Car Tech 101: Horsepower vs. Torque
Car Tech 101: Horsepower vs. Torque
4:32

Car Tech 101: Horsepower vs. Torque

Auto Tech
-Okay, aside from emissions and heat, the 2 big outputs of any engine are horsepower and torque. You know all about the first one. You've heard about since you were a little kid. It's in every automative advertisement, everything the automakers ever talked about as horsepower in there somewhere, but torque is far less well understood though extremely important. Let's break them down defined them first. Horsepower is a measure of work. Its definition makes that obvious. One horsepower is equal to 33,000 foot-pounds per minute. Now, torque is also a measure of work, but it describes work as twisting force. It's kind of like horsepower in a circle and without the per minute factor. Torque is measured in foot-pounds, not a certain number of them though. For example, it may take 27 foot-pounds of torque to loosen a particular bolt on this engine without regard for how long you have to apply that force. So at the risk of what we are simplifying, horsepower expresses how much work you can get down on a certain amount of time. Torque is about how hard you can twist something and that's key because how does a car move itself. The engine turns. It twists the gears in the transmission. They twist output for drive shafts and that moves the car. Torque really should be the star. Okay, seriously, let me show you on some charts how horsepower and torque work. I promise you won't fall asleep. Now, these are charts from cars that have been put on dynamometers, basically treadmills for cars. You'd seen this. Our partners over at Edmund's do a lot of this kind testing and gave us this data and it's very instructive. Here's the 2011 Ford Mustang. Here's who the chart works. On the left, you've got your vertical axis of either foot pounds of torque or amount of horsepower. Down across the right is basically your tachometer, it's RPM from 1 to 8,000 on this case. Now, look what happens, the torque line is this light blue one. You start building around 2000 RPM and you got more and more torque as you increase the revs. You peak right around here about 4200 with 365 foot-pounds of all the engine has and you stayed about that range until around 5200 rpm. This is the sweet spot. This is where you've got peak torque that just keeps coming. After a while, more RPMs, the torque begins to drop, horsepower keeps increasing. Let's look at another car. It's a very different engine in a McLaren MP4-12C super car. Here's our torque line again, builds gradually, and notice that about 42,000 all the way out to about 62,000. This guy stays flat and right about at the peak amount of torque around 415 foot-pounds. This is a wider what they call fatter torque band. You've got more RPMs when you have full torque from the engine. Mercedes-Benz S63, instructive because this is a twin turbo V8. Look what happens with turbos. This is the torque line, it's out of hand. It peaks really fast and it stays broad, chunky and 6011 foot-pounds of torque. That's a lot by the way for a very long time before it begins to degrade. And finally a very different car, Scion FR-S, peaks here early. It only 143 foot-pounds of torque, but then look what happens, you get this dip here. If you ever hearing me driving a car and say I feel it as flat spot in the torque curve. It's not flat at all. It's a actually a dip where the car feels kind of gutless and then up around 4800 rpm, it kicks back in again and stays nice and plat all the way out to the mid 6000. Now, you may have noticed in all these charts, torque tends to fader out as you get to the higher RPMs. That's up near your red line. That's because the engine is less able to breathe efficiently there. Secondly, notice that horsepower keeps climbing even after torque drops off. Why is that? It seems like it's two engines doing different things. While either as torque drops off the RPMs keep climbing and horsepower is largely a product of RPM times torque. So, we can put those 2 together and keep that horsepower line moving up because torque is dropping, but only modestly as RPMs go up in a linear fashion. Okay, I hope you get a better understanding now of horsepower, torque, the relationship and how they impact the driving experience of a car. Also, note, we do our car videos. I'll show you those 2 numbers and horsepower is usually the bigger. Torque is often the smaller unless that car has a turbo or a super charger, which artificially puts more in the engine and allows the torque to come higher or as high as the horsepower. That gives you another clue as to what that car is gonna be like to drive.

Up Next

Crash Testing New Electric Cars Proves They're Typically Safer
ev-crash-tests-00-02-09-11-still260

Up Next

Crash Testing New Electric Cars Proves They're Typically Safer

See What Makes the Best Tire for Your Electric Car
ion-evo-as-suv-ih01a-motion-graphics-mp4-00-02-48-12-still001

See What Makes the Best Tire for Your Electric Car

Why Are So Many Electric Cars, Scooters and Bikes Burning?
ev-battery-fires-00-02-02-15-still243

Why Are So Many Electric Cars, Scooters and Bikes Burning?

