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Horsepower or Handling - Which is best?

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In the car world there is always something to debate. Ford versus Chevy. Slammed and stanced


versus original. Stretched tires or sidewalls as tall as Mount Olympus. Even import versus domestic. If you put two car people in the same room they will have 8 opposing positions on a single car. I know this because I am one of those people.

The big debate that I lived through during the end of the horsepower wars (mid-60s to the early 70's) and through the economy car wars of the 80's was:





When I was young, back in the Canestoga wagon days, you had to make a choice. You could own a car that could go fast and get to high speeds quickly but if the road ahead had a dip or a 2 degree turn any tree or wall was a magnet inevitably pulling your car to crash into it. I am describing muscle cars and pony cars of that day. The other end of the spectrum was the pesky little European cars where little roadsters and sedans had somewhere between 90 HP up to sometimes a whopping 150 HP. They weighed less than nothing and even at that weight these cars were not fast, even by turtle standards. Unlike a muscle car, getting up to speed was a chore but once you were there who needed


brakes? These little cars would zip down tree-lined thoroughfares in Vermont and with just a twitch of the wheel you were through the corner. These were often known as momentum cars.

In today's world not only can you have both power and handling, you can do so in comfort, get 28 MPG on the highway and all can be had for a price that many people can sort of afford.


However, even today there are few affordable cars that do both perfectly. Manufacturers tend to still lean one way or the other. Some still love horsepower above all else and others try to find perfect handling, sacrificing horsepower to do so.

Charger%2BSRT8.jpgThe mainly horsepower cars are easy to spot. You see them in ads dominated by racing stripes, big wheels, big exhaust with the rear wheels smoking in an abandoned shipyard, down side streets, and around the corners of a racetrack near you. Think Mustang, Camaro, Challenger, Charger. All loaded with gobs and gobs of power with tires wide enough to make a steam roller weep with envy. Despite weighing as much as Dumbo's mother, they handle well. Somehow with large springs, wide tires, and things like magnetic ride control, these cars can actually go and stop and turn. Sports cars?


I have to say I still have to say no but they are sporty cars.

Then comes in the balanced cars. These cars have high, but not necessarily astronomical, horsepower so they can get up and go. The manufacturers have spent billions designing a chassis, suspension, wheels and a motor that make the car feel nimble, turn in and come out of corners fast and make you look good done in style coupled with driver aids that make Grandpa Jones look like he can drive better than one of the Andretti boys. Most, not all, of these cars hail from Germany and represent cars that are almost affordable for many. These manufacturers also design models for the elite to drive. BMW's, Mercedes, Audi and even Porsche make cars that you can drive everyday, take on a trip and with the tires from the factory go out on a racetrack and almost compete with the big cars.


We are now seeing the resurgence, yes from Europe, (and Japan) of the lightweight, adequately powered sports car. Honda has done this with the S2000. Mazda, the epitome of the sports car, has conquered this with the Miata but now we are seeing a new breed - the nearly affordable, perfectly balanced, fast mid-engine sports car. Alfa Romeo has brought to our shores the wonderful 8C. While ONLY 235 hp (remember when we used to say 'IT HAS 235 HP!'), However, you combine 235 hp with a car that

Alfa%2BRomeo.jpgweighs right around the 3,000 lb mark and while it may not beat a Dodge Challenger Hellcat, a BMW M3 or an Audi S4 off the line but after the first corner it won't matter as the Alfa dives in, drives through, and exits the corner at speeds Superman dreams of. As long as the road or track is twisty,you will only see taillights from that point forward.

So you decide. The gap between only horsepower or only handling has narrowed considerably. Whether you go the pony car route with 500+ horsepower, the modest looking sedan with a mere high 300 hp or an outright sports car with a tiny 200+ horsepower is all up to you and what do you want in a car.


Stopwatch.jpgI will leave this thought before I close. For those that think 'Horsepower solves everything'. Realize that 99.99% of the time the need to go from 0-60 in breakneck speed is rare. Driving a car on a back road and enjoying it - that will happen often. So ask yourself - 0-60 in 3.9 seconds but lack other things or 0-60 in 5.1 seconds and you can drive on every back road at your limit? Which do you want? Before you decide, realize, it took you almost 3 times as long to read that sentence than the difference between 3.9 and 5.1 seconds. I will take a little less horsepower for 10 MPH faster around a corner any day.



In the end, who wins? All of us. As cars go faster, handle better, become more comfortable, safer and reliable the future looks very bright. That's the thing about cars, you can try to knock them down but they will always come up fighting and be even better.


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