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Power vs Torque – The difference in simple terms

When perusing the specifications of different cars, you’ll likely see two figures that detail what the engine is capable of – power and torque.

In South Africa, we use kilowatt (kW) to measure power, and Newton-metre (Nm) to measure torque.

Depending on your knowledge of cars, these may have significant, or no real meaning to you, but rest assured they do have importance.

In simple terms, torque is the amount of force an engine can produce. It is measured by multiplying force (newtons) by distance (metres), and indicates the maximum energy that acts on the vehicle’s drive shaft when it rotates.

Power, on the other hand, is the rate at which that force is delivered to the wheels. Taken down to its fundamental form, it indicates the energy converted in a given period of time, according to BMW.

One watt (W) stands for one newton-meter per second, while 1 horsepower (0.74kW) is the power required to lift 33,000 pounds (14,960kg) exactly one foot (0.30kg) in one minute.

So, torque is how much force the car makes, and power is how quickly it delivers that to the wheels.

Important, but not that important

Power and torque go hand in hand, but having a lot of power isn’t all that useful if you have little torque, and just because a vehicle has high readings in both these categories, it doesn’t mean that it will be faster or more capable.

For example, the BMW X3 sDrive20i has more power and torque than the Suzuki Swift Sport, though the Suzuki beats the BMW in the 0-100km/h sprint.

Similarly, the Jeep Gladiator Double Cab outperforms the Toyota Land Cruiser 79 4.2D in terms of both power and torque, the former offering 209kW and 347Nm vs the latter’s 96kW and 285Nm.

However, the Toyota beats the Jeep in towing power by 779kg – 3,500kg vs 2,721kg.

As such, while these numbers are not the be-all and end-all of a car’s potential as this can be affected by a number of elements such as the body style and transmission setup, they do provide a good base for comparison if you are looking at similar vehicles within a particular segment.

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