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The Growing Divergence Between Horsepower and Speed Limits

hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,591
Horsepower and torque continue to rise each year, to satisfy motorists' desire for greater performance, while speed limits remain more or less static, and roadways become increasingly congested. Where will it end? Should this divergence be addressed through horsepower adjustments, raising speed limits to reflect handling, braking and electronic safety advances, or is there little cause for concern?


  • carlisimocarlisimo Posts: 1,280
    Give me an early '90s budget car with 82hp and a long stretch of road, and I'll give you 100mph.

    It won't be stable though, and that's the limiting factor. Lots of older and wobbly trucks, SUVs, and large cars have plenty of power but shouldn't be trusted even at 80.

    Stability control, modern suspensions, and (in some cases) aerodynamics do make cars stable at 100mph. But there are problems.

    There will still be old cars with drivers who want to go 100mph.
    It often takes wings to make cars stable at those speeds.
    Car designs will have to be more expensive and aerodynamic (ie boring).
    Fuel usage is very high.
    The buffeting effect between vehicles going different speeds is strong.
    Many drivers will still drive 55 on the same roads.
    There's little margin for emergency maneuvers.
    People will try going 100 while laying down and holding the wheel with one hand.
    Others will try going 100 with both hands at the 12 o'clock position and their heads peeking over the cowl.

    Laws usually work towards a lowest common denominator, one which isn't ready for high speeds.

    I wouldn't mind an exception for myself.
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,695
    makes an unpleasant point about Americans: it should be a no-brainer that with increasing congestion, terrible driver training, and static speed limits, increasing horsepower year over year is just a formula for disaster, or waste at the very least. Yet that is exactly what is happening, so does it mean Americans have "no brains"?!

    Of course, even the autobahn is becoming too crowded for the unlimited speeds they used to drive over there, so pretty soon there won't be anywhere in the world outside of racetracks people can use more than 25% of the potential of their vehicles. What's the point?

    I don't believe for a second there are that many people taking their cars to the track. They certainly aren't taking the large SUVs and pick-ups that are today getting the Hemis and other 300+ hp engines.

    2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 52,724
    Interesting subject!

    I think the market will become self-correcting. Dealing as I do with people who own high powered cars, I am definitely sensing a frustration among them regarding fewer and fewer opportunities to enjoy cars of such massive power and performance on public roads.

    Speed limit enforcement, lousy roads (potholes, etc.), heavy traffic, and rather severe public condemnation (reporting "reckless" drivers by cell phone) are just a few of the prohibitions.

    I would hazard a guess that we will see a decisive plunge in the demand for high HP cars, and that more and more cars will become lighter, more agile and more adapted to the realities of 2006 driving conditions.

    In rather simplistic terms, we will build cars that aren't all that fast but will seem very other words, the illusion of speed will be cleverly designed into them. Honda is already very good at this.

    To give an example of this "illusion"--- if you were placed say a 1958 Austin healey Bugeye Sprite, driven by an expert driver on a twisty road, you'd think you were going 200 mph, when in fact this car could barely reach 80 mph in 30 seconds. You'd get 200 mph thrills out of 75 HP, due to a low sitting position, lots of noise, great agility and g-forces pressing on you this way and that.

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  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,967
    cars that are small, light, fast revving, and loud give you the illusion of speed. My buddy's 1998 Tracker, all 96 hp of it, feels like it's flying at 55 mph. The way it's geared it's also pulling around 3500+ rpms at 55 mph, and all the wind noise makes it feel like you're going much faster.

    There's been a few times where I've gotten out on the highway with my '85 Silverado, which uses 165 hp to motivate 4200+ lb through a 305 with 116,000 miles on it and an antiquated 3-speed transmission, but if I don't pay attention to the speedo, it doesn't take much effort to bury it. But then with a 2.56:1 rear, it would probably have to get up to around 100 mph to pull the same revs as my buddy's Tracker, and by then I'm sure the wind resistance would be something fierce on it. And it wouldn't downshift at that speed, so it would just gradually run out of oomph, and who knows...might not even make it to 100.

