There’s a war raging in the automotive industry. No, it’s not the race for electrification superiority or the quest to build a car that can 100 percent drive itself. Instead, it’s the battle to produce the most horsepower possible.
Advanced technologies like direct fuel injection, more refined turbocharger systems, and more are pushing the internal combustion engine to new heights. It wasn’t too long ago that a vehicle with over 300 horsepower was considered a real beast. Today, more than a few family sedans push past that figure.
If you want plenty of horsepower but don’t want to spend buckets of cash, check out any of the following vehicles. They all have a price of under $30,000 and will add some muscle into your experience behind the wheel.
Ford Mustang EcoBoost
With an MSRP of $25,845 the Mustang EcoBoost gives you the iconic pony with all the horses. The 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine squeezes out 310 horsepower and 350 lb.-ft. of torque. Make all the jokes you want about Mustangs losing control, the current model comes with an independent rear suspension. That means you can take the car out on a twisty, windy road and feel it stick to the pavement. Your passengers also will appreciate the smoother ride.
Just as important, you can row the gears yourself. The Mustang EcoBoost can be had with a six-speed manual transmission. If you like a computer hogging all the fun, a 10-speed SelectShift automatic also is available. You can also add a limited-slip rear axle and an active valve performance exhaust.
You can’t talk about the Mustang and not mention its top rival. The Camaro can be had for a starting MSRP of $25,905. While at that price you’re not even close to getting the mighty ZL1, the lower trims do pack plenty of heat with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Before you laugh, consider this: for well under $30,000 you get 275 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. You’re not going to be running 11s in the quarter mile, but can do that with any new car for under $30,000?
Like the Mustang, you get a four-wheel independent suspension. A six-speed manual transmission is standard as well, so you can still have plenty of two-footed tire-shredding fun.
We might as well mention the other American muscle car that offers cheap speed, the Dodge Challenger. You’ll need to go with the bottom trim, called SXT, to sneak in under $30,000. It clocks in at $27,295 MSRP. For that price, you get a 3.6-liter V-6. It actually out-muscles the other two with 305 horsepower and 268 lb.-ft. of torque.
Sadly, Dodge thinks that on a budget you only need two pedals. An 8-speed automatic transmission comes standard with no option for the 6-speed manual TREMEC for the Challenger SXT. Like the other two, independent front and rear suspension keeps things under control.
When you think of lots of power, the Jeep Wrangler might not be the first thing on your mind. But, it packs a 3.6-liter V-6 with 285 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. That engine has proven itself as Wrangler owners power through mud, snow, and all kinds of difficult terrain without trouble.
You’re not going to win any drag races with a Wrangler, but it does have a removable top and doors, plus a fold-down windshield that blow away any convertible out there, all at no extra cost. Plus, you can drive pretty much anywhere.
Having plenty of power doesn’t mean you can’t share it with all your loved ones. The Traverse has three rows of seating, a decent cargo area, plenty of comfortable designs, and a pretty powerful 3.6-liter V-6 engine with 310 horsepower and 266 lb.-ft. of torque. If you get the bottom trim with no options, MSRP comes in at $29,930.
It also helps that the Chevy Traverse corners well for such a large vehicle, so you feel like you’re not driving a tank. The four-wheel independent suspension does a great job of keeping everyone comfortable, too.
Ford Focus ST
Having fun behind the wheel of the Focus ST is only natural. You should scoop this hot hatch up while there’s still a chance, because Ford is getting rid of it and almost every other car it offers in North America. For a mere $25,170 you get the hard-hitting 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine. It serves up a very nice 252 horsepower and 270 lb.-ft. of torque for thrills and chills.
The good times don’t stop there, since the Focus ST also has electric power-assisted steering for better response in corners. Torque vectoring control also keeps this hatch light on its feet, so you’ll look forward to those canyon roads in the future.
