Spend any amount of time reading articles about vehicles and you'll hear the terms torque and horsepower bandied about with regularity. While they both deal with vehicle acceleration, there are distinct differences that really matter when assessing which vehicle best suits your needs.
In this article, we discuss the differences between torque and horsepower so you can determine which is more valuable for your particular day-to-day driving needs.
What Is Torque?
When you see commercials highlighting the pound-feet of torque a vehicle offers, it can be a bit confusing. After all, we don't measure much else in pound-feet—just torque output. So, just what is torque?
The succinct answer is that torque is the amount of force that is applied to an object via a twisting motion. For vehicles, engine torque is the application of force by the engine to the crankshaft to keep your tires rotating.
There is actually a formula for calculating torque: Force x Distance.
What Is Horsepower?
Horsepower is a bit different from torque. As a unit of measure, horsepower denotes power. More specifically, it measures the rate at which an engine can get work done. Because it measure the ability to get work done, it can apply to any engine or motor, not just the internal combustion engine that has defined car culture for more than a century.
Just as you can calculate torque, you can also calculate the maximum horsepower of your engine. Simply multiply the number of cylinders in your engine by the the number of revolutions per minute (RPM). This will give you the total horsepower output of your engine.
Horsepower Vs. Torque: Which is More Important?
Torque and horsepower both have their place. That's why vehicle manufacturer's tout both. The question of which one is more important really comes down to real-world applications. If you are towing a horse trailer or other heavy loads on the regular, then torque is going to be a significant metric for you. On the other hand, if you'd consider your driving habits to be more sportier than utilitarian, horsepower numbers are going to be more relevant for you.
In real-world driving situations, most drivers won't be able to tell if a vehicle leans more towards being torque-heavy or horsepower-heavy. There are some things you should look out for, though.
First, make sure the vehicle you're looking at has a manual transmission. Most modern vehicles do, but not all. Second, check the ratio of torque to horsepower. A higher number will indicate a greater emphasis on torque over horsepower. Third, look at how much weight the vehicle is carrying. You want something that isn't too heavy. This will affect both torque and horsepower.
So what does it mean in real life? Well, a lot depends on the type of vehicle you drive. If you're looking for a sports car, then horsepower will be important. If you want a family hatchback, then torque might be more useful. It also means that if you're buying a new car, make sure you look at the manufacturer's website and see what each model's specifications are. You could even save yourself some money in the long term.