    I had a '91 Honda Civic rental car up to 115 mph once. It had the more powerful of the available engines...something like 100 hp I think. Oh, and it would only do that with a long enough downhill grade. It actually felt quite stable and quiet at that speed, but when I saw how fast the scenery, including the 10,000 foot high mountains on the horizon, were whizzing past, it made me slow down!

    When you think about it, riding around in a go-kart can be pretty exhilarating, and they only get up to around 20 mph or so I'd guess. I once thought that a cool transportation system would be a network of go-kart tracks across the country. They'd take up much less space than regular roads, and there'd be much less congestion. I guess you'd have to do something about emissions though, because just one of those suckers would put out more pollutants than several out-of-tune big-block heaps from the 70's put together.
  • john_324john_324 Posts: 974
    I think Andre's point about the "feel" of a car being more impt. than the actual performance numbers is right on target. Shifty once opined that what he termed "immediacy" was really what makes for a fun automobile experience (at least for the types who post here).

    My girlfriend's Miata (a '94) has a whopping 120 HP or so, but it's a great little car that is a joy to drive and feels very quick and nimble. My 2002 Mustang isn't overwhelmingly powerful (265 HP), but it feels that way when I get the tail sideways.

    It really is all about perception I think...didn't MG used to have an advertising campaign based on that idea?
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,695
    "I would hazard a guess that we will see a decisive plunge in the demand for high HP cars, and that more and more cars will become lighter, more agile and more adapted to the realities of 2006 driving conditions."

    I would love it if this occurred! I think it will take a very long time though. Bigger is better in the U.S., both in cars and engines. That is a cultural perception based on driving conditions in the 50s, so in 50 years of ever-increasing driver frustration it has barely changed a whit. I give it another 50 before the things people desire in their new cars and trucks change very much.

    In similar topics here at Edmunds over the years, people have expressed a great deal of pessimism that with the current safety and emissions regulations, cars could or would ever get much lighter in weight. Personally, I think we are way overdue for a major trend in this direction. A light small-engined car can provide joys of driving that no-one could ever experience behind the wheel of a 300C. The very mission of cars like the 300C is to isolate one from the driving experience, even if it does go very fast in a straight line.

    2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,967
    really still try to isolate you from the road, though? I could see something like a LeSabre Custom or Century, or Town Car trying to isolate you, but Mopars of late have tried to give you better road feel and handling than your typical big car. Sure, they're not going to beat the hell out of you like an '82 Civic might, but they're not going to make you seasick like my buddy's '78 Mark V can do!
  • rockyleerockylee Wyoming, MichiganPosts: 13,993
    I think if the government made it harder to get a drivers license, than ordering take out at the local diner, we could have a autobahn. It would be hard to imagine some lady reaching around slaping her kids doing 130 down a highway though. :P

  • fintailfintail Posts: 37,840
    It would be an awesome thing, but it's fantasy. Couldn't happen in the land of the lowest common denominator. Most people I see aren't fit for 70mph, not to mention their vehicles.
  • rockyleerockylee Wyoming, MichiganPosts: 13,993
    I can agree with that fintail. ;)
  • I own a BMW M5 and have a 911S on order. Yes, both are capable of exceeding the highway speed limit by 100-120 mph. But I enjoy driving the M5 as much on winding roads at 50 as I would piloting it down the Autobahn at 150. To me, the enjoyment of a high performance car is not dependent upon testing its top speed.

    Back when I bought my first real sports car, a 1978 BMW M1, a few colleages thought I was nuts buying a car capable of 165 when they had a national speed limit of 55. So times haven't changed as much as you might think.

    P.S. Not to be morbid, but I did come upon a high speed accident on the Autobahn when I was in Germany a few years ago. It was not a pretty sight, with car parts and human body parts spread over a large area. The damage done at 140 mph is exponentially greater than at 70. I wonder if the American public and most politicians could take too many "Eyewitness News" accounts of that kind of carnage.
  • john_324john_324 Posts: 974
    ...we did have an autobahn of sorts not too long ago.

