For two decades automakers have been pumping up the performance capabilities of new cars. From 1980 to 2000, average horsepower increased 65 percent. The average horsepower-to-weight ratio, a key measure of performance, increased somewhat less (51 percent), reflecting the increased average weight of newer vehicles.
By both measures, performance peaked in the 2000 model year, when horsepower reached the highest average ever, surpassing even the muscle car era of the late 1960s and early 1970s. To top it off, the 2000 model year included the highest percentage of vehicles with turbocharged engines. These accounted for about 6 percent of all new vehicles.
While both horsepower and horsepower-to-weight ratios indicate that performance dropped slightly in 2001 (the latest year for which data are available), these measures have briefly leveled off before and then continued to rise. So the trend might not be over.
Average horsepower of new cars, by model year
Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Average horsepower per 1,000 pounds of vehicle weight, by model year