The one thing that can take even a sleeper car to supercar-like performance is its power-to-weight ratio. Basically, the bigger the engine, and the lighter the car – the better the output a car gives. This is plain and simple physics. That said; there are many cars that sort of prove the opposite. Sometimes, carmakers manage to make something extraordinary and the combination of the engine and the body makes for a car that can go as fast as the wind. And it is these cars that make driving a sheer and unadulterated pleasure. So here go five fast cars with small engines, and five faster, smaller cars with huge engines. Take your pick…
10 The Breezy BMW 528i
The 2016 BMW 528i comes with a naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission – which sounds about normal for a 2016 BMW. The engine is a modest 2.0-liter turbocharged one, that manages 240 horsepower and 260 ft-lb torque, and gives a combined economy (city and highway) of 27mpg. Now the engine may appear a tad stunted as compared to the size of this uber-luxurious car, but not only is it adequate, it goes above and beyond the call of duty. 0-60mph is a quick six seconds, making the 528i another classic example of a finely tuned car.
9 The Captivating Cadillac CTS
The Cadillac CTS can dwarf other cars – it’s just a big car with larger than life proportions and does everything with immutable style. It may look like it has a large heart especially when you floor the accelerator.
The 2014 Cadillac CTS' power mill is a pipsqueak of a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four one that still jets out 272 horsepower and 296 ft-lb torque. With a six-speed automatic transmission, the Cadillac CTS is at heart a city car, but one that can really deliver when the pedal hits the metal. Driving it is a dream and 0-60mph is around four seconds, making this a zippy drive.
8 The Shapely Chevrolet Malibu
So sure, the 2019 Malibu is now equipped with a 2.0-liter engine, but let’s talk about the 2016 Malibu here – a pocket-rocket that managed 0-60mph in 9 seconds on a tiny 1.5-liter engine. Yep, lesser than a family-sized carton of milk! The inline-four engine still managed a very respectable 163 horsepower and 184 ft-lb of torque that may not have managed to scale mountains but delivered pretty well on city roads. The engine in the 1LT was from the LFV Ecotec range of GM’s SGE (small gasoline engine) family, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. A combined fuel economy of 37mpg made this one everyone’s darling.
7 The Machiavellian Mazda RX-7
The much famed rotary engine of Mazda evoked mixed feelings in many – some fell in love with it, and some hated it. But the thing is that this tiny 1.1-liter pocket-bomb managed a 100 horsepower, and we are talking 1978 here people.
The Wankel engine (yes, we hate the name too) propelled the front-engined, rear-wheel-driven Mazda RX-7 to a very respectable slot in compact sports cars of the '70s and the '80s. And there are still enough fans ready to pay an arm and a leg to get their hands on one of these nifty yesteryear beauties that ran as good as they looked. It managed a 0-60mph sprint in 9 seconds.
6 The Majestic Mercedes-Benz E200
Nothing signifies luxury more than that oversized Mercedes Benz logo. And with innovations in technology keeping them abreast, or at par with, all the other luxury automakers around, the Benz is a big contender. The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine in the E-200 manages a 181 horsepower and 220 ft-lb torque output that gives this car all the speed that it needs. Add the active-safety features and driver-assist interface and you got a world-class car that can ferry you in ultimate comfort, and fast enough to satisfy the sportsman in you. Of course, the top end trims are more luxurious but even a base Benz can satisfy most of our auto dreams. This one revs 0-60mph in under 9 seconds.
5 The Hot-Rod Hennessey Venom GT
When you talk about a car birthed by Hennessey Performance Engineering, you have to know that it’s going to be something very special. Add a venomous name to it, aka the Venom, and forget 0-60, it can go 0-186mph in 13.63 seconds.
Imagine the sheer, sheer power in it. And now meet the power mill – the engine is a 7.0-liter (think Ford F-150’s top model) twin-turbocharged V8 mammoth that should have gone down with the dinosaurs but landed up in the Venom instead. Technically, this is not a small car – but for a 7.0-liter engine to be put under its hood, it is minuscule.
4 The Snappy Subaru WRX STI
Japanese cars and the JDM at home are all about speed. Which is why Honda and Subaru are known for their little speedy devils that roam around disguised as cars. Now let’s talk about the 2019 Subaru WRX STI – this one carries a 2.5-liter Boxer engine that is pretty big for a car of its size. The compact little ride is armed with Subaru’s legendary all-wheel-drive system and the mill jets out 310 horsepower and 290 ft-lb torque. This makes the Subaru fly from 0-60mph at 5.3 seconds – which is big, for a smallish car. Maybe they should just rename it the Small Wonder.
3 The Nimble Nissan Nismo 370Z
The Nissan Z-line is well-loved, and the 370Z was the sixth generation of the Z-cars, launched in 2008. The body of the car isn’t all that big; rather it looks a tad cramped. But the size that does matter lies under the hood.
For a car of this size, the 370Z holds a monstrous 3.7-liter V6 motor that thrashes out an impressive 370 horsepower and 276 ft-lb of torque. All this is married to a high-performance clutch and transmission that makes this little power pack run 0-60mph in less than five seconds and touch top speeds of 155mph. Yet again, a prime example of Japanese auto-mastery.
2 The Tiny Muscle Car: Shelby Cobra 427
There was a reason why Ford Mustang temporarily married Shelby to make the Mustang Cobra. There was something about Cobra, or rather its maker, Carroll Shelby. While the Mustang-Cobra union was temporary, the standalone Cobra car was one of its kind. The car was not big on size but it was huge on power, and we mean enormous. With a 7.0-liter Ford FE V8 engine fitted with a Holley carburetor, this one whipped out 425 horsepower and 480 ft-lb torque. It zipped 0-60mph in flat 4.5 seconds and managed top speeds of 164mph. Truly, a marvel of a ride.
1 The Captivating Ford Capri Perana
So this is not a car that the domestic market got, and more’s the pity. This was a car made for the South African car market. An autotuner from Joburg, Basil Green, armed a Ford Capri with a huge, and we mean ginormous, 5.0-liter Windsor small-block V8 power mill from the Mustang. And the Capri went from being a bratty car to one that rewrote automobile history – so renamed the Ford Capri Perana. A 0-60mph took just 6 seconds, and if you are not impressed with these stats, please remember we are talking the early 70s here. Top speeds were 140mph and above, the Ford Capri Perana decimated many a rally and race it took part in.