By on March 17, 2011

Carly Simon was right: When it comes to automobiles, these are the good old days. Don’t know which car to buy? No problem. Simply throw a dart at the listing of mass-market new cars for sale in the United States, purchase that car, and you can be more or less assured that you will experience 100,000 miles — or more! — of low-hassle, low-cost operation. The consumer expects that every car on the market is reliable, reasonably comfortable, and extremely safe by historical standards, and those expectations are met by everyone from Kia to Rolls-Royce. It’s a great time to be a new-car buyer, but there’s never been a worse time to be an automotive “journalist”.

Fifty years ago, a chummy cadre of insiders with million-strong captive print audiences lined up at an invitation-only perpetual buffet of manufacturer-paid perks and privileges. Today there are hundreds of media outlets, major blogs, and video producers all fighting for an ever-declining number of eyeballs, press cars, and wheel time. The journos of the Nixon era faced a delicious choice: either recommend 50,000-mile-life-expectancy garbage to the American driver and reap the considerable financial rewards for doing so, or fill up the poison pen and textually molest a lineup of sitting ducks like the Pinto, Vega, and Renault Le Car — while still making that bank. Their successors have a tougher job: explain the ever-shrinking differences between a vast array of perfectly competent automobiles in a manner which will generate “unique clicks” and repeat readership without burning too many personal and professional bridges. Get it wrong, and you’re history.

Scott Burgess got it wrong, but his mistake wasn’t an excess of ethics.

Strictly speaking, this website should contain “the truth about cars”, but I believe it should contain “the truth about car writing” as well. Here’s some bona-fide truth for every aspiring writer out there: Money is made in the wobble. What’s the wobble? Why, it’s the measurable gap between the biggest puff piece you’ve ever written and the most hilarious example of automotive character assassination you’ve managed to sneak into print. I’ll explain.

He who praises every car praises no car. High Gear Media, Hachiwhatever Fillimypatchy print mags, in-flight magazines, fashion writers, Cigar/Guitar/Wine/CBT Aficionado, mommybloggers everywhere, I’m talking about you. Nobody’s confusing that stuff with automotive “journalism”. It’s simply kneepad fluffing combined with some occasionally gorgeous photography or amusing personal storytelling. Don’t we all understand this? Don’t we all fundamentally understand that calling the Chevrolet Volt the “Car Of The Year” is a big joke if you’ve spent fifty years giving that award to cars which disappointed, cheated, or even killed their drivers? Don’t we all realize that gushing over a Cadillac CTS’s “upscale interior” in a story which shares a magazine Table Of Contents with airport concourse diagrams is just plain silly? Of course we do.

The second side of the wobble is tougher to accept. He who slams every car, slams no car. Our august founder, Robert Farago, may God watch over him, was known for writing articles which were simply exercises of his considerable vocabulary and wit at the expense of perfectly decent products. He wasn’t alone. There are plenty of people out there who are so disappointed by the lack of modern-day Chevrolet Citations on the market that they are determined to view some car, any car, through that lens. The actual virtues of the car are as irrevelant to them as they are to the puff-piece crowd. The goal is to write something which impresses the reader rather than informing him. After that reader consumes five or ten of those oh-so-witty excursions, he gets the idea: This guy doesn’t really like cars very much, period.

A successful automotive journalist doesn’t fall into either of the above traps. He wobbles. He creates what Jimmy Page called “light and shade” in the body of his written work. Jeremy Clarkson is the modern example. The Boofong KXi is THE BEST CAR… IN THE WORLD! The Foobong iXK is UTTER RUBBISH! The exuberance of each opinion reinforces and lends credbility to its opposite number. How can you call Clarkson a shill for rating the Boofong, when he was so nasty in slating the Foobong? How can you peg Clarkson as a malcontent and dismiss his Foobong review, when he was clearly such a fan of the Boofong? Every autowriter with ambitions to be something more than a low-paid PR agent needs the wobble. Credibility, success, a fan base, a recognized name. The wobble giveth, and it taketh away.

Wobbling was easy back when your press-car parking lot contained a BMW 533i, a Chevrolet Celebrity, a Honda Accord hatchback, and a Ford Tempo. The wobbles virtually wrote themselves. An entire generation of third-rate douchebags who couldn’t steer their way into the top two-thirds of a regional autocross made names riding the easy oscillation generated by that kind of product diversity. The best part: Even after you, the Ann Arbor auto hack, wrote your hit job on the Celebrity calling it “a horrifyingly shitty chariot of a particularly despicable type not seen since primary photography for ‘Ben-Hur’ closed”, Chevrolet would still buy ten pages of ads! They had no choice! You had the audience! HAHAHA!!! I’M USING THE PRINTERNET!!!

Fast-forward to 2011, and that same parking lot has a 530i, a Malibu, a modern Accord, and a Ford Fusion. Where’s your wobble now, Mr. Auto Writer? It isn’t in the product, that’s for sure.. but you still need it. You need it more than ever, because your audience isn’t forced to read you any more. They have options, and they are exercising them. I remember being thrilled by scoring a discount subscription to Car and Driver for $10.99 a year… in 1980. What’s a C/D subscription worth now? $3.99 a year, tops, unless you count yourself among the vast majority of “car people” who consider it to be completely worthless. Where are you gonna get your wobble?

Scott Burgess (ah, yes, we’re finally returning to him) is a nice guy, always smiling and laughing at the press events, always quick with a joke, or a light of your smoke, and so on. He’s also bright enough to know that everyone, even the guy who writes for the hometown Detroit paper, needs the wobble. A truly inventive writer — a Jonny Lieberman, a Derek Kreindler, a Sam Smith — would find the wobble somewhere unexpected. The Bristol Blenheim? GENIUS! The Aston Vantage! RUBBISH! Yes! Give me more! Mr. Burgess, however, is kind of a conventional fellow, so he’s typically found his wobble the way the print guys do it nowadays: by picking on a vehicle which barely trails a close competitive set.

