually hold itself together in the twists and turns, and has a sporty, high-tech interior that no longer screams
The arrival of the Chevy Camaro has tempered the buzz about the Dodge Challenger in recent months, but the Challenger is evidence that parent company Chrysler can still build one hell of a muscle car. The top-end SRT8, at $43,655 is a bit pricey to be included in this article, and the 250-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 base-trim SE ($23,460) is, believe it or not, a bit weak for a modern muscle car with its zero-to-60-mph time of around eight seconds. But the midrange R/T version is a reasonable $31,585 and comes with a heavy-duty 372-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V8, powerful enough to hit 60 mph in less than six seconds. When it comes to style, the Challenger is retro-cool on the outside, but bland as dry toast on the inside. Still, this may be the most exciting (if not the last) muscle car out of the Dodge brand for the foreseeable future, since Chrysler’s new owner, Fiat, may not be as interested in big, heavy, V8 rumblers like this one.
Consider this: A Porsche Cayman has a 265-horsepower 2.9-liter 6-cylinder engine, does zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds and costs $51,400. A Nissan 370Z has a 332-horsepower 3.7-liter V6, does zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds and starts at $29,930.
The Porsche’s engine is obviously more efficient, but we’re willing to rile the Stuttgart purists and say that the Z gives you Porsche-like performance at a 20 grand discount. Plus, the Z offers an optional
Subaru’s rally-bred Impreza WRX has always been a noisy, undisciplined tin can of a car, but its raw athleticism has always turned what would be drawbacks in any other vehicle into virtues. The current iteration somehow seems a bit less visceral; the hood scoops and spoilers are still there, but are less egregiously in your face. The WRX’s mechanics have not been tamed; this is still a tremendously powerful and capable car. The $25,995 base hatchback has a 265-horsepower 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and Subaru’s grippy, symmetrical all-wheel-drive[LINK to AWD article] system. A bump up to the $34,995 STI variant ups the output of the turbo 2.5 engine to 305 horses and throws in Brembo brakes and a driver-controlled center differential to distribute power between the front and rear wheels. Still, at 35 large, you start longing for a bit more refinement on the inside.
BMW 1 Series
Think of it as the weird little sibling to the more popular and well-known BMW 3-Series. The BMW 1-Series is essentially four vehicles (two coupes, two convertibles) running two versions of the same engine (a 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder; one version is turbocharged, the other isn’t). The only one that can be defined as “cheap” speed with a straight face is the nonturbocharged 230-horse 128i Coupe, which costs $29,000. Like all 1-Series cars, it is built with many of the same structural bits and pieces as the larger 3-Series, but it definitely has the look and feel of a smaller car, with steering and handling that are tight as a drum and an engine that is smooth and confident. The weirdness comes from the vehicle’s oddball exterior — the last vestiges of the controversial styling of BMW’s now-retired designer Christopher Bangle — with a bubble top and sheet-metal creases that have their own bizarre logic. The view from the outside is love-it-or-hate-it, but the feeling behind the wheel is likely to be unanimously positive.
The Civic has a long history with the 4-cylinder mini-hot-rod crowd; the cheap, easy-to-modify compact cars have been favorites of the fast-and-furious crowd for years. And for those who want a little hotness without swapping out parts, Honda offers the factory tuner Civic Si (the coupe starts at $22,055; the sedan starts at $200 more). With its 197-horsepower 2.0-liter engine, the Si isn’t too fast off the line, but the engine starts delivering rewards in the high rpm range. Plus, the Si is an incredible bargain, and it holds onto corners like a champ, so pointing it at some twisties instead of an interstate will slap a smile on your frugal face.