One would expect a muscle car to have a muscled engine, right? But there have been examples of the opposite, too. There have been underpowered muscle cars aplenty all over the world and the engine is the reason why those cars flopped in the market. But the opposite of this opposition is also true yet again—and that is that many small cars often sport heavy-duty engines.
Why automakers do this is easy enough to deduce. They stuff ridiculously large engines into relatively tiny cars to make their tiny cars the fastest things on Earth. This kind of a gambit doesn't always pay off, though, and there have been a few flops and failures in the market. For instance, the Jaguar XE SV Project 8 stuffed a V8 into a small car. The result forced Jaguar into making only a left-hand-drive version of the car since modifying it into a right-hand drive proved impossible because of the cumbersome engine.
But there have been plenty of amazing cars that have managed to carry big engines inside their tiny bodies and become superstars of the auto industry. These tiny wonder cars may not look like much, but take them out for a spin and one realizes the sheer potential hidden under the hood. They are zippy, fast, and their small size makes them convenient enough for traffic-prone cities, as well. We've listed a few of our favorites.
25 The Zippy Audi S1
The four-ringed auto giant, Audi, started its journey way back in 1910. Ever since then, the company has belted out numerous vehicles targeting a wider range of consumers. With the launch of a fresh A1 Sportback a few years ago, there were speculations of a high-performance S1 variant for the 2019 model year. The S1 is dubbed as the tiniest S-badged car, which also happens to be a high-performance sibling of the A1. According to Autocar, the S1 reportedly gets a turbocharged, 2.0-liter powerplant that could cough up 250 horsepower. That's massive for a car this size.
24 The Cool Mini Cooper John Cooper Works Hardtop
The John Cooper Works is also termed as the JCW and hides a 2.0-liter, direct-injected, twin-scroll engine under its hood. It also borrows variable cam timing technology from its parent company, BMW. Its turbocharged mill is tied to a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission and can thrash out a worthy 228 horsepower and 236 ft-lb worth of torque. It’s a front-wheel-drive that can do 0-60 sprint in just 6.1 seconds with manual transmission and 5.9 seconds with the automatic.
23 The Very Swift Suzuki Swift Sport
The Swift Sport is a small fun car from Suzuki’s stable of the adrenaline-charged cars. It’s affordable at $20,000 and also has decent fuel economy. It carries a naturally-aspirated, 1.6-liter, turbocharged, DOHC VVT inline-four engine that can deliver a peak output of 123 horsepower and 109 ft-lb worth of torque. This minicar comes with an option of a six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed automatic transmission with manual mode and paddle shifters. It also boasts off a top speed of 130 mph and 0-60 sprint in just 7 seconds. That is remarkable for this tiny ride.
22 The Simply Sleek Fiat 500 Abarth
It is among one of the most affordable fast rides that any speedster buyers can opt for. The Fiat 500 Abarth currently retails at just about $19,000 with lucrative incentives offered by the dealers. While the 1.4-liter Multi Air turbocharged engine may sound small, it jets out a massive 160 horsepower and 17o ft-lb worth of torque. Plus, its lightweight chassis with Koni performance suspension helps it achieve an impressive 0-60 mark in just 6.9 seconds. This is quite good for a car this size.
21 The Cute But Not Cuddly Daimler SP250
Another classic that came out from the UK's auto giant stable was the SP250. This Daimler beauty may not look intimidating at first sight, as it looked small and weighed only 940 kilograms. But it housed a massive, 2.5-liter, iron-block V8 engine under its hood; in fact, it was one of the biggest engines of the early 1960s, which goes to show that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, or a car by its size! This V8 was worth 140 horsepower and allowed the car to achieve a top speed of 124 mph. Plus, a 0-60 mph acceleration time of 8.9 seconds was quite impressive.
20 The Very Capable Ford Focus RS
The Ford Focus is a name synonymous with a small, family-friendly car. Its mention on this list may sound a bit strange as bigger engines in a family car make little sense. However, the RS trim of Focus doesn't just look sportier, with its hatchback and a striking rear spoiler. It is also dubbed as one of the best in its category. Armed with Ford’s legendary 2.3-liter Eco Boost engine, this powerhouse is capable of cranking out a substantial 350 horsepower and 350 ft-lb of torque. It scores a 0-60 mph sprint of just 4.6 seconds and has a top speed of 165mph.
19 The Super Quick Volkswagen Golf R
Looking at the tiny size of this iconic car brand, it is hard to believe that a Volkswagen Golf could house a massive engine under its hood. However, the subcompact Golf R is the best among the line of Volkswagen’s performance cars. The model is armed with a 2.0-liter, turbocharged engine that can put out 292 horsepower and 280 ft-lb of torque. Plus, there is an option of a proven seven-speed, twin-clutch DSG automatic transmission with paddle shifters. A 0-60 sprint time of 4.8 seconds is just phenomenal.
