Torque is one of the most ‘misunderstood’ aspects of a vehicle, but it’s so important to understand what is it and why it matters especially when you’re in the market for a new vehicle, maybe even an electric vehicle.
Next time you’re at a car dealership and the salesman starts to toss around the ‘torque and horsepower’ lingo, then pauses to mansplain what torque is, you can proudly say: “I know what torque is, thank you”.
Don’t you just hate it when people throw around technical lingo to try to confuse you or to sound super smart (when they probably are not)?
Torque is one that falls under this category. Do a quick Google of ‘torque’ and you will be faced with this mechanical definition - “a force that tends to cause rotation” or “the three-litre engine has lots of torque”.
Not very clear is it? However, if you dig further into a few online articles and get through the wordy explanations, you will find that torque basically means how much power it takes for the car to reach a certain speed. So, the more torque your car has, the greater the acceleration.
Even better, let me womansplain it to you:
Torque is simply a twisting force that causes rotation. It’s the force that propels your lipstick out of its case. And it’s also the force that propels your car when you hit the accelerator.
Like so many other automotive terms, you don’t need to be a car guy, or a guy to appreciate torque because you use it every day!
When you twist open a plastic soda bottle, turn a doorknob or pedal a bicycle, that’s all torque in action.
The more torque an engine has, the faster it can propel itself forward. It can be confused with horsepower (hence, the misunderstood part above), but really, it pairs with horsepower to get a car down the road. Torque is how much the engine can propel you forward, and horsepower is how quickly it can do it.
Let’s take the lipstick situation as an example - you apply torque to the tube as you twist the lipstick up and out of the tube. But you’re in a hurry, so you add horsepower to twist it faster.
Apply more force (twist faster, or apply more torque) and you will change the amount of force input and the speed at which the lipstick leaves the tube. Twist slower, and you’re reducing the force, so the lipstick doesn’t leave the tube as quickly.
Torque + horsepower is the secret to a car’s propulsion. But more torque and/or more horsepower isn’t necessarily the whole story. In an average-sized car with reasonable acceleration, torque is typically a similar number to the horsepower.
Torque is expressed in pound-feet (lb-ft) or newton-meters (Nm). The interaction of torque and engine rotation (RPM) determines the engine power. This is what dictates how effectively the car can accelerate at different speeds.
A smaller car will typically have less torque and more horsepower because it doesn’t need all that propulsion to get it up to speed. The 2021 Volkswagen Polo, for instance, has 108 PS and 95 Nm of torque.
However, for bigger cars like the 2022 Volvo XC90, it has more torque than horsepower to get its large 7-passenger frame up to speed on the highway, with 250 PS and 350 Nm.
1. More relaxed driving experience
If your car has low-end torque, it generally means that you have access to more engine power in lower gears. As a result, you won’t have to down-shift the gears so often when accelerating from low speeds, and the drive will feel more relaxed.
2. Easier to carry heavy loads
Torque is beneficial if you own a truck carrying heavy cargo. Having high torque force as the RPM increases, makes transporting heavy loads far easier and more efficient.
3. Easier for driving up steep inclines
Having extra torque is also what creates enough power to get a vehicle going, particularly when moving up steep inclines. So torque can be useful when driving off-road and in extreme conditions.
4. Great for electric vehicles
To create torque in a conventional gas-powered engine, you have to burn fuel to create power, so there’s a little lag between the time you press on the gas pedal and the time the engine gives you a response.
An electric battery doesn’t need to burn fuel. You press the pedal, and the car moves forward immediately. You don’t have to fiddle with all those engine bits, so it makes things a lot more immediate.
Now when shopping for your next car, you'll be better informed because you know you can talk torque all day, but you’d rather get behind the wheel and drive.