Numbers, Numbers – What Makes Cars Feel Faster

December 31, 2009

Anyone who has been around the block quickly knows that there is a world of difference between speed on paper and speed behind the wheel.  But why is that, and are there any legitimate shortcuts for the thrill seeker in all of us?

 

It turns out that the first problem is one of omission. Take horsepower for example.

240 horsepower in the Honda S2000 sounds like a screamer. Problem is, without looking at the torque curve, you will wonder why your pride and joy is so slow. Then you see that it doesnt generate most of its power until you wind up the revs, so now it makes sense.

Then there is the power to weight ratio. With a light car, even a modest engine may feel responsive.  And then there are power losses as measured by horsepower at the wheel.

This measures drive train losses. Keep in mind what you feel is at the wheel.

 

Whoa. So much for just looking at horsepower.

 

Then there is the famous 0 60 time. Very useful, but 0 -30 may be even more crucial.

This is the stat you will feel the most. As in every time you stop and start.

How about passing times, the famous 30-50 or 50-70?

Again, not as often quoted as the 0 -60, but who is going from 0-60 on the highway? Okay, maybe as you start up an entrance ramp.

 

Some people think that top speed is a big deal. And yet many successful performance cars are limited electronically to 155 with no loss of sales. Why? Because other than on a track or the Autobahn, you only need about half of that to get around.

 

Factors that can make a car feel faster are often unrelated to the engine. Cars that are very responsive with quick steering, like the classic Porsche 944 for example, feel faster than they are. Convertibles feel faster with the top down. Big, heavy, cushy cars feel slower than they are.

Cars with loud engines tell your brain you are accelerating quickly.

Cars that are low to the ground feel faster. Much faster.

A reclined drivers position also gives you a sense of speed, as opposed to a more upright position.

 

And then finally, there is your environment. A straight open road with huge open land on both sides of you will make even 100+ feel like a gentle cruise. A twisty mountain road may feel fast at half that speed.

 

Then there is the feel of a linear engine versus the sudden push of turbochargers. The times may favor one or the other, but there is no mistaking the shove in the back and the feeling of speed when they spool up. It is like being squirted forward. This is different than the tug of a large V-8, which is more immediate, but more even. Both are great.

 

At the end of the day, no stat will tell you as much as what some have referred to as the

buttometer which is the final word.

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