Average Gas Engine Specific Output Isn't Quite 100 HP/L, Yet

Mark Stevenson
by Mark Stevenson

It was nearly 15 years ago that Honda was touting their magic number — 118.5 hp/L. This was the specific output for the U.S.-spec Honda S2000 powered by a high-strung, 237-horsepower, 2-liter engine and it was a marvel of engineering, trumping the Viper and many other more expensive machines.

Fast forward to today and there are only a few naturally aspirated vehicles that top Honda’s claim to fame, but many that easily beat it with some form of forced induction. Yet, even with this plethora of new high-output, small-displacement engines, the average specific output of gasoline and flex fuel vehicles in the United States is still below the record set by Honda back in 1999.

Thanks to data provided by iSeeCars, we came up with some interesting data when it comes to specific output for 2015 model year vehicles.

For one, the Mercedes-AMG CLA45 (pictured above) and the GLA45 with which it shares its turbocharged, 2-liter, four-cylinder engine are the top performers with specific outputs of 177.5 hp/L. It should be no surprise that turbocharged engines dominate the top 100 engines ranked by specific output, but there are some exceptions. The top naturally aspirated mill in the mix — the 597-hp, 4.5-liter V-8 in the Ferrari 458 Speciale — has a specific output of 132.7 hp/L. Porsche’s 911 GT3 is solidly mid-pack with 125 hp/L.

On the other end of the scale, trucks score quite low on the specific output meter, as the Ford F-350 equipped with a 316-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 struggles to make 51 hp/L. The lower output may not be representative of a behind-the-times engine, but rather it could be characteristic of their applications. Trucks need torque more than horsepower to do the work they were built to do.

Overall, the average for specific output for non-hybrid, gasoline and flex fuel engines sits at 93.3 hp/L, just 25.2 hp/L shy of the naturally aspirated benchmark set by the Honda S2000. However, as more automakers downsize their engines and boost output with turbocharging, we may just see the overall average crest this high-water mark in the coming years.

Below is a list of the top and bottom 10 vehicles available on the retail market for the 2015 model year ranked by specific output.

Top 10

  1. Mercedes-AMG CLA45/GLA45


    2-liter turbocharged I-4, 355 horsepower


    177.5 hp/L
  2. McLaren 650S Coupe/Spider


    3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V-8, 641 horsepower


    168.7 hp/L
  3. Nissan GT-R NISMO


    3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V-6, 600 horsepower


    157.9 hp/L
  4. Volvo S60/XC60


    2-liter twincharged I-4, 302 horsepower


    151.0 hp/L
  5. Porsche 911 Turbo S


    3.8-liter twin-turbocharged H-6, 560 horsepower


    147.4 hp/L
  6. Audi S3/Volkswagen Golf R


    2-liter turbocharged I-4, 292 horsepower


    146.0 hp/L
  7. Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution


    2-liter turbocharged I-4, 291 horsepower


    145.5 hp/L
  8. Nissan GT-R


    3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V-6, 545 horsepower


    143.4 hp/L
  9. Bentley Continental GT3-R


    4-liter twin-turbocharged V-8, 572 horsepower


    143 hp/L
  10. Ferrari California T


    3.9-liter twin-turbocharged V-8, 553 horsepower


    141.8 hp/L

Bottom 10

  1. Ford F-350 Super Duty


    6.2-liter V-8, 316 horsepower


    51.0 hp/L
  2. Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra 3500HD


    6-liter V-8, 322 horsepower


    53.7 hp/L
  3. Nissan Titan/NV Cargo/NV Passenger/Armada


    5.6-liter V-8, 317 horsepower


    56.6 hp/L
  4. Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana (Cargo/Passenger/Cutaway)


    6-liter V-8, 342 horsepower


    57.0 hp/L
  5. Volkswagen Jetta


    2-liter I-4, 115 horsepower


    57.5 hp/L
  6. Ram Chassis 3500


    6.4-liter V-8, 370 horsepower


    57.8 hp/L
  7. Toyota Tacoma


    2.7-liter I-4, 159 horsepower


    58.9 hp/L
  8. Toyota Tacoma


    4-liter V-6, 236 horsepower


    59.0 hp/L
  9. Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana (Cargo/Passenger/Cutaway)


    4.8-liter V-8, 285 horsepower


    59.4 hp/L


  10. Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra 2500HD/3500HD


    6-liter V-8, 360 horsepower


    60.0 hp/L
Mark Stevenson
Mark Stevenson

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  • Ktm Ktm on Jul 28, 2015

    Yeah, this is a useless metric. All one needs to do is look at 600/1000cc sport bikes to see that they rule the n/a HP/L roost and make car engines look silly.

  • Orenwolf Orenwolf on Jul 30, 2015

    My RX8 handily beats those numbers with its' 1.3L engine. ;)

  • Aja8888 Folks, this car is big enough to live in. Dual deal: house and car for $7 large.
  • Astigmatism I don't think tax credits will put me in this league, but if I could swing it, I would 1000% go for a restomod EV Grand Wagoneer: https://www.thedrive.com/news/you-can-buy-an-electric-80s-jeep-grand-wagoneer-for-295000
  • FreedMike I like the looks of the Z, but I'd take the Mustang. V8s are a disappearing breed.
  • Picard234 I can just smell the clove cigarettes and the "oregano" from the interior. Absolutely no dice at any price.
  • Dartdude The Europeans don't understand the American market. That is why they are small players here. Chrysler Group is going to die pretty soon under their control. Europeans have a sense of superiority over Americans that is why the Mercedes merger didn't work out and almost killed Chrysler. Bringing European managers aren't going to help. Just like F1 they want our money. We need Elon Musk to buy out Chrysler, Dodge and Ram from Stellantis.
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