18 The Limited Edition SEAT León Cupra 310
The SEAT León is a small family hatch that has won many laurels since its launch in 1998. SEAT also launched a 100-units, limited-edition trim called Cupra 310 in 2017. It carried a robust and retuned 2.0-liter TFSI engine that could pump out a massive 310 horsepower and 313 ft-lb worth of torque. Its engine remapping was done by the renowned auto tuning experts, Abt Sportsline of Germany. The company claims a top speed of 161 mph and a 5.5 second 0-60 mph acceleration time.
17 The Speed Celebration: Ford Fiesta ST
The Ford Fiesta is a supermini that is small but remains one of the best-selling car brands in the domestic market. Ford has sold more than 16 million Fiesta over seven generations across all continents. The Fiesta also comes in a high-performance variant with ST badging that uses a turbocharged and direct-injected 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine. This subcompact Fiesta ST's powerful engine jets out a whopping 197 horsepower and 202 ft-lb of torque. Plus, it is capable of making a 60-mph run in just 6.7 seconds and can hit a top speed of 143 mph.
16 The Uber Snappy Subaru WRX STI
Speed is what auto giants like Subaru and Honda are famous for in the car bazaar. The Subaru WRX STI, undoubtedly, is sort of a legend when we talk about high-performance sport compact cars. Why? Because of the impressive output figures that its 2.5-liter flat-four engine unit puts out. The powerful, turbocharged engine gives a peak output of 310 horsepower and 290 ft-lb of torque. The smallish WRX STI is also armed with Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system. Plus, it accelerates to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds and has a top speed of 159 mph.
15 The Compact And Powerful Honda Civic Type R
Honda is a name synonymous with speed and power. The Honda Civic gained a lot of reputation as a compact car. It’s a perfect choice for the buyers who want to quench their thirst for speed at a budget price. Its performance trim, the Type R, is armed with a 2.0-liter, single-scroll turbocharged engine that can crank out a mammoth 306 horsepower and 295 ft-lb of torque. A 4.9-second 0-60 mph acceleration time and a top speed of 170 mph are quite mesmerizing as well.
14 The Velocity-Prone Hyundai Veloster Turbo
The Hyundai Veloster Turbo is known as a high-performance compact car that brags of a powerful, 1.6-liter, turbocharged engine. Why not? Its hefty engine delivers a peak output of 201 horsepower and 195 ft-lb of torque. Plus, one can also pick Hyundai’s well-known seven-speed with EcoShift twin-clutch automatic transmission. The car can accelerate to 60 mph from zero in just 6.2 seconds and it has a top speed of 145 mph. Its upcoming 2019 example even features a multilink rear suspension that will make the overall handling of the car even better.
13 A Classic Unlike Any Other: Lotus Elise
The Lotus Elise is a mid-engined roadster that was way ahead of its rivals in many ways. It was not for the faint of heart. The Elise does carry a few ifs and buts, like a noisy and confined cockpit and small luggage space. Plus, ingress and egress are a bit cumbersome, as well. Even then, it’s dubbed as one of the best dream machines on the planet Earth. A top speed of 150 mph and 0-60 acceleration time of 5.8 seconds is outstanding for this smallish, though very stylish, roadster.
12 The Pudgy But Powerful Peugeot 208 GTi
The Peugeot 208 GTi is something that is the quickest, most expensive version of Peugeot’s small hatchback. The 208 GTi carries a raucous, turbocharged, 1.6-liter gasoline engine that churns out a massive 208 horsepower. Plus, it scripts a 0-62mph acceleration time of just 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 143 mph. According to Autocar, this small hatch can fight the battle against the Ford Focus ST, Renault Clio, Renault Sport 200 Turbo, and its sibling, the DS 3 Performance with its head held high (and wheels spinning like crazy).
11 The Stunningly Fast Hennessey Venom GT
The Venom GT was given birth by Hennessey Performance Engineering, the famous car tuning specialists based in Texas. The Venom GT’s borrowed its underpinnings from the Lotus Exige and Elise. It is dubbed as one of the best as it carries a mammoth, 7.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 engine under its hood. Plus, it has a world record to its name, for the fastest production car that can achieve a 0 to 186 mph feat in just 13.63 seconds. That is exceptional for a small car.
10 It Dreams Of Flying: The Tramontana R
The Tramontana R is the dreamwork of Formula 1 racers and jet fighters. It attracted a lot of eyeballs because it's got the look as well as the speed. This Spanish supercar houses a 5.5-liter, Mercedes-sourced, twin-turbocharged V12 engine under its bonnet. Plus, a peak output of 888 horsepower and 723 ft-lb worth of torque speaks a lot about this supercar. The car can house two people and take them from zero to 62 mph in flat 3.6 seconds. To top it, a top speed of 202 mph is astounding for a car this size.