Let’s get this out of the way: The Chrysler 200 is a good car. I’m serious. If you are currently driving a 2001 Lexus ES300, a car which ruled its particular roost at the time, you can drive it to a Chrysler dealership and find that the 200 beats it in everything from seat comfort to quarter-mile time, all while costing far less in 2011 dollars than the Lexus did a decade ago in 2001 bucks. No kidding. It’s a nice car. The sound system is nice, the engine is really nice, the handling is just fine, and with the exception of an upper door molding which was flimsily mounted in the examples I drove, the interior beats what you’ll find elswehere for the same money. There’s nothing revolutionary about it, but if you approach it with an open mind you will see that it’s pretty much as good as the other $23,000 family sedans out there. That’s the truth.

Here on The Truth About Cars, it’s okay to tell the truth about a car, and my personal experience is that you, the reader, tend to be fairly accepting of what we find, even if it doesn’t match your preconceptions. Mr. Burgess has, or had, a tougher job than I do. Had he written the plain truth about the car, many people would have denounced him as a shill, an accusation given greater weight by Scott’s tendency to occasionally puff-up a domestic entry in previous articles. Worse yet, from the respect-and-career perspective, it would have reduced the amplitude of his wobble. What to do?

My reading of the DetNews 200 piece is this: Scott felt needed some wobble and he decided the safest place to do it would be with a car that:

  • is based on a car with a long history of being attacked by the press;
  • has very low sales expectations;
  • will be replaced soon in any event;
  • doesn’t seem to be particularly critical to the success of Chrysler.

It reminds me of one of my dorm-mates in school who, whenever he was in a bad mood, always “busted some shit up” — but not before looking around carefully to make sure he didn’t bust any valuable shit up. The 200 had to look like a safe target. By calling the car a “dog” (which it isn’t, really) and exercising his venom on it for a while, Scott would regain some of his credibility and self-respect at the expense of a loser. He could safely kick someone when they were down. Forget the fact that the 200 is a decent car, that it’s built by people who could really use some good news in their lives, and that the men and women who worked to re-design the 200 deserve better than a series of cheap shots in return for their honest and mostly successful efforts. Journalism is like playing God. Ripping on a car is easy, cheap, fun. You stand in judgment of others without consequence.

Except, of course, when there is a consequence. In this case, a series of events which are unlikely to ever really come to light resulted in a parting of the ways between Scott and his employer. Ray Wert, without whom this story would have disappeared into obscurity, sees it as an ethical conflict. I’m inclined to see it more as a case of bullying a kid who is prepared to fight dirty in return. Either way, it’s a lousy deal. When I see my assembled fellow writers at an event, I tend to think of another Carly Simon lyric:

Their children hate them for the things they’re not;
They hate themselves for what they are-
And yet they drink, they laugh,
Close the wound, hide the scar.

Wobbles, advertisers, pressure, dismissal, resignation — all scars in this business that can no longer be successfully hidden.

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108 Comments on “Clarkson, Burgess, The Wobble, And The Chrysler 200...”


  • avatar
    Advance_92

    There’s only two ha ha’s in the meme I think you’re referencing (very well, I may add).  Maybe you’re getting it mixed up with the Captain’s ha ha ha / oh wow! meme.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      You’re talking to a guy who spent the first decade of his Internet usage at a DEC VT220 and its successors. I’ll take credit for getting that close! I mean, I’M TWELVE AND WHAT IS THIS?

  • avatar
    calhounje

    Wow, what a great piece.  I just learned something and was entertained at the same time.

  • avatar

    “+1″

  • avatar
    salhany

    My reading of the DetNews 200 piece is this: Scott felt needed some wobble
     
    Why on earth would you accuse Burgess of some sort of intellectual dishonesty? I would guess that his resignation in the wake of having his review edited is proof enough that his review was his honest evaluation of the car.

    It’s bad enough that in the other thread you felt it necessary to sneer at Burgess’ lack of racing bonafides, as if that matters one iota when evaluating mass produced family sedans.  You found the 200 perfectly acceptable: that’s Baruth’s truth. Burgess apparently had the temerity to disagree with your take on the 200, and now you’re guessing he’s targeting the 200 for derision out of some sort of deliberate slagging strategy? That he couldn’t possibly have found the car lacking in some or many respects?
     
    Not for nothing, but that’s crap. Maybe his honest opinion of the car doesn’t match yours. God Forbid.

  • avatar
    Beene

    So in other words, whenever I see the 200 in an ad I should think of Admiral Akbar:  It’s a Trap!

  • avatar
    Type57SC

    I found it odd that you don’t mention Dan Neil.  What’s your thoughts about his writing?  What group does he slot into? 

    At the risk of coloring the response, I like reading his stuff more than Clarkson’s sometimes funny but often times shill tonality.  Dan seems to actually pull off the witty angle without looking as dounche-y as most others that try – Burgess being a case in point.  he probably can’t race well and wears his left coast bias on his sleeve, but the reviews still seem like to most satisfying to read.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      I agree, Dan Neil is great to read.  No only does he understand cars and the car business, but his writing style is usually more interesting and enjoyable than the car being reviewed.  Dan’s reviews make the Saturday Wall Street Journal worth every penny.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I don’t think I’ve read a single review by Dan Neil all the way through. Nothing against the guy — I think he is a major talent in the business — but he’s not a driver and I personally need to get farther away from, not closer to, that Coltrane-esque sheets-of-sound snark-metaphor torrent style.

      I rarely read my competitors unless someone asks me to read something in particular. I want to make sure I don’t accidentally read reviews of cars I’m driving or will drive; I’d prefer to come up with my own opinions free of external influence. The stuff about the business and financial end of the industry rarely interests me.

      The last autowriter I read without fail was Setright. Nowadays, when I’m tempted to spend an hour reading auto reviews, I pick up Pope or Dyden and try to work on adding the same economy and facility of expression to my own writing. I spend a lot more time reading the comments left by TTAC readers and wondering how I can address the complaints and issues they raise than I do looking at Scott Burgess & co. 

