Almost exactly 10 years ago, I wrote an article on a website I owned entitled “Charting the Horsepower War: Factory Fast Rates Automakers”. In a pre-Kinja era, I was amazed to see that Mike Spinelli over at Jalopnik picked it up and reposted it onto the front page. The actual site is long gone, but through the magic of the internets, I found it. Then I figured it was time to go back to school, so I present to you, the Right Foot Down update. We’ll show you how each automaker rated a decade ago from a horsepower perspective, and how they are doing now. Remember as you read through the list, this is purely based on power!
Oddly enough, 10 years ago, I though we were in a “Horsepower War”. At that point, 500 HP sedans and 20 0HP sport compacts were pretty impressive. But that was the high end of the spectrum at the time and today we’re seeing 600 HP and 700 HP sedans and crazy supercars over 1000 HP. So once again, we’ll go automaker by automaker and let you know which factory we think is doing “fast” the best and who’s not pulling their weight. I’ll use the same automakers, in the same order but this time we’ll skip Hummer (for a completely obvious reason) and add a couple of newcomers. Automakers will be evaluated on raw power, torques as well as “bang for the buck”. The ratings are still
made up subjective and are a combined score of the entire automaker’s lineup. Let’s do this.
Aston Martin (2004: A, 2015: A)
A decade ago, I touted Aston’s comeback at the hands of Ford Motor Company. A decade later we’re driving Fusion’s with the ubiquitous Aston Martin grill and their cars have high horsepower and good looks (if a bit too similar). From the Vantage to the Vanquish you still can’t go wrong with Aston Martin.
Audi (2004: B, 2015: B-)
Oddly enough, things aren’t drastically different at Audi ten years on. Previously I said that “prices have been rising faster than horsepower at Audi” and that remains true. Back in 2004, you had much less to choose from from a high horsepower standpoint here in the States. But now the “S” models are joined by fantastic “RS” models but just like before, it’s gonna cost ya. Audi loses some ground in my book from a value perspective. And their lower end models are still way down on power compared to their rivals. 170 hp in the 1.8T is less than my 1.8T Jetta wagon had in 2002. Step it up Audi or you’ll find yourself in “C” territory next year.
Bentley (2004: B-, 2015: C)
Bentley didn’t offer a ton of options in the old version of this report card. However, in 2015, their stately lineup of coupes and convertibles is expanding. With a larger focus on value, it’s tough to rate Bentley very high when you will spend over $200K on pretty much everything in the lineup. So they move down in the rankings a bit, wood and leather don’t make you faster.
BMW (2004: A, 2015: A)
I’ll admit, I was smitten with BMW in the mid 2000s. Not long after writing the original report card they came out with V10 M5s and V8 M3s. That’s pretty fantastic. Even before increasing cylinder size, I noted about the M cars of that era “It was hard to improve on a legend, but it seems as though they’ve done it”. Now with economy becoming more of a “thing” they move back down to forced induction and smaller engines. But they’re still pretty epic, and particularly because of the absence of the V10, probably more reliable. I’ll keep the grade the same, since they are still kicking ass, but its tough because I miss the 8-cylinder M3.
Buick (2004: F, 2015: F)
Buick has history, and some really fast history. Visions of black Grand Nationals and GNXs dance through enthusiasts heads. And while some sources say they’re coming back “soon”, the current lineup is devoid of anything really fun or interesting. So I’ll believe it when I see it and still give Buick a failing grade.
Cadillac (2004: B, 2015: A)
Back in the mid 2000s, Cadillac was just finding it’s way with regard to high horsepower. The CTS-V was new to the market and already making some waves. Now that the CTS has moved up market, we have another player, the ATS-V. Technically a 2016, I’ll allow them into the comparison since we’ll see them in driveways and tracks during 2015. Regardless, Caddy has figured out how to make world competing, if not quite world beating cars, and certainly have horsepower to spare which earns them a higher letter grade this time around.
Chevrolet (2004: B-, 2015: A)
When I wrote this last time, the new Corvette C6 was just coming into dealerships. This time around its the C7, and its spectacular with the ZO6 variant starting deliveries as we speak. Now that is a world beater if I’ve ever seen one and their next level down car is the Camaro this time around. Last time, it was still on hiatus, but now with the Z/28 and SS they get high marks for horsepower and speed. Now if they would just try to sell some SS sedans, lest they risk suffering the Aussie failure trifecta.
Chrysler (2004: B, 2015: C)
Chrysler has a trimmed down model lineup. It’s basically a 200, 300 and a minivan. While they have come a long way in design and interior quality, there isn’t much in the way of horsepower. A decade ago they had their own SRT, let’s hope that returns to the Chrysler line-up sometime soon!
