Torque and BHP explained

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Most people have some idea of what an engine's power is, but are hazy about exactly what the torque figure represents. In fact, many cars that feel powerful are showing the effects of strong torque rather than high power output.

Measuring engine torque and power

Measuring engine torque and power

An engine's power is measured by running the engine against a load on a dynamometer. The braking effort needed to hold the engine at a steady speed on full throttle gives the torque. The power can then be calculated by multiplying the torque by the engine speed.

An engine which produces a lot of torque over a wide range of engine speeds will be relaxing to drive because fewer gearchanges are needed: the engine's torque is often sufficient to accelerate the car without changing down. At cruising speeds a lorquey' engine will not need to be turning over very quickly because it can pull at high gearing, which makes for good economy.

Engines that produce a lot of power for their size do not usually produce so much torque, and what torque there is is often produced at higher engine speeds. It is also likely that the engine will be producing usable torque and power over a smaller range of engine speeds; this narrow 'power band' makes the engine less suitable than a torquey or 'lazy' engine for jobs such as towing, and the car will be less relaxing to drive.

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