    • 0 avatar
      hurls

      He always seemed the patron saint of early TTAC… laying on similes about 3 meters deep. But he was better at it, hence the Pulitzer

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse

      Neil is a writer’s writer. His pieces are steeped in literary and historical references so obscure, even Dennis Miller has to consult Wikipedia. Neil’s turns of phrase are sharper and more refined than a Cayman S on a first-light blast through Deal’s Gap. Since the Pulitzer is judged and awarded by writers (to writers), the car is inconsequential…merely the canvas upon which Neil paints.

    • 0 avatar
      FromaBuick6

      “Neil is a writer’s writer.”  That’s probably why I can’t stand to read him.  He’s always struck me as a writer first and a car guy second.  A Pulitzer is just another insider award (like the Oscars, etc) that ultimately means nothing to readers/viewers/consumers; Just like The King’s Speech was clearly made to win Oscars, I think Neil writes to impress other journalists.
       
      It doesn’t help that he says things like “Those purists out there still clinging to their six-speed manuals:  Please go home.  Your black and white TV is on the fritz.”  Or that Jalopnik, ever the media whore, seems to have a huge crush on him.

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse

      Jalopnik has a crush on Dan Neil? Where’d they find a photo of his man sausage? Leave it to Wert, though….

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      In his early days, like over 10 or maybe even 15 years ago, Neil lived in my city (Raleigh, NC) and wrote for my local paper’s auto section (this was before they outsourced it to Wheelbase or whatever).  When reading his reviews I always thought he was trying to hard to be clever, and he came across as a C&D wannabe douchebag.
       
      Then he wrote a review of the Ford Expedition in which he bragged about fucking his girlfriend in the back and got fired. That review was in fact the peak of douchiness, and that incident became known locally as “the fuck in the truck”.  He then moved down the street to the local free hippie paper and wrote about how corrupt the whole auto section of local newspapers was, nothing we didn’t know (that it’s run by the classified advertising department, that they don’t want to upset advertisers, etc) but I was mildly impressed that he was willing to burn that bridge and figured he was done with auto criticism.
       
      Imagine my surprise all these years  later to see that douchebag C&D wannabe is now a nationally famous Pulitzer prize winning writer for the Wall Street Journal, which I  used to consider the pinnacle of quality writing and journalism.   I will admit that he has improved, when I read his stuff now (very occaisonally) it’s much better than what he wrote in Raleigh, or maybe he just got better at looking like what he was trying to emulate all those years ago.

    • 0 avatar

      I spend a lot more time reading the comments left by TTAC readers and wondering how I can address the complaints and issues they raise than I do looking at Scott Burgess & co.
      I would like to echo this, as I think it gets to the real issue here. The “wobble” Jack describes is problematic because it’s the product of one writer trying to craft perceptions of him/herself in a one-way medium. It’s a vestige of the print days, when the outlet and its writers controlled the conversation, and it leads to writers defining themselves relative to the rest of the media/industry. Thanks to the web this is shifting, and writers are free to pursue a relationship directly with their readers rather than having to fit themselves into an unchanging media landscape.
      Consider this the next time you leave a comment here at TTAC: we read your words with at least as much interest as you read ours.
       

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse

      “The f*ck in the truck.”
      And Baruth says he never reads Neil’s articles. Hmmmph.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Actually, my fellow journo and Midwesterner Wes from Motive Magazine wrote an article about how he tried, and failed, to have sex with his wife in the back of a Ford Flex. Based on my knowledge of, uh, the Ford Flex, I can only guess he didn’t try very hard.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I’ve been in the back of a Ford Flex too and yeah uh… He wasn’t really trying.

    • 0 avatar

      but he’s not a driver and I personally need to get farther away from, not closer to, that Coltrane-esque sheets-of-sound snark-metaphor torrent style.
       
      As I came to this line, I was listening to A Love Supreme.
       
      The stuff about the business and financial end of the industry rarely interests me.
       
      I started writing at TTAC because of the business side of things. Detroit was melting down. The more I write , the more I’d rather write about the cars and driving and car culture and less about business and politics. The business side is genuinely fascinating and it’s hard to separate cars from the biz of making and selling cars (and the design and making part is pretty cool), but I’d rather talk about cars.
       
      Cars In Depth has been published for about two months now there’s close to 100 posts on there from me, Jack, Murilee and other contributors. I don’t think a single post is specifically about business or politics.

  • avatar
    cc-rider

    Very well written and insightful piece.  Well done

  • avatar
    abgwin

    I’m honestly impressed. Well written, thought provoking and informative. Another example of why Jalopnik is circling the drain – there isn’t a single writer still there that could produce this piece (oh, and Wert’s ginormous ego is swamping the lifeboats, but that’s another story for another day).
    Genuinely, thanks for writing this.

    • 0 avatar
      FromaBuick6

      No kidding.  Today’s content may is probably the last straw for me on that site.  A quick review of the stories on that browser-killing sidebar reveals:  Swooning over a Jalopnik name-drop on new liberal icon Rachel Maddow’s cable show, a tweet about the Red Dawn remake that isn’t even tangentially related to anything, more non-news about the Chrysler F-bomb tweet, more stuff about their ethical crusade over Burgess’s piece, something about the Japan nuke plant, a pimping of Roy Wort’s “11 Cars That Will Make You Cool” (heh heh heh, he made a tired Spinal Tap joke, heh heh heh) in the latest Forbes and a pick-apart of an anti-Chevy Volt article – also from Forbes.
       
      Nevermind the atrocious redesign that completely hoses my browser every time I try to visit the site at work.  The bigger problem is that Jalopnik isn’t about cars anymore.  Any cars.  The quirky “Cult of Cars” stuff that guys like Murilee and Ben Wojdyla wrote with gearhead authority about is gone, with those writers departing under murky circumstances.  Excellent “real journalists” like Lieberman and Sam Smith, who could make a Plymouth Acclaim review interesting without pandering or schadenfreude, didn’t last long either.  All that’s left is a vapid shell that cares more about pageviews and getting mentioned in elitist media circles, i.e. Ray Wert.  “Here’s a boring car, we don’t care…moving on” links have substituted real reviews and commentary.  Hyde, “The award-winning Freep reporter” is more interested picking apart editorials that don’t match his worldview than offering unique commentary.  Hardigree and his arcane refrences were never interesting to being with and Spinelli returning hasn’t made the editorial impact I’d hoped it would.
       
