Jargon Buster – Power and Speed, What Does it Really Mean?


When you are looking at buying a new or used car you are highly likely to start reading and watch reviews, you would no doubt start pouring through brochures or chatting with the salespeople in the showroom and during this period you would hear mentions of the various measures of power and speed that are used in the industry. The problem for a great deal of people is that they don’t really know what all the figures mean and more importantly they don’t know if any of them matter. As part of our Jargon Buster series this post will hopefully dispel some of the myths and mystery from the world of performance stats.

Why is speed even important?

The power and speed of top end cars are often called into question, why do you need all that power? what is the point of a car that can do 200 mph?  These questions are a little misguided when it comes to supercars but maybe more so when it comes to more normal cars you see every day.

Power and speed are not just about going so fast it is illegal, a powerful car will offer a completely different driving experience to one with much less oomph. It is not to say one or the other is better but it is important to appreciate why some cars are capable of high speeds and have lots of power. By having strong performance figures that car maker is showing how capable the car is, you can need power in any number of situations. You may be on a motorway and you feel unsure about the behaviour of a large truck as it moves around a little too much. With a more powerful car you are able to apply some throttle and move safely but swiftly past any danger, this might not be so easy in a low powered car.


Speed is probably the performance stat that causes the most questions, having a top speed of 150 mph doesn’t only become useful when you are at top speed, it is an indicator of how strong and capable the car is. You may never go over 60mph but you know the speed is there if you need to nip out of a junction, pull away swiftly for some reason or just because it s a nice feeling. Top speed is a mark of the overall power of the car, it shows off technology, engine and body design and more all in one number.


Brake Horsepower or bhp as it is commonly known is a measure of power, the best way to think of it is pulling power. It originated from the days of steam traction engines where power was literally measured in how many horses it took to pull things. In more modern times bhp is used as a standard term with very little thought of actual horses, the metric version is PS and you will see this on more and more car reviews and adverts. As a general rule you wont really go wrong of you think of PS and bhp as the same thing, there is a small difference but it is not enough to effect a car choice and you certainly wouldn’t notice it.

Power is important, it gives the car the get up and go it needs, it means you can pull away with lots of stuff in the boot or people in the seats. More power will make the car feel faster and stronger and you won’t need to rev and rev to get it to do anything. The average power for most family saloons is around 120 bhp, this is certainly useful, but for that bit of extra “go” you may want to look at cars over 150 bhp. More powerful Jaguars and Range Rovers will be pushing towards 400 bhp and certainly do feel different.

Zero to Sixty

The time it takes a car to be driven from a standing start to 60 mph is a big figure for the automotive industry. Along with power it shows what a car is capable of if you ever needed it to perform. These times range from 12-15 seconds in non performance cars right down to under well under 5 seconds in cars like the Jaguar F-Type. Of course, having a low 0-60 time doesn’t mean you have to use it all the time but it is a mark of performance and when the number is very high you will feel like you have bought a very slow car. Really bad figures can even make the car feel a little dangerous when you need it to go faster and it won’t. Anything under 9 seconds is considered reasonably fast and would certainly be fine for most people, even 12 seconds plus can be OK if you really don’t ever need to move quickly.

Choosing A Car

When it comes to actually choosing a car it is important to be aware of the top speed, power and 0-60 times, just as it is important to be aware of how big the boot is or how good the MPG figures are. All this things should be taken together and then considered alongside you own needs. Performance is not just about going fast, we have speed limits in this country and they are there for a reason, it is about showing the car has the potential, it is able to accelerate to motorway speeds easily on a slip road and much more. If you want a car to feel strong and pull away well, or be able to overtake trucks on the motorway then you may want to consider a more powerful car.

Probably the most important thing to remember is that stats are not to be considered in isolation, think of how big the car is and how much it weighs. 120 bhp in a tiny car is a lot, in an enormous 4X4 it wont feel the same.