This may be what some people call an aging sports car, but the 370Z is a great option for cheap power. The base version has an MSRP of $29,990 and it packs a 3.7-liter V-6 under the curvaceous hood. Peak output is impressive at 332 horsepower and 270 lb.-ft. of torque. All the channels through the rear wheels, passing through a 6-speed manual transmission for a pure experience.
While the 370Z is getting long in the tooth, the sportscar still comes with RearView Monitor, tire pressure monitoring, and other modern tech. It also still turns heads, thanks to a brash design. But, most importantly, the 370Z is a blast to drive just about anywhere.
It definitely isn’t a traditional truck, thanks to elements like the unibody construction, but the Honda Ridgeline is relatively affordable and powerful. You can pick up the RT trim for $29,990 MSRP. A 3.5-liter V-6 pulses out 280 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque, which is probably more capability than most would suspect.
While the Ridgeline rides smooth, unlike other trucks, it also has some nice features. There’s a locking storage compartment in the bottom of the payload, plus the tailgate can flip down or swing out from either end. An optional power outlet in the bed makes plugging in a TV, power tools, or whatever else easy.
There are some crazy-powerful Charger models on the market, but if you’re on a budget, the SXT trim clocks in at $28,995 MSRP for plenty of cheap power. It packs the 3.6-liter V-6 engine, which is tuned to provide a stout 300 horsepower and 264 lb.-ft. of torque. There’s a reason why you see so many police and enthusiasts on a budget using this car.
What’s more, the Charger has an extra set of doors and seating for five. That means you can take everyone along for fun times on the road. Dual-zone automatic temperature control is also included on the SXT. A standard TorqueFlite 8-speed automatic transmission is good news if you hate manuals.
Chevrolet Silverado 1500
If you select the Work Truck trim with two-wheel drive, regular cab, and standard box, this truck will MSRP at $29,795. Under the hood you get a 4.3-liter EcoTec3 V-6 engine with 285 horsepower plus 305 lb.-ft. of torque on tap. That’s helpful if you want to haul around a payload full of gravel, a motorcycle, or even tow your boat to the lake.
Just keep in mind that the Work Truck trim is pretty bare-bones. The bumpers are black, as are the exterior handles and side mirror caps. You don’t get all the fancy bells and whistles for the cab, but you do get a hardworking truck for cheap.
For $27,705 you can pick up the Ford F-150 XL, which is the truck’s base trim. It packs a 3.3-liter V-6 engine, which produces a peak 290 horsepower and 265 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s not bad for the price these days, giving you plenty of capability for your dollar.
Keep in mind that for this price you’re not getting four-wheel drive, the electronic-locking rear differential, hill descent controller, or trailer brake controller. You do enjoy a big 23-gallon fuel tank, air conditioning, cruise control, and a black vinyl flooring that’s easy to wipe clean.
The Chrysler Pacifica has racked up quite a few accolades in the auto industry for looking great, providing amazing interior space on all three rows, and providing all kind of cutting-edge features. What you might not realize is that this minivan also provides lots of power for cheap. The L trim comes in at $26,995 MSRP and the LX hits $29,795 for two deals under the $30,000 cap.
Chrysler offers a 3.6-liter V-6 engine for all non-hybrid versions of the Pacifica. It whips out a nice 287 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque. All that power means a towing capacity of 3,600 pounds so taking along toys to play with on the weekend is in the cards. What’s more, the LX can come with the helpful second-row Stow ‘n Go Seats, something you can’t get on competing minivans.
Dodge Grand Caravan
Raising a family can be expensive, and it often means cramming everyone in some underpowered, small vehicle. With the Dodge Grand Caravan you get something budget-friendly that has a decent amount of power and plenty of space. The SE trim starts at $26,250, while you can also get the SE Plus for $29,015.
The only engine offered for this minivan is a 3.6-liter V-6. It puts at your disposal 283 horsepower, so when you have everyone in the vehicle, plus all your stuff for a long trip, the vehicle will still charge up mountain passes without struggling. Everyone also enjoys three-zone temperature control, power locks, power windows, and six audio speakers, while the SE Plus comes with an auto-dimming rearview mirror on top of all that.