Top 10 most powerful four-doors under $30,000

Motor Trend


We all want to get the most bang for our buck, and for enthusiasts that means the most horsepower within our budget. While muscle cars – in V-8 and V-6 form – seem to fit the bill for cheap power, sometimes reality requires us to have four doors and decent cargo room. With the median new car cost hovering around the $30,000 mark, we put this list together of four-door cars with the most horsepower with a base price below $30,000. One segment dominated the list, which may surprise you.


Subaru WRX
Price: $26,565
Output: 265 hp/244 lb-ft
0-60: 4.5
EPA city/highway: 19/25

The Subaru WRX is the only sport compact to make the cut, coming in tenth place and barely beating out the Mazdaspeed3 by just two horsepower (though the ‘speed3 makes 36 lb-ft more torque). As the only car on this list with all-wheel-drive as standard, the WRX offers Subaru’s surefootedness and wet weather stability. In our last turbocharged sport compact comparison, the turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-four propelled the 2010 WRX to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds, walking away from the other three competitors – including the Mazdaspeed3 – to take the first-place trophy in acceleration tests. The WRX is the only car to offer a choice of bodystyles on our list, with the sedan and hatchback having the same base price.


Toyota Camry SE V6
Price: $29,515
Output: 268 hp/248 lb-ft
0-60: 5.8
EPA city/highway: 21/30

The Toyota Camry is the top-selling midsize sedan in the U.S., with 373,479 sold thus far in 2012, pulling ahead of the number-two Honda Accord by more than 70,000 units. Buyers seeking more power from their family car can opt for the sportier SE trim level with a potent 268-hp 3.5-liter V-6, which lands the midsizer in ninth place on the list. In our comparison, the 2012 Camry SE V6 hit 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, just a tenth of a second shy of the first-place 280-hp Volkswagen Passat VR6 SEL, but more than a full second ahead of the more powerful Hyundai Sonata SE 2.0T, making the popular model a solid – and quick – choice for those faithful to the Toyota brand.


Nissan Altima 3.5 S
Price: $25,700
Output: 270 hp/251 lb-ft
0-60: 5.9
EPA city/highway: 22/31

The thoroughly redesigned 2013 Nissan Altima offers a potent 270 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque from its 3.5-liter V-6, good enough to secure it the number-eight spot. Power is sent to the front wheels via a CVT. During our 2013 Car of the Year testing, we said the Altima drove just like the car it’s supposed to be: a midsize sedan. About the six-cylinder model, we concluded, “…though the 270-hp V-6 model remains the enthusiast’s choice for those forced to consider a basic midsize sedan, it’s no sport sedan.”


Kia Optima SX
Price: $27,575
Output: 274 hp/269 lb-ft
0-60: 7.2
EPA city/highway: 22/34

While the Kia Optima SX uses the same drivetrain as its Hyundai Sonata SE platform-mate, we gave it a seventh-place finish due to a base price nearly $2000 higher and an acceleration time that’s off a couple of ticks. We enjoyed our long-term Optima SX, acknowledging the automaker’s efforts to bring the brand up to the same level as its competition. In our 2011 Kia Optima SX verdict, we concluded by saying, “It’s a complete package, offering styling, performance, ease of use, and spacious interior with quality materials and build quality.”



Hyundai Sonata SE 2.0T
Price: $25,675
Output: 274 hp/269 lb-ft              
0-60: 7.2             
EPA city/highway: 22/34

The Hyundai Sonata SE 2.0T comes in just ahead of the Kia Optima SX, with which it shares its drivetrain and chassis, for a sixth-place finish because thanks to its price advantage and slight acceleration edge. In a midsize comparison test against the segment sales leader Toyota Camry SE V6 and our 2012 Car of the Year winner Volkswagen Passat VR6 SEL, the Sonata turbo finished in third place due to its lackluster performance and observed fuel mileage. The Sonata turbo was more than one second slower to 60 mph than either competitor.


Volkswagen Passat SE V6
Price: $29,235
Output: 280 hp/255 lb-ft              
0-60: 5.7             
EPA city/highway: 20/28

The 2012 Volkswagen Passat earned the 2012 Motor Trend Car of the Year award for good reason: the midsize sedan excelled in each of our six criteria. With the 280-hp narrow-angle 3.6-liter V-6 and DSG dual-clutch transmission, the Passat not only garners a fifth-place ranking, but it proves to be a solid performer in acceleration, handling, and braking. Back that up with a spacious interior and an entry-level price below $30-large, and the Passat makes a good argument for the horsepower-craving family.


Chrysler 200 Limited
Price: $25,680
Output: 283-hp/260 lb-ft             
0-60: 6.0             
EPA city/highway: 19/29

Chrysler updated the midsize 200 sedan for 2012 with the new 283-hp 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, which ties with its Dodge Avenger platform mate for power. The 200 places fourth because of its nearly-$3000 price premium over its more mainstream sibling. Though we are impressed with the automaker’s new Pentastar V-6, in our 2012 Car of the Year testing, we felt the new engine was too much for the revamped, but outdated, chassis to handle.


Dodge Avenger SE V6
Price: $22,690
Output: 283-hp/260 lb-ft             
0-60: 6.1             
EPA city/highway: 19/29

While the Dodge Avenger ties the Chrysler 200 on the list, it earned the third-place spot because of its lower entry-level price. Not only is it tied for third place, but the Avenger is also the cheapest car on the list.  Like the 200, the Pentastar V-6 is too much for the sedan, which suffered from torque steer as well as a “confused transmission” during our performance driving evaluation. If power is what you are after, the two Mopar midsizers are just nine horsepower shy of the most powerful car on the list.


Ford Taurus SE FWD V6
Price: $27,395
Output: 288-hp/254 lb-ft             
0-60: 6.6             
EPA city/highway: 19/29

The Ford Taurus SE is the first of two full-size sedans on the list, with just four horsepower separating the two top finishers. With 288 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque from its 3.5-liter V-6, the front-drive Taurus accelerates to 60 mph in just 6.6 seconds. A six-speed automatic is the sole transmission offering. While the Taurus is available with all-wheel drive, the option bumps the price above our $30,000 cutoff. With the Taurus being large on the outside and comparatively small on the inside, some Blue Oval-faithful may find the midsize Fusion a better value.


Dodge Charger SE
Price: $26,990
Output: 292-hp/260 lb-ft             
0-60: 6.6             
EPA city/highway: 19/31

It’s fitting that the only rear-drive option on the list is also the most powerful. The Dodge Charger SE is motivated by the same Pentastar V-6 as the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger twins, but makes a full 292 hp mated to an eight-speed automatic that sends power to the proper drive wheels. As the other full-size sedan on the list, the Charger offers interior space befitting its segment thanks to its 120-inch wheelbase.

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