We like horsepower. Many automotive enthusiasts do. But in today’s world it is possible to get 662hp out of a $56,000 Shelby GT500. That much horsepower brings a certain amount of trouble with it. In order to put that much power to the ground, it has to have super-sticky tires. Those super-sticky tires grip extremely well. However, if the driver is looking to have some fun, in order for the tires to break loose and the car to slide, the driver will be moving at quite an impressive rate of speed. Lastly, with a top speed of 202mph, there is no place in the United States to legally test the performance of that vehicle.
Today we want to share three performance sportscars that make 200hp or less. Their limits can be explored safely at much lower speeds. We believe it is more fun to drive a lower-horsepower car at 10/10ths than it is to drive a high-horsepower car at 4/10ths.
1. Fiat 500 Abarth
Super Bowl commercial aside, the 160 hp and 170 lbs/ft of torque Fiat 500 Abarth is really quite a hoot to drive. It features a 3-mode stability control with a “Full Off” setting that is a joy to activate. Turning the traction control off in a high-horsepower car is scary, but in the little Fiat it is fun and allows the driver to explore the limits of the car.
The Fiat has some Italian style. Aside from looking good, the 1.4L MultiAir turbo engine makes absolutely wonderful exhaust noises. The engine will backfire on shifts, it will make a banging noise on the overrun and under acceleration sounds like a car way above its weight class. The noises are actually quite similar to the Jaguar F-Type S we tested.
Also the car features some “Italian” idiosyncrasies. While the driving position is comfortable, it doesn’t feel all that sporty. Also, the rear-view mirror on the convertible version needs to be adjusted each time the top is up or the top is down. The right position to see through the glass on the top when up is blocked by the top when down.
But besides that, a $22,000 Italian car is hard to pass up. It is a lot of fun and makes a great noise, which puts a smile on the driver’s face as well as others at the traffic light.
2. Ford Fiesta ST
The Ford Fiesta ST falls into the “hot hatch” category like the Fiat 500 Abarth, but offers a different type of thrill. The Fiesta ST makes 197 hp and 202 ft/lbs of torque, making it noticeably more powerful than the Fiat. Also, the hot Ford has great optional Recaro seats and a 6-speed manual transmission (compared to the 5 in the Fiat).
Driving the Ford, there is much less exhaust noise, but there is a sound symposer that helps broadcast natural engine noises into the cabin. On throttle it sounds fantastic. It is the amazing sound of an engine working, and it’s refreshing.
Another neat trick that the Ford has is exceptional handling. The Ford also features a 3-mode stability control system that can be turned fully off, and when cornering a computer controls which wheel gets power for improved cornering. The Fiesta ST will cock a wheel in a corner, and if the driver lifts when cornering on the throttle, the back end will kick out like a rear-wheel drive car.
It doesn’t have the same flair and sound of the Fiat. But it is faster, and at $21,400, starting it is cheaper.
3. Subaru BRZ / Scion FRS
Even though the Subaru BRZ and Scion FRS are basically the same car, we like the Subaru a bit better because of the available options. However, for the sake of the 200hp argument both cars would apply.
The BRZ is a 200 hp rear-wheel drive sports car. There is no denying it is a true sports car. It features a limited-slip rear differential, a 6-speed manual transmission, a 2.0L Boxer engine, and the lowest center of gravity of just about any production car.
Subaru (and Toyota) built this car to be an excellent handling machine. Then they equipped the BRZ with tires that are NOT as grippy as on on sports cars (or the Fiesta ST). The result? On command the BRZ will let its tail end hang out. And unlike a dangerous snap oversteer at high speed that would come with a car like the Shelby GT500, the BRZ is very progressive when the back end breaks loose, and it is very easy to control. The best part? You are only doing 20mph when it happens!
That doesn’t mean the car slides around every corner. The driver has control over when it actually happens. But, having driven the car, we can confirm it is as fun as all the other automotive journalists say it is.
It also feels like a proper sports car driving it. The steering feel is a bit heavy, and the shifter feels very direct. We do not like that the clutch engagement is really high up on the pedal but overall the the driver feels like he is part of the process instead of just a passenger. The driver feels more important in the BRZ to the process than either the Fiat 500 or Fiesta ST.
It also features a 3-mode traction control system that can be fully defeated, and the BRZ has HID headlights as an option. Starting at $25,495, the BRZ is the most expensive of the group before options, but still comes in under $30,000 fully-loaded. A bit more than the Fiesta ST fully loaded, but offering a different thrill of driving, the BRZ is a great choice for someone wanting a proper sports car experience.