Best Sports Cars by Weight
Forget about power, it’s the power-to-weight ratio that matters!by Ciprian Florea, on
We typically judge performance cars by their power ratings and 0-to-60 mph times, but we tend to overlook the importance of power-to-weight ratios. Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus Cars, was among the first to realize that "adding" lightness was better than adding power. The man who designed the iconic Lotus Seven, and other lightweight sports cars, once said that "adding power makes you faster on the straight, subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere." But is this still true in an era when automakers and most enthusiasts are crazy for horsepower and lower 0-to-60 sprints?
Definitely. While most vehicles are becoming increasingly heavier due to new, advanced technology and safety regulations, some carmakers still follow Chapman’s philosophy and focus on lightweight construction rather than powerful engines. Here’s a list of cars that aren’t awfully powerful, but boast impressive power-to-weight ratios thanks to their lightweight designs.
The iconic 124 Spider made a comeback in 2016 after a 30-year absence, and it didn’t take long until Fiat gave it the Abarth treatment. Adorned by sportier design cues on the outside, the 124 Abarth also features a slightly more powerful version of the 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, rated at 164 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It might not sound like much compared to other sports cars available on the market, but this cabriolet is lighter than a McLaren.
Its lightest iteration, the Scorpione, tips the scales at a little over 2,300 pounds, but this variant is no longer available, so you'll have to settle for the regular Abarth 124.
Fortunately, the standard model weighs in at only 2,381 pounds. The Italian sports car is also pretty affordable at a little over $30,000 before options.
|Power-to-weight ratio||151.8 hp / tonne|
|0 to 60 mph||6.4 seconds|
|Top speed||137 mph|
Read our full review on the 2018 Fiat 124 Abarth Spider.
Just like the Fiat 124 Spider, the Alpine A110 revives a famous nameplate from the past. Inspired by a rear-engined berlinetta built from 1961 to 1977, the A110 also revived the Alpine brand after a 20-year hiatus.
Developed and built with Renault's RS division, the A110 is just as light as the 124 Abarth at 2,381 pounds, but it features a notably more powerful engine.
The turbocharged, 1.8-liter four-cylinder generates 252 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of twist, which makes the A110 a worthy competitor for the Porsche 718 Cayman. Quicker and more powerful, the A110 is also more expensive than the Abarth. Sadly, it’s not yet available in the U.S. (although there are rumors that Renault might return to North America soon).
|Power-to-weight||233.3 hp / tonne|
|0 to 60 mph||4.5 seconds|
|Top speed||155 mph|
|Price||around $60,000 (conversion)|
Read our full review on the 2019 Alpine A110.
The car that marked Alfa Romeo’s return to the United States, the 4C doesn’t have much left on the market. The coupe was discontinued for 2019 after five years in dealerships, leaving the Spider as the sole survivor. One of the last no-nonsense sports cars that are still road-legal in America, the 4C comes with a big issue.
Due to U.S. safety regulations, it's some 300 pounds heavier than its European counterpart.
Still, the 4C is pretty light at 2,337 pounds, and its turbocharged four-cylinder engine enables it to return reliable performance. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder cranks out 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of twist, just enough to send the drop-top flying from 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. The 4C Spider is far from cheap though, retailing from $66,900 before options.
|Power-to-weight||223.5 hp / tonne|
|0 to 60 mph||4.4 seconds|
|Top speed||160 mph|
Read our full review on the 2019 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider.
A nameplate that has a massive following thanks to its appealing power-to-weight ratio and affordable sticker, the Mazda MX-5 Miata was redesigned for 2016 model year, when the fourth-generation ND model was introduced. Now with a more aggressive design and a more modern interior, the Miata remains loyal to naturally aspirated power. And of course, it remains extremely light for a road-legal vehicle that can still be used as a daily driver.
Tipping the scales at only 2,315 pounds in its lightest iteration, it comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder under the hood.
