Sunday, January 15, 2006
As mass-market manufacturers refocus on fuel economy, luxury-car makers such as BMW, Porsche and Lexus are heading the other way, introducing models with 500-plus horsepower engines.
Engine size and power have been creeping up for several years in models including the Dodge Viper SR10 Coupe, which was introduced last year with a 500-horsepower engine, and the 505-horsepower Chevrolet Corvette Z06.
Now, the expanded range of high-performance vehicles means consumers who care about having Nascar-like power will have more options. Infiniti, for example, is proceeding with a production version of the Skyline GT-R, which has 500 horsepower. The fastest car in Infiniti’s current lineup is the M45, which has a 335-horsepower V8 engine.
Despite having sticker prices as high as $200,000 or more, these cars are selling. Vehicles in the $100,000 price range usually sell from several hundred to 1,000 models a year. But sales of the 507-horsepower BMW M5, which was unveiled at last year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit and has a starting price of $81,200, hit 1,742 vehicles in 2005. That performance is encouraging other car makers to roll out models with powerful engines.
As 500-horsepower engines become common, and car makers look to surpass the 600-horsepower mark, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to drive these cars to their full potential on average roads. And there are other possible downsides to owning these high-powered vehicles.
Cars that go this fast have gas mileage down in the teens. The Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, for example, registers an estimated 13 miles per gallon in the city. Such gas-guzzling is frowned upon by environmentalists and fuel-efficiency proponents. And insurance rates for these ultrafast cars can run much higher than average.
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