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Who Wins in a Performance Match-Up: Luxury Car or Small Airplane

Whether you’re a gearhead or just casually interested in any and all things with an engine, we have a post for you. When it comes to peak performance, airplanes and luxury cars are some of the greatest feats in the engineering world. While they have their obvious differences, such as type of use, operator, equipment and so on, we thought comparing some specific of these two types of machines could be a fun exercise to understand more about these modern marvels.

So, that begs the question, who wins in a performance match up? A high-end car or a small airplane? Keep reading to find out!

Top Speed

One of the main selling points of any engine-driven machine is its speed. When it comes to speed, small airplanes win the round (mostly). The majority of small airplanes cruise at around 120 knots (140 MPH). For example, the normal cruise speed Cessna 172 is 122 knots, while it has a top speed of 163 knots (188 mph). That’s pretty fast. In a luxury car, however, you’re not only restricted by speed limits, but most American cars come equipped with a speed limiter, otherwise known as a governor. This isn’t actually to prevent the driver from speeding, but to actually protect the car from sustained high speeds which cause damage to the engine. However, we all know that car companies use top speed to move inventory, so let’s use Tesla Model S as an example to compare. According to the company, “The Model S P85D, a dual-motor all-wheel-drive vehicle has a governed top speed of 155 mph, under ‘Insane Mode’, with 1g of acceleration.” So, all in all, luxury cars can catch up with a small airplane, but most can’t reach the same top speeds (without at least breaking some laws), and consistently maintain that speed for very long.


With horsepower, the matchup is pretty close. The most common types of small aircraft engines are air-cooled four- and six-cylinder piston engines. These require up to to 400hp per engine. Aircraft that require more than 400 horsepower per engine tend to be powered by turbine engines as you would see on a common jet airplane. For example, a common single-engine airplane, the Cirrus SR22, has a 310hp Continental IO-550-N piston engine.  Luxury cars, however, no matter how much money you spend, can provide anywhere from 250 to 450hp, on average. For example, the BMW Series 3 has a horsepower of 255, while a Mercedes Benz SL, with all the bells and whistles (read: more money) you can get a horsepower of up to 450. Overall, small airplanes need to maintain a more consistent level of horsepower, and that’s usually around 300-400hp. On the other hand, cars can be engineered with various levels of horsepower, and you’ll likely need to get major upgrades in order to reach the same level as you would with an aircraft.

Maintaining Performance

Of course, performance is only as good as the maintenance being conducted on the machine. In this category, we’d have to say cars are the winner. In today’s age, cars are pretty maintenance-free, beyond the semi-annual check-ups and oil changes. Thanks to modern electronics, improved batteries, optimized engines and more, luxury cars can stay healthy well above 100,000 miles. Small airplanes, on the other hand, require regular upkeep as designated by the Federal Aviation Association (FAA). According to the FAA, most aircraft will need some type of preventive maintenance after every 25 hours of flying time and minor maintenance at least every 100 hours.

Who is the Winner?

Depending on the model of airplane or car you buy, it’s a pretty close matchup, but because it wins on top speed and horsepower, small airplanes are crowned the winner of today’s matchup.

Do you love the roar of an engine?

Then get in touch with Inflight Pilot Training today! We’re fanatic about all things aviation and would love to share that interest with you. If you have always wanted to learn to fly, reach out to our team of instructors today. Based out of Flying Cloud Airport in the Twin Cities, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals of flying their own airplane, and can do the same for you.


For additional information on Inflight training programs, contact us today or call (952) 698-3000.