These cars look like they should perform way better than they do.
There are a couple of reasons cars make it onto the market looking like they mean business but, in reality, are slower than a Sunday afternoon after a big meal with the TV channel stuck on PBS. Mainly, sticking a lower performance engine in a car generally known to be fast is a good way of selling more units to people that care more about image than substance. A lower performance option can also satisfy people that love the car but can’t afford more, as long as that lower performance isn't embarrassingly low. Of course, power isn’t everything as we know from the continued existence of the Mazda MX-5, but image is why so many people still skip over them.
Other reasons include cars that were strangled by emissions in the 1970s and early 1980s before technology caught up. Occasionally, we’ve also seen brands drop the ball or make a weird decision and just massively underpower a car. These are the most memorable examples we can think of.
The story of Delorean is spectacular and worth diving into, but the short version is that it was the brainchild of the man behind, amongst others, the iconic Pontiac GTO. John Delorean was hot stuff in his heyday. He managed to be both a rebel and the youngest division head at General Motors while also achieving celebrity status. In 1973, he left GM to pursue his creative vanity project and build a car himself. It promised to be something special, and it certainly looked it with a stainless steel body, gullwing doors, and its engineering taken care of by Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus.
The DMC-12 was the Delorean company's only car, but it achieved the status of icon after appearing as the time machine in the Back To The Future movies. However, the French built 2.7-liter V6 was ponderous at best and dragged the Delorean to 60 mph in a boring 10.5 seconds.
You have to hand it to Chrysler here. it made a great looking American car. Except... Karmann built it for the Chrysler in Germany and it shares around 80% of its parts with the Mercedes SLK of the time. However, its timeless styling is down to Andrew Dyson who is… British. Anyway, it looks good, it’s underpinned by Mercedes, so it should handle like the styling promises, right?
Of course, it doesn’t. The 3.2-liter V6 made just 218 horsepower and got from 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds. That wouldn’t be so bad if the car didn’t look like it could destroy a 3-Series, not be slower than it. The only option for the enthusiast was the SRT6 version which fixed everything with suspension and brake system modifications with the addition of a 335-hp AMG engine. There has been rumors of the Crossfire being brought back, and if so we hope it's done right this time.
Nowadays, there’s no shame in the V6 engines Ford puts in the Mustang. However, for the big redesign of the Mustang for the 2005 model year, the base rental and poser spec 4.0-liter V6 made a miserly 205 horsepower. It lasted until 2011 when an aluminum block 3.2-liter V6 making 305 horsepower was introduced, and buying a V6 Mustang stopped being such a penalty for those that don't have the budget for a V8.
While we’re beating on V6 options, it wouldn’t be fair to mention the Mustang and not the Camaro. From 1993-1995, the base engine was a 3.8-liter V6 that got to 60 mph eventually and had a top speed if you could find a long enough road. It was matched to a 4-speed automatic transmission that put the slush in slushbox. It was pure rental spec.
Toyota managed to spank the affordable mid-engined sports car idea out of the park with the MR2. Pontiac, well, not so much. And when you use a word that means wild or ferocious in Spanish to name your sports car, it needs to deliver. Unfortunately, and assuming your Fiero didn’t catch fire, the 2.5-liter engine delivered an infinitesimal 94 horsepower while the 2.8-liter V6 somehow only delivered 135 horsepower. In case you’re thinking those extra cylinders may have brought the noise with the torque, it only made 160 lb-ft.
The Mondial was a mid-engined sports car complete with the Ferrari level of grip and handling we expect. Hover, this 1980s wonder came with a 3.0-liter V8 that puffed and wheezed out just 205 horsepower and rolled its eyes as it made its way to 60 mph in just under 10 seconds. The Mondial 8 wasn't Ferrari's finest moment, but the Mondial T came out at the end of the 1980s with an actual engine that made 300 horsepower and did the 0-60 mph run in a respectable 6.3 seconds.
Rather than deliver an underpowered V6, Chevy dropped an underpowered V8 in the C4 generation Corvette when it launched in 1984. The 5.7-liter L83 engine generated just 205 horsepower until 1985 when it got a bump to 230 horsepower, and another bump in 1987 to 240 horses.
The 1970s Firebird had a lot of engine options. In fact, it had 14 but to actually get any power you had to go quite a way up the list. Matched to a 3-speed automatic transmission, the Chevy straight-6 engine coughed up 112 horsepower. The 6.6-liter Pontiac V8 sounds like it’s going to be a treat, but 180 horsepower is shameful. That’s a miserable 27.2 horsepower per liter.
Once upon a time, Mitsubishi knew how to make a thriller of a car. The FTO is not one of them though. It was originally a Japanese Domestic Market car but found its way out of Japan on the grey market. In 1994 it won the Car Of The Year Award in Japan, and it must have been on looks alone. The 1.8-liter 4-cylinder made just 123 horsepower, while the 2.0-liter V6 made an almost acceptable 168 horsepower, although you had to take the engine to 7,000 rpm to find it. You had to get to the top trim to find the variable valve timed V6 models that made 197 horsepower at 7,500 rpm.
The name Veloster suggests something that’s going to fast, and its sleek sporty styling just adds to that. However, the Veloster's 1.6-liter engine produces 128 or 138 horsepower, depending on trim, which is 10 or 20 less than a base model Honda Civic. While an EPA estimated 27 mpg is great for the pocket, you would still be better off with a Civic. The Veloster Turbo model cranked things up to 201 horsepower in North America, which is comparable to a Civic Si and a little more expensive. The newer Veloster N is where the smart money goes with 250-275 horsepower and a little under $28,000 to buy new.