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Too Much Is Never Enough?

Posted in Horsepower, trends by J D Stadler | March 29th, 2011 | 3 Responses |

One Horsepower = Not Enough

Recently, Inside Line ran a story about their long-term Infinity M56 having more than 400 hp (420, to be exact).  The question posed is one I have often wondered about myself.  At what point, if any, does one say “this car has too much horsepower”?  It almost reminds me of razors – remember when they came out with the Mach 3, then the Quattro, then the five-blade Fusion?  At some point, we’ll all be shaving with seventeen blades I am sure of it, but I digress.  When I was a young’n, my engine of choice was Honda; small displacement, around 150 hp, and four little naturally-aspirated cylinders.  The cars were relatively light and there was more than enough power to get me into trouble.  I vivdly remember sometime around 2003 seeing a commercial for the Acura TL boasting 225 hp, a number that honestly blew my mind at the time (remember, I grew up in the era of economy, not muscle cars).  Back then, 420 horses on a family sedan would have been unfathomable.  So what happened?

A few things, as far as I can tell.  Certainly, automobiles became heavier with all the new safety equipment, airbags, nannies, and electronic gizmos galore.  All that weight needed something to get it moving so it’s naturally understandable the newer engines should be capable of churning out More Power, as Tim Taylor would say.  The second thing is, to me, a by-product of good ol’ American consumer culture: More More More.  Our cars grew bigger (Escalades, Hummers, and Excursions, oh my!), the engines got bigger to keep up, and of course, no one wanted a wimpy, wheezy four-banger when they could have a throaty, roaring V8.

But like everything else recently, the bubbles all burst and the trend is now back to down-sizing (or in marketing-speak, “right-sizing”) our vehicles these days.  Thing is, in the last 10 years we’ve advanced so much in technology that we can produce, say, 270+ hp from a smaller, turbo-charged 2.0 like the new Sonata and Optima.  We made the cars smaller but kept the power in many cases.  So back to the original question, when is it too much?  Especially in a FWD, family-oriented sedan (say, an Acura TL Type-S) do we really need so much power that something has to be calibrated to control torque steer?

I freely admit I too am guilty of the “bigger is better” mentality, to a degree.  For example, when contemplating a new Mazda6, the 272 ponies in the V-6 are quite a bit more appealing than the 170 in the base 4-cyl.  I say this, even knowing that those 170 have never let me down, left me stranded, or disabled me from merging into even rapid highway traffic in my ’03 Mazda6 (and god knows at this point I’m not even making use of the full number anyway).  So why the desire for more?  Maybe it’s not the most eco-friendly thing, but I feel like “why not get more for your money if the deal is right?”  I personally am not going to go out of my way to pay more for more horses but I know several others who would.  Marketers know it too.  But as I said, in my case there’s a limit.  I think I would personally find it depressing to have all that power, especially if you creep past the 300 mark, under my right foot with nowhere to (legally) use it.  Let’s face it, most of us are never taking our daily drivers to the track, we don’t have anything as awesome as the autobahn here in the states, and the lawmakers are already on a tear to bring the speed limit back to a dismal 55 mph.

So what say you?  Is More Power the way to go?  If the auto-makers offer it, will you buy it?  And is there ever a limit to how many horses a car needs?

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3 Responses

  1. Set says:

    I’d say an econobox sedan these days needs at least 120 hp with all the weight added on to them. Anything less would be dangerously slow for some on-ramps in California. Plus, if you ever have to go up some hills that are here, more wouldn’t exactly hurt. SUV’s, crossovers and most light duty trucks need around 200 ponies under the hood to do the same, though. I’d say anything more than that could be classified as a vanity item for most people, or a luxury for those that actually use it.

  2. Alex says:

    i would disagree on the speed limit, i know some states are considering upping the speed limit to 40/75 from 35/65

  3. Taylor says:

    Too much horsepower is relative to the car that it is in.

    The Veyron is engineered around achieving a specific amount of HP.

    When someone takes a Mazda Miatta and crams a 302 in it and does nothing to keep that HP in line, then that car now has too much HP.

    And to answer your question, yes, I would buy it if the manufacturers offered it and I could afford it.