How much power does a performance car actually need?

Ted Welford, PA Motoring Reporter
·5-min read

From manufacturers to petrolheads, we’re all obsessed with how much power a car has.

If the first question someone asks isn’t ‘how much power does it have’, it’s ‘how fast can it go’. Everyone loves a stat and it’s what we rely on when trying to outdo each other in the car world.

And here we are in the day when the latest hypercars are pushing out well in excess of 1,000bhp – with the electric Pininfarina Battista boasting a frankly ludicrous 1,874bhp, and the SSC Tuatara serving up 1,750bhp, allowing for a top speed of more than 300mph.

Clio v Giulia
Huge brakes help bring the Giulia to an effective stop

But even in the slightly more sensible world, performance saloons now easily boast more than 500bhp, while some hot hatches such as the Audi RS3 and Mercedes-AMG A45 now bring frankly crazy 400bhp to the table.

And it’s the question of ‘how much power does a performance car actually need’ that leads us to these two unlikely cars being pitched against each other – the latest Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio and a 15-year-old Renault Clio 182 Trophy hot hatch. It’s probably the only time you’ll see these cars in the same photo, never mind being compared to one another…

Clio v Giulia
The two cars are as different as can be

Let’s start with the Alfa, which has been the car to prove that the Italian firm hasn’t lost its way when it comes to producing sporting models. Based on the excellent standard Giulia, Alfa Romeo has found space to fit a 2.9-litre biturbo V6 engine under the bonnet – producing a monstrous 503bhp and 900Nm of torque. That’s double the amount you’d find in one of the Giulia’s predecessors – the 156 GTA of the early 2000s.

In truth, it’s a sheer delight to drive with an immense power delivery throughout the rev range, brilliantly judged steering and a frankly wonderful eight-speed automatic gearbox, which you can take control of with some superb metal paddles behind the steering wheel.

But with all that power being sent to the rear wheels, it can be quite the handful. ‘Expect the unexpected’ is the best advice here if you wish to drive enthusiastically. It keeps you on your toes, and despite all that performance waiting underneath your right foot, you pick your chances when to use it. In wet weather or on twistier stretches of tarmac, these chances to floor it have to be carefully selected.

And should you do that, you’ll get to experience some true supercar performance – 0-60mph taking just 3.6 seconds and Alfa Romeo says it will reach 190mph maxed out. But unless you take it on track, you won’t really ever get a chance to push it to its limits.

Clio v Giulia
The Giulia’s 2.9-litre V6 is hugely potent

That’s pretty much the opposite to the little red Renault you see here. But this is no standard Clio, but rather one known as a ‘182 Trophy’. Limited to just 500 units in the UK 2005, it gains a host of cues to separate it from a standard 182 – 16-inch Turini wheels, Capsicum red paint, Recaro sports seats and also a set of expensive Sachs dampers. But, crucially, what this Clio doesn’t get as part of this special-edition is any more power.

Granted, a 180bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine is still quite a lot in something weighing not much more than tonne – remember there are no heavy safety aids or tech to add weight to this hot hatch. And with a 0-60mph time of 6.9 seconds, it’s far from slow, though with no turbocharger, the engine needs revving hard to get the best progress. Though this undoubtedly continues to the character.

Clio v Giulia
The Renault Sport Clio is seen as a true embodiment of a hot hatfch

Those Sachs dampers keep it exceptionally flat through the corners, while the Pirellis on the front offer astonishing amounts of grip. Though the interior quality feels on par with a wheelie bin and the refinement isn’t far short of abysmal, the Trophy isn’t about that life. It’s raw, involving and engaging – putting a smile on your face within a few corners of hard driving, and seemingly rewarding you the more you explore its limits.

Driven back-to-back with the Giulia, the Renault certainly feels 15 years older in just about every respect, and while obviously much slower on a straight bit of road, through the corners there’s the confidence to push on without the same fear of losing the back end and sliding into a hedge bottom like you do with the Giulia.

Clio v Giulia
The Clio’s 1.8-litre petrol pushes out more than enough for this pint-sized car

And while we’re comparing, what about price? Well, the Giulia here tips the scales at just over £70,000 with a few thousand pounds of options. Meanwhile new in 2005, the Clio Trophy cost £15,500, which was actually quite a lot for a car of this type back then. After reaching rock bottom, prices are on the up again. A good Trophy today can easily cost £8,000, while the best of the best will set you back more than £15,000.

But which offers the optimal amount of power?

Clio v Giulia
Renault Sport has a history of making incredibly involving cars

The truth is, there isn’t a solid magical number that dictates how much a performance car needs, but the amount of power a car has certainly doesn’t dictate how good to drive it is or the enjoyment you can have behind the wheel.

While both the Alfa Romeo and Renault here are polar opposites, they’re united in the fact that they are both brilliantly entertaining in their own separate ways. Proving that more power equates to more performance, but not necessarily any more fun. You’ve ultimately got to drive what makes you happy, and both of these cars manage that in spades.