Journal: How Much Horsepower Is Too Much?

How Much Horsepower Is Too Much?

By Yoav Gilad
February 13, 2014
22 Comments

It is safe to say that some cars have too much power. The real trick though, is figuring out exactly what that means. You could simply ascribe a number arbitrarily—five hundred, for instance. But doesn’t the weight of the vehicle matter? After all five hundred horsepower in a five thousand pound Bentley doesn’t really seem too excessive.

So is it a function of driver ability? Obviously, Sterling Moss, Niki Lauda and Michael Schumacher could handle more power than an average, weekend amateur. Some cars are at a natural disadvantage for high horsepower though, due to their chassis design, which means that more horsepower will get you in trouble quicker.

And finally, if we’re talking about a car that is meant for road use, the opportunities to truly exploit tremendous amounts of power are few and far between. So what are your thoughts? Which cars produce excessive power? Is there even such a thing?

How much horsepower is too much?

Photography by David Marvier for Petrolicious

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Erik de Vries
Erik de Vries
10 years ago

There is no such thing as too much horsepower.
There is no such thing as too much fuel economy.

Where the graphs of these two quantities intersect, is often found the happiest of mediums.

JanMichael Franklin
JanMichael Franklin
10 years ago

I believe to each their own. If acceleration is the most important factor to someone then there is no such thing as too much horsepower. I used to be that person. I had an Evo X with 450hp and it was certainly fun and addicting. However, I couldn’t use the power on the street most of the time, I got several tickets, and there was also the fact that there was always somebody faster out there somewhere. I had to learn the hard way that the most important thing about a sports car is the way it feels and the way it handles. It’s also nice to be able to use all of the power whenever I want rather than when I’m able to.

Brompty
Brompty
10 years ago

Horsepower, 0-60 times, torque etc. all seem fairly irrelevant to how well a car performs in everyday driving. Even straight line drag racers need to be able to actually put the power down through the tyres and overcome inertia. For most driving I need to be able to steer the car accurately, be comfortable (so that I want to be in the car) and just as importantly stop (good brakes make the car go faster).
So to answer the question, power is too much once it has ruined the car.

Beck
Beck
10 years ago

Interesting point by previous posters, the 1hp to 10lb ratio is quite applicable in many cases. For instance, my sub-2100lbs Miata track car with approximately 210whp. It’s definitely sufficient to keep up with most lappers out there aside from certain prepped cars like 3.8 RS’s, C6 ‘vettes, or GT-R’s. Though we run somewhat similar lap times, it’s inevitable that my almost 20 year old chick-car will get blown away in the straights. I do wish for more ponies out fo that 1.9L Mazda power plant, but will it sacrifice the great balance that I have now? The beauty of the ability to go deep into and early out of corners (sometimes flat-out all the way through) that I love so much? I can only find out in later builds. Ha!

Back to the question: I suppose it depends on the type of vehicle you have and the sort of motoring you do with it. Personally, I wouldn’t enjoy a say a Scion IQ with a Hartley H1 V8. Even though it might fit in there somehow, but I presume it won’t be fun driving that riot in a FWD tin-can at all (unless one’s definition of fun is constantly doing burnouts and massive understeer in and out of corners). As many have mentioned previously, it’s really about balancing several aspects like weight, wheel base/track, and which engine location/drive wheel it is, etc. The key I guess is to find the sweet spot that brings the most joy in the type of driving you do – fast but manageable; thrilling but not unsafe. Never go beyond what the driver is capable of I’d say.

Jake Williams
Jake Williams
10 years ago

I think striving for high horsepower can be a bit juvenile, but it’s very situation oriented. If it’s for straight line speed, the more the merrier. Dependent on what the chassis can hold together, power = wins.
However, the more power you have, the lazier some people tend to get with their driving. As aforementioned in the Lightweight E-Type video, “smaller bore cars make better drivers,” and have that power makes you think less about what you need to do to get the car around the track. In events like rally racing, your power is only as helpful as your skill. The more power, the more to you, but you have to be ready for it. However, in sports like drifting, more power is just easier to get you around. With so much technology keeping you on the road at speed, anyone can be a fantastic drive, and that’s not very fair to the people who have to work at it.
So, all in all, power is a great thing, but only when it’s usable, helps you as a driver, and only when levels the playing field. Few other factors, but I’d hope you get the jist.

Hayden
Hayden
10 years ago

Question: HOW MUCH HORSEPOWER IS TOO MUCH?

Answer: However much it takes to brake your drivetrain.

… sometimes too much is just enough

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson
10 years ago

[b]The short version[/b]: It’s weight-dependant but there’s really no “need” to go beyond 500 hp in my opinion.

[b]Long version[/b]:
I guess I’m with the general consensus (thus far). 1 hp per 10 lbs, as Richard Love mentioned, seem like a pretty decent rule of thumb if the chassis can handle it. BMW E60 M5 is in the 1 hp per 8 lbs range and as far as I’m concerned, it is unnecessarily fast, but somehow not in the “that’s just ridiculous” group. The Porsche 997 and 991 Turbo, Ferrari 458 etc are in the 1hp/7lbs to 1hp/6lbs group and the main reason why the hp numbers keep increasing is obviously because cars are getting heavier and heavier and the supercar manufacturers feel they have to keep increasing the power/weight ration in every new iteration.

