Horsepower and torque are some of the most mentioned specs in-vehicle commercials and in showrooms. But what is horsepower?
Horsepower is the power that a particular engine can manage to push out, and in most cases, it translates to speed. However, the torque, which can be viewed as the strength or the force that pushes you back in the seat, plays an equally important role.
The amount of horsepower that can be viewed a lot depends on you as the driver. What is your point of reference? How much does your current car push out in terms of horsepower?
A typical small American car has 120 horsepower, 200 horsepower for larger SUVs, and between 275 and 300 for pickup trucks. One of the best-selling vehicles in America, the Honda CR-V, has between 184 and 190 horsepower.
The 300 horsepower and above is usually the tipping point. A full-size vehicle with 315 to 420 horsepower feels more agile and lighter because of the extra power. If you are used to such powerful vehicles, anything less would feel sedate and a drag on the highway.
Is Horsepower Really an Important Spec?
It’s obviously sacrilege to say this but horsepower on its own is not a sufficient measure of a vehicle’s performance. Most car buyers tend to overlook certain aspects, such as the car’s weight, but the extra pounds do a number on the vehicle.
For example, the 1244-horsepower 7.0L Hennessy Venom GT is one of the fastest, clocking at 270.49 mph. Bugatti Chiron with a more powerful 1500-horsepower engine only manages 261 mph, which is 10 mph slower.
How Are You Going to Use the Car?
The thing is, you cannot get both acceleration and hauling power at the same time. You have to choose one at the expense of the other.
You cannot expect an acceleration-focused horsepower to haul a load of harvested apples from the farm and maintain the same efficiency it spits out on the highway. The roadster, even though more expensive than a truck, is going to underperform. Its gearbox is highly specialized for speed, and this ultimately requires deeper pockets.
On the other hand, a Ram truck or SUV built for hauling loads may have a lower acceleration rate because its gearbox is load-focused but has higher horsepower.
The engine’s ability and focus is on pulling a significant amount of load without stressing the engine and within a reasonable time. You will sacrifice the excitement in the speed of a smaller sports car, but you will be able to haul a lot more in one go in a truck.
Clearly, if you are going to purchase a vehicle based on performance, horsepower is only one ingredient in the cake. Others such as aerodynamics, torque, weight, and technology are critical, and you should not overlook them. Regardless, what matters most is how the drive feels, and not so much the spec sheet.
Get inside the vehicle that you desire, see how fast it accelerates, but most importantly, determine how much fun you are having. The driving experience is what really matters.
Robert Anderson is a world class motorhead who rebuilt his first carb at age 10, his first engine at age 15, and completed his first full hotrod build when he was just 18! Previously, he has ran a part warehouse, delivered pizzas, and managed the service department for a $20 million/year revenue dealership. Robert knows cars like few others and he is passionate about sharing his knowledge.