Dodge (2004: A-, 2015: A+)
Hell…wait for it…cat. That alone gives Dodge horsepower credibility beyond mere mortal car companies. Back in the day, the sport compact SRT-4 made Dodge a contender in the go-fast market. They also had TWO V10 offerings in the Viper and Ram. That’s ridiculousness that needed to continue and continue it did. The Charger and Challenger Hellcat variants, yes the 707hp-did-they-just-do-that four and two door Dodges, give Dodge a perfect score in horsepower. USA! USA! USA!
Ferrari (2004: A+, 2015: A+)
Ten years ago I said that it was hard to beat Ferrari, and that’s still generally true. They make many millions from producing poster material, and have for some time. It’s hard to call any of their cars underpowered, but with a variety of road cars much expanded from their lineup back in 2004, you could say there is more of a good thing now. And
theFerrari the LaFerrari exists now, and that comes with a DOHC 48-valve 6.3-liter V-12, with 789 hp AND an electric motor with 161 hp which combine to make an earth shaking 950 hp. Good Lord.
Ford (2004: A, 2015: A+)
This one makes me smile. When I wrote the original version of this, there was a new Ford GT ready to go after Ferrari decades after LeMans dominance. I even commented that “someone at Ford has come down with the performance bug and we’re pretty excited”. It’s clear that circa 2015, Ford is transforming their lineup to focus on performance. EcoBoost all the things! These days we have the ST hot hatchback Fiesta and Focus, with a bonkers RS coming down the pipeline. Mustang has been redone in time for its 50th birthday and now has even more variants, some with turbocharged 4-cylinders and then there is the crazy new GT350 and GT350R. We are one Fusion ST (or RS?) away from a truly world conquering lineup. Keep your right foot down Ford. A+
Honda (2004: C+, 2015: C-)
Ah Honda. How I miss you. When I was in my late teens, I loved you. My 2000 Prelude got me into competitive motorsport and taught me a lot about car control. A decade ago, the high revving S2000 was around but even then I noted that there really wasn’t much excitement coming from Honda at the time. I naturally lamented that it wasn’t fair that our friends overseas got the Civic Type R. But, as we reported, there is a new Type-R in the offing for 2016, and its fast. But will it make it to the US? And the NSX is coming. Probably. If i were to judge Honda on Honda circa 2015 it’s bleak. But I am looking to the future and hoping for the best.
Hyundai (2004: C-, 2015: B-)
I like Hyundai, I really do. And they are in a much better place then they were a decade ago. The Tiburon is gone to the great shark tank in the sky, replaced with a combination of the more expensive (but much more powerful) Genesis coupe and the funky little Veloster. The Genesis comes in a handsome sedan as well and in 5.0 R Spec, which sounds like some sort of hopped up Mustang, it’s pretty potent. Even the Equus sedan comes with 400+ horsepower and this is all enough to start to pull Hyundai out of the basement and into a better place. One full letter grade improved.
Infiniti (2004: B, 2015: B)
We’ll file this one under “Q” as all of Infiniti’s lineup has undergone a naming change. If it’s a car, it’s just plain “Q”, and if its an SUV, you get “QX”. Since this list came out in 2004, I’ve owned an Infiniti, a G35S sedan. I felt that, for the price of a 3-series I got a 5-series both in size and power. It was a pretty darn good car too. And they still are, with horsepower ratings in particular coming in higher than the competition from the Germans. But until they come out with the Eau Rouge version in production, Nissan’s up-market brand just isn’t spicy enough to pull an A on this test.
Jaguar (2004: B-, 2015: A)
Jaguar got some curry injected into it over the past 10 years. I’m not sure what it was but something special happened and Jaguar has become a player in the horsepower market. The F-Type is an amazing machine and even their other offerings like the XF and XJ come with hopped up “R” versions. That’s enough for me to bump them up a letter grade. Keep it up Jag.
Lamborghini (2004: A, 2015: A)
The Countach poster I had on my wall when I was a kid imprinted a certain feeling about Lamborghini inside me. It needs to be a bit ridiculous, it needs to look like gun pods may pop up somewhere. While I feel that the boys from Bologna have lost a bit of that feeling under their German masters, you can’t argue with the horsepower output. The Huracan, a V10 replacement for the venerable Gallardo, packs 610 horses under its Italian hood. And that’s the entry level Lambo. Bump up to the Aventador and you’re staring down a 700hp V12. Crikey. While it may not be quite as bonkers as it was in the 80s, Lamborghini certainly brings the power.
