Takes us for some quick rides
When we talk about cars and their performance, the terms horsepower and torque always get tossed about. But what do these terms represent and how do they help us compare the abilities of a gasoline-powered car with an electric one? We're glad you asked because, in the video above, Engineering Explained host Jason Fenske walks us through this technical minefield using his Honda S2000 and his Nissan LEAF. He then goes on to explain how torque ties in with Formula E.
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To help explain the numbers, he does a few accelerations runs in the vehicles, motoring all the way up to 80 miles per hour, taking notes along the way. The LEAF has a lot more torque, but a lot less horsepower and is relatively heavy. The Honda? It has tons of horsepower, but relatively low torque. It's also pretty light. Despite its inferior power to weight, the LEAF beats the internal combustion competitor to 50 mph. Above that, the Honda shines. Unless, of course, you rev up the little sports car to 5,000 rpm and dump the clutch. Then the Honda is quicker, even at the lower speeds. Confused? Hit play!
Because electric cars produce peak torque at zero RPM, you might be surprised by the acceleration they're capable of, especially at lower vehicle speeds. On the other hand, internal combustion engines need to be spinning up at a much higher speed than electric motors before they produce peak torque, especially engines like the F20C in the Honda S2000 used in this video.
The cars chosen for the comparison are quite different. The Nissan Leaf has high torque, 236 lb-ft, but relatively low power at 147 HP. The Honda S2000 on the other hand has decent power, 265 whp, but low torque at just 163 lb-ft. The engine is designed to make peak power and peak torque at very high RPM, above 8,000, versus zero RPM like the Leaf. The S2000 is much lighter, however. Which vehicle will accelerate faster? I've created a simple 0-80 mph test to show how the torque delivery of each vehicle differs.