60 horsepower – about what a circa 1984 Aries K car’s engine produced – is sufficient for A to B getting there and back. More is certainly nice – and definitely fun – but hardly necessary.
Not in the USSA, anyway.
Land of “defensive driving” and checkpoints and safety abounding. Eighty is on the cusp of statutory “reckless” driving in several states. Possible jail time. Certain loss of license and guaranteed “SR-22” (pay three times as much as you used to) insurance. For the next five years. Anything close to 100 is well across the line and if you get caught doing it, you’re doomed. Which is why almost no one ever does it – and those few who do, do so furtively, rarely and very briefly.
Bleak facts, but facts nonetheless.
So, what is it with all these high-powered cars? It’s kind of like giving Liberace a stack of Playboys. What is he supposed to do with them?
The other day, I was out driving around in a new BMW 7. This is a big sedan. Heavy, too. Almost 5,000 pounds. And yet, it required no more than 100 hp to get it up to 80 – and much less to keep it going.
Would you believe in the neighborhood of 40 hp?
That first push – to get ‘er rolling – that’s a bitch. But once you’re rolling, it really doesn’t take much effort at all to keep the thing rolling. It’s the same with cars. Overcoming inertia – getting those 5,000 pounds of steel and glass off its proverbial ass – is what burns the fuel.
Not maintaining 60 (or even 80) MPH.
The BMW lets you confirm all this in real time by dialing up a pair of gauges that shows you exactly how much horsepower and torque the engine is making at any given moment, making it possible to see just how much power you’re actually using – as well as how much power you actually need.
I did a little experiment. Though the 7’s engine (a turbo-diesel; read the review here if interested) is capable of producing 255 horsepower, I wanted to see whether I could drive the car normally – i.e., with the slow-motion flow of modern American traffic – without using more than 100 of them. So I used the gauges to modulate the pressure I applied to the accelerator with my right foot. It wasn’t tough at all to get the BMW up to 60 MPH with less than half the available/potential horsepower.
Granted, I wasn’t getting there in the seven seconds or so that the BMW is perfectly capable of. This is just the point, though. When was the last time you saw a car accelerate away from a red light at full throttle?
People in the main creep away from red lights, gradually building speed. They merge the same way. Which is to say, slowly. They mosey along, their signals blinking (sometimes). The gloved-hand automotive athleticism one sees in the ads is about as true to life as the health of the Marlboro Man (he died of lung cancer). The average American needs powerful, quick cars as much as Liberace needed that stack of Playboys.
Like this guy:
The Clover in the video above was driving a Lexus sport sedan that would maybe have one eye open, stifling a yawn, at 90 MPH. Clover was running (not really the best word, I agree) 63 in a 65 zone. On an Interstate highway designed (back in the 1950s) for safe travel at 75.
It makes my teeth ache.
But it doesn’t alter the fact that it’s ridiculous – annoying – to see all these cowed and beaten submissives creeping along in 300 and 400 hp cars at speeds a circa 1984 Aries K car could easily have managed while costing a third as much and using half the fuel. Guzzling gas is no crime if there’s a point to it. But idling a 300-plus hp sport sedan made to operate all day at 130-plus at 60 or 70 MPH is a uniquely American species of absurdity.
Codpieces for the impotent.
The cruel irony is that when cars were not powerful you could drive them faster. It’s true the speed limit in those days was 55 – but it was a laughingstock universally ignored. It was almost mandatory for right-thinking people to ignore it, in fact. And even the cops behaved more decently because even they could not defend such idiocy. That’s all changed. “Speeding” has become a close second to pederasty – and safety reigns uber alles. As a result, people are literally tortured by an industry that touts performance that’s unusable and a system that will treat them savagely if it is used. They’re chained to $500 a month payments in much the same way that a divorced man still has to send a check out every month to the woman who no longer sleeps with him.
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