Lexus (2004: C+, 2015: B+)
I like a good Cinderella story as much as the next
guy person. Ten years ago I was pretty critical of Lexus. They did not have the over-engineered LF-A supercar (and do not currently, even though it remains in their commercials) or did they have anything ending in “‘-F”. So their grade was a mid-range “C” back then. Oh how times have changed. It’s a Cinderella story. Outta nowhere. A former greenskeeper, now, about to become the Masters champion. It looks like a mirac… It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole! Sorry, I was watching Caddyshack and got distracted. But over the last decade, Toyota’s luxo division found their balls way and are producing some cool stuff. The new RC-F is my favorite, it’s all hood and fender flares and aims at taking a few sales from BMW’s M Division. With a palette of awesome, bright paint colors and a 467hp 5.0 V8, it may just do that. We don’t have an F version of the latest redesign of the IS but rest assured it’s coming. And if the last iteration is any indication (that’s hard to say aloud) it’ll be pretty special.
Lotus (2004: A, 2015:C)
When I wrote the initial version of this report card, I was pretty excited that Lotus has returned to the shores of the Homeland. But, well, not a lot has happened since then. We got a version of the excellent Exige which has since gone away leaving the venerable, and largely unchanged Elise and the Evora. I want to like the Evora, and it’s a solid car, but for $70K-$80K, it’s just not enough. Lotus has never been about horsepower, hence their solid grade ten years ago, but these days I’m not sure what they are about. I just hope it turns around and we get new and exciting options from the little shop from Hethel.
Maserati (2004: B+, 2015: A)
Yet another storied automaker that returned to the US when I originally penned a report card on horsepower. And return they did with the MC-12, a version of the Enzo, and a handful of other Italian coupes and sedans. Well, in my opinion they have only continued to improve the breed. They realized that sedans sell and they have continued to improve the Quattroporte and even added a smaller option, the Ghibli which brings a twin turbo 6 and just over 400hp. The aforementioned Quattroporte packs 500+hp in the GTS model and the GranTurismo coupe soldiers on as not only one of the best looking cars on the road, but also houses a fantastic sounding 4.7L V8.
Mazda (2004: A, 2015: B)
Zoom Zoom Zoom. Much like Lotus, Mazda has never really been about horsepower, yet they make some of the most fun to drive cars on the road. Over the past few years they have focused their efforts on making sprightly passenger cars and SUVs. Most won’t set any records for power or torque though. If you want that, look elsewhere, but if you want something that puts a smile on your face during your daily commute, take a look at Mazda’s lineup.
McLaren (2004: N/A, 2015: A)
As you’ll see later in this report card, there is some bad news. Well, not exactly breaking, but bad nevertheless. Some automakers…are no longer. But there is some good news, companies like McLaren, who existed but wasn’t building road cars in 2004 sure is now. The originator of the McLaren F1, their cars are now bucketed in “sports”, “super” and
“ridiculous” “ultimate” and their 2015 lineup includes the 650S and the insane P1 which is locked in a 3-way battle for automotive-hybrid-supercar-superiority with the LaFerrari and Porsche 918. Good to have you back old chap.
Mercedes-Benz (2004: A-, 2015: A)
I’m not sure I need to update this one. Circa 2004 I wrote “Only one acronym is needed to summarize Mercedes’ dedication to speed – AMG. This small outfit of craftsmen have churned out some amazing vehicles”. That’s still very much true today with just about an AMG model for every car and SUV they make. It’s pretty ridiculous and I love it. The addition of the “black” series models bumps them up to a full A.
Mini (2004: A, 2015: B)
A decade ago you pretty much just had one option at Mini, the Cooper. Now they are four door Minis, the Cooper itself has gotten larger which means they made a smaller 2-door coupe version. It’s all a bit much, but they make good cars and if you get the John Cooper Works version of any model, which will cost you, it’s pretty great. Overall though, the lineup feels diluted and that hurts my overall impression the BMW-owned company.
Mitsubishi (2004: B, 2015: D)
The Evolution is still brilliant. But what I said in 2004 is more true then ever ” other than the Evo, Mitsubishi doesn’t seem to know how to make a fast car”. Sad really, I’m curious if the 2025 iteration of this list will even include them.
Nissan (2004: B+, 2015: B+)
Did you hear, “there’s a new Z car if you haven’t seen it, and it’s pretty sweet”. Wait, that’s the old version. Still, ten years ago it was a huge deal that the Z was back. I owned a 2004 and it a very good car. And since then Godzilla showed up on our shores to destroy
buildings more expensive supercars. The GT-R alone gives Nissan street credibility which is good because their physics-violating commercials with Altimas on snowboards half-pipes and Rogues driving on top of moving metro trains is almost enough to drop them a full letter grade.