    Montana got rid of speed limits on certain roads for a brief time, during the daytime only. Didn't last long though (probably just long enough for some new .com millionaires to total their new Vipers though... :( )
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 52,724
    Regardless of the handling capabilities of a car, be they superb or whatever, you can't get away from other words, even IF a Viper or Corvette or 300C handles better than most sports cars of 20 years ago, still you are pushing around a lot of weight and you have to work hard.

    It is not generally very pleasant to drive a big heavy wide car through the twisties on a narrow mountain road, EVEN IF it can do so faster than a Miata.

    Another factor, which I'm sure some will disagree with LOL!:

    I think huge HP engines make you a very lazy driver, especially if you don't have a lot of experience behind the wheel of smaller displacement cars.

    If you doubt this, take a person out of a torquey V8 and ask him to drive a'll laugh your butt off as he short shifts and the car falls on its face in every turn...

    Last of all, all this HP requires tires the size of 55 gallon drums laid on their side...this makes for even more work and less agility.

    Without modern tires, these high HP cars would be death traps...

    Small high revving engine, skinny tires, 5 speed transmission -- you can have a LOT of fun and not hurt anybody.

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  • andys120andys120 Loudon NHPosts: 17,515
    ...from the automotive press I found myself curiously unmoved. Let's face it if I had the money for a Veyron, I'd be able to afford something with wings that would be able to operate beyond the reach of both traffic radar
    and, well...traffic at even more than 250mph. ;)

    I suspect that a lot of superfast cars in the future will be bought to be operated almost exclusively on privately owned racetracks of the kind that already operate in Europe. One is being built in Tamworth, NH.

    I look at it as a kind of Darwinian thing. If people have more money than sense they will inevitably be separated from both.

    2000 BMW 528i, 2001 BMW 330CiC

  • lemmerlemmer Posts: 2,687
    There is a curved on-ramp on my way to work that I enter from a standstill. If I am feeling a little saucy, I floor it and my 280 hp sedan executes a perfect, tail slightly out drift for length of the entire ramp. All I have to do is step on the gas, the automatic transmission and stability control takes care of the rest.

    It is fun, but not as much fun as if I had done it myself in an old sports car.
  • lemmerlemmer Posts: 2,687
    In an article I read recently, the designer of the McLaren F1 had plenty of veiled criticism for the Veyron.

    It is kind of a huge flying pig.
  • andys120andys120 Loudon NHPosts: 17,515
    I read that article, it was by Gordon Murray and he made some good points but the truth is his McLaren F1 is almost as worthless on real roads as the Bugatti.

    Like Shifty I get more excited by cars that'll go fast on real roads and if they look good doing it so much the better.

    2000 BMW 528i, 2001 BMW 330CiC

  • lemmerlemmer Posts: 2,687
    A few years back, I saw a McLaren F1 tooling around the streets on London. When I was standing on the curb, I think it came up to my ankles.

    Anyway, the F1 seems like it would be a lot more exciting at low speeds because of its light weight and visceral nature.
  • carlisimocarlisimo Posts: 1,280
    I'm sure an F1 would be exciting. It was known for instability =].

    Whenever I see videos of old school F1 Grand Prixs (cigars on wheels), that looks like fun, sliding all over the place, shifting with a good old lever, and wearing goggles instead of a helmet.

    As long as there are motorcycle riders, there should be car drivers who would give up safety and comfort for fun... hopefully they remain legal.
  • john_324john_324 Posts: 974
    ...part of the problem is the increasing isolation of the driver in high-end cars. Car companies spend huge amounts of resources figuring out how to reduce road and wind noise, how to create suspensions that soak up every bump, etc.

    End result is that you can go 100 mph in one of thse cars, and it doesn't feel particularly fast.

