Why Do We Care About 0-60 Times?

546b4a49988e1_-_pcoty_091114_1313-lgWhen you think of ways that a car’s speed and performance are measured, what’s the first statistic that comes to mind?

For many drivers, it’s the amount of time a vehicle takes to get to 60 miles-per-hour from a dead stop. 0-60 times have been the bread and butter of car enthusiasts’ arguments for decades, but why? How many drivers actually ever accelerate to 60 mph from a complete stop? And even if we accept the value of comparing cars’ acceleration times, how are those figures determined?

First, the obvious: virtually no-one actually accelerates from 0 to 60. Even stop signs leading to highway on-ramps typically require more work than simply punching the throttle, and if we accept on-ramps as the sole instance where such an acceleration might be beneficial, there’s no reason to really prefer a faster time; as long as you get up to highway speed before you merge, it doesn’t really matter how long it took you to get there.

That doesn’t mean that 0-60 times don’t have their place. You can glean good information about a car’s speed and power-to-weight ratio from 0-60 times, as long as you don’t take tenth-of-a-second differences as gospel.

Assuming the hubbub about 0-60 times is related to highway driving, the number that would best inform the average driver is a car’s 40-70 time. The only time when most drivers are truly “gunning it” is passing other drivers on the highway, and a car’s ability to get up and go from a stop tells you very little about how easily it can get past the Dodge Caravan going 20 miles under the speed limit with its blinker on.

But 0-60 is the number people care about, so that’s the number car companies test for. How do they reach that number?

Generally speaking, by doing everything they can to get the best number possible. The amount of fuel in a vehicle, the condition of the road, wind conditions, air pressure, temperature, and even the ability and weight of the driver behind the wheel can affect how quickly a car accelerates from zero. So if you were to get your car on a track and have a go at your vehicle’s advertised 0-60 time, the chances are good you would come up short of the pros.

So when shopping for a vehicle, consider leaving 0-60 numbers to the kind of folks who start fights on internet forums. The way that a car drives can’t be quantified by a cold, hard number, and a simple test-drive will be more informative than a car’s listed specifications any day.

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