What is the Average Car Horsepower?
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What is the Average Car Horsepower?

By Autolist Editorial | April 13, 2021

Nothing is set in stone when it comes down to horsepower in a car. Horsepower varies a lot from one car to another and from country to country.

That said, typically in a mainstream American car, you can expect the average vehicle to fall between 180 and 200 horsepower. Larger SUVs often have more than 300 horsepower engine, while small cars may only have around 100 horsepower. Full-size pickup trucks often have 300-400 horsepower, while luxury SUVs and larger luxury sedans also have 300-400 horsepower.

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 is also essential to understand what it is, how it is derived, if a turbo engine is really something you want, and its impact on your driving experience.

You also need to understand that horsepower is not 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 a new car.

What is the Average Car Horsepower in the US?

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 US in 2020 and their horsepower ratings:

  • Ford F-Series: The base model starts at 290-horsepower
  • Chevrolet Silverado: 355-horsepower
  • Honda CR-V: 184- to 190-horsepower
  • Honda Civic: 158- to 180-horsepower
  • Toyota Corolla: 132-horsepower
  • Toyota Camry: 178-horsepower four-cylinder, optional 301-horsepower V6
  • Nissan Rogue: Sole powertrain option for 2020 is rated at 170-horsepowerSubaru - Forester: All powertrains provide 182-horsepower.
  • Nissan Altima: 182- to 248-horsepower.

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

The average horsepower for a mainstream American car falls between 180- and 200-horsepower.

Keep in mind this is not true for the more powerful cars on the market today. 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. Then, of course, you need to 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 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 uses the engine's power 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, 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.

So, what is a good amount of horsepower for a car? Right between 200- and 300-horsepower is a solid amount of horsepower on a vehicle. Many base models of a variety of brands/models will offer between 120- and 200-horsepower, which is excellent for drivers who do not mind a more relaxed driving experience.

However, the average sedan will fall between 200- and 300-horsepower - a sweet spot for many drivers. Once you start going above 300-horsepower, which is found in performance and sports cars, you may not be able to handle the wheel if you are not an experienced driver.

How Much Horsepower is Considered Fast?

When we think of top speeds, one of the world's fastest cars is the Hennessy Venom GT. This supercar is not shy and has 1,244-horsepower with its 7.0L Corvette engine. Two turbochargers take it to a speed of 270.49 mph.

Then there is the Bugatti Chiron with 1500-horsepower, but it is 10 mph slower than the Hennessy - so does horsepower mean fast when you compare these two supercars? Not necessarily.

Some of the most powerful and fastest cars in America start from 650-horsepower and above, and one could definitely consider that to be fast.

Topping the ranks of fast cars in America include the following:

  • 2020 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1: 650-horsepower
  • 2021 Dodge Charger and Challenger Hellcat Widebody: 717-horsepower
  • 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500: 760-horsepower
  • 2020 Tesla Model S: 778-Horsepower
  • 2021 Dodge Charger and Challenger Hellcat Redeye: 797-horsepower
  • 2021 Dodge Challenger SRT Super Stock: 807-horsepower

These days, 400-horsepower is generally the starting point for a driver that wants a fast car.

What is horsepower in a car?

There is an old saying that says 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. While the saying is catchy, it is not entirely accurate if you get into the engineering behind the terms.

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

Essentially, the horsepower of a car is an indication of its total running capacity.

A single unit of horsepower is equivalent to 33,000 pound-feet per minute. This means that horsepower reflects the power necessary to lift 33,000lbs over a foot in one 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.

The metric horsepower has an electric equivalent of:

1 HP = 764 watts.

The metric horsepower also equals 32,549 foot-pounds per minute or 0.9863 - this is what some European and German manufacturers use when they provide engine power.

Calculating the Horsepower of a Vehicle

There are several ways to calculate the horsepower of a vehicle. By determining a vehicle's speed and torque, a person can pursue any method 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

You can use the above formula for checking the average horsepower of a vehicle. Another method you can use to check 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.

Comparing Horsepower to Other Factors

It goes without saying that the more power a vehicle has, the better its acceleration will be. It is a substantial factor in the overall performance of a car.

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

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. Vehicles with a higher torque will speed up much faster from a specific spot and carry more weight when it is towing.

As is the case in sports cars, an engine that has 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 to consider is whether your car has a diesel or a gasoline engine. A diesel engine often makes more torque than horsepower because they have a greater compression ratio than gasoline engines. Basically, a diesel engine can do a lot of work, but not as quickly as a gasoline engine - and remember, horsepower refers to work done quickly.

The powertrain of your car is another encouraging factor for horsepower because different powertrains distribute the horsepower differently. In a front-wheel-drive car, the engine's power is directed to the front wheels of the car. A rear-wheel-drive vehicle delivers power from the engine to the rear wheels, and the front wheels do not receive any power.

Lastly, your gearbox also plays a large role when considering horsepower. The gearbox influences the total system efficiency and power of the car. It is advisable to check if the horsepower rating is for the car's motor alone or if it includes the gear efficiency. There, also, is the effect of torque here. Torque is directly proportional to the volume of your car's motor. This means that a very large motor that is paired with a small gearbox can provide the same torque output and affect your horsepower.

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-horsepower, and the Pontiac GTO offered 360-horsepower.

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. This was the result 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's vehicles increased by 80 percent.

Congress had 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 is not decreasing. The legendary horsepower wars present 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 and, in the Camaro, it was 120. In 2010, the V6 engine in the Mustang reached 305-horsepower and, in the Chevrolet Camaro, it was 304-horsepower.

Even though the horsepower has increased through the decades, the average mpg has actually improved. In 1996, the average was 12.4 mpg, which grew to 16 mpg by 1980, and 27.9 mpg by 2010.

The Bottom Line

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

Small vehicles do not necessarily mean low levels of horsepower, and the introduction of more electric motors in vehicles could also change the way horsepower is considered. Do not be shy to explore used cars too. The average used car in the United States is eleven years old, and even with the older models at a lower price, you can find a 300-horsepower engine.