    So maybe it's unconscious thinking on our parts that demanding increasing amounts of power will provide the sensation of speed we really want, but that modern design stifles. :confuse:
  • michaellnomichaellno Posts: 4,300
    I think it was David E. Davis who once opined that it was more fun to drive a slow car fast than to drive a fast car slow.

    Forget high end cars for a moment. A couple of years ago, I was in the market for what my wife calls a "genericar" - 4 door sedan. I did want a V6, however - not so much for the power but for the smoothness when compared to a 4 cylinder.

    I ended up buying a Saturn L300 with 182HP, although I did look at both a Nissan Altima (240HP) and the then newly restyled Honda Accord (also 240HP).

    Do I care that owners of those cars can accelerate to 60 a half-second or second faster than I can? I do not. All I care about is that I can accelerate to merging speed (65-75MPH) with little or no drama and that I have enough power in reserve for passing on a 2 lane road when necessary.

    My ex-wife just bought a Chrysler 300C with a 340HP Hemi. Yeah, she can get to 60MPH in 5 or 6 seconds but, really, how often will she use that capability?

    Seems like the 60's all over again....
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,591
    "...In rather simplistic terms, we will build cars that aren't all that fast but will seem very other words, the illusion of speed will be cleverly designed into them. Honda is already very good at this.

    To give an example of this "illusion"--- if you were placed say a 1958 Austin healey Bugeye Sprite, driven by an expert driver on a twisty road, you'd think you were going 200 mph, when in fact this car could barely reach 80 mph in 30 seconds. You'd get 200 mph thrills out of 75 HP, due to a low sitting position, lots of noise, great agility and g-forces pressing on you this way and that."

    That would work for me! I say bring the new generation Buggers - I mean Bugeyes - on, pronto.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,591
    I don't know about you, but driving on a track has limited appeal for me. Sure, it would be fun once or twice, or even occasionally, but the artificial setting and feel of it, for want of a better way to express the experience, plus the fact that it's wasteful, detracts from the appeal. Driving on a track bears some resemblance to a good computer car game. Of course there are differences, but they're both unrealistic. By contrast, driving fast on public roads - not crazy fast, but responsibly fast, if you can accept that notion - is more real. Does this make sense to any of you?

    Incidentally, I've driven on a track a couple of times, so my comments are based on how I felt.
  • john_324john_324 Posts: 974
    I love track time for what it is...a day's worth of adreneline combined with a real challenge to my mediocre performance driving skills.

    But you're's fantasy. I'd love to do it all the time, but I don't have the money or a dedicated race car to really take advantage of it to the fullest.
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,695
    "not crazy fast, but responsibly fast, if you can accept that notion"

    Ooooooh, now there's a dangerous notion! :-)

    There no two people that will ever agree on exactly how fast "responsibly fast" is, even under the same conditions on the same day. I came to the conclusion a while back that even though there IS such a thing as responsibly fast, GOING that fast in America will scare, anger, or irritate the rest of the sheep so much that it is probably not worth it., did that ever come out sounding elitist. Yikes! :surprise:

    edit...john324: I never thought of it that way, but yes! That makes a lot of sense! As the limits of modern cars rise, the amount of sensation the driver gets decreases, making the goal of feeling "sporty" ever more elusive.

    2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,967
    I can recall having was taking my '68 Dart to the parking lot of the mall where I worked after a snowstorm late one night with a friend. The parking lot was totally empty, and covered with a nice icy layer. I had a blast skidding all over the place on that ice, doing 360's, 720's, you get the idea. Well, it was all fun and games until mall security came after their RWD Explorer 2-doors! :blush: Needless to say, it wasn't too hard to get away from them.
  • john_324john_324 Posts: 974
    "I came to the conclusion a while back that even though there IS such a thing as responsibly fast, GOING that fast in America will scare, anger, or irritate the rest of the sheep so much that it is probably not worth it."

    I'm with you on that. It maybe be elitist, but it's true.

