When it comes to comparing cars, the first thing many people look at are their claimed 0-60mph times. Most petrol heads can quote a list of 0-60 times for their favourite sports cars from memory and many an animated pub argument has been based around little else.
But why focus on this metric alone, surely there are other factors at play that mean more in everyday driving? Well yes there are, in fact the amount of times you will be conducting full-bore 0-60mph acceleration runs during the life of your car may in many cases be a total of zero times. We are excluding teenagers from this of course, and YouTube ‘influencers’.
Marketers are partially to blame for this 0-60 obsession too, they love to quote the very best times that the latest turbocharged XYZ can achieve hoping that the simple comparison with a slower rival will have customers flocking to their showrooms instead. We look beyond this singular obsession and assess what really makes a car perform well in real world conditions.
Back in the days when most cars could barely wheeze their way up to the 60mph mark, the time it took for them to accelerate up to that sort of speed was a pretty handy indicator of what an owner could expect from their mighty steed.
The Mercedes 240D was one of the very first diesel-powered cars and seeing as its top speed was barely above 60mph, its 64-bhp saw it take almost 50-seconds to get there. Clearly this was a very slow car. 60-years ago, anything that could manage the 0-60 sprint in under 15-seconds was considered pretty sprightly.
Even the Jaguar XK120, the fastest car in the world in the early ‘50s, took a decidedly leisurely 10-seconds to hit 60mph.
Power Delivery Matters
The type of aspiration (boosted or not) and the amount of horsepower and torque make a big difference in a car’s accelerative abilities. Too much or too little of either will have a big effect on how it responds to the accelerator pedal.
A very torquey engine will feel strong at lower revs but may run out of breath at higher speeds, smaller turbocharged engines and turbo diesels can sometimes feel like this.
A whole lot of power without much torque means you will have to drive it like you stole it to make decent forward progress. Most performance biased naturally aspirated engines were like this before turbocharging arrived.
Some manufacturers are so focused on getting that 60mph sprint time down that they will adjust the gearing to get the best results. This can detrimentally affect the drivability of the car making it feel slower at more commonly used engine speeds.
Conversely, short gearing can make a car feel very strong in-gear, however having to row through the gears can be time consuming and will ultimately lower acceleration times over a wide speed range. Quick-shifting automatics can alleviate this by ensuring that a car is kept in its powerband for longer.
The issue of traction off the line usually comes into the equation when a car has a surfeit of power. Front-wheel-drive cars tend to pointlessly spin their wheels away from the lights once power levels reach around 250-bhp.
Rear-wheel-drive cars can handle another 150 to 250-bhp more before smoking their tyres away. Limited-slip differentials do make a difference but all-wheel-drive is where it’s at if you want to put down massive amounts of power effectively.
Unless you live in the mountains or it is constantly snowing, for the school run anything will do.
Small capacity petrol engines tend to require a fair dollop of revs to get going, this is alleviated with the addition of a turbo although an amount of lag can still be present before you get what you asked for.
Larger capacity turbocharged engines offer serious power and torque although at the expense of fuel economy. Well set-up hybrids can also feel nippy in everyday driving situations, but they may not offer very impressive 0-60 times. The iconic Honda S2000 made an impressive 240-bhp from its naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine but all the fun happened between 6000rpm and 9000rpm.
This gave it a fast 6-second 0-60mph time but blasting past slow moving traffic required a lot of gear changes and a degree of pre-planning.
Diesel cars are slow and noisy things, the slowness issue however is quickly fixed with the addition of a turbocharger. They may be vilified at the moment but the mid-range torque delivery of a turbodiesel is still far super to that of a turbocharged petrol car.
What they don’t offer is a broad rev range and the shorter gearing does mean that most work best with a quick multi-gear automatic gearbox.
Petrol-powered cars will usually be quicker to 60mph and sound a whole lot smoother in the process, but for the daily grind a modern turbo diesel is responsive, economical and offers powerful in-gear acceleration.
Electric cars are immensely capable from a stand start because they offer the benefits of immediate electric torque from zero revs. Combined with all-wheel drive they can deliver supercar beating results away from the lights.
The fact that most run a single gear means that the acceleration tapers off after 60mph but at legal speeds a powerful electric car is tough to match. Overtaking performance is also superb and if the recharging infrastructure is well-developed in your area then they are well worth a look.
What does it all mean Basil?
Seeing as so many factors influence a car’s overall performance capabilities it is a bit pointless to rely solely on the 0-60mph times, yet since that is the most easily accessible piece of information on most manufacturer websites we have created a rough guide to get you started.
Think of these times as one aspect of a car’s overall abilities, and remember that responsiveness, driving ‘feel’ and in-gear acceleration may vary greatly between cars with identical times.
0-60mph in 10 seconds or longer: Leisurely to slow acceleration
0-60mph between 8 and 10 seconds: Nippy enough for city driving- may be lethargic at higher speeds
0-60mph between 6 and 8 seconds: Responsive acceleration with enough reserves for motorway driving
0-60mph between 4 and 6 seconds: Mid-range to fast sports car performance (unlikely to be tardy in-gear)
0-60mph in under 4 seconds: Serious sports cars and the very quickest saloons
Bugatti Veyron: Power above all else
The Veyron was the world’s first 1000-bhp production car. With AWD, four turbos and 922 lb-ft of torque it could out-accelerate anything else on the road and yet, there were plenty of cars with a fraction of its power that were better around a track. 0-60mph time: 2.5-seconds.
Dodge Challenger Demon: 0-60 obsession
The Dodge Challenger Demon is an 840-bhp supercharged V8 beast that was built to be the fastest production car in a straight line.
Which it is.
It gets to 60mph in 2.3-seconds (impressively without the aid of AWD) and passes through the quarter-mile marker in under 10. That is hypercar beating performance, just don’t show it any corners. That makes the Demon angry.
Porsche GT3: Balanced performance
The Porsche 911 has generally offered a well-balanced set of skills, even the base models perform well and there are plenty of variations to choose from before you get to the overpowered Turbo S and GT2 RS.
The car that perhaps offers the best balance (in supercar terms) of the lot is the current GT3, its naturally aspirated powerplant is responsive and strong at all engine speeds and while its 0-60mph time may trail a Veyron’s by almost a second its abilities are far more nuanced.
For your daily driver the more useful metric is how it accelerates between 30 and 50 mph, that requires the right amount of torque at the right time (so no turbo lag) and the gearing needs to be set up just so.
As we have seen, turbo diesels and EVs tend to do very well in-gear while petrol powered cars still rule the roost at Autobahn type speeds. In fact, a lot of very powerful cars tend to really get into their stride after 60mph, that is why many supercar manufacturers include 0-100mph, 0-200mph and quarter mile times, both more representative of what a supercar is capable of but utterly pointless in the real world.
Even in this rarefied world there is more to overall appeal than the ultimate 0-60mph time though and balance is what separates the merely good from the positively great.