by Richard Russell
Rolls Royce Phantom: 453 hp
Horsepower has often been tied to the economy. When times are good, people spend money, especially those at the upper end of the income scale in the land of stock options and the six-figure bonus.
When the market is strong and prognosticators see light at the end of the tunnel, the wealthy buy a few treats – jewels, yachts and expensive cars. Anyone in that market in 2003 is in for a treat because the current and coming crop of high-end luxury and exotic cars is positively booming.
Thanks to modern electronics and clever engineering, today’s engines develop two and three times as much horsepower as two decades ago, while simultaneously producing barely measurable emissions. Sort of like having your cake and eating it too.
Twenty years ago you’d be hard pressed to find run-of-the-mill family cars with 175 horsepower, performance cars with more than 200 and truly exotic cars with 300. Nowadays the four cylinder engines in cars like the Accord and Altima belt out more power than the V8s of those days. The V6 engine in today’s family cars comes in at 240-250 horsepower and there are plenty of 300 plus horsepower cars out there with two or four doors – or even pickup boxes!
The horsepower wars are especially evident in the two extremes of the market – German luxury cars and pickup trucks. The Germans are engaged in an all-out war for performance supremacy, in this mine-is-bigger-than-yours world, 400 horsepower is the starting point as BMW, Mercedes and Audi duke it out for bragging rights with Volkswagen in the hunt as well – yes Volkswagen.
At the root of all this was the war for control of Rolls Royce. BMW now owns Rolls Royce and Volkswagen controls Bentley. In both cases the respective German manufacturers have been fighting it out tooth and nail to build engines and reputations worthy of that level. Brand new V12 and V16 engines have been produced and installed in other products in anticipation of their use in the English luxury cars. Incidentally, at the same time, Audi bought Lamborghini and VW has produced an all-new huge luxury car called Phaeton to take on the upper level models from Mercedes and BMW. Mercedes did not take all this sitting down, producing the ultra-luxury car called Maybach.
So far it looks like this: Mercedes has bragging rights with 493 horsepower from a new twin-turbo V12. But VW’s engineers have managed to squeeze 450-horsepower from the Bentley’s old V8, Audi has a 450-horsepower twin-turbo V8 and BMW a 445-horsepower V12. But that’s for luxury cars. What about sports cars? Lamborghini has its 580-horsepower Murcielago, Ferrari the 515-horsepower Maranello, Chrysler has the 500-horsepower Viper, Porsche the 462-horsepower GT2 and Aston Martin its 460-horsepower Vanquish.
And right here at home, or rather slightly south of here, in the land of Stars, Stripes and Pickups, the power wars are evident on another front. But here diesel engines and torque are at the forefront. Today’s high tech diesel is a far cry from the smoky, smelly engine of old and diesels by design excel at producing torque – the power that enables a vehicle to tow heavy objects, to accelerate, compared to horsepower which contributes to top speed. GM started it all with a new Duramax diesel designed by its Japanese affiliate Isuzu producing 520 lb.-ft. of torque. Ford responded with news its new PowerStroke diesel would produce 550 lb.-ft, and DaimlerChrysler (owned by Mercedes) joined the fray with a Cummins diesel for its new 2003 pickups producing 555 lb.-ft.
More power, lower emissions and improved fuel economy. In this land of cheap fuel, the consumer benefits.