    Out on Maryland's Eastern Shore, there are lots of well-maintained curvy country roads with high speed limits. Problem is, many are two-lane only, so if you want to really enjoy them, you have to occasionally do some passing to get by slower vehicles.

    Driving them once at a "spirited" pace, I passed a number of vehicles as I headed toward town. Mind you, I do it properly...pass only in designated passing zones, flash the highbeams (even though I'm sure that maybe 1 in 50 people actually understand why I'm doing it), etc.

    As I got into town and came to a stoplight, one of the vehicles (a beater van, if I recall) I had passed pulled up next to me, and the woman at the wheel started yelling at me for doing that, saying things like "well, that didn't get you there faster, you jerk!" and all sorts of very crude, unladylike language.

    As she angrily sped away (into heavy traffic I might add) I was amused that she took my passing her as an insult, and couldn't comprehend that going fast can be an end in itself. Sigh...such is America these days I guess.
  • kernickkernick Posts: 4,072
    So as each year goes on, more cars on the road have disc brakes, ABS, airbags, stability control, and better tires. This should make the fleet's performance better, and thus able to keep the same level of safety (injuries and fatalities / mile) the same.

    So basically our government wants to lower the injury/fatality rate. The question we as a society address when we let our regulators set the speed limits is: What is the "acceptable" injury/fatality rate that we'll tolerate?

    For example - if the speed limit was set to 5 mph, we could basically take the injury/fatality rate to zero. We have 55/65/75 mph limits now which give us 40,000 fatalities. If we accepted 100,000 fatalities we could set the speed limits at 90mph? Somehow we have determined that for our economy, lifestyle and convenience we will accept 40K dead annually as the trade-off.

    One other thought on speed limits; how many of us drive on roads where the speed limit for high performance or even everyday cars are the EXACT SAME as for school buses, 18-wheelers, and garbage trucks? That does not make any sense! I see these vehicles driving the speed limit (or more), and arriving safely everyday. So the speed limits are "dumbed-down" for the worst driver in the worst vehicle. It's sort of like going hiking with a big group - if you stay together you go at the pace of the slowest one. :(

    Maybe the government could raise some revenue by offering an advanced driving course for $2,500. Pass the course and have a decent car and you're authorized to drive 20 mph faster in low-volume roads in good weather.
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,695
    I ever drive that has graduated speed limits is out on the interstates in rural areas. Both I-5 and I-80 have different limits for regular vehicles and trucks or people towing. I was on I-5 this past weekend, the limit is 70 for cars, 55 for trucks, and there wasn't a truck out there going less than 68 mph.

    Regular traffic was running about 80 on average, I would guess, based on the people passing me.

    So, the drivers themselves had set their speed to reduce the differential between the fastest and the slowest.

    2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,967
    I think part of the problem nowadays is that it's hard to properly do the "flash to pass" thing. Traditionally, flashing your low beams meant that you had an intent to pass, while flashing your high beams meant you were just trying to be a jerk.

    However, these days, I think cars that are set up with "flash to pass" actually use the high beams. And with DRLs I think you have no choice but to flash the high beams.

    Not that flashing your low-beams makes a difference these days, either. It'll piss people off just as easily, or the'll take it as you being "aggressive", and think that entitles them to make a truly aggressive/dangerous action themeselves.

    Years ago I found myself stuck behind someone who wanted to do 55 in the left lane of I-97 in Maryland. Now I-97 has a 65 mph speed limit and three lanes in each direction, and the flow of traffic was just much higher. So this guy's behavior was unacceptable. Not just rude, but dangerous. I flashed my lights off and on (low-beams, not the brights) to signal him that he needs to get up to the flow of traffic, or get over and let the traffic behind him pass. Nothing.

    Well finally I got a break in the traffic and was able to pass him on the right. I got back over in front of him and his HIGH BEAMS come on! Now high beams can be irritating enough during the day, but this was at night. And it wasn't just a quick flash, but he turned them on and LEFT them on! So here he was, blinding not only me, but others around me, not to mention traffic coming from the opposite direction on the other side of the median!
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