What's The True Cost Of Power?

The term "horsepower" was coined by James Watt almost purely as a marketing scheme for his steam engine. Horsepower is actually based on another standard, but foot-pounds-per-minute doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. It's now the benchmark for power, though it isn't always indicative of a car's performance. Weight, torque and other factors play just as big a role. Nevertheless, a car's horsepower is still one of the first facts we want to know; it's something touted by every carmaker and, inevitably, is considered a measure of value. But is that right? To show how truly abstract the concept of horsepower is, we asked you to find the best bang for your buck in terms of dollars-per-horsepower. The strange and illuminating results below, along with a larger-than-life chart.

What's The True Cost Of Power?


The Best Value: The Shop-Vac - $21.60 per HP
At a price of just $108.000 (with free shipping), the 5-gallon Shop-Vac is a surprisingly great deal. You get a whopping five horsepower, which gives you a value of $21.60-per-horsepower. Of course, you can't actually drive it anywhere, but HammSammich was correct in pointing out the great value for a new product.

The Worst Value: AH-64 Apache Helicopter - $2,404.44 per HP
Powered by twin GE turboshaft engines good for 1,622 shaft-horsepower each, the AH-64A helicopter would seem like a great deal. Unfortunately, the delivery cost of $7.8 million cuts into the power advantage, and that's excluding development costs. The overall value is $2,404-per-horsepower, way too high for anyone but the defense department. On the other hand, it's the only thing on the list that comes fully loaded with an insane arsenal.

Best Land Vehicle: Suzuki Hayabusa Motorcycle - $61.85 per HP
There's no denying Picarso was right when he said that bikes are hard to beat in the bang-for-buck category. The 2008 Suzuki Hayabusa achieves an impressive 194 horsepower, all while costing a relatively inexpensive $11,999, for a total horsepower cost of $61.85 per HP.

Most Expensive Land Vehicle: Big Rig - $248.24 per HP
Though a used truck, like the one Unevolved found, offers a lot of horsepower for a low price, a newer truck is going to set you back. We spec'd a new Volvo 630 midroof truck and found that, with just 425 horses, the $105,500 price tag wasn't going to cut it. However, for that $248.24 per HP you get a vehicle that can tow anything else here.

An Actual Horse: $335.57 per HP
When Stoatmaster suggested an actual horse, we had to check and see how much power a horse truly puts out. A study in the July 1993 issue of Nature found that the max horsepower for a horse is actually around 15 horsepower. We looked at a lot of horses and found a pulling horse for $5,000, which seemed like a good deal. Unfortunately, at $335.57 per HP there's little value in a horse by this measure.

Best Car Value: Tata Nano & Ford F25 SuperDuty V8 - $75.76/$76.17 per HP
Though we thought it would be hard to top the Tata Nano, which only costs $2,500 after all, we have to give the Ford F250 SuperDuty and Eligh some credit. Though the Tata comes in at a low $75.76 per HP, the Ford and its low entry-level MSRP of $22,850 combined with 300 horseys is quite close at just $76.16 per HP. It won't look like quite a value when you factor in the price of gas, though.

Conclusion
While dollar-per-horsepower can be seen as a reasonable measure when comparing similar vehicles in the same class, there are too many factors that go into vehicles (and vacuum cleaners) to make it a true benchmark of value. That being said, this exercise clearly indicates the actual market value of horsepower compared to the other features.