What is the Average Car Horsepower?
  • Buying Guides

What is the Average Car Horsepower?

By Autolist Editorial | August 28, 2019

While the horsepower varies from vehicle to vehicle, and country to country, in a typical American car, you can expect, on average, a 120-horsepower engine. Larger SUVs often have a 200-horsepower engine, and smaller cars may only have a 70-horsepower engine.

When purchasing a vehicle, horsepower is likely one of the primary considerations you have in mind. However, beyond knowing what the average horsepower is, it's also essential to understand what it is, how it is derived, and other information.

You also need to understand that horsepower isn't the only factor that impacts vehicle performance and ability. By understanding all the components that make up a vehicle's power, you can make a more educated decision when you are ready to buy.

Read here to learn more about horsepower.

What is Horsepower?

Horsepower is a unit of power used to measure the forcefulness of a vehicle's engine. The total number of miles your vehicle can go during its lifespan is also determined using horsepower.

Essentially, the horsepower tells the total running capacity of a vehicle.

A single unit of horsepower is equivalent to 33,000 lb.-ft. per minute. However, the actual term "horsepower" is considered an arbitrary unit of measure. The International System of Units does not recognize it. Instead, it was invented by James Watt while he observed ponies that were pulling coal out of a mine.

Comparing Horsepower to Other Factors

The more power that a vehicle has, the better its acceleration will be. It is a substantial factor in overall performance.

That is one reason that car marketing talks so much about horsepower capacity of best class or high-performance vehicle models. However, while horsepower is important, it's not a good idea to ignore other factors, too.

If you drive a compact or large sedan, the smaller vehicle will run faster as it is lighter. Another feature that affects a vehicle's performance is torque. The main motive of this is to measure the twisting force. Vehicles that have a higher torque will speed up much better from a specific spot and carry more weight when it is towing.

An engine that has high performance, like in sports cars, consists of powerful horsepower and torque in vehicles. They complement one another, and both specifications provide a much more balanced driving experience.

A Timeline of Modern Horsepower in Vehicles

The Ford Model T used an engine that produced just 20 horsepower. Through the years, horsepower has evolved.

The following is a timeline of horsepower numbers and how they have changed and evolved through the years:

  • The 1960s:
    This decade was the birth of the muscle car. It was a high performance, mid-sized car with low gas mileage and staggering horsepower.

  • 1966:
    The Dodge Charger was introduced with 325 HP, and the Pontiac GTO offered 360 HP.

  • The 1970s:
    It was the decade when the muscle car died. The war on horsepower was attributed to several factors, including quadrupling gas prices, the Clean Air Act of 1970, as well as the oil crisis of 1973. Also, auto insurance companies were increasing premiums on higher performance vehicles.

  • The 1980s:
    During this decade, horsepower increased steadily. That was because of the improvement in the economy, the falling oil prices, and the federal fuel economy standards topping out.

  • The 1990s to the Present:
    From the years 1980 to 2004, the average horsepower in United States vehicles increased by 80 percent.
    Congress has also appointed the EPA as the agency in charge of regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA ended the horsepower wars. By 2016, the average gas mileage was required to reach 35.5 mpg.

By 2010, the average vehicle accelerated from 0-60 mph in just 8.95 seconds. That represented a significant increase, as in 2006, the average sprint to 60 mph was 10.9 seconds, and 13.1 seconds in 1980.

Today, horsepower is leveling off, but it isn't decreasing. The legendary horsepower wars present between the Chevrolet Camaro and the Ford Mustang have changed to help balance efficiency and power. To illustrate this epic battle, consider the following:

In 1980 the average horsepower of the V8 engine in the Mustang was 119 and, in the Camaro, it was 120 HP. In 2010, the V6 engine in the Mustang reached 305 HP and, in the Chevrolet Camaro, it was 304 HP.

Even though the horsepower has increased through the decades, the average mpg has actually improved. In 196, the average was 12.4 mpg, which grew to 16 mpg by 1980, and 27.9 mpg by 2010.

