The Race Against Time
There’s nothing more satisfying than shifting your car into drive, pressing down on the gas, and watching the world whiz by you at increasing speeds. First 20 … then 30 … and suddenly you’re moving at over 60 miles per hour in the blink of an eye. With cars much quicker today than they were decades ago, we analyzed how the speed and horsepower of popular cars have evolved over time and what we can expect from them in the future. Our focus was primarily on base models that can be purchased today, as well as all-time record holders. Keep reading to see what we uncovered.
Quick vs Fast: Who Wins?
Typically, more horsepower means a quicker car, right? In some scenarios, it is an absolute truth. Performance manufacturer McLaren Automotive has been piecing together engines with an average horsepower of 986 for the past 10 years, which can hit 60 mph in 2.4 seconds.
However, some examples prove this idea false. Take Porsche, which has been building cars with 630 horsepower over the past decade. At 3.3 seconds to 60 mph, its car is slower than the Tesla model – a lighter car that is over one second quicker. But just because they can get up to speed quickly – thanks to battery design and the power density of the cells – doesn’t always mean they can hang at similar top speeds. The Porsche 911 can go close to 185 mph at top speed, while the Tesla Model S P100D only reaches a top speed of 155 mph.
As the company claiming to craft the “ultimate driving machine,” BMW finds itself in the bottom half of the top 10 in horsepower, but is tied for seventh for the time it takes to achieve 60 mph. Nissan and Mercedes-Benz are just two car brands leaving the German giant with a great view of their taillights. This could be due to a poor power-to-weight ratio, but maybe that’s not what you’re after if you’re shopping for a luxury automobile.
In the 1980s, a 3-series BMW would have cost you almost $21,000, which is the same as spending nearly $47,000 today. This car starts at over $42,800 today and can get much more expensive depending on the options you select.
Pedal to the Metal
Between 2011 and 2017, a massive change occurred in the automotive industry. The quickest car no longer had a combustion engine. Tesla's Model S P100D with Ludicrous mode goes from 0 to 60 in under 2.3 seconds as a five-seater sedan. It is also commercially available, unlike its peers in speed, the McLaren P1 LM and Ferrari LaFerrari, which were both manufactured as limited production 2-seat supercars.
Maybe even easier to find, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE has reacquainted itself with speed, hitting 60 mph in 3.4 seconds between 2011 and 2017. It’s the seventh quickest overall among the cars we analyzed – the highest slotting since the 1970s when the Camaro was sixth overall with 12.8 seconds.
But the base Camaro still struggles to get its time under 5 seconds. Although, to be fair, it has been able to get acceleration time down to more than half of its time of 12.9 seconds in 1969.
One of the quickest cars in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s wasn’t put together by a supercar manufacturer, but by Toyota. The Toyota Supra developed a cult following as it was truly built for speed. Aluminum hoods, hollow rear spoilers … this thing didn’t want a single extra pound on the frame! What once started as a part of their Celica line, the Supra was eventually spun off and became a car recognized as a true racer’s automobile. Toyota ultimately abandoned the Supra in 1998 due to poor sales, but it still remains a car beloved by fans of sporty cars that can really push out some power.
The car was last sold for prices around $10,000 to get them off lots, but can fetch prices of over $25,000 today if in decent shape due to some fans’ fixation on this ride. ($10,000 in 1998 would have been worth over $15,000 in 2017.)
Cars have never been quicker than they are today. Between 2010 and 2017, the average car went from 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds – a full 1.4 seconds faster than cars manufactured between 2000 and 2010. There were even cars that snuck below that 4.2 record, like the C7 Chevrolet Corvette and Mercedes-Benz SL-Class, 3.9 seconds and 3.5 seconds to 60 mph, respectively.
Technological enhancements to every aspect of the car – from electronic controls to the type of tires – have aided in the pursuit for a quicker automobile. Even cars that were already fast, like a Ferrari, have found ways to shave time off an already impressive acceleration rate. In 1984, the Ferrari 288 GTO went from 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds to the 2017 LaFerrari Aperta in 2.7 seconds.
The race to an even quicker car hit a couple of speed bumps in the 1970s, thanks to an oil embargo and an energy crisis that left automobile manufacturers hesitant to pursue "speed machines." This era also produced an average time of over 12 seconds to get from 0 to 60 – the slowest decade for cars. The Ford Mustang, in particular, is a good example, as it took 13.4 seconds to ramp up in 1974. Today, the base model of this classic muscle car can go from 0 to 60 in under 5 seconds.
Start Your Engines
Getting up to speed requires plenty of horsepower, and the cars we looked at have got it. Horsepower continued to increase among the cars we examined to almost 500, on average, between 2010 and 2017. This includes a massive increase from the previous decade when cars operated at 335 horsepower.
While the Nissan Fairlady Z doesn’t come close to the average 500-horsepower engine of 2017 – at 331 horsepower it’s able to accelerate from 0 to 60 in under 5 seconds. Meanwhile, the 2017 Dodge Charger offers up to 707 horsepower depending on the model (its weight may be a part of the reason it takes a little longer to hit 60 mph). At 7.2 seconds, the Dodge Charger is slower than the 2006 base version, which can clear 60 in 5.6 seconds.
Traditional gasoline-engine cars need to keep a closer eye in the rearview mirror, however, as electric vehicles are looking to become the quickest. In fact, one, the Faraday Future FF 91, was manufactured with over 1,000 horsepower and the ability to go from 0 to 60 in about 2.4 seconds, though it isn’t in production yet. This hybrid is looking to give the Tesla, and every other car out there, a run for their money.
The High Cost of Performance
There are many reasons why car enthusiasts love race cars: the speed, design, and performance. But one factor may rise above the rest – the exclusivity of some of the most popular models. While some cars may manufacture their own form of exclusivity by limiting the number of cars produced at a time, or even who can shop for these super slick whips, others are exclusive by the sheer nature of their price tag.
The P1 LM McLaren came out on top not just for its speed, but also for its price tag. The McLaren will set you back a cool $3.7 million, which – given its zero to 60 mph performance – will cost you $1,541,667 for every second it takes to climb to that 60 mph speed. The LaFerrari from Ferrari (more than $1.4 million) and the Model S P100D from Tesla ($135,700) came in just behind the McLaren in price point – if not always in speed.
Looking for a taste of the action without having to empty your bank account? The MX-5 Miata from Mazda may not be breaking any records, but with around a $26,000 price tag, it’s also highly affordable compared to other options on the list. If that’s not fast enough for you, the sixth generation Ford Mustang will top out at 161 miles per hour and costs just over $26,000.
Ready, Set, Go!
In the months and years ahead, you’ll see electric-charging and hybrid solutions aimed to optimize efficiency while targeting record-setting speeds coming into the market. You’ll also see thousands of people willing to spend $35,000 on Tesla’s first sub-$60,000 car that’ll go 60 mph in under 6 seconds.
It’s easier today than it was even 20 or 30 years ago to buy a car capable of going from 0 to 60 in under 5 seconds. Especially with electric cars pushing the envelope, you can bet traditional car manufacturers will continue to do everything they can in the pursuit of the quickest car possible.
Whether you’re insuring the fastest car on Earth or the one you’re driving until that happens, use Auto Insurance Center to find an amazing rate for auto insurance.
We analyzed the 0 to 60 times and horsepower of 83 different cars across 11 different makes. Our primary focus was on production cars that people could purchase, not concept cars or upgraded models. Exceptions to this rule were made in the case of current record holders. Car specs came from Automobile Catalog, TopSpeed, Road and Track, Car and Driver, Carfolio.com, Porsche, Excellence Magazine, and Kelley Blue Book.