Sure 600 hp (about) in the Ferrari 458 Italia and McLaren 12C is probably mighty fun on a track and they are designed to be over the top and holy s*, that’s insane. However, I wouldn’t say I’d be disappointed if they “only” had 500 hp. While I respect the Veyron, Koenigseggs and the likes for the technological achievements, for pushing the boundaries and making progress in fields that could actually benefit “real” cars in the future. Cool as they might be, they are in my opinion also quite silly. Then again, when it comes to the $200k+ supercars the HP figure is mainly for bragging rights and if people want to spend that amount of money and feel they have to have more horsepower than their friends/neighbours, good on them.

Personally, I’d be way more impressed if the next generation supercars had 450-500 hp and weighed 3000lbs or less.

Oliver Gude
Oliver Gude
10 years ago

I hope that Alfa Romeo is heading in that direction with the new C4!

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson
10 years ago
Reply to  Oliver Gude

Maybe I’m misinterpreting what you’re saying, but as far as the 4C go, I’d say Alfa Romeo has already gone down that route. Slightly more than 2000 lbs with 240 hp on tap. That sounds like a recipe made in heaven, although there seems to be some minor issues with it. Hope it’s a preview of what’s to come from Alfa and that other manufacturers deicide to go in the same direction.

Gary Groce
Gary Groce
10 years ago

It’s not about the horsepower, it’s about the torque.

Gary Groce
Gary Groce
10 years ago
Reply to  Gary Groce
Gary Groce
Gary Groce
10 years ago
Reply to  Gary Groce

Please see video below of 72′ Datsun 1200… worlds quickest street legal electric car. IT WILL KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF !!

Darin Spyderdog
Darin Spyderdog
10 years ago

ive said it before and ill say it again: id much rather drive a slow car fast then a fast car slow

Francisco Miranda P
Francisco Miranda P
10 years ago

BMW M3 E30, “S14B23” I think represents the prefect balance between power and weight!, isnt it? driveability, sound, felling, fun!

Jack Olsen
Jack Olsen
10 years ago

“When you can leave two solid black stripes from the exit of one corner to the braking zone of the next, you have enough horsepower.” – Mark Donohue, driver of the legendary 1580-hp, 1800-lb Porsche 917/30

Antony Ingram
Antony Ingram
10 years ago

Depends on so many factors I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer. Here in the UK, in a modern car with modern levels of mass, I find 200 horsepower to be about perfect – it’s enough to feel quick, overtake, give you that kick without being unusable. I’ve driven a few ~500 hp cars on the roads over here and while they’re great fun, you can virtually never make use of all that power.

I’d happily drive cars with much less power. And have done. My old Miata only made 115 hp or so, my ’74 Beetle just 44 hp. The way they drove more than made up for a perceived lack of power. Last year I drove an E-Type and an MGB back to back on the same roads – the E was of course good fun with its extra punch, but the MGB lost little to it because you could use everything it had, pretty much all the time.

JB21
JB21
10 years ago

Number is impressive, and power power power is awesome. But what really matters is the nature of delivery, isn’t it? I mean, at no point I ever complained about the power while driving an old Fiat 500, I can never feel that car is underpowered. But it’s also kind of reassuring when you get to drive something that makes, say, 500hp. Best prepared meal can be ruined by a lousy server, right?

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange
10 years ago

I think this is being an increasingly important subject especially amongst in the modern performance car community. Most of the modern supercars are just to quick to be enjoyed on the road at legal speeds. My Daytona packs 352BHP and weighs 1500 ish kg. that seems plenty quick enough to me. It’s modern equivalent the F12 weighs about the same but packs 740bhp. You end up constantly checking the speedo rather than enjoying the drive.

Richard Love
Richard Love
10 years ago

One horsepower for every 100 pounds is sufficient to me. I am in the process of having a 1,500 pound car restored. It will have @ 150hp. Correct lump with performance mods. I was at Leguna Seca when the introduced the Hot new Bugatti. Driver spun it on the first turn and went right back to the pits. Too much horsepower for a pro.

BiTurbo228
BiTurbo228
10 years ago
Reply to  Richard Love

That’s not a bad rule of thumb actually. I’m building a Spit6 that should, hopefully, weigh in at 1650lbs and make 170bhp. Should be a very, very quick car.

Likewise, my Alfa 156 weighs 2987lbs. I’d be very happy with 220bhp, but with 300bhp it would also be a very, very fast car.

Emanuel Costa
Emanuel Costa
10 years ago

I agree. First there are the packed roads and the legal limits (not everyone can enter a race or try is car in a track); and then there is the ability of the driver. That’s why lots of young guys die in violent crashes with there newly bought BMW or Mercedes.

And finally, I have to quote your recent video about the Porsche 356A:

[b]Although it only makes about 60hp, it causes an adrenaline rush as you’re close to the road, the instruments, and there isn’t a lot surrounding you. There’s immediacy about the car. And according to the owner, Mr. Jon Warshawsky, “It feels like a racing machine.”
[/b]

Dustin Rittle
Dustin Rittle
10 years ago

iI was always a big believe in that power is essential but not everything. We live in a world today with 4,000 pound cars with 600 maybe 700 horsepower that really cant even be used unless in extreme cases. I believe horsepower should be based on a few things..one is the weight of the car..second is the ability of the chassis to cope with said power and last but not least the ability of the driver to manage that power. If you can get a nice balance between those three things its like perfection.

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