One of the best-known metrics when it comes to cars is the magical 0-60 time. And for good reason! It’s a really visceral sort of metric, something you can feel in your gut far more than how many miles per gallon or electric battery range or even top speed. It’s the amount of time it takes to transform an inert couple tons of metal and rubber just sitting there, immobile, into a couple of tons of metal and rubber that are devouring a mile every single minute. It’s exciting! You stomp that pedal, and get shoved back in your seat, and everything whips out of the back of your mind except that base, visceral joy of speed. I love it. I love cars that accelerate quickly! And yet, at the same time, I’m noticing something about the current automotive landscape. Pretty much everything is quick as hell now, so much so that cars that go from paperweight to cheetah in, say, four or three, or even two-point-something seconds aren’t even that uncommon anymore. As a result, I think we’re in a bit of a collective delusionary period, and maybe it’s time to take a hard look at things and remind ourselves of something important: Crazy low 0-60 times, while fun, just aren’t that important, and the vast majority of drivers – as we always seem to come back to when it comes to what our cars are really capable of – never really even graze the limits of what their cars can do.
I was thinking about this because of a tweet I saw last week:
Tesla has no business making a car this slow.
At the Model 3 event Elon said:
"At Tesla, we don't make slow cars."
0-60 in 6.6 seconds is SLOWER than the Prius Prime.
Actually and literally embarrassing.
Tesla shouldn't make a single vehicle that does 0-60 in over 5 sec. pic.twitter.com/yjNwrgRJr7
— ???? Scaremy Pumpkins ???? (@jeremyjudkins_) October 4, 2023
Now, I’m not sure of this person’s motives here, but 6.6 seconds from a dead stop to 60 mph isn’t slow. And, sure, the Prius Prime only needs 6.4 seconds to get to 60. But a 1974 Porsche 911 needed seven seconds flat to get from 0-60. And no one thought that car was slow. A Ferrari 308, like the one Magnum P.I. drove, that took 6.7 seconds to get to 60. And he managed to catch all those Hawaiian ne’er-do-wells, no problem.
This guy says that Tesla “shouldn’t make a single vehicle that does 0-60 in over 5 sec” which, just for reference, is pretty damn close to what a Shelby Cobra would do back in the day (4.8 or so seconds), and people raced those things. Sure, 5 seconds to 60 is fun, no question, but the idea that a carmaker that makes mainstream, general-use cars that hardly anyone takes to the track needs to never make a vehicle that takes longer than 5 seconds to get to 60 is just, well, stupid.
Look, fun is fun! I get it! But here’s the thing: in the real world, on real streets, people don’t accelerate that fast! Unless there’s something really horrific happening right behind them, like if a pack of sasquatches caught on fire and ended up on a runaway hovercraft careening down the highway. Beyond that, people are – and I mean no offense to any people that may be reading this – are generally too chickenshit to really stomp that go pedal so hard they go from 0-60 in, like, 5 seconds. They just don’t!
People will hit the gas to get going and feel that burst of intoxicating speed, but the vast majority of drivers will very soon let up, because on public roads, they’re pretty good at not being idiots.
I know there’s an argument that you need to have a car that’s sufficiently quick so it can merge onto highways safely, and I think that set of cars comfortably contains, let’s see, oh yeah, every single car you can buy today. And, really, pretty much anything on the road that can hit highway speeds. I know this because I drive a car every day that is likely one of the most marginal ones, taking a hilarious 16 or so seconds to hit 60, thanks to those 52 moseying horses under the hood. That’s likely too slow for almost everybody, and I get that, but I also know that even that glacial pace is not unsafe for merging. I know because I do it all the time, just fine.
Though you know what? If I try to think objectively about getting 1600 pounds of mass to move at a mile-a-minute, a span of 16 seconds to make that happen really doesn’t seem like much at all. We take the power of cars for granted, I think.
Really, anything that can get to 60 in about 10 seconds will probably be completely fine for most drivers. I went ahead and said seven seconds in the headline because, well, why not? You should have a little fun.
Maybe that guy in the tweet was joking? That’s certainly possible. But even so, it’s still an interesting thing to think about. In this era of all-torque-from-a-standstill electric motors, fast 0-60 times are no longer the exotic, barely-attainable things they once were. Race-car-adjacent 0-60 times aren’t rare any more, and as a result our perceptions have become skewed.
So, all I’m saying here is that while I get moving very quickly is an absolute blast, we all may be going off the rails here. Getting to 60 in six, seven, even eight seconds is plenty. And, remember, getting these 0-60 times isn’t easy! To get these times, carmakers and test drivers do multiple runs in ideal conditions, and sometimes those numbers are not exactly what you think, because they’re often measured with what’s known as rollout.
That means that the cars aren’t being tested for a true zero to 60 time; instead, the cars start moving and get to go about a foot before timing even starts. That’s not really 0-60 at all, is it? Here’s a video talking about this with someone who once shook our own David Tracy’s hand without even looking at him or acknowledging he was even there:
Take away this rollout, um, advantage, and some cars that claim incredibly low 0-60 times can’t really do what they claim.
Point is, it’s all kind of bullshit, and chances are great that whatever you’re driving has a 0-60 time that’s just fine. If you want to drag race, then that’s a whole other thing! But, for everyone else? Seven or under is fine.