Seen the New 2023 Prius? Here's Why It's Turning Heads
2023-prius-reveal-b-roll-toyota-mp4-00-00-39-19-still001

Seen the New 2023 Prius? Here's Why It's Turning Heads

The Bestselling EVs of 2022
best-selling-evs-2022-00-02-00-17-still233

The Bestselling EVs of 2022

Best Dash Cams: A Buying Guide
cnet-buyers-guide-dashcams-2022-00-00-27-07-still086

Best Dash Cams: A Buying Guide

GM's Electric Pickups Head On: Comparing the Sierra EV to the Silverado EV
b-roll-gmc-sierra-ev-denali-edition-1-gmc-mp4-00-03-33-14-still003

GM's Electric Pickups Head On: Comparing the Sierra EV to the Silverado EV

Meet a Mind-Bending Hybrid: The Sono Sion Solar-Grid EV
sono-sion-00-09-01-10-still220

Meet a Mind-Bending Hybrid: The Sono Sion Solar-Grid EV

These Are the Cars That Qualify Now for the New Tax Credit
large-15747-2023-id-4-volkswagen

These Are the Cars That Qualify Now for the New Tax Credit

Don't Buy an EV Until You See the Most Important Ones Coming in 2023
221007-yt-electrified-best-evs-coming-in-2023-3

Don't Buy an EV Until You See the Most Important Ones Coming in 2023

Tech Shows

The Apple Core
apple-core-w

The Apple Core

Alphabet City
alphabet-city-w

Alphabet City

CNET Top 5
cnet-top-5-w

CNET Top 5

The Daily Charge
dc-site-1color-logo.png

The Daily Charge

What the Future
what-the-future-w

What the Future

Tech Today
tech-today-w

Tech Today

Latest News All latest news

Boston Dynamics Retires Its HD Atlas Robot
p1022506-00-00-01-20-still001

Boston Dynamics Retires Its HD Atlas Robot

Taste-Testing 6 Apple Cider Vinegar Drinks
applecider-160424-land-00-00-06-18-still001

Taste-Testing 6 Apple Cider Vinegar Drinks

Testing BruMate's Leakproof Tumbler
brumate-160324-land-00-00-47-14-still001

Testing BruMate's Leakproof Tumbler

Tips and Tricks for the AirPods Pro 2
airpods-pro-2

Tips and Tricks for the AirPods Pro 2

Apple 'Mercenary Attack' on iPhones Explained
cnet-vertical-wing-opener-new-alpha-00-00-31-22-still001

Apple 'Mercenary Attack' on iPhones Explained

What's the Future of Phones? Expert vs. AI
240412-site-what-is-the-future-of-phones-expert-vs-ai-v1

What's the Future of Phones? Expert vs. AI

Most Popular All most popular

First Look at TSA's Self-Screening Tech (in VR!)
innovation

First Look at TSA's Self-Screening Tech (in VR!)

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra Review: More AI at a Higher Cost
240123-site-samsung-galaxy-s24-ultra-review-4

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra Review: More AI at a Higher Cost

'Circle to Search' Lets Users Google From Any Screen
circlesearchpic

'Circle to Search' Lets Users Google From Any Screen

Asus Put Two 14-inch OLEDs in a Laptop, Unleashes First OLED ROG Gaming Laptop
asus-preces-00-00-25-11-still003

Asus Put Two 14-inch OLEDs in a Laptop, Unleashes First OLED ROG Gaming Laptop

Samsung Galaxy Ring: First Impressions
samsung-galaxy-ring-clean

Samsung Galaxy Ring: First Impressions

Best of Show: The Coolest Gadgets of CES 2024
240111-site-best-of-ces-2024-1

Best of Show: The Coolest Gadgets of CES 2024

Latest Products All latest products

2025 Audi Q6, SQ6 E-Tron: Audi's Newest EV Is Its Most Compelling
cnet-audiq6

2025 Audi Q6, SQ6 E-Tron: Audi's Newest EV Is Its Most Compelling

Hands-On with Ford's Free Tesla Charging Adapter
pic3

Hands-On with Ford's Free Tesla Charging Adapter

Nuro R3 is an Adorable Self-Driving Snack Bar
240320-site-nuro-r3-first-look-v1

Nuro R3 is an Adorable Self-Driving Snack Bar

First Look: The $349 Nothing Phone 2A Aims to Brighten Your Day
240304-site-nothing-phone-2-first-look-v3

First Look: The $349 Nothing Phone 2A Aims to Brighten Your Day

Best of MWC 2024: Bendable Screens, AI Wearables and More
240229-site-best-of-show-at-mwc

Best of MWC 2024: Bendable Screens, AI Wearables and More

This Concept Laptop from Lenovo Has a Transparent Display
240225-site-lenovo-translucent-laptop-concept-v3

This Concept Laptop from Lenovo Has a Transparent Display

Latest How To All how to videos

Tips and Tricks for the AirPods Pro 2
airpods-pro-2

Tips and Tricks for the AirPods Pro 2

How to Watch the Solar Eclipse Safely From Your Phone
screenshot-2024-04-03-at-15-47-11.png

How to Watch the Solar Eclipse Safely From Your Phone

Windows 11 Tips and Hidden Features
240311-site-windows-11-hidden-tips-and-tricks-v2

Windows 11 Tips and Hidden Features

Vision Pro App Walkthrough -- VisionOS 1.0.3
VisionOS 1.0.3

Vision Pro App Walkthrough -- VisionOS 1.0.3

Tips and Tricks for the Galaxy S24 Ultra
240216-site-galaxy-s24-ultra-tips-and-hidden-features-2

Tips and Tricks for the Galaxy S24 Ultra

TikTok Is Now on the Apple Vision Pro
tiktok-on-vision-pro-clean

TikTok Is Now on the Apple Vision Pro