What I’m about to say could offend some of you, but unless you’ve actually driven a high-performance car with at least 500bhp, it’s going to be tough to understand where I’m coming from on this piece. That’s why I’m going to offer a bit more exposition this time around before jumping to the requisite list of cars. And while it may look like a clickbait headline, this is coming from Car Throttle’s resident American muscle car fanboy, so give it a chance. I think there is a legitimate argument that sometimes cars have too much horsepower.
Race cars are obviously in their own realm, and nobody will pay £2m for a super-exotic hypercar with the horsepower of a hot hatchback. For the latter, horsepower is as much about status as it is performance, so they don’t apply.
That said, let’s break the argument down to three main points. We’re talking usable horsepower, range of application, and driving enjoyment. When it comes to usable power, I mean the ability to actually get that power to the ground. Obviously factors such as weight, grip, gearing, engine torque, and aerodynamics play a role, but having owned a 500bhp car and driven machines with up to 700 ponies, I believe that sweet spot generally resides around the 550 mark. Now, I’m talking general average here - that number could swing up to 600 or even down to 450 depending on those other factors. But why 550?
In my experience, that seems to be the tipping point between OMG and WTF, where OMG can still be somewhat entertaining while WTF usually means constant, unexpected loss of traction and/or soiling of your underpants. That is, unless you have all the computer assists turned on. Either way, you have all this power but you can’t use it.
That leads me to range of application, and I know what you’re thinking. If you can’t use all that power down low, just enjoy the rush of acceleration at higher speeds, right? Thing is, when you pass 600bhp, you reach a point where the range of application is so high, there’s just no practical way to enjoy all that power short of a German autobahn or a race track. And even if you take it to a track, that much power in a street car (i.e. not adequately prepped for racing) is often way too much for “seasoned” drivers to handle, never mind those with more money than brains.
This brings us to enjoyment. What’s there to not enjoy about ludicrous horsepower? There’s a big difference between a 500bhp Evo and a 650bhp supercar, the first being just how quickly the speed builds. You’re constantly scanning both the near and distant horizon for any possible hazard.
And every application of the throttle - even if you’re already at a brisk pace - is accompanied by a hyper-awareness of the slightest wheel spin. All-wheel drive helps, but all too often it gives drivers a false sense of security. If you abuse 700bhp, road signs will embed into your skull just as easily with all-wheel drive.
Now that you’ve laboured through my insight, am I right or wrong? I’m all about debating the issues, so while you think about it, here’s a short list of cars that are taking the horsepower war way too far. Some have lesser-powered models, and I’d bet a fiver with every CTZen here that, given the opportunity to drive both, you’d enjoy the “slower” ride much more.
Surely you knew these 707bhp muscle cars would top the list. 99 per cent of the time that power will be wasted in perpetual computer intervention or atomised rubber. Meanwhile the 485bhp SRT-8 is just as capable of putting on a smoke show, it’s more fun to throw around the back roads, and it checks in a lot cheaper.
The relaunched GT500 was great with 500bhp and just about perfect at 550. With 662bhp in 2013 the GT500 gained a half-second advantage in the quarter-mile and the ability to break the tyres loose at triple-digit speeds. Thankfully Ford took the new GT350 in a much better direction.
Yes this is an exotic, but the 488 is Ferrari’s latest ‘volume’ car. Only a select few owners will ever disable the prolific computerised driving aids which, big surprise, control and limit the application of power. Dial it back 100bhp and let drivers have the same experience without all the computers doing the work.
The previous-generation Z06 with 505bhp and a curb weight of 3100 pounds was an outstanding performance machine in all aspects, and even with all assists turned off it wasn’t overwhelming to drive quickly. The new C7 Z06 with 650bhp is 500 pounds heavier, only a few tenths quicker in acceleration, but now drivers have to wrestle the car to simply turn the same lap times.
This is a big, heavy car, and the 621bhp V12 almost works. Thing is, the S63 is just as fast with a 577bhp V8, it’s cheaper, and you can disable the traction control without blowing up the rear tyres every time you sneeze. What upsets me most is that, in 10 years, this car will cheap enough for college students to afford.
The previous-generation SRT Viper with 600bhp was already unruly, but with some seat time was manageable for most mere mortals. The current Viper with 645bhp is literally one tenth faster to 60mph and requires the reflexes of a professional race car driver to realise its full potential. Yeah it’s fun, but you can have more fun with earlier Vipers at half the price.