Car Acceleration: Why is 0-60 the Gold-Standard Test?

A roaring engine, squealing tires, and rush of adrenaline—all within seconds—as a race car darts across a straightaway fascinates gearheads everywhere. We love speed. Car acceleration is a common topic of conversation among all types of drivers, from everyday highway commuters to weekend racetrack entertainers.

We've all gazed at a vehicle and uttered the words "So how fast can it go?" and, odds are, the reply included its 0-to-60 miles per hour (0–97 km/h) speed. But why is that time increment the go-to when it comes to talking about car acceleration? And is it accurate?

It Really Is a Numbers Name

If you're shopping for a new ride and consult a guide like Consumer Reports, you'll find its Best and Worst Car Acceleration report itemizes vehicles by make, model, and 0-to-60 time. The speed at which cars can move in a set direction affects handling and performance, and, therefore, safety. In addition to acceleration, drivers often look at other speed-related stats, including braking distance and horsepower.

A History of Racing and Running

The 0-to-60 increment we all know so well today has an origin in the racing industry. In a 0-to-60 sprint race, muscle cars dash along the straightaway of a regulation racetrack, avoiding turns or laps to earn a sprint time, much like a track-running athlete. The goal is to earning a brag-worthy short time.

Car manufacturers have taken note of how auto lovers and consumers toss around those 0-to-60 stats with pride and have adopted the same measure to promote their inventories, from leisure vehicles to the fastest performance cars. It really does make buying the new family sedan more enjoyable when you can talk with the salesman in auto-racing terms, so the 0-to-60 sprint terminology stuck.

Let's Talk About Car Acceleration Variables

Each car's acceleration is unique to that car, its components, and environment at the time of the test. Run the 0 to 60 in the same car in a new locale with different modifications, and your acceleration will change, too.

There are an incredible number of variables that affect how fast a car can go in the 0-to-60 sprint. The style, grip, width, and size of the tires, in addition to the race surface, weight of the vehicle, type of suspension, weather conditions, and skills of the driver are just the start. Of course, engine size and aerodynamics of the vehicle play a factor, too.

Once you start digging in, the options are almost endless, and that's what fuels the fires of racing champions and DIY auto lovers who continually upgrade and modify their rides to improve performance.

Are you working on any DIY upgrades to improve acceleration? We'd love to hear about your car project in the comments below.

Last updated December 7, 2018