      Save for the occasional visit to the offtopic page, when it’s working, I’m done.  I’ve been patient through all the months of “Trust us, great stuff is coming” claims, and tried to be positive about to be positive about the redesign, but I’ve been hacked off ever since Wert came over here-for the second time-trying to defend the indefensible in true politician style, changing the subject and taking pot shots at TTAC contributors and commenters.

    • 0 avatar

      a pick-apart of an anti-Chevy Volt article – also from Forbes.
       
      Well, I was tempted to pick apart that anti-Volt piece myself, on its own demerits but Jalopnik ran that piece to fill their requisite number of liberal articles that is as part of being a Gawker site and calling the guy a shill for the oil companies.
      Look, we all want publicity for our work online. Our esteemed ed Ed’s appearances on PBS and the NYT are valuable to this site and Wert’s article in Forbes and Jalop’s mention on Maddow’s show are publicity, but Wert’s mash note of a post about Maddow was embarrassing. It’s one thing if Matt Hardigree gets excited because James Glickenhaus is a fan of his. Mr. Glickenhaus is a very knowledgeable enthusiast and I’d be honored if he read my stuff. But Rachel Maddow? Somehow I think that if Rush Limbaugh had quoted Jalop on the air favorably, Wert wouldn’t be getting as excited.
       
      Then there’s the side question of who has more boyish good looks, Wert or Maddow.

      The quirky “Cult of Cars” stuff that guys like Murilee and Ben Wojdyla wrote with gearhead authority about is gone, with those writers departing under murky circumstances.
       
      The “cult of cars” is why I asked Jack and Murilee to contribute to Cars In Depth. There’s still some worthwhile material at Jalop. A short while back, just after they did the redesign, there were a couple of weeks that were good enough that I sent Wert an email complimenting him on their content, but now there’s so much non car stuff that I spent a lot less time their.

  • avatar
    snabster

    Holy crap.
    (just self-edited to not make fun of Ed)
    Great great piece.
     
     

  • avatar
    william442

    I once bought a Pontiac Tempest Sprint because David E. Davis of Car & Driver said it was a great car. I have never forgiven him.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      He basically considers any car that doesn’t try to actively kill him to be a great car.  (But damn doesn’t he look dignified in tweed!) 

  • avatar
    ajla

    I don’t agree with you on your Farago paragraph.  He liked plenty of stuff and wrote positive reviews.  There is no reason to paint him as a “well he hates it all!” kind of guy just because he ranted against the MKT.
     
    I’m glad that he never went with “The Chrysler Aspen will easily last you 100K miles and is a lot better than something made in 1993, so it’s alright”.
     
    Also, the “wobble” journalist are utterly predictable. There’s the guy that loves anything with a manual transmission, the guy that loves (or hates on) anything from X brand or X country or built after X year, the contrarian that picks a S40 over a 328i, the guy that always writes extensively about fuel economy or track performance, the guy that compares everything to how close it is to a ’71 Challenger R/T or BMW 2002. And, they all absolutely love wagons.
     
    After some time, all one needs to see is the vehicle tested plus the byline and the review pretty much writes itself.
    _
    Nearly 100% of auto journalism outside of Consumer Reports is for entertainment or ego stroking anyway. Oh no, Top Gear thought the interior of the 911 GT2 was inferior to the latest Pagani! The track performance of the Focus SE is way better than that of a Cruze 1LT!  People might as well have fun with it.
     

    • 0 avatar
      windswords

      yes Farrago even liked some Chrysler products. He was quite taken by the 300 when it came out (it’s in the archives), but he gutted the Toyota Venza (a bit unfairly I think). However the Venza piece was very entertaining with some truly great laugh lines (it’s also in the archives)

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      If you watch Top Gear over all of its seasons – as I’ve done in moments of boredom – you see attitudes change to provide the entertainment value.  The wobble does not have to be consistent, but at some point you cross the line from reporting to entertainment.  My local PBS station used to air a translation of Auto Motor und Sport after Motor Week that could put a stone to sleep if you didn’t know anything about cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly. Each “journalist” has their own lens through which they view the automotive landscape and it’s up to readers to either identify with that perspective or be entertained by it. The wider the audience the “journalist” can attract, the more successful they are considered.

  • avatar
    thats one fast cat

    Jack — a very interesting and thought-provoking piece (and with no reference to derring-do behind the wheel, or the adventures of Vodka McBigBra even!)
     
    My two cents was this: the 200 has been getting a lot of press that it doesn’t really live up to.  Sure, its not a travesty and shows that Chrysler is on the way back, but at the end of the day its “just another car.”  I didn’t think the review was full of vitriol, but it was designed to puncture the overblown balloon of expectations.  Too bad that this wasn’t the right time to do it.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree, and I’d like to add something.
      The real problem with the review was the “Imported from Detroit” ad.
      Everyone really wanted to believe that ad was demonstrating a genuine Detroit revival, and so they wanted to believe the car was good.  This would be especially true of the Detroit News’ audience of, well, Detroiters.
      So a review that contradicted that story was very difficult for many to face, and no doubt caused complaints from the general public, not just advertisers.
      Perhaps they could focus on other aspects of Detroit, such as the fact that it has the lowest housing costs of any other US Metro area.  In fact, typical Detroit homes cost only about 1.5x average annual income.
      Anyone who has lived in unaffordable housing areas like Los Angeles, California (5.7x average annual income, which effectively means “affordable only to the top 10%-odd”) can see some appeal in that.
      D

    • 0 avatar

      David, it’s simpler than that. The only remaining large scale advertisers in local newspapers are the car dealers.

  • avatar
    cmus

    Jack, this is an excellent piece of writing.  Clear, concise, not even a hint of ill intent.

