Top 13 Performance Car Picks For Under $50,000

Updated May 18, 2018

Performance cars have indeed come a long way. At one time – the early 1970s – performance was brute force. Big eights and blowers (superchargers) were the order of the day as Chargers and Barracudas cranked out buckets of power. It wasn’t unusual for setups to hit 550- or 650-horsepower and to turn in 0 to 60 times in the high-threes or low-fours. Great as they were, though, they paved the way for other gofastmobiles that, even during fuel-scarce times, sported bigger, more powerful engines.

Indeed, by the mid-90s, there was a wide variety of high-priced, luxo-sports models with V-10s, V-12s that sported turbochargers on both cylinder banks and that cranked out 800 or more horsepower. It is true that such cars were usually one-offs, but, now and then, a manufacturer would come out with a gofastmobile that chewed up pavement and spit it out. The Dodge Viper was a V-10 that certainly demonstrated it as did the 1990 BMW 850, whose smallish V-12, put out lots of power and gobs of torque. Like all BMWs, it could handle. In fact, it could probably dance if you played the right music. It was a nicely balanced car. But, it was also expensive, topping out at somewhere in the $125,000 range.

Today, if anything, there seem to be more expensive supercars out there than ever before, both gas-driven and electric, each barreling around the track at speeds of 190 mph or better. For instance, there’s the stellar performance of Tesla’s Model S that can easily hit speeds of 200 mph and can easily cost you $106,000 out the door. Even the “low-cost” alternative, the vibrant Chevy Corvette Z06, which can easily hit 195 on the straight, can cost you $83,500. Bluntly, high-performance cars aren’t cheap.

They don’t have to be super-expensive, either, as Forbes found out recently when it set out to identify the 13 best performers for under $50,000. No, it is not a typo, there are 13 cars out there that can perform incredibly well and which don’t have to speed your bank account toward zero. Click next to scroll through them


2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG: $48,500

AMG, the noted tuning house that is also part of M-B, knows how to tweak small engines. Indeed, they make small engines think they are big so that while they retain the fuel economy of a small powerplant they can also run with the big guns. The CLA45 AMG cranks out 355 horsepower and 332 pounds-feet of torque from a 2-liter, four-banger. AMG’s tuning crew uses turbocharging to extract 155 mph top-end speed for this all-wheel-drive five-seat sports sedan. THE CLA45’s sports-tuned chassis wraps you in a nice ride while also deliver 4.4-second 0 to 60 clocks.



2016 Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang: $47,795

Though it is powered by a 5.2-liter V-8, the Shelby GT350 Mustang is a potent production machine. Its mill turns out 526 horsepower and 429 pounds-feet of torque. The GT350 is track-ready and has an unusual feature, Electronic Line-Lock to facilitate burn-ins. Line-Lock keeps the front wheels locked while the driver smokes the rears to warm them up. A coupe, the GT350 can be equipped with choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.

Shelby GT350


2016 Ford Mustang GT: $32,395

The Mustang GT is a very credible performer. The standard powerplant is Ford’s proven 5-liter V-8. The engine turns out 435 horsepower and 400 pounds-feet of torque. A formidable contender, the GT can be equipped with a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.

Ford Mustang GT


2016 Audi S4: $49,200

Audi’s incredibly good S4 is another challenger that slides in just under $50,000. It is equipped with an inline-six that cranks out 333 horsepower and 332 pounds-feet of torque. The supercharged powerplant turns in 0 to 60 time of 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph, not exactly shabby numbers. Moving that power to the Quattro all-wheel-drive system, the S4 can be equipped with a dual-clutch six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic. Because it uses all-wheel-driver, the handling through turns and corner is excellent. You can fine tune the suspension with Audi’s Drive Select.

Audi S4


2016 Nissan 379Z Nismo: $41,990-$45,490

Equipped with a 3.6-liter V-6, the 370Z cranks out 350 horsepower and 276-pounds feet of torque. You can equip it with either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic. The potent combo should treat you to 0 to 60 runs in the 4-second range. The stylish, raked body sports coupe slices through the air cleanly. Through turns and around corners, the 370Z zips through on any line you choose. The tuned front suspension works with the shocks, springs and stabilizer bar so the 370Z corners as if it were on rails. You can easily take it up to its limits.

