What is “high performance?” Is it defined by ¼ mile, track, or slalom times? Top speed? Horsepower? Torque? Power-to-weight ratio?
Obviously there are many potential dimensions to high performance. Of interest to us, though, is what high performance means to the everyday driving enthusiast who spends the vast majority of his or her driving time on the public roads in a production car. Thus we introduce the Road Performance Rating or RPR. Also of interest is production car performance per dollar, so along with RPR we include the metric Road Performance Value or RPV, which related RPR to purchase price.
In determining a vehicle’s RPR we use quantitative data, and in the spirit of “walk the walk” we use performance data rather than vehicle specs. To assure objectivity this performance data is from independent sources, primarily testing carried out by the major car publications, not from the car companies.
The obvious question, then, is what performance data is used to derive RPR. We have determined that there are four primary performance factors contributing to overall performance on the road. These are:
- Road Holding,
- Braking, and
- Top Speed.
There are multiple performance metrics used for acceleration, but we use ¼-mile time. For road holding we use skid pad data (g’s). For braking we use 70-to-zero distance in feet. And for top speed we use mph.
The next obvious question is what relative weights are used for these four factors. We chose to weight acceleration, road holding, and braking equally at 30% each, and to discount top speed to 10%. This is because it is rare that any of us push our vehicles to their top end on the road. Obviously these weights would vary somewhat depending on whether one is driving mostly on highways, country roads, or city streets, and also depending on traffic density, but we believe this represents a reasonable balance.
A car earns points toward its RPR for its performance in each of these four areas as compared to associated performance ranges defined by existing production cars, adjusted by the corresponding weighting factors. For example, the range of standing ¼-mile times used for current production cars is from 10 seconds to 22 seconds. A car earns 2.5 point for each second below 22 seconds it achieves in the standing ¼-mile [30 (weight) / (22-10) = 2.5]. So a car that runs a 12-second ¼-mile earns 25 points for the acceleration factor (10 seconds quicker than 22 x 2.5). Conversely, a car with a 23-second ¼-mile time would receive -2.5 points for the acceleration factor. The other factors are handled the same way, and following are the performance ranges used to establish RPR point in each area:
- Acceleration – 10 to 22 second standing ¼ time (2.5 points per second below 22)
- Road Holding – 0.5 to 1.15 g’s (4.615 points per 0.1 g above 0.5)
- Braking – 130 to 230 feet 70-to-zero distance (0.3 points per foot below 230)
- Top Speed – 85 to 260 mph (0.057 points per mph above 85)
Using this approach a car could earn an RPR of 100 by having a 10-second ¼-mile, 1.15 g’s road holding, a 130-foot braking distance, and a top speed of 260 mph. While all of these numbers represent close to the best possible performance for existing production cars, no single production car today can achieve them all. In fact, as you will see below, the highest performance road car today has an RPR of 86.
As mentioned before, road performance value, RPV, is derived by relating the RPR to price. Actually, RPR cubed is used in this derivation to emphasize performance over price because, let’s face it, once performance falls to a certain level there is not much bang there regardless of how low the bucks are. However, there are a few good performance values in the moderate performance range and we will point these out below. For consistency in price derivation we use 1.15 x the base MSRP for each model.
This analysis makes no attempt to address such things as styling, features, or status as these are subjective matters. For example, the Cadillac CTS-V is the highest performance sedan in this analysis with an RPR of 69. But just behind with an RPR of 68 is the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution GSR, also a sedan, but with its much lower price it is a significantly higher performance value. Purely from a performance value perspective the Lancer wins hands down. However, its styling and relative lack of status are just not for everyone regardless of the better performance value.
The Road Supercars
Not only does the Corvette ZR1, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, come out on top of this elite group, but the Z06 and Z51 also rate amongst the supercars. And all three ‘Vettes are great performance values in this class, especially the Z51. Other good performance values amongst the supercars include the Nissan GT-R and Dodge Viper SRT10 and ACR version. Who says the U.S.A. can’t produce great cars?
High Performance Road Cars
Lots of great cars in the high performance group. We also see the highest performance sedans, SUVs/crossovers, and hatchbacks in this group including the Cadillac CTS-V, Mercedes C63 and S63 AMGs, BMW Alpina B7, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution GSR, Lexus IS F, Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Turbo S, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, Audi RS 4, Infiniti G37 Sport Sedan, Mini Cooper Works Clubman, Jaguar XF Supercharged, and Pontiac G8 GXP.
But the big news here is the huge performance values. The real standout is the Nissan 370Z (with the better brakes that come with the sport option), but not far behind in value are the new Camaro SS, Lancer Evolution GSR, and Mustang GT. Again, some impressive U.S.-built performance value.
Moderately High Performance Road Cars
Again, there are a lot of great cars to choose from here, and again some great performance values. Leading the way in performance value within this group are the Chevy Cobalt SS and Mazda Speed3. The Hyundai Genesis 3.8, Mazda Speed6 and RX-8, Subaru Impreza WRX, Camaro LT, Mini Cooper S and Clubman S, VW GTI, and Mazda MX-5 Hardtop Grand Touring are also very good performance values.
Moderate Road Performance
Moving down the RPR scale we begin to get into vehicles for which performance is not necessarily the primary consideration, so we will not go to the trouble of listing these additional 149 vehicles here. Nevertheless, there are still some decent performance values in the upper portion of this group. These include the Honda Civic Si, Mini Cooper, and VW Rabbit.
While we have included a good representative list of production cars in this analysis, we recognize that there are others of potential interest that are not included here. We will continue to add cars to the analysis as we collect additional data. If you would like a copy of the complete data set, please add a comment with your email and we will be glad to send it to you.