More power always sounds good, but is it really?
The punch line to the question “How much power should I buy?” is “As much as you can afford.” There is some truth to that, but today’s sporty cars offer levels of performance that go way beyond usable on any legal roadway. Thus, the question of how much power to buy is worth considering.
One thing to bear in mind is that power and weight are relative. A current-generation Mazda Miata with 155 hp can accelerate to 60 MPH just as fast as a Camaro with about 275 hp. Would more power be better in a Miata? Not necessarily, because the rear-wheel drive car is limited by how much it can reasonably put to use. However, the Camaro and Mustangs can, and do, make use of more power in their top trims because they come with more expensive equipment designed to get that power to the ground and make the car faster.
Here are four questions to consider if you are buying a sporty car and want to keep it real.
Will This Be A Dedicated Fun Car, Or Also Your Daily Driver?
First off, you may not want to keep it real at all. You may want a 1,000 hp Bugatti even though there is no place in America where that car is faster than a car 1/10th its price. If you are buying a car to gaze at lovingly, and to brag about over beers with buddies, then, by all means, spend as much as you can afford and get all the power you can.
On the other hand, if you plan to actually use this car on date nights, weekend road trips, and to commute when the weather isn’t nasty, there is a limit to how much power you can actually use. For cars that weigh about 3,500 pounds, about typical for a sports coupe or sports sedan, that power number is around 300 hp.
How did we come up with that? Simple, we have driven cars like the 306 hp RC 350 from Lexus back to back with their weaker ( 241 hp RC 200t) and more powerful (467 hp RC F) siblings. The middle engine will give an owner the full rush of power usable on country roads and the rare long straightaway in the city.
Even when an empty highway’s on-ramp presents itself, more than about 300 hp isn’t much use. We just tested a 400 hp compact sports sedan from Infiniti. The traction and stability control kicked in so frequently the power wasn’t of much use in spirited driving. We suggested buyers try the 300 hp version. Why buy power you can’t use?
0-60 MPH is a convenient metric to gauge a car’s quickness. Look for one that testers say can accelerate to 60 MPH in about 5.5 seconds. Anything under six seconds is pretty quick. Much faster, and you will pay a lot more for very little added speed. And don’t be fooled by cars that use launch control to move that 0-60 MPH number down a second or two. In real life, launch control isn’t something you are ever going to use while driving on normal public roads as the video demonstrates.
Another consideration beyond just cost is that cars more powerful than 300 hp and faster than about 5.5 seconds from 0-60 MPH start to become less driveable. The tires become summer-only and ultra-low profile (and delicate). The suspensions get super stiff, and the seats start to become more heavily bolstered, which usually means less comfortable.
Does Fuel Economy Matter To You?
Fuel economy and horsepower are related but not directly. The 460 hp Chevrolet Corvette has a relatively good fuel economy rating on the highway of 29 MPG. However, it is made from plastic and aluminum alloys and seats two. In sports sedans, fuel economy drops as power goes up regardless of the model. There are some hybrid exceptions, but for the most part, the horsepower you buy on day one costs you money every time you drive the car. Some folks don’t care. Some do. You need to decide which camp you’re in.
Will You Be Taking This Car To The Track?
Many private owners track their cars. Miatas, BMWs, Porsches, and pony cars like Camaros and Mustangs are very popular track-day cars. Our comments above about keeping it real go right out the window if the car you are buying will be used for track days. In this scenario, you want all the power you can afford for sure. Even insanely fast cars like the 455 hp Camaro SS feel slow once you have driven the 640 hp Camaro ZL1. There is literally never too much power, so spend to your budget and make it hurt.
Is Your Uncle The Local Constable?
If not, what’s your plan for keeping your license? In the past year, BestRide staff have driven well past 100 MPH, slid cars sideways on purpose, done smokey burnouts, and driven past the limits of the cars we were testing – on a race track. We are all lucky to have that opportunity.
But on the road, these shenanigans can get very expensive. Here in Massachusetts, a junior operator tagged for speeding the very first time loses his or her license for 90 days. Then they must not only pay big bucks, but must also take both the written exam and road test over again to regain it. Calculate the cost to any other driver in that state for a single speeding ticket and it comes out to about $1,800 when insurance penalties and fees are considered.
Our vehicle testers are happy to report facts and opinions about the amazing vehicles we test. One thing that may be easy to overlook is that there is a point at which more power in a passenger vehicle is wasted and not usable in real life. Our advice is to ask yourself why you are buying your sports car and then get the most powerful vehicle you can put to real use.
Looking for a new or used car? Check out BestRide.com’s local search.
Image of police officer courtesy of insurance.com.