The mill cranks out 181 horsepower and 151 pound-feet following an update made for the 2019 model year and pushes the roadster from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds, on its way to a top speed of 149 mph. Priced from $25,730, it’s the most affordable sports car on this list.
|Power-to-weight||172.4 hp / tonne|
|0 to 60 mph||6.5 seconds|
|Top speed||149 mph|
Read our full review on the 2018 Mazda MX-5.
Morgan has been building its Plus models for decades now, and even though they look like they were conceived in the 1930s, they feature modern underpinnings and engines. The British firm just discontinued the Plus 8, replacing it with the Plus Six, but the Plus 4 remains in production and on offer for the U.S. market.
Tipping the scales at only 2,044 pounds, the Plus 4 features a Ford-sourced, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that cranks out 154 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque.
It needs only 7.4 seconds to hit 60 mph and tops out at 118 mph. If this version isn’t powerful enough for you, the Morgan Roadster 3.7 has a 3.7-liter V-6 under the hood and an output of 280 horsepower. And it’s not much heavier either, weighing in at 2,094 pounds. The Plus 4 retails from $69,995.
|Power-to-weight||165 hp / tonne|
|0 to 60 mph||7.4 seconds|
|Top speed||118 mph|
Read our full review on the 2018 Morgan Plus 4.
At 1,795 pounds, the Elise is the lightest vehicle you can buy from Lotus in 2019. Granted, the third-generation Elise is already eight years old as of 2019, but it can hold its own against the competition and age isn’t necessarily an issue for no-nonsense sports cars like these. Except for the fact that it doesn’t have airbags and this prevents it from being a road-legal vehicle in the United States. The Elise gets its juice from a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine sourced from Toyota.
It generates 134 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque and pushes the little two-door from 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds.
The only serious issue with this car is that you can’t buy it in the United States. Actually, the Elise is getting phased out in Europe too, so you’re probably better off with a pre-owned model.
|Power-to-weight||164.6 hp / tonne|
|0 to 60 mph||5.9 seconds|
|Top speed||145 mph|
|Price||around $53,000 (conversion)|
Read our full review on the 2018 Lotus Elise
Introduced in 2008 as KTM’s first four-wheeled vehicle, the X-Bow evolved into many iterations over the years.
The X-Bow R is the lightest at 1,741 pounds, and its powerful engine contributes to a tremendous power-to-weight ratio.
Motivated by an Audi-sourced, 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated at a whopping 300 horsepower, the X-Bow R boasts an incredible 380 horsepower per tonne. The Austrian sports car needs less than four seconds to hit 60 mph from a standing mile and runs the quarter-mile in the low 12s. The bad news is that the X-Bow R isn’t road-legal in the U.S. after all these years, although now you no longer have to purchase the car and the engine separately. It’s also notably more expensive than other choices in this list at around $100,000 before options.
|Power-to-weight||380 hp / tonne|
|0 to 60 mph||3.9 seconds|
|Top speed||149 mph|
Read our full review on the 2018 KTM X-Bow R
Introduced in 2000, the Ariel Atom has been around for an impressively long time. And even though it soldiered on without significant upgrades, it’s still one of the best and lightest sports cars money can buy. Essentially a tubular frame with four wheels and two seats, the Atom is devoid of unnecessary technology and features and has its engine mounted behind the seats. The latest iteration of Ariel’s roadster, the Atom 4, features a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder from Honda that packs an impressive 320 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque.
Tipping the scales at less than 1,400 pounds, it needs only 2.8 seconds to hit 60 mph from a standing start and charges up to 162 mph.
Although it’s available in the U.S., you can’t drive it on public roads due to safety regulations. The Atom 4 is a bit more affordable than other lightweight sports cars, coming in at $74,750 before options.
|Power-to-weight||524 hp / tonne|
|0 to 60 mph||2.8 seconds|
|Top speed||162 mph|
Read our full review on the 2019 Ariel Atom 4.
