Car spec terms
If you've ever watched Top Gear you'll have heard Jeremy Clarkson talk about this. Horsepower is the unit by which a car engine's output is measured. Basically, the more horses you have, the faster your car can go.
This measurement is used when talking about how well the wheels that are powered by the engine will go round. Torque is the rotational force measured in pound-feet; one pound-foot equals the twisting force produced when a one-pound force is applied at the end of a one-foot-long lever. As a measurement horsepower tends to get all of the glory, but low- and mid-range response is where torque plays a big role.
This is the rating by which every car you'll look at to buy is measured when it comes to how safe it is. Euro NCAP introduced an overall safety rating in 2009, based on assessment in four important areas: adult protection for driver and passenger; child protection; pedestrian protection and Safety Assist technologies. The overall star rating was introduced to add more flexibility to the ratings’ scheme, which had been used since 1997. These days, many, many new cars achieve a five star rating.
All-wheel drive/four-wheel drive
All-wheel drive happens 'by magic', with automatic, seamless intervention without needing the driver to be involved. Four-wheel drive usually needs the human pilot to press some buttons or pull some leavers. Either way, you get more traction in adverse conditions, but at the expense of fuel economy and maintenance.
Power Assisted Steering
This is where the steering of a car is augmented to help you to steer, making it easier for you to control the car, meaning you can drive for longer periods of time much more comfortably. Chances are that you've never driven a car without power steering as it's so common place these days, but if you're interested to know what that's like, then get behind the wheel of an old Land Rover Defender – you'll be able to skip arm day at the gym after half an hour driving one of those!
Anti-lock Braking System
An Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) is a safety system that means when you slam your car brakes on it'll slow down without skidding, as the tyres retain contact with the road. This means that you can come to a stop much more safely under control, making it less likely for you to have a crash (it doesn't remove your driver responsibility mind you!).
Side Impact Protection System
SIPS is a way of protecting passengers against a side impact. Developed by Volvo in the early 90s, it's now a common safety feature across many cars on the market. Utilising airbags which are deployed in a side impact accident, SIPS gives serious peace of mind to you and your passengers.
This is the name given to a really neat fixing system that allows you to fit a child seat in a very secure way. If you're checking out a child-friendly car, keep an eye out for little Isofix name tags sewn into the seats.
Miles Per Gallon refers quite simply to how many miles your car will go per gallon of fuel. When you fill up at the pump, you'll notice the amount of fuel you're putting into your tank is measured in litres, but 'gallons' is industry standard terminology. Often, the figure quoted by the manufacturer is much more flattering than what you'll achieve in real life, so it’s a good idea to read an independent review before you buy.
There's a group rating system applied to cars, administered by Thatcham Research, which assigns new car models to an insurance group – 1 being the cheapest, to 50 the most expensive. The highest insurance groups belong to high performance cars, and therefore cost a serious amount of money to insure.
This will be quoted at you every time, as it will give you a good indication as to the power of whichever car model you're looking at, 0-60 being miles per hour. So the 0-60 time is how fast a car can get from 0mph to 60mph. As an indication, your average hatchback will clock in around 11 seconds, whereas your not-so-average Bugatti Chiron will do it in 2.5s.
This figure on a car's spec sheet refers to how many grams per kilometre of CO2 a car expels into the air. A Mini 1.2 One three door returns a figure of 109g/km, for example, whereas a Ferrari comes in at 260g/km, which gives you some idea at either end of the spectrum.
Just to erase any doubt, this refers to the fastest speed a car can go.