Irrelevant to 60: Why measuring 0-60 is pointless

My car will get from a standstill to sixty miles an hour in around five and a half seconds. I know this because it says so in the sales brochure and because it’s got a big noisy engine. It’s also completely useless information.CHAL Banner

I have no idea why we measure acceleration to 60 mph anyway. Or 62 mph, depending on who’s doing the testing and for what reason. I assume it came from Europe, where somebody thought that measuring zero to 100 km/h seemed like a good idea.

For those of you in the US, this is our equivalent of your quarter mile times, where you sit at one end of a straight bit of tarmac and then race hard down it until you’re a quarter of a mile away from where you started. My car, a 1993 Corvette, should do that in around 14 seconds but over here in Europe we like to get things done quicker, mostly as there’ll be a corner arriving soon, or a traffic jam. Or both.

These 0-60 times are published in every magazine and in every road test, but I struggle to figure out what they really measure.

When was the last time you needed to get to 60 mph as quickly as your car allows? Never? Or probably just that one time when you wanted to see whether your car actually could do it in the 8.4 seconds the back pages of Top Gear says it will take.

SMMT Test Day Drives 2012 Chevrolet CorvetteYou see getting a car to hit that magic time isn’t actually that easy. You’ve got to build the revs to the right level, roughly 4,000 rpm on most cars, before simply letting go of the clutch pedal and burying your right foot as far in to the carpet as it will go. Forget the biting point, forget finesse, it’s just a case of forcing the high revving engine in to contact with the stationary gearbox and driveshaft bits as hard as you can.

That inevitably breaks things. To put that in to some kind of perspective, a growing number of cars are now being fitted with ‘launch control’, I assume so that writers like myself can go off and perform perfect 0-60 sprints time after time. Except there’s a problem with that; apparently if you use the system too many times on a Ferrari you partly invalidate the warranty. Even Nissan threw out warranty claims of some GT-R owners who had been playing with the launch control systems too frequently.

If the computers can’t do it without breaking things, the chances of you being able to are remote. First you’ll bang through all that power but the driven wheels will start spinning and you’ll lose yourself in a cloud of tyre smoke. On the second attempt you’ll bog down a little and pull away while trying to set light to the clutch plate. On your third attempt, the car will snap.

Even if you do have launch control, it’s quicker to set off manually and at least understand why you’ve broken the gearbox. Take the BMW 135i as an example. To execute a perfect launch you first have to find page 57 of the manual, where you’ll find the following instructions…

[quote]1. With the engine running, step on the brake with your left foot.
2. Activate Dynamic Traction Control (DTC).
3. Activate Driving dynamics control.
4. With the vehicle stationary, activate the manual mode and select 1st gear.
5. With your right foot, push the accelerator pedal past the resistance point. The engine speed for pulling away is adjusted. A flag symbol appears in the instrument cluster.
6. When you release the brake pedal, the vehicle accelerates. Keep the accelerator pedal floored.
7. The upshifting occurs automatically as long as you keep the accelerator pedal pressed past the resistance point.
Launch Control will be ready for use again after you drive a certain distance.[/quote]

By the time you’ve read that and figured out how to do it there’ll be retired teachers in Nissan Micra’s queuing behind you and cursing your slow getaway. When you do finally get going, you’ve broken even more bits of your car just to save that extra half second and your warranty won’t cover it.

That seems a bit pointless as you’ve just wasted four seconds reading this sentence so far, and it’s not even a very good sentence. Now you’re up to seven seconds, and that’s really not long enough to make any difference to your life. Eleven seconds now. Would getting to 60 mph in that time really help you out in life?

Ferrari F12berlinetta 2012 ProfileThe conclusion must be that measuring 0-60 times tells you nothing of real world performance and can only be reliably used to count how long it takes to throw a drive shaft. Yet we still need something to talk to our friends about, effectively to brag about, but it’s got to be something we all think we can achieve.

That rules out top speed as a measure of ‘best’ in the pub and braking distances won’t cut it. Who’s ever going to boast about just how little time it takes them to stop driving quickly? Cornering G forces might work, but people will lose control and kill themselves, so that’s probably a bad idea.

I’ve absolutely no idea what other measure we could use though, so I’m opening it up to you. Share your best ideas below…

[button link=”” rel=”nofollow” color=”orange”]This article was first published at on 12 April 2012.[/button]

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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