Most people, when shopping for vehicles, and interested in a reasonable amount of power, would be attracted by high BHP (or PS or kW) figures for maximum power output.
The are somewhat related:
HP = torque (ft-pounds) * rpm / 5250
If you look at the specifications of your automobile's engine, you'd find figures such as
155 BHP @ 6000 rpm
200 N*m3 @ 3600 rpm
The first is the engine power, while the second is the torque.
I have noticed when driving that best acceleration (most of the time at least) occurs when the engine speed is at the point of max torque.
Generally speaking, for most petrol engines, max torque is at a relatively high RPM, and for diesel engines max torque is at lower RPM.
However, I have noticed, especially with some VW petrol engines that max torque occurs at relatively low RPM, meaning that one does not really need to floor the accelerator to achieve max acceleration. This possibly accounts for the greater fuel efficiency found in these engines.
So when buying a car, I'd look at the engine power output & max torque figures, and use those (combined with other factors such as weight, AWD/2WD/4WD, etc) to make a decision.
Here's an interesting article: