0-60 times are misleading
What does it
mean to have a vehicle that can outperform the competition in a run
from standstill to 60 mph in a few tenths of a second, or for that
matter a full second? If you are on the racetrack it’s a matter of
winning or losing, if you are on the street it’s a matter of idiocy.
It is common to
see the 0-60 figures plastered across the covers of magazines, and
thrown around in conversation as a form of testosterone. A second in
time is a mere blink of an eye, and tenths of a second should matter
even less when trying to determine the true worth of an automobile.
It is often the subtle things about a vehicle, things that are often
not mentioned, that matter more to a driver and owner, than rates of
acceleration measured in tenths of a second. Do buyers understand that
in order to achieve the acceleration numbers that a manufacturer
advertises for a manual transmission model you must first bring the
engine speed up to the desired level, dump the clutch, attain the
desired amount of tire grip, and thrash away at the gearshift level at
the optimum shift points?
Start out wrong,
slow on the shift, lose a little traction, miss your shift points, and
seconds are easily lost. Now, let’s be realistic, how many people
drive like that on the road? Not that we don’t give it the old college
try once in a while, but those times are not as frequent as we might
like to think. The acceleration figures are important to people that
are going to autocross or drag race their cars on the weekend,
everyone else needs to take them with a grain of salt.
Before anyone starts sending hate mail please understand that I am in
no way advocating the production of vehicles that move around at a
snail's pace. Vehicles need to have adequate response in acceleration,
cornering, and braking to provide for a pleasant experience.
comfort of the seats and the functionality of the interior has a
big impact on the driving experience
There are other
attributes of a vehicle that add to a great ownership experience, more
so than blistering rates of acceleration. The quality of the seats is
very important, good driving position, things like the angle of the
steering wheel and pedal placement add to a feel of control and
comfort. Small subtle things matter, the armrest position, easy to
reach HVAC and radio controls, the layout of storage space, etc. Good
ride quality matters immensely when it comes to long fatigue-free
I have owned
rocket ships that you would like to pump 10 rounds of buckshot into
after a 45 minute drive. Some of these cars are great on the racetrack
but grotesque on the road.
Sometime back I had the opportunity to spend the day with a Mercedes CLK 55 and a BMW M3,
both cars were new and in their prime. My vote went to the Mercedes,
the slower of the two cars. The Mercedes is a finished car, it was
right in almost every way, something you would take a road trip in
without reservation. If you look at the numbers the M3 wins hands
down, and on the racetrack it would be the preferred choice, on the
road the AMG is king. A perfect example of how numbers can lie.
In our imagination we see ourselves running the Cannonball, driving
gloves on, tachometer bouncing at the redline, red lights in the rear
view mirror as we escape the pursuing authorities. We picture
ourselves racing through a mountain pass, nicely handling four wheel
drifts, top down, and a beautiful blond admiring our every move. In
reality we drive to the store for bread, trying to navigate around the
hoards on non-drivers on the road, and fear getting a door ding from
an inconsiderate automotive illiterate.
More time is spent driving a car on a road like this than on a
We often live in
our dreams, but we need to buy our reality. Ever own a vehicle that
has a ridiculously large turning radius? Boy, that didn’t rear its
ugly head on the showroom floor, but it sure did bite you in the
derrière every time you tried to make a u-turn somewhere.
There are some
great cars out there, cars that will please the typical driver in many
ways, they just don’t show well in the 0-60, 0-100, or quarter mile
If you made a sound choice when buying your vehicle you should be
saying things like:
“It doesn’t feel like we are going 85 mph, I would have guessed 60.”
“This car is so quiet inside when driving on the highway I can hear
“This car almost drives itself, requires very little steering
correction, it really tracks well.”
“I can drive this car for hours without getting a backache, neck ache,
“I like the way this car feels, it has very little body roll and feels
“This car is solid as a rock over 100 mph, it seems to hunker down the
faster I go.”
A well engineered vehicle will impress you every time you drive it,
one of compromised quality will wear on you over time. When we own
great cars we are sad to see them go, when we own fatigue-mobiles we
dream of ways to unload them for something else.
A great vehicle
is like part of the family, something you want to hold on to. A
marginal vehicle is like that family member that nobody wants to talk
about, hoping they will just go away on their own.
I have owned
well over 100 automobiles, I can count on one hand, maybe a little on
the second, the vehicles I wish I had kept.
Next time we can
talk about reliability, another often overused reference by the buying
public. The cars from Europe may not have the greatest reliability
ratings, but man do they drive like nobody’s business. If my Eurocar
was a little smaller I would hug it.