SCCA racing legend and Motor Trend presenter Randy Pobst has driven just about every car on the planet. So when it comes to clearing up the often misunderstood difference between your car’s two primary power ratings—horsepower and torque—he’s definitely up for the job.
Pobst sat down with VINWiki’s Car Stories to explain how these two measurements work. The illustration he came up with is really helpful. He said that torque is the initial punch you feel when you hammer on the accelerator right off the line. Horsepower is how long you are pushed back in your seat.
Lamborghinis, he said, astronomical numbers for both horsepower and torque so you’re pushed back into your seat while the tachometer keeps climbing. Something like a Honda S2000 with a small-displacement VTEC won’t throw you back in your seat but the revs will climb all day long. it has a high amount of horsepower and low torque.
In a move that may anger all of the Miata apologists, Randy also explains that newer Miatas don’t rev as high as its competitors and require shifting a little earlier. He says this is due to low horsepower numbers on Mazda’s end.