    Somewhere in the back of my head, I was wondering what sort of axe Burgess had to grind when I read the review initially (even the edited one).  Nothing I had seen previous to that indicated the 200 (and Avenger) as anything beyond or below a mass-market midside sedan somewhere in the pack.  And, that it was a step up from the Sebring *because* it was in the pack.

    I wasn’t aware, at the time, that you were the voice in the back of my head.  It’s good to know, and probably explains some things… 

  • avatar
    Autojunkie

    I’ll just repost my Jalopnik comment right here:

    While the Sebring was not nearly the top car in its segment, the 200 is a huge general improvement. The original Sebring never looked bad, but people talk about it like it was an Edsel. In all honetly it was not it looks that turned people off, but its cheap interior (thanks Daimler) and it’s very boring feel when driving. People really seem to LOVE boring when it comes to a Camry, but not a Chrysler. Go figure… By the time word got out about how bad the car was, people jumped on the bandwagon and started bashing it without even knowing why they were.

    The 200 is a vast improvement in ride, handling, looks, and overall feel. Is it better than a Fusion or a Malibu? In many aspects no. Is it as bad as Mr. Burgess says it is? Absolutely not. The comments that were deleted look more like they were written for shock value and attention. Unfortunately for Mr. Burgess, the Sebring-bashing badwagon left a long time ago and he’s tryng too desparately to chase it down the road and hop on for a few laughs.

    All-in-all I feel the 200, while not the strongest competitor on the market, is a nice place holder until the new car arrives on Chrysler’s new compact-wide platform. It’s a nice car that no longer completely disappoints and makes me feel much better about driving than the previous Sebring did.

    Sorry Mr. Burgess. Your exit from The Detroit News is no huge loss to the automotive journalist crowd, or society in general. You will not be missed and you will be easily replaced with someone who can give an honest review, without the immature utterance, to bring attention to yourself.

    The only thing Mr. Burgess proves is that his good enough writing is never going to be good enough.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t know Scott Burgess like Jack does, but am inclined to think he wrote what he honestly felt. And it sets a bad precedent to alter a review in response to an advertiser. Maybe this happens all the time, in which case I feel the alteration is the more important story. No one was going to read that review and take it seriously anyway. But creating this mess, far more damage has been done to all concerned than simply leaving the review alone.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      I have to disagree. The last Sebring was a modern Edsel, looks wise. The first time I saw one next to a Pontiac G6 in the rental lot it was obvious.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    “A truly inventive writer — would find the wobble somewhere unexpected.”

    Like, hailing the Chrysler 200? I call bullshit on your conclusion on that car, Mr Baruth. It’s just your way of turning the table on the Burgess situation and find wobble somewhere unexpected. It’s bait for trolling the opinions, that’s all. Though, I’d really like to see you make an honest Chrysler 200 review. That would be really interesting….

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse

      You’ve just discovered this piece’s Kryptonite. This artice, in and of itself, was a tremendous example of wobble, given its subject matter and slant. By exposing wobble in general, this piece’s specific wobble is exposed.

      It has nothing to do Baruth’s opinion of the car versus Burgess’. It’s TTAC’s tame racing driver’s wobble vs Detroit News’ former non-racing driver’s wobble.

      Jack’s wins because his is far more entertaining, irrevernent, better constructed, and informative,* but it is still wobble.

      *Tasty close. Bonus for the Coltrane reference in comments.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I’m pretty sure that such was Jack’s intention, but midway through the article I was struck by tl;dr…

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      Professor Psar writes: “I’m pretty sure that such was Jack’s intention, but midway through the article I was struck by tl;dr”

      Uh oh, Psar’s finally been done in by the intransigence of Angry Old Men and his head’s exploded.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      We’re starting to wander into Derrida’s territory here… eventually we will be discussing the contextuality of context.
       
      For the record, this is the review I posted after coming home from the same event at which Burgess drove the 200. It was edited pretty heavily, as are all my LLN reviews, to remove mentions of dodging the pigs, dirty panties, and repulsive images of the ghetto:
       
      http://www.leftlanenews.com/chrysler-200-first-drive-review.html

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      Just as long as we don’t wander into differance and the metaphysics of presence… ;)

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse

      “There is nothing outside the wobble.” (il n’y a pas de hors-wobble.)
      -Jacques Derrida
       
      “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.”
      -Hasbro Playskool

  • avatar
    DeadInSideInc

    Excellent writing and insight; a reason many of us are repeat visitors.

  • avatar
    highdesertcat

    Best thing to do the next time you’re looking around to buy a new mid-sized sedan is to check this Fiatsler out for yourself and see how well it stands up to its competition. That’s when you cut the wheat from the chaff and find out if Scott had it right, or if he had it wrong. I wonder what would have happened if Robert Farago had written such a piece for ttac?  Would anyone have questioned the veracity of his comments?

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I’m pretty confident that if Farago or anyone else posted a “review” that was 95% opinion with no facts or details  to support it, the Best and Brightest would have them for breakfast.

  • avatar

    The real trick is including some wobble within each review–because many readers simply don’t want it. Instead, these readers want to hear that a car is either all good or all bad. And many owners, when writing a review of their own car, write this way. I’m not sure Clarkson writes this way, but many people certainly read him this way, focusing on some point of high praise or intense criticism.
     
    The reviews I prefer are more complicated. They say that one car does a, b, and c things well but x, y, and z things not so well, while another does x and y well but a and z not so well. The problem, aside from the additional complexity: with such a comparison, it’s not clear which car is “the best.”
     
    Hard to digest, but reality: different cars are better at different things, and so different cars are better for different people.
     
    One implication: there’s no substitute to driving the cars in question yourself.
     
