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How Important is Performance When Buying A Car?

By , 7/16/2020

When cross shopping your next car, how much should you take performance into the equation?

You hear all the figures, zero-60 times, quarter mile speed, stopping distance, corning G’s, and so many more. Are these figures that you should be taking into account when shopping for you next vehicle?

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If you are searching for a performance car, go ahead and skip this article and move onto the comparison of the Toyota Supra to the BMW Z4 or something similar, because for you, these performance figures matter, and matter a lot! 

This is more pertinent for those of you that could care less about the amount of time it takes your car to hit 60 mph, and care even less about how many G’s you're pulling through a chicane or a decreasing radius left-hander. 

But are these figures you should be ignoring completely, or is it something that you should pay attention to? 

Why They Matter

When shopping for your next car, these figures absolutely do matter! To a certain extent. Clearly you’re not looking to zoom yourself off at an unprecedented pace, but you DO need to merge into traffic, get out of the way of trouble, and need to stop yourself before hitting the garbage can that decided to roll into the center of the road.

When comparing vehicles, a 7.2 second zero-60 time verse a 7.4 second time really won’t make a noticeable difference. Anything outside of half a second or so won’t be noticeable 

What is a Good Range?

Performance figures can get overwhelming. How do you know what is the right amount of power for you? Well, the answer is easy, most vehicles sold today are going to get you where you need to be with a reasonable amount of power. 

The days of cars that have a zero to 60 time of never because they can't even reach 60 mph are long behind us, and 99% of the cars sold today will have you up and going to highways speeds in more than a reasonable amount of time. 

Although, there are still some differences to look out for when buying your next car. While most cars are able to get you up to speed in a reasonable amount of time, they can still be a bit on the slow side, and when merging into traffic, sometimes you need a little extra oomph to prevent you from getting run down by the speed demon coming up in the right lane. 

So when looking at power, we want enough to get you out of trouble, but not enough to get you into trouble. 

In all reality, any car that can get up to 60 mph in under 8-9 seconds will be enough power to get you around town at an adequate pace, though you may feel a bit sluggish when pulling into busy traffic. 

Getting down into the 7-second range will give you a bit more confidence to pull into that rush hour traffic without worrying about having another car into your tailgate. 

Anything below 6 seconds is started to get into actual speedy territory, and will feel more than adequate for the average driver.

If you are used to driving a bit more powerful vehicle, look for something around the 5-second mark, that will put you at a level that is fast enough to catch you up to any traffic, and is even faster than many purpose-built sports cars, like the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ.

What About Horsepower?

Horsepower is a bit less cut and dry, since horsepower is directly related to the weight of the car. Chevrolet Tahoes, for example, have big honking V8’s with 400 horsepower, yet barely break the seven-second range up to 60 mph. 

For your average small to mid-size SUV, horsepower will range from around 150-300 horsepower. A healthy range would be at the higher end of the spectrum if you care about performance at all. Also consider weight, the bigger the vehicle, the more power you will need to move it. A 0.5-1 horsepower/pound ratio is a pretty healthy range. 

As an example, my wife’s Subaru Forester has around 170 horsepower, and a 0-60 time of around 8.7 seconds. For me, that is far too slow, but I can make it work. For my wife, she is more than happy with the amount of power her car has and has never complained about a lack of power. She’s wrong, but don’t tell her I said that! 

Don’t Stress Over Comparisons

When comparing cars, the most important thing is not to stress over the numbers. The Honda CR-V, Toyota Rav-4, Mazda CX-5, and Nissan Rogue all have 0-60 times within 0.5 seconds of each other. Your butt dyno, as we journalists like to call it, won’t ever tell a difference. What I would pay more attention to is how the car feels. 

Wrap it Up 

Overall, power is an important factor when searching for a car. There aren't many scarier things than pulling into a lane and not realizing that car was coming up much faster than you had originally thought. 

But I wouldn’t stress over it too much, if power isn’t one of your main concerns, then don’t turn it into one. Most cars of today have more than enough power to get you around town, and a quick glance at the power figures is all you really need to do. As long as it’s too far off from the median, you will be more than happy. 

Jakob is our writer with a love for all things automotive. He comes from a dealer background with experience on both sides of the fence. Knowing the system inside and out, he knows the best cars and the best deals. No matter what.
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