“Fastest” refers to top speed. “Quickest” refers to acceleration. They’re different, and nearly everybody is getting it wrong.
Update: This post was originally published when the Tesla Model S P100D with Ludicrous Mode notched a 2.5-second 0-60 time. We’re republishing it today, because with the announcement of the 1.9-second 0-60 time of the upcoming 2020 Tesla Roadster, numerous outlets are making the same mistake they made covering the P100D. See below.
Tesla earned headlines across the media yesterday with the announcement of the Model S P100D. “Tesla just made its Model S the fastest new car you can buy,” wrote Business Insider. “Tesla lays claim to world’s fastest production car,” said the Associated Press. “Even more ludicrous: Elon Musk says Tesla now has the world’s fastest production car,” wrote the L.A. Times.
The problem is, these headlines are all wrong. Tesla didn’t build the fastest car in the world. It built the quickest car currently on sale. And if you put it in a drag race against a certain Ferrari and a certain Porsche, it would come in third place.
Let’s clear this up grade-school style. The Cambridge Dictionary explains that “we usually use quick to refer to something happening in a short time, or a shorter than expected time.” By contrast, “fast refers to things that happen or go at high speed.” In the automotive world, “fast” refers to a car’s top speed, the maximum velocity it can reach; “quick” refers to the time it takes to get to that speed.
And indeed, Tesla has built a very quick car. By the standard measure of a vehicle’s acceleration, the time it takes to go from zero to 60 mph, the Model S P100D is tied with the Porsche 911 Turbo S for the title of quickest new car you can buy today. Thanks to a new, more energy-dense battery, Tesla claims the new sedan does that sprint in a mere 2.5 seconds; the slightly heavier Model X SUV with the same battery does 0-60 in 2.9 seconds.
To its credit, Tesla made clear in its announcement that the new Model S would get out-sprinted by the LaFerrari and 918 Spyder. The electric carmaker also pointed out, quite fairly, that the Ferrari and Porsche hybrid hypercars each cost more than $1 million when they were new, with a limited number of each built (499 of the Ferrari, 918 of the Porsche), and that both exotics ended production long ago. If you want the quickest car money can buy, and you want it brand-new with four doors, you’re taking your checkbook to the Tesla shop.
But while Tesla very precisely described the Model S P100D as “the third fastest accelerating production car ever produced,” reporters, bloggers, and newsmakers everywhere lost the nuance. Gizmodo called it “the fastest car you can buy.” SFGate referred to it as the “fastest production car in the world.” AutoExpress, ABC News, The Independent, and plenty of others erroneously called it the world’s fastest production car.
The problem is, the Tesla Model S P100D isn’t particularly fast. Like all other versions of the Tesla Model S, it’s limited to a top speed of 155 mph. Most luxury automakers limit their high-performance sedans to that same top speed, specified in a “gentleman’s agreement” between Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW a number of years ago to slightly mitigate high-speed Autobahn fatalities. But there are dozens of new cars today that will send their speedometers way past 155. The Hennessey Venom GT, in fact, will go 115 mph faster than a maxed-out Model S P100D, reaching a verified 270 mph if you give it enough runway.
This also puts Jalopnik’s headline in a spot somewhere between error and truth. “The New Tesla P100D Is The Fastest Tesla Ever, Goes 300 Miles On A Charge,” writes my friend Michael Ballaban. Since every currently-available Tesla Model S variant has the same 155-mph top speed, is the P100D the fastest in a six-way tie?
(Mike is probably going to send me a flurry of angry texts for calling him out. This is the sacrifice I make for you, dear reader.)
Am I being needlessly pedantic? Perhaps. But words have meaning, and when outlets use words inaccurately, it’s a disservice. Tesla has accomplished something extraordinary with the Model S P100D, but calling it “the world’s fastest car” is like giving Usain Bolt’s gold medals to Michael Phelps.
There is one superlative, however, that Tesla has absolutely earned, and it’s one that barely got a mention in P100D coverage: driving range. Tesla says the Model S P100D will go up to 315 miles per battery charge, making it the first mass-produced electric car in the world to surpass 300 miles on the EPA’s driving range test.
Unfortunately, the headline “Tesla just made the longest-range electric car you can buy” just doesn’t have that same ring to it.