Why do cars have insane top speeds?

From Ford to Ferrari, top speeds often make no sense, and technology is about to slow you down.

Brian Cooley Editor at Large
Brian Cooley is CNET's Editor at large and has been with the brand since 1995. He currently focuses on electrification of vehicles but also follows the big trends in smart home, digital healthcare, 5G, the future of food, and augmented & virtual realities. Cooley is a sought after presenter by brands and their agencies when they want to understand how consumers react to new technologies. He has been a regular featured speaker at CES, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week and the Publicis HealthFront. He was born and raised in Silicon Valley when Apple's campus was mostly apricots.
Expertise Automotive technology, smart home, digital health. Credentials
  • 5G Technician, ETA International
Brian Cooley
2 min read

Not many cars have a speedometer that can go up to this high, even if that is km/h. The Bugatti Veyron is an extreme example of the many cars that have too much on tap.


The top speed in the US is 85 MPH on a few roads, and a lot lower on most. Yet many cars are built to hit 155 MPH or more. Why?

Volvo will limit its new cars to 112 MPH starting in 2020 as part of its Vision 2020 initiative. Why 112? That's the conversion from 180 km/h, still a very stout top speed but a lot lower than the common electronic limit of 155 MPH on many new cars today. 

But wait, there's more.

Watch this: Speed-limit tech is about to take over

An increasing number of mainstream carmakers like Honda are also offering speed-limit-sign recognition via cameras on the models that also handle lane recognition for lane-departure control. 


Aside from a pocket of Texas, you can't even approach three digit speeds legally, let alone the 150+ that many cars are able to achieve.


Citroen goes a step further, letting you press one button on the wheel to automatically set whatever the speed limit the car detected. A few cars in the EU have what is known as Active ISA, or Active Intelligent Speed Assist, which automatically sets your car's top speed to match the speed limit unless you override and by 2022, all new cars sold in the EU will be required to have it. The data that determines local speed limit can be gleaned from a camera, GPS database or radio beacon.

When Level 4 autonomous cars arrive, speed-limit tech will graduate to a new era: The end of driver involvement. Self-driving cars should unfailingly -- and sometimes infuriatingly -- follow speed limits and traffic laws to the letter. 

And if you're about to point out how the Autobahn "has no speed limits," know that about a third of its 8,000 miles does have a speed limit, and there is a constant drumbeat of proposals to put limits on the rest, though that idea is on ice for now.