Is 0-60 a meaningful statistic?
It depends. If you’re looking for an approximate measure of a car’s acceleration then 0-60 has value. In a single number 0-60 tells you how fast a car can potentially accelerate. That’s important if you like to drive aggressively, like to overtake people at stoplights, or like to waste gas.
But “potential” is the key here. 0-60 figures typically represent the best run over a series of tests. In general, 0-60 numbers depend on 4 factors…
#1: Driver Skill
Your average driver won’t realize minimal 0-60 times with any kind of consistency. That’s because timing and shifting are not easy. You need to drop the clutch with just the right speed, and at just the right RPM. Otherwise tire spin and lost revs eat precious fractions from your 0-60 time. Note that high-tech auto shifters (Ferrari’s F1, Audi’s DSG, etc.) somewhat offset this factor.
You need to exploit a car’s maximum achievable horsepower to log the best 0-60 times. That means popping the clutch, spinning the tires, and changing gears at the very last second. Only at max revs can you access the peak horsepower needed to achieve the theoretical best 0-60 time. And that certainly definitely doesn’t prolong your engine and transmission life.
0-60 tests entail tire spin. And if your tires don’t grip quickly at the start of a run, the car won’t get off the line fast enough. As you can expect, all-wheel drive vehicles sometimes perform best because they transfer power from the wheels to the road much better then front or rear-wheel drive cars.
Air resistance (headwind) and road surface (friction) can also play a part in 0-60 tests, as can weather and temperature.
There are other factors to consider as well. For example, a car’s shift points can significantly affect 0-60 times. If you need to shift at 59mph (because you are about to redline off the scale) that may cost you 1/3-1/2 a second. So a 5.7 second 0-60 time may jump to 6.0 seconds because you’re forced to shift right before 60mph is attained.
Also keep in mind that cars may win the 0-60 race but lose in the ¼ mile. It’s not unusual for car designers to sacrifice acceleration for higher-end (60-100mph+) performance. The 2005 Aston Martin Volante and Bentley GT are prime examples. Or take the 2005 911 Turbo and BMW M5 for instance. The 911 Turbo takes the M5 off the line but their 0-120mph times are virtually equal.
All in all, 0-60 stats are useful because they're interesting, commonly used, and concise. You’ll rarely get the same figure more than twice in a row. But if you’re looking for a fast gauge of quickness, 0-60 does the job.