• Buying Guides

What is the Average Car Horsepower?

By Jason Collins | September 12, 2021

Typically, you can expect the average car horsepower to fall between 180 and 200 horsepower in a mainstream car. However, larger and more luxurious vehicles, like an SUV or performance sedan, will often have a base-level engine that exceeds 300 horsepower. And smaller cars can still have fewer than 100 horsepower.

When purchasing a new car, horsepower might be one of the primary considerations you have in mind. However, beyond knowing the average horsepower, it's also essential to understand what it is, how it is derived, and its impact on your driving experience.

What is the Average Car Horsepower in the US?

The average horsepower of a vehicle varies from one vehicle to another and even among global markets. However, most compact and midsize mainstream vehicles in the US today have horsepower ratings between 170 and 190.

Below are some of the averages for different types of cars in the U.S:

  • Compact car: 130 horsepower (four-cylinder)
  • Midsize car: 170 horsepower (four-cylinder)
  • Full-size sedan: 200 horsepower (four-cylinder) or 280 horsepower (six-cylinder)
  • Crossover: 200 horsepower (four-cylinder)
  • Small SUV: 240 horsepower (four-cylinder)
  • Midsize SUV: 280 horsepower (six-cylinder)
  • Large SUV: 400 horsepower (eight-cylinder)
  • Compact truck: 200 horsepower (four-cylinder)
  • Full-size truck: 300 horsepower (six-cylinder)
  • Heavy duty truck: 400 horsepower (eight-cylinder )
  • Minivan: 280 horsepower (six-cylinder)

Here are some of the best-selling vehicles in the US in 2021 (so far) and horsepower ratings for base models:

  • Ford F-Series: 290 horsepower
  • Chevrolet Silverado: 355 horsepower
  • Honda CR-V: 190 horsepower
  • Honda Civic: 180 horsepower
  • Toyota Corolla: 139 horsepower
  • Toyota Camry: 206 horsepower
  • Nissan Rogue: 181 horsepower.
  • Subaru Forester: 182 horsepower.
  • Nissan Sentra: 149 horsepower.

With automakers such as Cadillac, 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. Also, consider turbo and supercharged engines that tip the scales with horsepower.

What is a Good Amount of Horsepower for a Car?

One of the reasons that a vehicle needs enough power is to have enough for situations when not just cruising. For example, when traveling at a speed of 60 mph, the typical car needs between 10 and 20 horsepower to maintain the constant rate of speed.

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 uses the engine's power to generate electricity to power the lights. If the air conditioner is on, it pulls energy from the engine.

Another issue is acceleration. The larger the engine, such as those in a performance car, the faster 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.

Right between 200 and 300 is a good amount of horsepower for a car. Many base models from some brands offer between 100 and 200 horsepower, suitable for drivers who do not mind a more relaxed driving experience in exchange for a better economy. However, the average sedan will fall between 200 and 300 horsepower, a sweet spot for vehicles and driving conditions. Once you start going above 300 horsepower, as on performance and sports cars, only a more experienced driver will be able to operate the vehicle in some situations safely.

How Much Horsepower is Considered Fast?

When we think of top speeds, one of the world's fastest cars is the Hennessey Venom GT. This supercar is not shy and has 1,244-horsepower with its 7.0-liter V8 engine derived from. a Chevrolet Corvette's. In addition, two turbochargers take it to a certified top speed of 270.49 mph.

Then there is the Bugatti Chiron with 1500 horsepower, but it has a 10 mph lower top speed than the Hennessey — so does horsepower mean fast when you compare these two supercars? Not necessarily.

Comparing Horsepower to Other Factors

The more power a vehicle has, the better its acceleration will be. Therefore, horsepower is a substantial factor in the overall performance of a car. That's one reason why car marketing talks so much about the horsepower capacity of best class or high-performance vehicle models. But while horsepower is significant, remember to consider other contributing factors.

If you drive a compact car versus a large sedan or crossover, the smaller car will run faster as it is lighter. But another feature that affects a vehicle's performance is torque. Torque is a force applied at a distance, and the main motive of this is to measure the twisting force. Therefore, vehicles with a higher torque rating will speed up more quickly from a specific spot and carry more weight when towing.

Like that in sports cars, an engine with high performance consists of a powerful combination of horsepower and torque. They complement one another, and both specifications provide a much more balanced driving experience.

Another factor is whether the car has a diesel or a gasoline engine. A diesel engine makes more torque than horsepower because they have a greater compression ratio than gasoline engines. So basically, a diesel engine can do a lot of work, but not as quickly as a gasoline engine.

Different powertrains also distribute horsepower differently. In a front-wheel-drive car, the engine's power goes to the car's front wheels. A rear-wheel-drive vehicle delivers power from the engine to the rear wheels only. Four-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive cars, or electric cars with electric motors at the front and rear send power to the front or rear wheels depending on software inputs from sensors or through manual selections from the driver.

Finally, the transmission or gearbox also plays a prominent role when considering horsepower. The gearbox influences the total system efficiency and power of the car. And torque comes into play, too, because it's directly proportional to the volume of the car's engine. That means that a very large engine paired with a small transmission can provide the same torque output and affect horsepower.

What is horsepower in a car?

There is an old saying that horsepower is how fast you will hit a wall, and the torque of a car is how far you will take the wall with you. But, of course, that's not entirely accurate if you get down into the engineering behind the terms.

A car's engine power is measured in horsepower. The amount of horsepower a vehicle has depends on the size of the car's motor, its cylinders, and displacement. Thus, horsepower is a unit to measure the forcefulness of a vehicle's engine and basically the rate at which the engine works.

A single unit of horsepower is equivalent to 33,000 pound-feet per minute. That means that horsepower reflects the power necessary to lift 33,000 over a foot in one minute. However, the actual term "horsepower" is considered an arbitrary unit of measure, and the International System of Units does not recognize it. Instead, it was invented by James Watt while he observed ponies pulling coal out of a mine.

The metric horsepower has an electric equivalent:
1 HP = 764 watts.

Calculating the Horsepower of a Vehicle

By determining a vehicle's speed and torque, there are a few methods for measuring horsepower. The dynamometer, or dyno, 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

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

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.

  • 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 1973 oil crisis. Also, auto insurance companies were increasing premiums on higher-performance vehicles.

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

  • The 1990s to present:
    From 1980 to 2004, the average horsepower of a vehicle sold in the US increased by 80%. By 2010, the average car accelerated from 0-60 mph in 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.

But while there have been periods where the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards all automakers must follow stagnated, the US is preparing stricter standards that could slow the advances horsepower figures have made over the decades. Much like the European Union, it's also imposing the use of more plug-in electric vehicles — 50% of new cars sold by 2030.

Today, horsepower numbers are leveling off, but it isn't decreasing. As a result, the legendary horsepower wars between the Chevrolet Camaro and the Ford Mustang have changed to 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 hp and, in the Camaro, it was 120. In 2010, the V6 engine in the Mustang reached 305 and, in the Chevrolet Camaro, it was 304 horsepower.

Even though the horsepower has increased through the decades, fuel economy has improved. In 1980, the average new vehicle was rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at 12.4 mpg combined, which rose to 16 mpg by 1996, and 27.9 mpg by 2010.

The Bottom Line

For horsepower in the past and present vehicles, there's no question it plays a massive role in overall performance. However, while this is true, it's crucial to remember this isn't the only factor that impacts a vehicle's performance. And today, there is a wide variety of techniques manufacturers use to extract more power from engines in all types of body sizes, from coupe to large SUVs and pickup trucks.