Opinion: No matter how good they look on paper, 0-100kph times are pointless

Other things matter more
by Paul Horrell | May 14, 2022
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PHOTO: Hennessey Performance

Ever fantasize about following some of the journeys we feature at Top Gear? Nice idea. Except for the one we talk about most often. You’d be daft to repeat it in your own car, and we know that you know that. It’s the one from zero to 100kph. Though we talk about it, we—ahem—don’t actually do it very often for ourselves.

The American media, bred out of a drag-racing culture, obsessively measure acceleration times, but 0-60mph (97kph), of course. The Germans, bred out of a culture where what cannot be measured cannot be considered, obsessively measure it, too, except 0-100kph. YouTubers do it, managing to stretch a quick 5sec squirt down a runway into a yawning, gibbering 20 minutes of footage through which we all rapidly scrub.

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At Top Gear, we usually quote the manufacturer’s figure. That’s because measuring 0-100 is highly abusive of any car with manual transmission, liable to burn clutches, snap driveshafts, and ruin tires. It’s also inexact, depending on surface, weather, temperature, and the skill and luck of the driver. It demands expensive facilities and equipment, and we understand you’d rather we spent that time and money testing on good roads and gathering beautiful photos.

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But wait. What if we’re quoting a distorted figure, if the manufacturers are making bent claims? Well, remember we have to borrow cars from them. If they lied about the 0-100 time, they’d probably also nobble the test car’s engine, quietly chipping for more power so we could match their times. So, we’d have to control for that by doing a dyno test as well. Another expensive, time-consuming, and abusive business.

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Anyway, what are these acceleration measurements? In the US, they use a ‘one-foot rollout’: The clock starts ticking when the car has traveled one foot. So duh, it’s no longer doing zero. And we must consider launch control, a lengthy sequence of button pushes and pedal jabs, before you even set off on the actual timed run.

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To match the manufacturer’s quoted figure, an American magazine had to spend ages lowering the Cadillac CT5 Blackwing’s tire pressures and experimenting with its launch control’s rpm and tire-slip parameters. In the famous case of the emperors of 0-100 the Teslas, you have to do a lengthy battery conditioning process. While you wait for all that to happen, I think the clock should surely be ticking. And I’d already be at the far end of the runway—having walked there.

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But more than all that, 0-100 times simply don’t matter. I care little for the measured acceleration. What matters is the feeling of acceleration. Does the car answer the accelerator promptly? Overtake well? Make nice noises as it goes? And is that acceleration at its best over the speed range I require?

If I floor it from, let’s say, a steady 70kph, how long do I have to wait for the turbos to spool up, the auto box to thump down, and then to accelerate up to 100kph or indeed whatever speed I need? It’s all way beyond the compass of the 0-100 digits. You need a wordy description, and that’s my job.

NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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PHOTO: Hennessey Performance
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