Just like Ariel, BAC is based in the United Kingdom and produces one of the lightest, no-nonsense sports cars on the market. The Mono is actually very similar to the Atom when it comes to design and construction, it also has a Ford-sourced engine (modified by Cosworth), but it has just one seat. But the main thing that sets the two apart is the weight rating.
The Mono is almost 100 pounds lighter than the Ariel Atom, tipping the scales at just 1,279 pounds.
Coupled with the 2.3-liter Ford engine that generates 305 horsepower and 227 pound-feet of torque, the BAC Mono has a power-to-weight ratio of 525 horsepower per tonne. The sprint to 60 mph takes only 2.8 seconds, while top speed is rated at an impressive 170 mph. The Mono is pretty expensive though, fetching in excess of $150,000 in the United States.
|Power-to-weight||525 hp / tonne|
|0 to 60 mph||2.8 seconds|
|Top speed||170 mph|
Read our full review on the 2019 BAC Mono.
A design that goes back to the 1950s, the Seven is the result of Colin Chapman’s obsession with building the lightest sports car for the road. Taken over by Caterham in the 1970s, the Seven is now the lightest road-legal car you can buy. Opt for the 620R model and weight goes down to only 1,201 pounds. This incredibly low curb weight comes with a powerful engine as well, as the modified supercharged 2.0-liter unit from Ford generates a solid 310 horsepower and 219 pound-feet of torque.
This rating gives the Seven 620R a power-to-weight rating of 568 horsepower per tonne, which is enough to send the roadster flying from 0 to 60 mph in 2.79 seconds.
Its top speed is also impressive at 155 mph. The 620R will cost you around $80,000 before options, but adding the goodies will increase the sticker to more than $100,000. But it’s definitely worth it!
|Power-to-weight||568 hp / tonne|
|0 to 60 mph||2.79 seconds|
|Top speed||155 mph|
Read our full review on the 2018 Caterham Seven 620R
The cute and little Fiat 500 becomes a bit more aggressive in Abarth trim and loses a bit of weight through lighter materials. While the 695 Biposto is no longer available, the regular Abarth 500 is a cool choice as well at 2,518 pounds. The 160-horsepower four-cylinder is brawny enough for the little coupe, resulting in a power-to-weight ratio of 140 horsepower per tonne. Priced from $20,540, the Abarth 500 is affordable too.
Read our full review on the 2018 Abarth 500
Unlike the Elise, the Evora is still in production and, more importantly, it’s available in the United States. Lotus now offers various versions, including a GT430 Sport model that tips the scales at 2,751 pounds. That’s massively heavier than the Elise, but remember, the Elise is no longer available. Powered by a 430-horsepower supercharged V-6, the Evora boasts a power-to-weight ratio of 344 horsepower per tonne. The Evora GT430 Sport costs in excess of $100,000.
Read our full review on the 2017 Lotus Evora GT430.
This beefed-up version of the 570S isn’t as light as the vehicles at the top of our list, but it’s notably more powerful. Although it barely slots below the 3,000-pound mark at 2,989 pounds, the 600LT comes with 592 horsepower and 457 pound-feet on tap. Its power-to-weight ratio sits at an impressive 436 horsepower per tonne. The 600LT is very quick at 2.9 seconds to 60 mph, but it’s also very expensive, fetching $250,000 before options.
Read our full review on the 2019 McLaren 600LT
This cool three-wheeler might not be a full-fledged car, but it tips the scales at an impressive 1,212 pounds. Powered by a 2.0-liter V twin engine from S&S, the 3-Wheeler hits the road with 82 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque. This rating seems laughable on its own, but combine it with the low weight, and it results in a power-to-weight ratio of 156 horsepower per tonne. That’s more than the Fiat 124 Abarth Spider and almost as much as the Lotus Elise. Actually, the 3-Wheeler is a half-second quicker to 60 mph than Fiat 124 Abarth at 5.9 seconds, and its top speed isn’t bad at 115 mph either. You can buy one for £34,530, which converts to around $45,000 as of May 2019.
Read our full review on the 2019 Morgan 3-Wheeler