    I wrote about this in more detail a few years ago in a critique of comparison tests in general:
     
    http://www.truedelta.com/pieces/comparison_tests.php

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Great point, and a reason I enjoy your reviews.  I’ve test-driven many vehicles in many different buying situations, and every one has some positive aspects along with a number of things I’d change if it were up to me.  No car that I have ever driven is perfect.  I could easily come up with a list of ten things I hate about my favorite car.  As an automotive enthusiast who almost always enjoys time behind the wheel, I’d also consider it a terrible hardship to have to regularly drive a vehicle that falls short of my personal expectations in specific areas, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be the ideal vehicle for someone else.  I walk away from every vehicle I drive debating both the good and bad points of it, whether I enjoyed driving it or not.  If a journalist can’t do the same while still communicating his personal opinion, his review means nothing to me.

  • avatar
    JMII

    Another excellent piece JB.
     
    The best “reviews” I’ve read – other then ones here on TTAC – are the long terms blogs on Inside Lane. A different person drives a given car on and off for several weeks thus you really get a feel for what its like to LIVE with the car in question. You also get wide ranges of vehicles driven back-to-back by the same person. Saying the seats in car A are great is fine but what happens when car B arrives and its seats are even better? This can only be confirmed going back to car A. I think Michael Karesh did a good job of this in his latest mini van review. However most reviewers (especially the “fluff” jobs) don’t put that kind of seat time into a review and would never go back and admit a mistake.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Good work Jack – insightful musings and a great read.

  • avatar

    I’ve never heard of this “wobble” before. Interesting.
     
    Auto “journalists” are hacks; bloated, self-aggrandizing OEM fluffers, who spin their opinions as being somehow valuable and thus deserving of free rides and food.
     
    Auto “journalists” are good guys; struggling to find their place in an exponentially-changing world of ever-dwindling attention spans, where survival depends on reluctantly employing such superficial tactics as “the wobble.”
     
    Interesting.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, there are two ways to create Jack’s “wobble.”
       
      You can artificially create it by looking for some easy targets that will cause the least damage, and praise everything else.
       
      Or you can honestly and thoroughly evaluate each car.
       
      I don’t think Jack means that everyone uses the first. I’m personally inclined to believe that people, Scott Burgess included, have the best of intentions. But I might be naive. I’ve never been to a major launch event. No time and expensive hotels annoy my inherent cheapness even if I’m not the one paying.

  • avatar
    tallnikita

    Ok, fine, you wobbled, Jack, 200 is a fine vehicle beating the pants of 2001 Lexus.  Which car will you be bashing for counterpoint?  Don’t you wish they imported Yugos now?

  • avatar
    gottacook

    Yes, nuance is good.
     
    The lyrics to “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” incidentally, were by Jacob Brackman, Carly Simon’s co-writer on that song and several others.

  • avatar
    highrpm

    I miss Farago and his reviews as well as some of you.  Yes, he thought a few vehicles like the big Lincoln wagon had cut too many corners.  But he had his share of positive things to say. 

    It is a little scary to me that the Sebring, a car which I drove and disliked a lot for its NVH and generally cheap feel, has become the darling of social media because of a headlight and dashboard restyle.  Is the frame stiffer?  Is the suspension any better than it was in its original decontented design iteration in the Sebring?  Will it last as long as a 2001 Lexus ES300 (Chrysler is at the bottom of reliability charts at Consumer Reports for a reason)?  Does its NVH compare to an Accord?

    If a car is good, I want to know.  If a car sucks, then I want to know.  I do not want to read a review from someone that doesn’t have the heart to throw punches at a weak automaker. 

    Also, I do believe that at a minimum, auto journalists should have some sort of motorsports background.  Or some background in engineering.  How else will they really know the detail differences amongst vehicle handling characteristics, suspension designs, etc.?   Putting some Regular Joe into a bunch of cars to review is like telling me, a non-wine guy, to go to a wine tasting contest and write a report on which one is good or bad.  Do you really want to read my amateur account of how different wines taste more or less like grapes, or do you want to read the opinion of an expert?

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      Putting some Regular Joe into a bunch of cars to review is like telling me, a non-wine guy, to go to a wine tasting contest and write a report on which one is good or bad.  Do you really want to read my amateur account of how different wines taste more or less like grapes, or do you want to read the opinion of an expert?

      This is most noticeable in auto reviews for half to 1 tons.  I really don’t need to know that “gorsh, this thing sure is bigger than my Jetta” and “it was hard to park at Whole Foods”.

    • 0 avatar
      abgwin

      “Is the suspension any better than it was in its original decontented design iteration in the Sebring?”
      Well, had you actually read the review in question (or any other one of the 200) than you would know it’s completely overhauled, and even Burgess found it acceptable, as well as much improved NVH.
      I think the point of all this is that the paper changed the review after it was printed. Why? Maybe it was an advertiser (a local dealer, not Chrysler, is the word), maybe it was just the last straw in a long line of internal problems. But it was enough that he either walked or they threw him out.
      Jalopnik (ie Ray Wert’s diary) portrays this as an assault on free speech and the dignity of the auto journalist, while implying the sinister hand of Ma Mopar behind it all. Baruth exposes the truth about auto journalism and how desperately some writers are to get that all important ‘unique view’ at any cost.

    • 0 avatar
      faygo

      Also, I do believe that at a minimum, auto journalists should have some sort of motorsports background.  Or some background in engineering.  How else will they really know the detail differences amongst vehicle handling characteristics, suspension designs, etc.?   Putting some Regular Joe into a bunch of cars to review is like telling me, a non-wine guy, to go to a wine tasting contest and write a report on which one is good or bad.  Do you really want to read my amateur account of how different wines taste more or less like grapes, or do you want to read the opinion of an expert?
      I’m not sure I agree.  one doesn’t have to have any racing background at all to understand the basics of vehicle dynamics nor need to push a vehicle to/beyond it’s limits to provide a correct evaluation.  if we’re talking overtly performance-biased cars, sure, but in a lot of cases, understanding the way to describe concepts like rebound and compression damping, steering feel, body control, etc are more important than being able to chase down JB on a mountain road.  the best tuning people may not be the ultimately fastest around a track, but they are perhaps better tuned to the variables and/or better able to capture the difficult to define aspects of the overall package which make a successful vehicle setup.  at the highest levels of course, there are lots of people who are able to drive the wheels off anything _and_ provide superior technical feedback to make the car faster.
       
      additionally, most people are not going to ever, ever use the limits of their vehicle.  that doesn’t mean that manufacturers shouldn’t tune the car across it’s performance envelope, but it does mean that a Camry or Accord can be wildly successful in the marketplace but be a complete understeering mess when pushed.  you give away sharpness in limit handling in the interest of your customer’s desired operating mode.
       
      however, the increasingly well informed consumer is ill-served by someone who is unable/unwilling to embrace the engineering behind a new vehicle and be able to explain it to their readers.  given the near-infinite space which is available online to expand on technical details (even if just reading back press kit information and making it more understandable to an outsider reader) I’d like to see more coverage of some of the tech behind new cars.  the information is all out there and it provides more texture than just saying “this car rides smooth but doesn’t lean too much in corners”.

