While SUVs have become a global trend in the automotive market, they are still a new car segment. Therefore, some of their standards are still to be written. How much horsepower, for example, is adequate for them?
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What’s a Good Horsepower for an SUV?
The best rule of thumb is to analyze the available options. In case the manufacturer offers more than one, the intermediate is usually the best. We are going to see that every possibility of going away from that selection may cause some types of problems.
Besides that, choosing a random number such as “200 hp” and deeming it “good” or “bad” would imply ignoring the individual characteristics of each SUV model. They have important differences when it comes to aerodynamics, dimensions, weight value and distribution, and engine operation just to name a few aspects.
Since most of us do not have tools to properly analyze the influence of each of those aspects, or simply do not have the interest to do so, the best alternative is to rely on what each automaker has prepared. While some powertrain options work better than others in a given model, they have all been tested to ensure a minimum acceptable standard of overall performance.
How Much Horsepower Should an SUV Have?
Rather than talking about absolute numbers, working on the concept behind them is much more meaningful. In short, we aim at the intermediate option available because having too little power is just as negative as too much power.
Horsepower is directly related to torque. Torque is more relevant at low speeds and RPM because it affects the car’s “strength”, that is, how many impulses it will have to start moving and develop speed. Horsepower has a larger influence over the car’s speed, especially the top amount, so it is more important to consider it at higher RPM.
Having that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some specific situations.
Why Too Little Horsepower isn’t Good?
Low horsepower alone allows us to imply that the car will not behave well at high speeds. Its engine will have low capability to develop high speeds and, depending on the gearing setup, may even reach them at excessively high RPM. That is a problem because it increases fuel consumption and accelerates engine wear.
The exception we have to consider is diesel engines because torque is usually much more relevant than power for them. If we made a theoretical experiment to have a given car model reach similar levels of performance using a gasoline and a diesel engine, the former would surely have significantly higher horsepower while the latter would have much higher torque.
Also read: Is 400 Horsepower a Lot? Is it too Much?
Why Too Much Horsepower isn’t Good?
Mostly for practical reasons. High horsepower can be obtained either with a large engine or by applying more complex technology to the base engine, such as turbochargers, intercoolers, variable valve timing, etc. In short, large engines tend to consume more fuel and more complex engines tend to be more expensive to maintain and repair.
Aside from that, SUVs are known for being tall and heavy. Equipping such cars with too much horsepower certainly makes them more difficult to control at high speeds, even with advanced electronic assists. That is an indirect but serious way in which they end up being less safe especially for beginner drivers.
What is the Perfect Amount of Horsepower for an SUV?
First of all, let’s keep in mind what was said at the beginning of this article: we should always consider only the horsepower options offered by the automaker because they are “safe”, that is, we can rest assured that the SUV will have satisfactory performance with any of them.
After we determine our scope of analysis, it is important to remember that we are talking about a continuous range of analysis here. The further you move towards one of those extreme scenarios, such as too little or too much power, the more intensely you will experience its effect.
Choosing the intermediate option of horsepower officially available is the best option because it meets both criteria. Your SUV will be covered by the automaker’s analysis, not to mention there will be no everyday problems with maintenance or warranty, and you will stay away from both those extreme scenarios.
Practical Example: Toyota RAV4
Toyota’s best-selling SUV is currently available with three powertrain options: a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine only powered by gasoline good for 203 hp, a hybrid setup whose combined power is 219 hp, and a plug-in variation named Prime which offers 302 hp.
While the base version is competent, it is not the best possibility when it comes to practical use for being less fuel-efficient. The Prime, in turn, has acceleration figures similar to those of the Supra sports car, but they can be dangerous in a larger and heavier vehicle.
The Prime may have minimal fuel consumption as well as excellent performance, but costs much more than the regular hybrid version. As a result, the regular hybrid is the best option for the RAV4 when it comes to horsepower, considering its typical driving conditions.
What Does Horsepower Do?
According to the previous topics, torque is related to the car’s ability to execute the movement, which is done through a mechanical chain of components. Horsepower, on the other hand, is related to the speed at which this movement is executed.
High torque and low power are common on commercial vehicles because they have a high weight, so moving them demands high effort, but do not need high speeds. Performance cars have the opposite situation because their low weight is easier to move but they have to reach higher speeds.
What are the Most Powerful SUVs?
The Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat is currently the most powerful SUV on the planet, which uses a supercharged V8 engine rated at 710 hp. However, that version was produced as a limited edition, which quickly sold out. The second most powerful is the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, which uses the very same engine but reaches 707 hp.
The Grand Cherokee has just received an all-new generation, so it is still not known how long the Trackhawk will last and whether it will be updated at all. Therefore, it is also interesting to know that the Porsche Cayenne has a Turbo S e-Hybrid version rated at 670 hp. All the other very powerful SUVs currently on sale are a luxury and/or full-size models.