Most people, I suspect, will just snicker at you if you suggest that we’re living in some sort of automotive Golden Age: when the gas costs three bucks and the government keeps coming up with ideas that aren’t worth a plugged nickel, things don’t seem so promising.
In an effort to provide you with some measure of reassurance, I point you to the January “10Best” issue of Car and Driver, which as always includes a list of the ten Best and Worst Performers of the previous year. The Best numbers are always impressive, but the eye-opening stuff is in the Worst column.
An example: Worst Zero-to-Sixty. Ford’s little Transit Connect bread truck, imported from Turkey (!), takes a whole 11.1 seconds. It is a measure of how much our expectations have changed that 11.1 seconds is now considered slow: V-6 family sedans routinely break the seven-second mark, and even the four-cylinder cars manage nine or better. The new electromobiles Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf keep the acceleration at bay to preserve battery range, but even they can knock off easy 10s. The Transit Connect does the quarter-mile in 18.3 seconds at a trap speed of 75 mph, which also rates as Worst.
Then again, here I am with, according to its manufacturer, the “most powerful” car in its class, ten years ago. Says C/D, it runs 0-60 in 8.3, and does a 16.4 quarter at 87 mph. Not a whole lot slower than Ford’s vanlet, really. (And about the same fuel economy: low 20s around town.)
Incidentally, we get the Transit Connect here by way of a loophole in one of those brilliant government ideas: the 1963 “chicken tax,” which set stiff tariffs on a variety of imports, including trucks, as a response to European duties imposed on American poultry. The rest of those tariffs have fallen by the wayside, but the truck tax (25 percent) remains. Ford gets around this by importing the passenger version of the Transit Connect, and then throwing away everything inside back of the B-pillar. Remember this next time someone tells you that the government has thought out some new scheme very carefully and there’s no possible way anything can go wrong.