The Most Bang for Your Buck

The Most Bang for Your Buck

One of the phrases that gets thrown around a lot in automotive reviews is “bang for your buck”. Although I doubt Fiat will be using it in their upcoming marketing, the hot hatch segment has always been about combining performance and practicality, which often translates to a lot of bang for your buck. So what exactly does that phrase mean?

For me, the “bang” is engine performance. As I’ve written before, that’s not just pure horsepower. Most of us won’t be topping out our cars at maximum speed, or ever reaching the edge of grip in turns on a regular basis. What performance for the morning commuter means is acceleration. How fast can we get from light to light, from the on-ramp to merging speed. Horsepower is nice, but what really matters for acceleration is the ratio of horsepower to weight.

Power to weight ratios are a common metric, but to me they feel extremely disconnected from the performance they represent. I prefer horsepower per ton (HP/T). When you hear that a car has 100 horsepower (like the Fiat 500), you know that unless we’re talking about a go-kart, it likely has limited acceleration. On the other hand, 400+ horsepower is usually reserved for sports cars. Horsepower per ton, unlike power to weight, gives you a number similar to the actual output of the engine, just offset by the weight of the car.

So what’s the magic number for the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth? Well at 160 horsepower and 2,533 pounds, the HP/T (US ton) is 126. Since speed is always relative, lets take a look at the Abarth competitors.

Year / Make / Model HP Weight HP/T MSRP HP/T/$1K
2012 Mini Cooper S 181 2668 136 23100 5.9
2012 Fiat 500 Abarth 160 2533 126 22000 5.7
2012 Volkswagen GTI 200 3034 132 23995 5.5

The Abarth is definitely at the low end in terms of pure performance, with 6 less HP/T than the VW GTI and 10 less than the Mini Cooper S. However, did you notice the last column? That is a new metric I’ve added called horsepower per ton per $1,000 or HP/T/$1K. This gives you yet another ratio to compare, but this one is an actual calculation of “bang for your buck” which takes into account horsepower, weight, and MSRP. As you can see, the Abarth is in the middle of the pack right now.

Against Mini, I’m sure Fiat hopes to overcome their shortcomings in the performance area with their style and use their value as a selling point against Volkswagen. Just for kicks, I thought I would run the numbers on a few other cars to see what their HP/T/$1K numbers looked like:

  • The 2012 Ford Mustang GT is a clear winner at 7.7, beating the Abarth by 2 points.
  • At 6.7, the Mazdaspeed3 handily beats the Abarth, GTI, and Mini Cooper S.
  • Even with an estimated price of $60k, I thought the 2013 Shelby GT500 would be a clear winner with 650 horsepower on tap, but it turned out to be .1 less of a value than the Abarth.
  • Just to make sure the system made sense, I tested a Toyota Prius, which came out to a lowly 3.8. All is validated.
  • On the opposite end of the performance spectrum, a brand new 911 Turbo is even less of a value at 2.1.

No its your turn. What cars do you think offer the best bang for your buck performance?