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Sat, 23 Mar 2019 06:00:07 +0000

100bhp heroes: how to have fun with less power

Smart Roadster, Lotus 6, Renault Twizy, Cassutt Special, Triumph Thruxton R

Horsepower - it's not how much you have, it's what you can do with it
How much power do you need? Or, to put it another way, how little can you get away with?

A couple of weeks ago, I drove the new Mercedes-AMG A35. Very competent, very well made, a splendidly posh interior and very fast. 

Its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine produces 306bhp, which is enough to propel the all-wheel-drive A35 from 0-62mph in less than five seconds. Soon Mercedes will follow this car up with a new A45 that is rumoured to have at least 400bhp. That’s 25% more power than the A35, but will it deliver 25% more fun? Of course it won’t. Not that the A35 is exactly fun to drive, it’s just extremely sure-footed and quick. 

The horsepower race is completely out of control. A hatchback is warm if it has only 150bhp and a supercar with less than 600bhp, well, it isn’t a proper supercar, is it? It’s all marketing led: engineers know that it’s all nuts and that adding horsepower almost always means adding weight. 

You simply don’t need lots of power to have fun, as anyone who has owned a Citroën 2CV will tell you. Or an old Mini Cooper S. In fact, there are plenty of cars that have no more than 100bhp that are a hoot. It’s a nice round figure, 100bhp. Running that number around in my head got me thinking about machines that have that little power but which are huge fun. Not just cars, but motorcycles and other transport devices. Aeroplanes, for example. A Piper Cub is a very basic machine that has as little as 65bhp but which is a joy to fly. 

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