 Nissan 370Z NISMO


2016 BMW M235i: $46,150

With 320 horsepower and 255 pounds-feet of torque available the two-seater performs with the best on the track. A 3-liter inline six cranks out this power. Handling is excellent thanks to the all-wheel-drive xDrive. And, even though it is an all-wheel-drive machine, it is quicker from 0 to 60 than the rear-wheel-drive version. The times are 4.4 and 4.6 seconds respectively.

BMW M235i


2015 Infiniti Q50S: $43,650-$45-450

Equipped with a 3.7-liter V-6 that turns out 328 horsepower and 269 pounds-feet of torque, this mid-sized sports sedan is available in rear- and all-wheel-drive versions. The power enables the rear-driver to run from 0 to 60 in 5.3 seconds. The all-wheel-driver takes 5.6 seconds. Low-slung, the five-seater’s lines flow from its shapely front end through the passenger compartment and on through the rear window. Four driving modes make the most of the sports-tuned suspension.

Infiniti Q50S


2016 Subaru WRX STI: $34,695-$39,995

Responsive, the WRX STI is a performance sedan that’s a driver’s machine. The all-wheel-drive sedan has an innovative driver-controlled center differential that allows the driver to shift the power and torque around to meet road conditions. Its turbocharged Boxer horizontally opposed 2.5-liter four cranks out 305 horsepower and 290 pounds-feet of torque. Responsive, it has a 0 to 60 time of 4.9 seconds.

Subaru WRX STi


2015 Hyundai Genesis Coupe: $26,750-$34,600

Equipped with a responsive 3.8-liter V-6 that cranks out 348 horsepower and 295 pounds-feet of torque. The available transmissions include a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic. The R-Spec trim features track-tuned suspension and Brembo brakes, noted for their stopping ability. It is a rear-drive model.

Hyundai Genesis


2016 Volkswagen Golf R: $35,650-$38,995

Featuring the road-gripping 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, the unassuming Golf F can rip through a 0 to 60 run in 4.9 seconds (dual-clutch automatic) or 5.3 seconds (six-speed manual). Its turbocharged 2-liter four puts out 292 horsepower and 280-pounds feed of torque. There’s a special Race mode that stiffens things up for performance handling. The adaptive suspension features four modes, while the Electronic Stability Control has three modes.

VW Golf R


2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS: $37,295

The fluid lines of the Camaro SS tell you that it is a performance vehicle. The subtly aggressive lines march quickly through the passenger compartment and rear deck. Sporting a lighter, stiffer chassis with new rear and front suspension that features Magnetic Ride Control and Brembo brakes, the Camaro SS hits 60 in about four seconds. The SS runs a quarter-mile in 12.3 seconds. It features a new 455 horsepower 6.2-liter V-8 that can be paired with a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic.

Chevrolet Camaro SS


2016 Chevrolet SS: $45,745

The SS will leave you wondering. You wonder how a vehicle that looks, for all the world, like a Malibu can perform the way it does. Perhaps the SS logo on the rear decklid lip is a giveaway that this “Malibu” is more than it looks. Sized so that it competes head-to-head with European models, the SS features a 6.2-liter V-8 engine. The engine turns out 415 horsepower and 415 pounds-feet of torque. The combo moves this five-seater from 0 to 60 4.7 seconds. The powerplant can be mated to a six-speed manual or an automatic. The SS features sport-tuned suspension and Magnetic Ride Control. It is a rear-drive machine.

Chevrolet SS


2016 Dodge Challenger SRT 392: $49,195

The Challenger SRT, a less-powerful version of the line’s 707-horsepower road-burner, the Hellcat, features a 6.4-liter HEMI V-8 that delivers 485 horsepower and 475 pounds-feet of torque. Available with a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic, the Challenger has a top end of 179 mph.

Dodge Challenger SRT


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