    • 0 avatar
      SP

      You overlooked the fact that Regular Joe drives a car at least twice a day.  In fact, his livelihood and, in the extreme case, his life, depend on the proper function of his car.  So I think he should know at least a little of what he is talking about.

      The corrected version of your analogy would involve a guy who drinks wine before and after work each day, at lunchtime some days, and all around town for fun on the weekends, reviewing wine.

      Wow, that would make total sense, and would be exactly what other Average Joes would want to read.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    Great piece.
     
    I can respect or at least accept the ‘wobble’ as a kind of honest attempt to outline some of the positives and negatives about a car (or anything for that matter). I just hope that the one’s who use this as a deliberate formula or strategy (as another kind of ‘con’ if you will) are fewer than those who are trying to report and interpret their experiences honestly and with integrity.
     
    I appreciate your honest observations about the 200 as well. Keep it coming…

  • avatar
    InstantKarma

    I’ve bought three new cars in the past 9 years, and the Sebring always turned me off because of it’s poor V6 and cheap interior/not attractive exterior.  My take on the 200 is that the exterior is improved, and the new Pentastar is every bit as good as any other V6, and better than many.  The interior looks nice as well. 

    I was suprised by the Burgess review; the 4-cyl engine in the 200 is not as good as the Honda/Nissan/Toyota 4-cyls, but the difference is minor.  Calling it worse in every way is just mean, and not particularly accurate.  So many of the cars in the segment require a compromise on some point.  The Accord requires that you accept poor styling.  The Camry that you deal with bland styling and a cheapening interior.  Altima has some issues as well.  (who puts a piece of loose plywood as the floor of a trunk?

    Worse in every way?  I find that hard to believe.  I sure wasn’t conviced that I could believe the review I was reading, and in the end that is the issue.

  • avatar
    geo

    It must be hard to be an auto journalist these days.  They seem to be dying for a bad car for them to use their killer lines on, but there aren’t too many to draw from.  So they project everything onto something perceived by many to be bad car, just so they can “get it all out”.

    Chrysler seems to be to auto-journalists what George Bush was to political cartoonists and left-wing bloggers.  They need something to yip about.  So in the absense of a truly bad vehicle, they create a vehicle caricature using a Chrysler and project their negative feelings on to them and loose the poison pens. And besides, a positive or even benign review of a Sebring (or some dopey Republican politician) would look bad at cocktail parties.

    Admittedly, it is fun to read about truly crappy cars . . . but we have to go years into the past to find examples of them (which TTAC does).

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Huh.  the way you guys seem to have hated on Mr. Burgess in the past made me somehow think that, by, like, sacrificing his career over a principal, he might have earned a modicum of respect from y’all.  But, nope!  His ethical stance is glossed over as selfishness in disguise…..remind me never to piss you guys off.

    BTW, in a write-off between Farago and Baruth….Farago writes better but Baruth has better stories….that’s my wobble…and I’m stickin’ to it.

    Happy St. Paddies day, y’all.  I’ll buy a Guinness for any of the TTAC B&B falling by Yesterday’s in Mishawaka today.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    Jeremy Clarkson reminds me of the late Lester Bangs. He would praise some piece of garbage band to the skies yet absolutely trash another, near-identical group. His reviews and likes/dislikes were utterly inconsistent and you got the sense that he was in love with his own wordplay more than what he was supposed to opine on. Bangs could be amusing and even occasionally brilliant, but after a while you realize that all he was good for was entertainment value and you could never take his opinion seriously.

  • avatar

    MASS MEDIA CLAIMS ANOTHER VICTIM should be the headline. Wobble? That would be one explanation. I prefer “flying too close to the sun”. Imagine this scenario – Auto writer over 40 is having a bad day for any number of reasons, pick one, family, finances, job, friends. For the one millionth time he hears or reads of another article that seems far shy of telling the truth and thinks today is the day I’m going to write what I bloody well want and everyone can go to hell if they don’t like it. He knew he might be canned, he’s seen it before. For whatever reason that day he couldn’t stomach one more article of the kind where a Ford recall gives NHTSA the finger and a smaller Toyota recall gets four paragraphs and a lengthy reminder of last years recalls. With all types of crafts at some point you decide to check your tools to make sure they are working correctly, a painter tries another brush, a mechanic tries another set of battery cables. Mr.  Burgess was checking to see if his tools of honesty, integrity and lack of bias were still working at The Detroit News.
    Hats off to Burgess and to those like him. Whatever awards there are for ethics in journalism should have his name engraved on the top.
     

  • avatar
    geeber

    Color me unconvinced, Mr. Baruth, despite your fine writing.

    The Chrysler 200 is a good car…and we can prove this by comparing it to a 10-year-old Lexus.

    Based on that standard, a 1981 Citation was an awesome car, because it could beat a 1971 Sedan DeVille in a few key measurements…

    • 0 avatar
      geo

      I agree that the old Lexus comparison is not the greatest way to extoll a car’s virtues, but the point was made; this is a good car that does not deserve to be trashed.

      And aside from the quality issues that killed it, the Citation was an awesome car for it’s time.  The Sebring/200 has no such quality issues.