Pontiac (2004: B-, 2015: N/A)
I may get a little choked up on this one. Of all of the marques that have gone to the big scrapyard in the sky, this is about the only one that hurts for me. Sorry, I’m not a Saab fan, I know that automatically discredits me to some of you. But Pontiac, they had something. Ten years ago I said that “GM’s excitement division is heading in the right direction…finally”. Ugh, it’s like that terminally ill patient that shows signs of improvement and then dies. But they’re gone and its time to move on I suppose. R.I.P. Pontiac.
Porsche (2004: A, 2015: A)
Porsche had just started building the Cayenne SUV and I said something like “God it’s ugly but I guess it’s fast and speed can hide unattractiveness”. And I’ll admit, it’s gotten more attractive over the years. Of course then they built the Panamera which is a whole new class of ugly, but amazing to drive. Porsche is embroiled in the superhypercar war right now with their incredible 918 and as I said back in 2004 about the Carrera GT, if SUVs and sedans can help fund something like that, keep it rolling. Porsche once again earns their “A” this time around.
Rolls-Royce (2004: C, 2015: B)
Rolls-Royce is another company, like Mini, that you can thank BMW for. A decade ago they were just getting rolling, since then the benchmark car company has expanded beyond just the Phantom with the Ghost and Wraith. Power is not a problem with large V12 pumping out over 600hp and plenty of torque. Still not fast, but certainly more than adequate, which is what RR is all about from a performance standpoint.
Saab (2004: C+, 2015: N/A)
Oh Saab, your death seemed to hit hard with a lot of enthusiasts. Not me specifically, I never really saw the charm. The only Saab I owned was a 9-2X though. Unfortunately rating Saab on power in 2015 is moo. It’s like a cow’s opinion. Wait, what? Oh, moot. Sorry.
Scion (2004: B-, 2015: D)
Band new when the original came out, Scion has had plenty of time to prove themselves from a power perspective. Sadly, they haven’t. Whatsoever. Their boxer powered FR-S is fantastic, I’ve driven it. But “overly powerful” are not adjectives that have made it into anyone’s descriptor list for the only RWD Scion. Add a turbo and call me in the morning.
Subaru (2004: A, 2015: B-)
Now this one is interesting. Back in ’04 I said that “horsepower is flowing freely at Subaru”. At the time it was, they were poised as a true performance company. Then something happened, they realized Toyota had a much better business model and copied it. Not to say that they still don’t’ have some great turbocharged cars, they do. But Subaru has gone after mass sales, and I don’t blame them. WRX and STI aside, that hasn’t meant a lot of impressive performance vehicles. So they drop a full letter grade plus. Actually minus.
Tesla (2004: N/A, 2015: A)
Another good news story, Tesla didn’t even exist in 2004! And now the upstart from silicon valley has gone and done something that billion dollar automakers haven’t been able to do – make an all-electric car I actually want. After getting their start making electric versions of the Lotus Elise, the incredible Model S was delivered to owners starting in 2012. The new P85D, complete with “insane” mode has caused quite a splash in the automotive world delivering instant power, torque and inducing panicked faces on many a YouTube video.
Toyota (2004: F, 2015: D)
Even in 2004 I wrote that there wasn’t much going on at Toyota. At the time, their only decent performers, the Celica and MR-Spyder were set for the chopping block. The were chopped and nothing, literally nothing, has emerged to replace them from an enthusiast perspective. I appreciate that the Scion FR-S and the ridiculous “F” cars at Lexus exist, but Toyota as a company is horsepower bankrupt. Let’s hope the new Supra rumors pan out, for now they fail. Again.
Volkswagen (2004: B-, 2015: C)
Another interesting study in performance vs. sales. 2004 showed us the likes of the R32 and reminded us how good European hatchbacks can be. unfortunately it still felt expensive for what you got. The latest Golf is fantastic, we drove it. And the new “R” model looks promising, if a bit like the R32 in lack-of-bang-for-the-buck. Sadly, performance inclinations start and end with the GTI variants so VW drops a letter grade.
Volvo (2004: B-, 2015: B+)
In a post Ford world, Volvo could very well have gone the way of Saturn, Olds, Pontiac or Saab. Luckily that wasn’t the case and they have added the new Polestar models which bumps them up a bit in my book.
Well that wraps up our summary of who’s fast and who’s not. Now go out there and put something quick in your garage! Or just start an argument about what we got wrong. I’m happy to hear your perspective of which company should have gotten marked higher on the 2015 RFD Automotive Report Card.