What's the point of a powerful engine on a passenger car?

This is not a “disdain disguised as a question.” There’s one car I’m interested in, which is only available in the US with a much more powerful engine than I’d normally consider. I’m wondering if I can see that as a positive rather than a negative.

I can understand “sporty” cars - some cars I’ve owned handled terribly in twisty roads. I can understand powerful engines on pickup trucks that are regularly used to haul or tow large loads. But it seems to me that a ~130 horsepower engine can get a passenger car up to the speed limit on any road, and accelerate well enough to pass a car that’s under speed limit. If someone intends to stick to US highways and stay within the speed limit, is there any benefit to having much more horsepower than that?

A compromise…

When I got married, I had a nice, sporty high horsepower coupe. You start to get pressure for a more ‘useable’ car.

Personally, I didn’t do it. If you want a 4 door sedan then forsake the high hp and embrace the 4-door sedan-hood and I did in spades. :smiley: However, I could see some poor guys…clinging on.

Two things come to mind.

First, if I want to pass a slower-moving vehicle on one of the twisty, two-lane roads around here, there aren’t many places to do it. When that straight stretch comes along, my old, “needs a valve job” Forester may not have the muscle to pass safely - if someone comes the other way, I’ll have to drop back and surrender the attempt. But if I’m in my Z4, no problem!

The second reason to have a car with more HP can be summed up in one word: fun!

OK, I can see that. Though I’m not 100% convinced - if I need 200 horsepowers to pass safely, is it really a safe place to pass?

I guess that’s my point - is it fun even when using the vehicle in a safe, legal and responsible manner?

I did test-ride the vehicle in question, but not very far from the dealer. I really appreciate the aesthetics and build quality of the vehicle, but at no point did it feel particularly fun compared to less powerful vehicles. Maybe that’s because I wasn’t used to the car, or the type of roads I drove on.

I’m guessing you’ve never gone to pass someone, followed by them gunning it to prevent you from getting ahead of them.

I recently got married too, and getting some pressure for a more usable car. But compared to my current car (25 years old, no air conditioner), anything is a usable car. :wink:

It’s all about penis size – I’m surprised you didn’t know this.

If you have 200 horsepower, then yes, it’s safe. If you don’t, then it’s not safe.

Better performance can be a safety feature; if you’ve ever tried merging onto a busy highway from a short turn lane in something very slow, you appreciate it when you try doing it in something fast.

In general, though, there’s no practical purpose behind a 200+ HP engine (except in a heavy vehicle), other than fun.

Well, there is always the chance that society will degenerate and violent biker gangs will begin roaming the countryside preying on the innocent. In that case, you need all the power you can get, plus a one-armed leather jacket in case things get really bad.

A high powered car may make the pass in 100 yds while a low powered car may need 300.

Depending on where you live, there may be very short and/or uphill onramps that require a heavy foot.

ETA:Shoulda previewed;what RNATB said.

When I took drivers ed, the instructor told us something like “If you’re having fun driving your car, it’s highly likely that everyone around you thinks you’re a dangerous asshole.” I’ve always tried to live by that philosophy.

I had a lot of fun I had in a car that was just a 115 HP Jetta. I thrashed the hell out of that car.

However, loaded up, it was barely adequate, and I would not want my family of four and our luggage facing a short on-ramp where I needed to get from 35 to 70 MPH like NOW.

Driving it to work daily was a blast, because I could wind out the engine, live in all the gears and feel ‘sporty’. I had the tires screaming around some bends and probably broke the law more often using the Jetta’s suspension than I ever did using the 307 HP engine in my Infiniti G35 Coupe and all six, short hi-revving gears.

Engine power doesn’t kill anyone. Engine power is not the enemy. Power to weight ratios are not the enemy.

A Jetta can tailgate like a G35. HP doesn’t matter.
A Jetta can have the driver fall asleep. HP doesn’t matter.
A Jetta can have a drunk driver. HP doesn’t matter.

The Jetta was unsafe in a way my G35 is not: It was a danger to merge and to pass. It became my daily basher to get to work, but wasn’t gonna haul my family into the mountains for vacation.

Hey, congratulations! :slight_smile:


Perhaps it would help if you were to tell us the type of car you were looking at?

FWIW, my car comes in the 275 hp, 275 ft-lbs, and it’s just a normal, full-sized car (4150 lbs with me in it). I can get 26 mpg out of it when I baby it on the freeway. It’s not like it actually uses that much horsepower to maintain 65 mph or 70. But the power/torque is there when I want/need it.

It’s a Volvo C30, if you think it matters. In the US it’s only available with a 2.5-liter turbocharged engine, 227 hp power. If the low-end European specs were available here (1.6-liter 4-cylinder gasoline or 1.8-liter diesel), or even the next one up (1.8-liter gasoline), I’d buy it in a heartbeat. But the gas-guzzling engine makes me hesitant.
(And thanks Misnomer, though “recently” was actually a year and a half ago)

There’s a huge material difference in day to day car usage between, say, a 100-HP engine and a 160-HP engine in a compact car, much of which doesn’t require that you be a nut case speeding around.

Aside from the points made about highway overtaking and merging, another thing to bear in mind is that if you’re doing a lot of highway driving, a 160-HP engine just isn’t working as hard as a 100-HP engine, relative to its capabilities, when doing high speed merges and driving. If you’re constantly straining a small engine that isn’t good for it, whereas a larger engine can do the some work without straining its capabilities (and thus its working parts.)

IANA mechanic so I’m just speculating here but it seems to me an engine that doesn’t have to work as hard to accomplish a given goal should last longer than one that’s under more strain to accomplish the same. If that’s true then it seems repairs and engine life will provide an economy in your favor. Again, just speculating.

ETA: Looks like RickJay is of a similar mind.

You might find this *Top Gear *segment interesting. Well, at least amusing.

My compromise is driving stickshift cars.

If you only have 100 hp, having a manual transmission allows you to get a lot more out of it.

I’ve seen it before, and it’s such a ridiculous “test”. I love Top Gear, but Jeremy is doing a fantastic job of talking me into a Prius (via reverse psychology).

Obviously it’s not really relevant to fuel efficiency, but it does show that a larger, relatively unstressed engine can be more efficient than a smaller one working harder.