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?

  • Jonqpublic

    2008-10 Cobalt SS (turbo for those that don’t know)


      According to, the weight is actually a little higher: 2975. They don’t even show the MSRP and the “True Market Value” is even lower at $12k-17k. That is definitely incredible value, but I chose not to include any used car pricing for my comparison.

  • Jonqpublic

    2008 Cobalt SS

    260 hp
    2815 lbs
    22000 msrp=
    8.4 hp/t/$1k

  • Daniel Moore

    2005 dodge neon SRT-4
    230hp (independent testing has suggested it is actually higher)
    7.9 hp/t/$1k

    other numbers straight from wikipedia
    0-60 in 5.3 seconds (as tested by car and driver)
    1⁄4 mile (400 m) time:
    13.8 seconds

    here is the kicker.  These cars are a few years old and as a result their price is on the decline.  I paid 8,100 cash for mine.  If you plug this in and we get 19.5 hp/t/$1k.  There is also a huge aftermarket for the srt-4 neon.  Check out Modern Performance’s website, they have one of the biggest selections. 

  • Xfireblake

    2005 SRT 6 Crossfire
    330 hp new                                                              410 hp with light mods
    3200 lbs                                                                  3150 curb with exhaust and batt. mod
    I am the first and only owner for $23k                         $2k on mods so $25K  
    =8.96                                                                      =10.51  ;) 1/4th mile in 12.1 @114
    Look up my screen name on you tube:)

  • GTOdriver

    My Used Pontiac GTO 2006

    400 hp
    3725 lbs
    17,000 used12.6

  • George Montes

    Used 2003 Fastback Corvette
    Slightly Tuned LS6 rated at 396  BHP
    3,300 curb weight

    12.9 at Bhp/t/$1k
    (not at Crank like everything else)

    C5 corvette bargain sports car for anyone want to tune.
    Oh on 87 Octane I get 19 city (grandma acceleration) / 23 highway (at 2900 rpm)

    And I do the Grandma acceleration because there’s nothing more menacingly about a fast car prowling around lol

    • Silly US junk

      Nasty no class hotwheels chevy. Why embarrass yourself by mentioning GM products? The new unimproved america

  • Mastersword109

    2004 Hyundai Accent (base model)
    103 hp
    $10,000 MSRP

    9.0 hp/t/$1k

  • Fogducks

    THe Gol Turbo made only in Brazil was very light and had 112 HP 1000 cc turbo charged would take any 2000 cc car in Brazil. Check it out,


  • Twinkmasta

    When the people that made the SRT’s met with the people who made Maserati, they came up with the abarth 500, and you think they’re better? The only people trying to out do the Abarth seem to drive american cars, witch is odd. Cause American cars are (in my openion) hard to evan look at MUCH less drive. To say I payed 22 grand for a car built by Chrysler is to say i payed a lot for a car that is dead.  Well played, sir!

  • Superanium

    Ariel atom

    • Jordan Kohl

      Yeah this pretty much wins. But wouldn’t a sport bike beat that? If there was a realistic way to measure interior quality/space I would add that to the formula.

      • f1stig

        actually i tested the 2012 Ariel Atom 500 and i got 3.086 HP/T/$1K
        it also got 740 HP/T

  • Bobdobbs

    My TAG kart:


  • Bobdobbs

    My TAG kart:

    137 hp/ton/$1k
    and it corners like a gokart
    Previous post was incomplete because cat jogged my elbow.

  • Dale

    KX-250 (2 stroke)
    220lbs 50hp $2K
    454 hp/T /2 = 227pts…

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  • Luxury is not american

    I’m an american and american cars suck. No style or class. Nothing to note about them. Americans idea of a nice car is a box with horsepower. I’d take the fiat or cooper over anything in america.