Brake-torqued

Of the four major auto-buff monthlies, I subscribe to three, and for the first time I can remember, all three of them arrived on the same day. So I had lots of fresh statistics to examine, and at some point, I found myself thinking, Does anybody really give a damn about zero to sixty?

Well, obviously the guys (or girl, in the case of Automobile) who run these mags think so, or they wouldn’t keep hammering away at it month after month. I did a quick scan of Car and Driver’s Road Test Digest, and the 0-60 numbers vary over nearly a six-to-one range: the Bugatti Veyron does the deed in a stirringly-negligible 2.5 seconds, while the smart fortwo in Passion trim will take a sluglike 14.4. (The online version hasn’t been updated all year. Go figure.)

Even allowing for the grandly-general “faster is better,” what’s fast enough? Sandy, my late, lamented Mazda 626, saddled with a tiny (just under 2.0 liters) four-banger and a Ford slushbox, was rated by the manufacturer at 12.5 seconds, easily the worst showing of any 2000 mid-sized sedan. It didn’t seem that slow, I thought, and once I actually attempted to do the measurement; I came up with 11.6, which does not inspire anyone but which didn’t sound quite so slow. And truth be told, I never felt the car was all that slow, especially since it didn’t complain much with the revs up. (The maximum 130 ponies could be had at 5500 rpm, a thousand short of the redline; above 6000, the little engine mostly processed gasoline into noise.)

Still: what’s fast enough? Only once have I seen this addressed in a car mag: in an early-80s (I think) issue of C/D, in which L. J. K. Setright explained why he’d bought a Volkswagen Scirocco: one reason, he said, was that it met his requirement of zero to sixty in ten seconds. The Scirocco, back then, was considered speedy. Nowadays, family sedans break nine seconds; give them six cylinders and they’ll break eight, even seven.

Before you ask: Gwendolyn knocks out 0-60 in about eight seconds, though I haven’t put a stopwatch on her.





14 comments

  1. Baby M »

    8 May 2009 · 10:36 am

    When I was shopping last, the cars I looked at were all clocked at 5.9 to 6.2 seconds 0-60. I figured that that was “fast enough,” and truth be told when I was test driving, I couldn’t detect the 0.3 difference. The GTI I ended up with is probably as fast as I will ever need a car to go.

    Acceleration is also a bit subjective. I used to have a Honda CRX that was around 10 sec. 0-60, but it felt faster because the engine was quite responsive through most of its rev range. (I would also come to believe, from personal experience, that having Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers in the cassette deck took a full second off the 0-60 time.) For a while I was driving a late-model Mercury that was undoubtedly faster than the CRX by objective measure, but didn’t feel like it.

  2. Jeffro »

    8 May 2009 · 10:37 am

    I’ve thought all of my vehicles needed more power, some more than others. The ‘Vette had enough that when the loud pedal was stomped, a straight line was highly recommended, lest one wanted to see the country in a roundabout way. It still needed more, ’cause it didn’t win all the occasional impromptu drag races. Just most of them.

    On the other hand an early MR2 and an early eighties 200SX were on the opposite end of the performance envelope – light, nimble and far less power. They were a lot more forgiving when power was applied injudiciously in a corner, and were a lot of fun to drive. They could be driven closer to 10/10ths without attracting undue attention, unlike the ‘Vette.

    Did I need any of that performance? Hell yes, good for the soul, I say. Which one was the “best?” That’s like asking which is better – a Reuben or a hamburger. I liked them all and would take a new version of any of them any day.

    So, if a car is dilatory in reaching sixty, it had better have some very redeeming characteristics otherwise.

  3. unimpressed »

    8 May 2009 · 1:15 pm

    While faster IS fun, my primary yardstick for performance is whether or not I can comfortably and safely reach merging speed on any given on-ramp in the city where I live (at 50 as opposed to what I wanted at 20). My horsepower requirements have slacked off considerably through kids and, now, grandkids over the years.

  4. John Salmon »

    8 May 2009 · 1:36 pm

    “Gwendolyn knocks out 0-60 in about eight seconds”

    I’d sure like to have a fast woman like that.

  5. CGHill »

    8 May 2009 · 1:40 pm

    The high maintenance would kill you.

  6. McGehee »

    8 May 2009 · 4:54 pm

    Strangely, I have never clocked the 0-60 in my Bronco. I will say that the new, Chinese-made smaller tires I had to buy last week seem to make it feel less powerful when I punch it. I tell myself it’s because the sidewalls aren’t as firm, and not because the tires are haunted by the tortured souls of thousands of political dissidents.

  7. CGHill »

    8 May 2009 · 11:08 pm

    You need some of these Dunlops. Their sidewalls are stiffer than Al Gore in a snowsuit. As a result, the ride is a tad rockier than I’d like, but steering precision has gone up markedly, and they utterly ignore rain unless you do something stupid like drive into a pond, and by “you” I mean “me.”

  8. McGehee »

    9 May 2009 · 8:52 am

    Dunlops. Check. How pricey are they, given that I bought the TortureTrac tires because they were the cheapest available?

  9. CGHill »

    9 May 2009 · 11:07 am

    I paid $380 for a set of four at Tire Rack.

  10. McGehee »

    9 May 2009 · 12:58 pm

    Okay, that’s not excessively pricey for a car tire, so I’d expect something in the $110-130 range for light truck.

    Fortunately I’m not planning on replacing four at a time again anytime soon.

  11. McGehee »

    9 May 2009 · 12:59 pm

    Um, that’s $110-130 per tire, compared to Charles’ $95.

  12. CGHill »

    9 May 2009 · 1:50 pm

    Well, while buying from Tire Rack does incur shipping charges ($40ish), they do make a heck of a deal on the price: these particular tires in Gwendolyn’s size (215/55R16) carry a suggested retail price of $138.45 each.

  13. Jenks626 »

    11 May 2009 · 12:34 am

    Haha, I finally comment! I have been coming back to your 626 pages for months now and using them as a reference to R&R my 1995 Green 626 DX, affectionately called Paula. Only now have I taken the time to explore your site, and come to realize you reside in the, erm, “great” state of Oklahoma! I do as well, in the vicinity of Tulsa.

    I do enjoy your blog very much. It’s given me more to think and laugh about in the last few hours than I’ve had in the last few months.

    Anyway, I felt a need to comment on this one, as I understand very well the phrase “above 6000, the little engine mostly processed gasoline into noise.”

    I replaced my transmission this past fall, on my own, and yes I installed a massive cooler. I sincerely recommend a shop take on thee task, a driveway is no place to replace a CD4E. After completion placed a video on youtube showing how great the new transmission responded. And how it performed, for lack of a better word in a 0-60. The CD4E reman was for a 1999 626, so my shift points tend to run over the red. Please enjoy my terrible filming. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxytfzyD1L0

  14. CGHill »

    11 May 2009 · 7:33 am

    At least with a ’99 box, you got the benefit of the design improvements, though I’m sure it was expecting to be talking to a Ford EEC-V brain. (And Ford, if I remember correctly, was going through one of those “We don’t need no stinkin’ redline” phases about then.)

    There was always the one redeeming feature of those generations of 626: weight, or the lack thereof. All the competing mid-sized sedans — Accord, Camry, Altima, Malibu, Contour — weighed 100-300 lb more. Made up for (some of) the relative lack of horsepower.

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