9 The Tiny Muscle Car: Shelby Cobra 427
The Cobra is the true definition of a sports car despite its minuscule size because it packs massive power in a small body. It gets its power from the legendary, 7.0-liter Ford FE V8 engine that was equipped with a Holley carburetor. Peak outputs of 425 horsepower and 480 ft-lb of torque were equally impressive. Plus, it’s a classic beauty with a top speed of 164 mph. The engine made the Cobra 427 nearly unbeatable and it stands apart from its rivals in the auto world.
8 The Classically Beautiful BMW M2
The M2 is currently the smallest in the M-Series but carries a massive 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged, inline-six engine that is capable of putting out an equally massive 365 horsepower and 343 ft-lb worth of torque. The powerful engine is mated to either a 6-speed manual transmission or a 7-speed twin clutch automatic transmission. A 0 to 60 mph acceleration happens in just 4.3 seconds with the manual and 4.1 seconds with the automatic transmission. That is quite phenomenal and it proves that the M2 carries a lot of mettle in it.
7 The Slightly Kooky Renault Clio V6
Design-wise, the Renault Clio V6 looks apart from the league of V6s in the auto world. The Clio V6 is a hot hatch that houses a rear-mid engine in the place where the rear seat and trunk should be. According to Evo, it may be one of the craziest cars that Renault has ever built, but it is one of the most appealing too. Despite all that, its unique design allowed the Clio V6 to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds and reach a maximum of 146 mph in no time.
6 A Thing Of Beauty And Speed: Ford Capri Perana
Not many of us will have heard of this classic beauty, as Ford developed it exclusively for the South African car bazaar. In 1970, Ford armed the Ford Capri Perana with a humongous, 5.0-liter, Windsor small-block V8 powerhouse borrowed from the legendary Mustang—and history was written in bold letters. With a top speed of 141 mph and 0-62 mph acceleration time of 6.2 seconds, it excelled at the South Africa touring car championships that took place the early 1970s.
5 The Evergreen Classic: Sunbeam Tiger
This classic beauty was designed in part by Carroll Shelby, the legendary car designer and race car driver best known for his AC Cobra and Mustang work. The Sunbeam Tiger was actually a high-performance avatar of its ancestor, the Sunbeam Alpine Roadster. It was in production between 1964 and 1967. And, most importantly, this two-door, lightweight, pocket-sized car had a powerful Ford small-block V8 hidden under its hood. Plus, this massive 4.7-liter engine is capable of putting out 164 horsepower. For the 1960s, this one was a whopper!
4 The Beautiful Nissan Nismo 370Z
The 370Z was born in 2008 and is the sixth-generation of the widely loved Nissan Z-car line. The Nismo 370Z arrived at the dealerships in 2009 and proved to be a study of contrasts. The car is small but it houses a massive, 3.7-liter V6 mill under its hood that is capable of jetting out a peak of 350 horsepower and 276 ft-lb of torque. Plus, this performance model from the house of Nismo is armed with a high-performance clutch and transmission. A 0-60 mph sprint in less than 5 seconds and a top speed mark of 155 mph both sound substantial enough.
3 The Gorgeous Aston Martin V12 Vantage S
The Aston Martin V12 Vantage sets the best precedent of the fact that size simply doesn’t matter. This Aston carries one of the world’s biggest mills under its hood and is actually the smallest modern Aston to date, too. Plus, the S variant is dubbed as the fastest Aston that the company has ever produced. With a 510-horsepower, 6.0-liter V12 mill as its heart, the S can achieve a 0-62 mph sprint in just 3.9 seconds and a top speed mark of a whopping 205 mph.
2 The Bombshell Mercedes-Benz B55
The B55 was the outcome of hard labor put in by a team of Mercedes-Benz trainees. They used a B-Class Mercedes—a B200 CDI to be precise—and fitted it with a 5.5 liter E500 V8 engine that is capable of producing 378 horsepower and 391 ft-lb of torque. The gasoline V8 engine is paired with Mercedes-Benz's proven seven-speed G-Tronic transmission. The B55 attains a 0-62 mph feat in just 5.2 seconds. According to Autocar, this one is not a regular Mercedes but a wild take on the old-school B-Class.
1 The Best For Last: Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
The Corvette may carry a steep price tag but in comparison with its competitors, it’s a true value for money. The base trim of the Stingray houses a massive V8 powerhouse that is strong enough to cough up 455 horsepower. Plus, it is equipped with premium Brembo high-performance brakes, leather seats, and a host of connectivity and infotainment features. The V8 unit is mated to a seven-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic transmission. One can even head for a weekend golf trip, as it has enough cargo space at its rear, which is surprising for a car this size
Sources: Autocar, Jalopnik, Drivetribe, Motor1, CarThrottle, Evo, CarGurus, and USNews.