If car A runs the Quarter mile in 12.2 seconds at 105 mph, and car B runs it in 12 seconds at a speed of 109 mph who would arrive at a 4 mile destination fastest? This sounds a lot like an algebra problem that has trapped students for decades, but it’s not. It’s a conversation that can be heard between two car enthusiast. 0-60 times, ¼ mile times, ⅛ mile times, they’re all spouted like badges of honor at car meets across the country. People pay money to get Dyno runs for a car that they’re already satisfied with and even dyno days have become a thing. Do these times really make as big an impact as we think they do though?
Numbers are probably the easiest way to provide a uniform standard for anything. They are easily comparable and they help people distinguish the “slow” from the “fast”(both relative) without actually driving them. It’s just easier and has been ingrained into us all. A car that runs four seconds can be quick or fast, a car that runs threes is incredible, and a car that runs twos (that very illustrious group) is legendary. We know and accept it. It’s like the MPG standard. When we are thinking in our head, we have a number that tell us what is good, great, and poor. These numbers act as marketing tools; As Buzzword are to products, numbers are to cars.
“11 second quarter mile, 204 mph top speed, 680+hp, 3.4 second 0-60 time, 13/22 mpg.” Sounds amazing right? But let's factor in that said car weighs 4592 lbs, which is actually more than the Ford F-150, weighing in at 4475 lbs. A different story right? Now let's look at the fact that the same company makes a car that has” 206 mph top speed, mid 11 second quarter mile, mid 3 second 0-60, 645hp 3.4 second 0-60 time, 12/21 mpg” and weighs 3,378 lbs ( for reference a Nismo 370z making roughly half the hp weighs the same thing). BUT since numbers reign supreme the obvious choice here is the first car right? More horsepower better mpg, better quarter mile! Therein lies the issue with numbers.
As car enthusiast we are the ones who have a connection to cars that dives beneath the surface level. We’re the ones our friends and family come to, we’re the ones who like crazy cars like the Miata which is totally impractical, but fun, or the Rx-7 ,which drinks oil like an Offensive lineman drinks water during spring training. We like them because these cars have a unique feel. To the uninitiated a car is just an appliance and numbers help tell them which appliance performs better. But for us enthusiast, it’s more than that. It’s the theatrics of the handling, it’s the “put you back in your seat” feeling some cars have and others don’t. A 0-60 time is only one small factor in that.
Dyno pulls have become a fun trend lately, with Dyno days being great events to go to and show your vehicle doing something other than sitting in a parking lot. But do they mean much? If you were happy with your car before you pulled into the dyno day is it going to change the minute you find out your supercharger nets you 490 horses, and not 500 even? It’s a great tool to know, but it doesn’t define your car. Knowing the number from your car, and living by and chasing numbers is a completely different story.
The tests used to pull these metrics aren’t standardized in any way. So while they are considered an industry standard, they don’t actually have a standard to which they are held. Conditions can be altered to produce whatever time the manufacturer sees fit.
In all actuality all of the numbers provided technically don’t help you in car shopping. A 0-60 time is only useful for pulls from a dead stop, ¼ and ⅛ miles aren’t just present for you to blast down on the highway, top speeds are almost always unreachable, so why are we so stuck on them? A more reasonable test would be something like say 40- 65 times, for merging onto ramps. This is the reason why test drives are popular; To see how engaging the car is; For the buyer to understand how life would be with this car.
We play the numbers game with our cars, but one of the most respected companies in the industry, Porsche, could care less. Their cars don’t have freakishly high numbers compared to the rest of their class, and their owners don't brag about the amazing numbers their car puts out. With this company it’s all about the precision driving feel, the elegance that makes the car and the Porsche experience.
Auto journalists also understand the usage of these numbers, but still have to test the car and are sometimes surprised by the results. Vehicles like the Fiesta ST and the BRZ receive rave reviews despite being “slow” by modern day number standards. Even a vehicle like the Lexus RCF which should check all the boxes as far as numbers go received less praise than initially thought.
“Numbers and Power get you in the dealership, but the feel and experience sell the car.” A phrase I hold near and dear to my heart. Initially, the number will get your interest, but will it make you attached to the car? After the initial effect of knowing your car can produce certain numbers, what do you have left to stand on? It’s easy to talk cars in general and relate to numbers, but once you get past the surface, cars really have personalities. Stats are fun, BUT, they can be skewed and need to be taken into consideration with the entire picture. So let's stop turning a love of cars into an Algebra problem, and get back to the fun.