Cars: How much horsepower do you really need?

(NC) — Automakers are building vehicles with twice the horsepower of their counterparts from 30 years ago. In the early 1970s, typical subcompacts and compacts had horsepower ratings in the range of 50 to 75 horsepower whereas today, the same class of vehicles range from about 100 to more than 200 horsepower.

While dreams of race car driving may be dancing in your head, you have to ask yourself how much horsepower you really need. Do you really need a race car or will a fuel-efficient car meet your needs? While high levels of horsepower in automobiles are useful in situations such as high-speed racing, under typical driving conditions for family automobiles, high horsepower ratings often just mean wasted fuel.

Since power is the speed at which energy is converted, more power generally means more fuel consumption. For example, consider a manufacturer that offers two engines choices for a given vehicle model. The combined fuel consumption ratings are 6.4 and 8.4 L/100 km respectively. The more powerful engine also requires premium fuel. At today's fuel prices of about $1.20/L for regular gasoline and $1.30/L for premium, the increased fuel cost for higher horsepower is $6,880 over 200,000 kilometres. Combined with a higher purchase price for the vehicle, the additional horsepower represents a substantial cost premium.

The differences are worth considering depending on your lifestyle and stage of life. Many drivers nowadays are resisting the temptation to go big and making their decisions based on fuel economy-not top speed or quarter-mile time. Although it may not be as glamorous as driving a high performance vehicle, adopting this change in mindset can save you fuel, money and help the environment.

Natural Resources Canada has posted information on fuel consumption and factors that affect fuel consumption, including tips to get the most fuel savings out of your new vehicle, at


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