Horsepower vs. Torque: A No Numbers Explanation

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horsepower vs torque

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First of all, we’re not going to do any math. Or science. No math or science. This is a numbers-free space. We’re just not going to do it, and you can’t make us.

We will apply a Seinfeldian linguistic analysis, however (don’t worry, it will only take a moment). Ahem:

What’s the deal with torque? It’s kind of like horsepower. Sounds like horsepower. Has something to do with power. They should call it torquepower.

And now that’s over. The short answer is that horsepower and torque are two sides of the same coin. It depends on the car but generally the two work hand in hand. A modest, economy car might have horsepower and torque numbers in the 200s range. A performance car might have numbers in the 400s range.

Torque and horsepower are the yin and yang of your engine. They are two measures of “Lands alive, Gertrude, your car is slower than the decline of the NFL in American culture,” or “For stuffing’s sake, Kevin, this car is faster than butter melting in a microwave.”

Honestly, all the graphs and math that exist on this subject are just way too complex for the average driver, particularly since most cars use automatic transmissions these days. We’re not shifting gears for ourselves anymore, and that’s really where you might use any knowledge about how much torque or horsepower your car has.

In reality, when you give the car some gas, a computer decides when to shift gears so as to maximize your torque and horsepower.

So, here’s the point: given that knowledge about horsepower and torque is largely irrelevant, don’t let anyone use them to impress you. “It has 400 horsepower!” “Oh really, what does that even mean?” And watch their mental gears slow to a crawl (ironic, isn’t it?) as they try to figure out how to explain that.

It’s similar to when a new smartphone comes out and they explain how much RAM or CPU speed it has. It doesn’t matter. What matters is how fast it loads YouTube videos of local news bloopers. Is Angry Birds smooth? Awesome. Will the camera capture this lizard before he shoots under the rock? Stellar. These are the important questions.

That’s it. Good night.

Are you still here? You really want some scientific whos-a-muh-whats-it? Oh, ok. Fine. One article makes the counter-cultural argument that horsepower is indeed the best measurement of acceleration in the real world (most articles argue that torque determines acceleration, which is true theoretically). We like this article because it swims against the current.

And for those of you who shift manually, this article has some refreshingly counter-intuitive things to say about how to optimize your shift points.

See? We did it. Gave you your pound of numerical flesh without writing it ourselves. Here’s a video for good measure.

Now, if we’re done faffing about, why don’t you head up to Chris Leith Dodge in Wake Forest and test-drive a new Dodge. That’s the best way we can think of to learn what horsepower is.

Horsepower vs. Torque: A No Numbers Explanation was last modified: January 29th, 2015 by Chris Leith Dodge