Calculating the Horsepower of a Vehicle

There are several ways to calculate the horsepower of a vehicle. By determining the speed and torque of a vehicle, a person can pursue any method for measuring the horsepower. The dynamometer is used for calculating the torque, and the tachometer is the tool that computes the speed or RPM (revolutions per minute) of an engine.

The formula used for calculating horsepower is:

Horsepower=Torque x Speed / 5252

You can use the above formula for checking the average horsepower of a vehicle. Another method you can use to check the power of your vehicle is to check the size of the engine, along with the total number of the cylinders it has. You can use either of these methods to determine the average horsepower of any vehicle.

A Closer Look at the Average Horsepower of a Vehicle

The average horsepower of a vehicle varies from one vehicle to another, and from one country to another.

Here are some of the best-selling vehicles in the U.S. and the horsepower ratings:

  • Honda CR-V: 184-190 horsepower
  • Honda Civic: 158-180 horsepower
  • Toyota Corolla: 132 horsepower
  • Toyota Camry: 178 horsepower four-cylinder, optional 301-horsepower V6

Most of the mid-sized cars in the U.S. have horsepower that ranges between 170 and 190. However, compact SUVs, such as the Subaru Forester, have approximately the same power as the small size cars, but with a slight difference of 120 to 130 HP. For pickup trucks, the base horsepower is between 275 and 300, but can greatly increase depending on which engine is selected.

Keep in mind this isn't true for other, higher performance cars. And with automakers such as Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and BMW putting wide ranges of engines and performance into a single model, vehicles today can have a wide range of available performance in many body styles.

Common Myths About Horsepower That Are Still Believed

Some individuals may have been duped into believing the myths about extreme horsepower numbers and that they win both drag races and bragging rights. However, another factor should be praised, too – torque. Higher horsepower doesn't always make a vehicle fast. In the words of Jay Leno, "Horsepower sells cars, but torque wins the race."

The Myth: Cars with a Lower Horsepower are No Good

Most people believe that vehicles with lower horsepower aren't worth investing in. However, this is an illusion.

Also, vehicles with higher horsepower get much more attention. They are expensive, look stylish, and are fun to drive. Manufacturers are continually working to enhance the total quality of power to increase competition in the auto industry.

With so many stylish and expensive vehicles featuring higher horsepower available, it's important to realize that cars with lower horsepower amounts are also worthy. Midsize and compact vehicles don't have the high level of horsepower that's so popular. In fact, they work much better without all this power.

A modest power engine can keep these vehicles accessible because of lower prices, efficiency, safety, and fuel. These cars don't rely on horsepower. Instead, they provide distinct performance over the higher horsepower vehicles. They may not even achieve the highest speed in just a few seconds but are fun to drive because they are agile and lightweight.

The Myth: The More Horsepower, the Better

Cars that have more horsepower are more satisfying to buyers and are considered more potent regarding performance. While the horsepower in your vehicle is expensive, it's not the only factor that needs to be considered when buying a vehicle. If being able to speed up from zero to 60 mph in just a fraction of a second isn't essential to you, several vehicles offer several features to think about.

Horsepower Requirements for Modern Vehicles

One of the reasons that a vehicle needs enough power is so that it can make its way down the road. When traveling at a speed of 60 mph, the typical vehicle needs between 10 and 20 horsepower so it can maintain the rate it is going.

The energy level is required to overcome the rolling resistance of the tires and wind resistance. If you have your vehicle's headlights on, then the alternator is using the power from the engine to generate electricity to power the lights. If the air conditioner is turned on, this is pulling power.

Another issue is acceleration. The larger the engine, the faster that you can go from zero to 60 mph. All these factors determine what the horsepower of modern vehicles needs to be to operate efficiently and effectively.

The Bottom Line

For horsepower in past and present vehicles, there's no question it plays a massive role in overall performance. While this is true, it's crucial to remember this isn't the only factor that impacts the performance of a vehicle. And today, there is a wide variety of techniques manufacturers use to extract more power out of engines in all types of body sizes. Small vehicles don't necessarily mean low levels of horsepower, these days. And the introduction of more electric motors in vehicles could also change the way horsepower is considered.

Keep all this information in mind to ensure the right new car with the best power is purchased.