In the automotive world, its usually terminology that confuses everyone. Does horsepower control torque? Does torque control horsepower? Are they the same? Do they have anything to do with each other at all? And, of course, the most asked question of all – which is better? The answer to the latter really is, it depends. It all depends on what you want from your vehicle. They’re both important, and they both have their own areas of operation in an automobile.
The best thing to do first would be to explain the difference between the two. The best way to describe them would be to take a wheel and spin it on your finger. The twisting force it exerts on your finger and arm is torque, the heat and friction it builds up as a result of its spinning is power. Torque is the amount of twisting force imparted by the engine crankshaft and delivered to the transmission and, in turn, the wheels. Horsepower is the amount of power used to create that torque and keep it moving. One cannot exist without the other as one produces and relies upon the other at different points of operation.
Now to which is better. If you’re looking for a slick, fast vehicle with good passing speeds and even better top speeds, you’ll want to go with horsepower. Horsepower is the power exhibited by the engine when you hit the accelerator. It is an expression, in a rate of measurement, of the engine’s ability to do work. The term was coined in the 18th century as a measurement of the power of steam engines. At the time, workers who used horses to do a specific job and wanted to switch to a steam engine-powered vehicle, needed a way to measure between the two. Although we’re long removed from using horses for certain jobs, the term still stands today as a measure of power exerted by an engine. As such, the more horsepower you’re vehicle is rated for, the faster it’s going to go and the better it’s going to perform in passing situations.
Torque, on the other hand, is the amount of force exerted by the drive wheels when the vehicle starts moving. It is defined as the amount of force at a given point, applied at a radius from that point. Hence its unit of measurement is pound-feet (lb-ft.) or foot-pounds (ft-lbs.), either way is correct. By that rationale, if you’re looking for pulling power or brute force at take off, you definitely want more torque from your vehicle. Torque is the reason that tiny starter motor can use a little gear to crank the giant crankshaft in your engine. The amount of power your engine produces at low rpm is transferred through the gears in your transmission to the axles and, in turn, to your wheels. So, the more torque your vehicle produces, the stronger it is at pulling and at takeoff. An old saying is, “People buy horsepower, but drive torque.”
The bottom line is, it truly depends on what you want from your vehicle. If you want a workhorse that will be strong off the line and possess tremendous amounts of pulling power, go with the maximum amount of torque. If you’re more into speed and quick acceleration at higher speeds, you’ll want to go with horsepower. Torque will get you moving, horsepower will keep you moving.