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What is the Average Horsepower of a Car?

By Michael O'Connor | July 7, 2023

What is the Average Horsepower of a Car?

While the average horsepower of a new car will usually be between 180 and 200, there are some wild variations on either side of that figure and it is important to know what you can expect.

When buying a car, there are a lot of things to consider and a lot of options to wade through. Depending on your particular needs, you may want to put more of a focus on certain considerations such as cargo space, payload capacity, or fuel efficiency.

However, horsepower is one of the most important specs to look at when choosing a car.

The horsepower will determine all kinds of things about a vehicle you are thinking of buying. While top speed may not be important to you, horsepower can also determine how safe a vehicle is in a highway situation, the gas mileage, and other factors that go beyond how fast it is.

Horsepower vs. Torque

It is important to understand the difference between horsepower and torque when talking about an engine’s capabilities. You will often see these two specs next to each other and while they are related, they are not the same thing. Essentially, torque is the measurement of how much work the engine can do while horsepower is the measurement of how fast it can do that work. One will get you better speed while another will give you more pulling power and acceleration.

One of the best ways to look at the difference is that horsepower equals speed while torque equals the amount of power. If you are looking for a vehicle that can pull heavy towing loads, you are going to want higher torque. If you want something fast on the highway, horsepower is going to be your main concern. Both have their place and they usually go hand-in-hand to some degree.

Why Does the Average Horsepower of a Car Matter?

It is important to know the average horsepower of cars currently on the market. This allows you to make an informed decision at the dealership. For example, vehicles like the Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa, Toyota Corolla Hybrid, Kia Rio, and Mitsubishi Mirage are not powerful cars and all have under 130 horsepower. Knowing that the average is between 180 and 200 lets you gauge what you can expect from them. While these vehicles have their own sets of advantages, speed is not going to be one of them.

You may want to know the average horsepower of a car so you can know if a vehicle is going to have too much horsepower. If you are driving on city streets or if you are shopping for a vehicle for a new driver, it is incredibly important that the horsepower figure isn’t too high. A high-performance car like a BMW, Mercedes, or Porsche may not be appropriate for these applications and could be too powerful to handle. A sensible compact car with a four-cylinder engine like a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord may be a better option.

How Much Horsepower is Considered Fast?

There is no set number that will be considered good horsepower for every vehicle. An engine’s horsepower is just one of many factors that will make a vehicle fast on the road. The car’s engine has to propel the rest of the vehicle and if the rest of the vehicle is sluggish and heavy, a more powerful engine may not be enough to make the car fast. While adding turbo to a large car will technically add more horsepower, it won’t necessarily take the vehicle to the next level when it comes to top speed and performance.

That being said, for a large vehicle, 400 horsepower is a good number to look for and will generally give you a good idea of what it is capable of. For small cars and midsize cars, look for at least 200 horsepower. It should be noted that more horsepower almost always results in worse fuel economy, so if the true cost of ownership for a vehicle is important to you, you should aim for slightly lower.

Knowing everything you can about vehicle horsepower and why it matters can help you make the right decision when looking at the specs of a car you are thinking of buying.

What is Horsepower in a Car?

In short, horsepower is the measurement of engine power that a certain vehicle has. Scottish inventor James Watt determined that one horsepower is calculated by how much power it would take to move 550 pounds one foot in one second. In an automotive application, the engine’s power that is generated determines the overall speed and capability of the vehicle. High-horsepower sports cars like the Ford Mustang GT or the Chevrolet Corvette get the name muscle car for their combination of relatively low curb weight and powerful engines.

It should be noted that horsepower is not always going to be the deciding factor in whether or not a car feels fast to drive. For example, a Dodge Ram 1500 can have up to 700 horsepower but it will not necessarily feel fast. All the added weight and the sluggish handling can bring down both acceleration and top speed. A Mazda MX-5 Miata only has around 180 horsepower but it has a low curb weight and incredibly responsive handling, so it will feel faster to anyone driving it.

What is a Good Amount of Horsepower for Different Vehicles?

Different vehicles will have different requirements for horsepower and as you shop for a new car, you must keep this in mind. By knowing what you can expect from each of these segments, you can make a good decision at the dealership. You can also know that your new vehicle won’t be underpowered or overpowered, which is crucial if you are going to feel comfortable driving it.



The right amount of horsepower for a car will depend heavily on how big it is and what segment it is in. For a compact or subcompact car, anywhere right below 180 horsepower is going to be sufficient. For midsize cars, 250 is a good start. Anything under 180 might be slightly underpowered unless the vehicle is incredibly small like a Mini Cooper or Mitsubishi Mirage. For example, the base Honda Civic puts out 158 horsepower, but it is small and light enough to get decent speed at a slightly lower horsepower rating.



The pickup truck segment is where you will start to see horsepower ratings skyrocketing. Even the higher-torque diesel engines have relatively high horsepower since they need to be able to power the heavy frames and the weight of the engine. The average horsepower for the class is somewhere between 250 and 300 but this can go all the way up to 700 for the massive full-size trucks. If you are planning on doing any kind of work with your truck, you will want at least 300 horsepower and a high torque output so you can know that the pickup will be able to handle large payloads and towing loads.



SUVs and crossovers are some of the most popular vehicles on the market and they come in a wide range of sizes. If you are looking for a compact or subcompact SUV, most of them are going to come with less than 200 horsepower. A midsize SUV will generally come with between 250 and 300 horsepower but some of the luxury versions can have up to 500. When you start looking at large full-size SUVs with V8 engines, you can expect between 350 and 400 horsepower. However, some, such as the Cadillac Escalade, can be found with upwards of 650 horsepower.

How Horsepower Dictates Performance:

Power-to-Weight Ratio:
The power-to-weight ratio is one of the most important factors when determining how horsepower is going to affect the overall performance of a vehicle. A lot of horsepower won’t matter much if the vehicle is too heavy for the amount of power that is being put out.

For example, many crossovers have the same amount of horsepower as the cars offered by the same manufacturer. Because of the power-to-weight ratio, the car version will be much faster and a lot more nimble, which translates to a much more enjoyable driving experience.

How horsepower is delivered to the vehicle will have a big impact on the performance. Most of the time, the horsepower that is advertised is the peak power that is generated at a certain RPM. RPM is the revolutions per minute and is the measurement of how fast the engine is revving.

The lower the RPM is when the engine is delivering peak horsepower, the faster it will feel. This is why electric cars like the Tesla feel so powerful. The torque is instant and the peak horsepower can be reached almost immediately.

Type of Horsepower:
When talking about horsepower, it is important to know that there are two different types: crank horsepower and wheel horsepower. Crank horsepower is the measurement of the power being put out at the vehicle’s crankshaft. This number will often be higher than the wheel horsepower since it is coming straight from the engine.

The wheel horsepower is the amount of power that is put out from the wheels after that power has been transmitted from the engine to the axle. In some cases, manufacturers will list the crank horsepower to inflate the spec and make it seem like the vehicle is more powerful than it is. The wheel horsepower is a more accurate number, so it is a good idea to know which one is being displayed.

Final Thoughts

Knowing the average horsepower of a car can help you decide if the vehicle you are shopping for is right for you. Power is an important part of a car’s performance and if you choose wisely, you can make the most of your purchase. While all vehicle types have their own average horsepower, knowing what to expect and what the general range is is the best way to make the right choice at the dealership.