Traditionally, how much power a car makes have always been its first talking point, especially when sportscars are concerned. It’s simply a measure of superiority – a real booster not just on the road, but for the ego. Lately, with the imminent arrival of a certain B-segment sedan, there’s been a lot of talk about torque. 

To some, perhaps a little too much but what is it really? What’s the difference between horsepower and torque? Do you need more torque than horsepower or vice versa? How does that benefit you?

To understand the significance of high torque figures, we need to first understand what horsepower and torque are. Horsepower is how much power a car’s engine makes while torque is the twisting force generated to turn the wheels. In a way, horsepower determines how quickly that work is done while torque determines how much force is applied to get that work done. 

Final scene from The Fast and the Furious – the first-ever “advertisement” on the significance of having loads of torque.

A car with high horsepower but low torque figures can accelerate quickly but may not be able to sustain that hard acceleration beyond a certain speed. On the other hand, a car with lower horsepower figures but higher torque may not accelerate as quick but as it accelerates, the force or rather “forward surge” is a lot stronger.

This is most apparent in diesel-powered, turbocharged pick-up trucks or cars with higher capacity engines or rather “big c.c. cars”. They deliver the most amount of torque in the lower revs and while they may not necessarily be fast cars, the force of that acceleration would be stronger as compared to a car with higher horsepower but lower torque. This is why pick-ups in particular are used to haul heavy cargo or tow heavy objects.

While on the move, a car with more torque can also up-and-go with a lot more ease, while keeping the car in the lower revs. As a result, it also prevents the engine from being overstrained. This can also have a more positive effect on fuel economy.

The same can also be experienced on uphill climbs. Cars with more torque may not necessarily be faster in these terrains but it would have a much stronger acceleration whereas in a car with insufficient torque, you’d probably have to keep your foot firmly on the floor to get the car moving.

Revving the engine to its redline is only fun when you’ve got VTEC!

For those who derive excitement from speeding through B-roads, revving the engine to its limit may offer a more visceral experience but for most, in compact sedans or crossovers, carrying a full load of passengers and cargo, having more torque makes for a more relaxing drive.

With a healthy horsepower output, the car may accelerate quicker but at higher speeds, its torque output determines if the car can accelerate further with ease or if the driver needs to downshift a gear and rev to the limiter. 

Imagine having to constantly rev the engine to its redline to perform overtaking maneuvers or to sustain a high speed on the highway, rather than merely flexing your right toe to perform the same task, which sounds more comfortable?

Uphill climbs, slopes, slowing moving traffic is where you’d fully experience the use of torque.

For the last decade also, car manufacturers have accelerated the use of turbocharged engines and now almost every model of every continental make is turbocharged. Even the Japanese and Korean makes are picking this up, albeit slowly but surely.

With turbocharging, you get plenty of torque before 3,000 rpm; more than enough to get you through your daily drives and it’s proven to be the more efficient in terms of fuel consumption. It’s kinder on the environment too, if you buy into the data. With lower capacity (such as 1.0- or 1.5-litre 3 cylinder) turbocharged engines, not only can manufacturers build lighter, more efficient engines and provide more room for safety and cabin enhancements for city runners, in Malaysia at least, we’d pay lower roadtax too.

Its achilles heel however is throttle response. Even with the deftest calibration by car manufacturers, a turbocharged vehicle will never be as responsible as a non-turbo example and there are plenty of videos on YouTube to convince you of that.

Now, car manufacturers are adopting a new solution; by harnessing the power, efficiency and immediacy of electric motors. The most apt example now is perhaps the new Honda City RS i-MMD.

Find out what’s in and what’s not in the new Honda City.

Honda has somehow devised the new City to be driven primarily by one of two electric motors while the engine only kicks in at higher/cruising speeds where it can perform at its optimum with the least strain. The rest of the time, it’s used to charge the batteries on board while the other electric motor acts as a starter.

According to Honda Malaysia’s marketing material so far, this should result in near instanteous and effortless acceleration – something we’ve not had the chance to confirm just yet. Soon, hopefully. Although, one thing is for sure, if all that is advertised applies as it should in reality, minimal use of the internal combustion engine will also be a consequence. That would mean longer refuel intervals and ultimately, lesser of the toxic stuff in our atmosphere. 

Mother nature would approve of this.


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Pan Eu Jin
Regularly spend countless hours online looking at cars and parts I can't afford to buy. How a car makes you feel behind the wheel should be more important than the brand it represents - unless resale value is your thing.