Here’s a bit of performance for every taste and budget. We take a hot hatch, muscle car, and luxury sports coupe out for a spin, reminding ourselves in the process that we truly live in a golden age of high-performance automobiles.
With all the talk of crossovers and EVs taking over the market, it’s easy to forget that this is a glorious time to be alive if you’re a fan of high-performance cars. From million-dollar hypercars to sub-$30k hot hatches, there’s more speed available now for the money than arguably ever before.
The Hyundai Veloster N, Dodge Charger Scat Pack Widebody, and BMW M8 convertible represent the apex of their respective niches. I was lucky enough to spend a few days with each to remind myself of what a blessed time we live in.
Hyundai Veloster N: The hottest hot hatch under $30,000
There are quite a few excellent hot hatches on the market, from the venerable Volkswagen GTI to the bonkers Honda Civic Type R. Yet, Hyundai has done what it now does better than anyone, which is making a highly competitive car that is also thousands cheaper than the competition.
Starting at under $28,000, the Veloster N is a blast to drive. The impeccable chassis is well sorted, with neutral handling and an eagerness to attack a corner that you won’t find in a GTI. The 6-speed manual transmission is a pleasure to shift, and the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine provides plenty of thrust.
Our test car featured the optional Performance Package, which for $2,100 gets you an extra 25 horsepower, multi-mode exhaust, bigger brakes, limited-slip differential, and larger 19-inch rims. With certainty, this little 3-door dynamo is a bargain and a no-brainer for anyone looking to maximize performance.
The electronic adjustable suspension leans towards the aggressive end, with even the Normal setting feeling quite stiff. In Sport Plus, you better be on ultra-smooth pavement, or your internal organs will soon hate you. Luckily you can tailor the settings, so you can spare your kidneys while still enjoying the exhaust in its full crackle and pop mode.
The whole package is so well executed that I can’t think of a better performance car for under $30,000, especially one that also has a functional back seat and trunk. Sure, the GTI is more well rounded, and the Civic Type R is even faster and more capable. But if you’re looking for the most grins per dollar, the Veloster N is hard to beat.
Dodge Charger Scat Pack Widebody: The muscle car to buy for $46,000
Speaking of grins per dollar, the big red Dodge that showed up in my driveway, after the Veloster N was sadly taken away, turned out to be a genuine treat. The SRT Hellcat and its 700-plus horsepower heart gets all the attention, but the Scat Pack Widebody is arguably the better performance car.
Sure, it’s a bit slower, but with the Hellcat’s power only going to the rear wheels, most of the extra horsepower goes to waste. Then there’s the issue of sound. Honestly, I’ll take a glorious naturally-aspirated V8 over one with a loud, whiny supercharger on it every day. And the 6.4-liter Hemi under the hood of the Scat Pack sounds nothing short of magnificent.
The Charger Scat Pack is also an incredible value. Starting at $39,995, you get a classic large sedan with a roomy interior and a sizable trunk. And instead of a wheezy little turbo four-banger, you get a howitzer of an engine that launches the car with the kind of authority that usually costs way more.
For an additional $6,000, Dodge will add wicked-looking flared fenders and some of the widest rolling stock available. Broad 305mm performance tires on 20×11 inch rims at all four corners look badass, and it gives the Charger Widebody a nicely planted feel on the road. Although it will never be a nimble machine, cornering is far better than you’d expect, especially with the adaptive suspension in its firmest setting.
Although a large V8-powered sedan is an anachronism in today’s car market, there’s something special about the Charger Scat Pack. It doesn’t shock me one bit that Dodge sells quite a few every year, especially now that it has no real competition.
BMW M8 Convertible: Another world of speed and refinement at $160,000
Unlike the Veloster N and Charger Scat Pack, the BMW M8 Competition Convertible does not fit into the amazing value category. Our fully-loaded test car would set you back almost $160,000. Yet that staggeringly large sum of money does buy an imposing level of performance. And it would have to, as the competition for $100,000-plus sports cars is quite stiff.
Rumor has it that BMW benchmarked the Porsche 911 when developing this first-ever M8, and in terms of sheer speed, it looks like mission accomplished. With up to 617 horsepower on tap from its turbocharged 4.4-liter V8, the M8 is about as fast as anything I’ve driven. With all that power, it can hit 60 mph in around three seconds.
Bury the throttle, and you’d better make sure you have plenty of room in front of you, as the M8 launches hard. That said, all-wheel drive ensures that all of those ponies actually translate into controlled forward motion.
Unlike the previous 6 Series coupe, which was more a big GT cruiser, the M8 has the handling chops to match its ferocious acceleration. On one of my favorite curvy backroads, the M8 came alive and pulled off the difficult trick of feeling like a smaller, more nimble car.
Steering feel is still a bit numb, but the responsiveness and an impressive amount of available grip encourage you to push harder and harder. The all-wheel drive system does a fantastic job of putting the power down, making the M8 one of the least intimidating 600+ hp cars I’ve driven.
Perhaps the only real drawback of this big Bavarian coupe, is that it almost feels a bit sterile and tame, especially for an M car. In trying to be both an all-out sports car and a luxury sport coupe, the M8 ends up coming up a bit short on both goals. The interior is not quite as nice as an equivalent AMG product, and for most minds, the 911 still wins as the preferred companion on a backroad.
If I had $150K+ to spend on a car, I’d like to think I’d buy something a little more raw, a little more exotic. But for a luxury chariot that would also do fine on the daily commute, the M8 sure does pack a surprising wallop of speed, and an impressive level of composure when driven hard.
Verdict: we should count our blessings
My time with these three fine automobiles helped remind me that as a person who loves to drive, I really should be very thankful. For every budget and every taste, there are truly compelling cars that easily surpass what was available even just ten years ago.
The Veloster N provides an astounding level of performance for the money, while the BMW M8 provides an astounding level of performance. And even though everything is changing, and we’ll probably be hailing robo-taxis in the next decade, fortunately, we still cars have like the Dodge Charger Scat Pack that will put a big grin on your face every time you fire it up.
|2020 High Performance Mashup|
Hyundai Veloster N
|Dodge Charger Scat Pack||BMW M8 Competition|
|Price as tested||$30,430||$51,570||$157,195|
|Engine||2.0L turbo I-4||6.4L V8||4.4L twin turbo V8|
|Power (hp)||250 @ 6000||485 @ 6100||617 @ 6000|
|Torque (lb-ft)||260 @ 1450||475 @ 4100||553 @ 1800|
|Transmission||6-speed manual||8-speed automatic||8-speed automatic|
|Fuel economy (EPA estimate)||22 mpg||15 mpg||15 mpg|
|Curb Weight (lbs.)||3036||4385||4560|
|Ground Clearance (inches)||5.3||5.2||5.0|
|Passenger volume (cu. ft.)||89.9||104.7||N/A|
|Max cargo volume (trunk space)||44.5 cu. ft||16.5 cu. ft.||12.4 cu. ft.|
|Front wheel size (inches)||18 x 7.5||20 x 11||20 x 9.5|
|Front tire size||225/40R18||305/35R20||275/35R20|
|Rear wheel size (inches)||18 x 7.5||20 x 11||20 x 10.5|
|Rear tire size||225/40R18||305/35R20||285/35R20|