  • avatar

    So first you trash a writer who’s style brought many of us here in the first place for hating everything, which is simply untrue, and then proceed to tell us that all cars are decent now when compared to what we had in the 70s so anyone who says otherwise is trying too hard?
     
    Thanks for summing up why I don’t visit this site as often as I used to.
     

    • 0 avatar
      faygo

      Farago’s general vitriol and seeming beef with everyone and anything were a reason I _didn’t_ visit the site that much.  while he had some good opinions and was right about some things, his tone and lack of balance were grating and unproductive.  the tenor of the site has improved with his departure.
       
      Jack’s point is that if the current 200 is a 95% good vehicle, there’s a lot less to criticize than when it was an 80% good vehicle.  which is where the wobble comes in to keep a reader interested and provide a reason to return.
       
      expectations are key in evaluation of anything.  if one is coming out of a Sebring or 10-year-old Lexus ES, one will be pleased with what the 200 offers.  if one is comparing the 200 to it’s broader competitive set, it’s not as much of a standout.  Burgess’ original piece did a relatively poor job as others here have noted wrt the engine’s spec as compared to the Camry.  slamming a 4-speed auto and ill-tuned 6-speed is valid points of ridicule however.  if someone is coming out of an Accord, Camry, Fusion, Malibu or Sonata, they may not like the overall feel of the vehicle, which is one reason people tend to stick with a brand they’re familiar with if it doesn’t burn them.  if the goal of the 200 is to bring new buyers to the brand, it’s going to struggle unless someone is looking for the differences that it offers (pleasant if slightly derivative styling with some “luxe” touches) vs other vehicles in it’s segment.  in order to get someone to switch from what they know to a (perceived, even if overall vehicle quality is risen to levels which were unimaginable 10 years ago) risky new choice, the new choice has to be a home run.  the 200 isn’t that, but it’s not a complete POS either.
       
       
       

    • 0 avatar

      If I want a luke warm tenor in which everything is pretty good I can pick up any number of the current Auto mags on the shelf. TTAC was good because it was different. Not everybody had to have the same opinion. It was OK to write an article calling something crap. It was ok the next day to change your mind. Everything doesn’t have to be so damned buttoned up.

      And there it is, the idea of what is good vs what is crap is a moving target. Just because I called something ok yesterday doesn’t mean that I am being a flake when I call it crap today. What we are comparing it to has changed, and so have expectations.
       
      The 200 isn’t crap compared to the competition, it is crap compared to what it needs to be. If you are going to bring in new buyers is this the car to do it? Is good enough, enough? If not then yes, it is crap. Of course that isn’t fair, but it is the truth.

  • avatar
    msquare

    I like the whole theory of the “wobble.” I’ll go even further to say that the automotive media has played a significant role in homogenizing the industry, just about forcing everyone to imitate Honda, Toyota or BMW to be in their good graces. With the lack of badness has come lack of character. In the summer of 2000, I drove a Renault Laguna in Europe (even on the Nurburgring) and it reminded me of a Camry. It had been totally stripped of its French character, as had other Renault models of the time. Someone there got the message because subsequent generations have reacquired some French identity, no doubt brought back by cars like the Avantime, which had mixed reviews and not-so-great sales. The Mini-Cooper and Fiat 500 aren’t simply retro models, but an effort to reacquire some character that had been lost. Porsche gets a pass on the 924/928/944 because I believe they honestly thought those cars were improvements over the 911.

    Not every car has to be a Honda or a BMW. The true measure of a car is how well it reaches its design goals, and whether others do it better or worse. Honda and BMW are successful when they make good Hondas and BMW’s, and they’re less so when they don’t. The current Accord is not as good a Honda as the one before it, for example, and the argument has been made that too much electronic sophistication has sapped some sportiness from BMW. Chrysler will succeed by making good Chryslers.

  • avatar
    tparkit

    Nice wobble, Jack. All those words to send a simple message to your real customers – the automakers and the media conduits they pay with advertising dollars: “You can trust me to play the game. I’m not going to slag your products.”

    You’ll be measuring the success of this exercise in bridge-building by the invitations and proposals you receive.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m so charmed by your alternate vision of the universe, where I am a darling of the manufacturers and Scott Burgess is a plucky outsider, that I will probably approve every comment you ever make from now on, regardless of what you say. Shine on, you crazy diamond!

  • avatar
    hurls

    Should I be embarrassed or proud of my sharp eye to notice the re-use of “CBT Aficionado”?

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      TTAC “inside joke” – Bertel used it in a story once.  As far as running gags go, it would be an appropriate one for the maturity level of this website.  (BTW I love the B&B.) 

  • avatar
    SupaMan

    Great piece. I actually learned something from this as I claim to be one of those ‘bloggers’ who writes reviews on cars (hey, when I see an invitation to drive cars in my email I actually skip work to make it). I don’t call myself an auto journalist but someone who loves cars and loves to write about them.
    To some extent I agreed with Mr Burgess’ review on the Chrysler 200. It’s a significant improvement over the Sebring but in the end, fails to be competitive with what’s out there today. That however won’t stop people from buying the 200 though, because in these days, marketing is everything. Toyota built a reputation for quality and reliability and even though that image has been tarnished in recent years by a lack of refinement and quality in its newer models, public perception regarding the Camrollas haven’t changed much.
    I still see lots of pre-2011 Sebrings (sedans, convertibles) on the roads because people, for whatever reasons, don’t nitpick or notice the stuff that automotive writers do. I myself wouldn’t buy a Sebring (or recommend it) but then again, I wouldn’t buy a Camry either.

    • 0 avatar

      Except that people aren’t buying the 200 any more than they did the Sebring. People often exaggerate the power of advertising. Advertising will, at best, get people to try a product. If they try it, and don’t like it, they won’t buy it.

      It’d been said that nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    Interesting to read how many people think that Burgess is right, but haven’t seen the car yet let alone drive one, sticking to the same idea that Burgess fired, that the 200/Sebring is a crap car.
     
    What Jack wrote is very honest.  Most cars a pretty good today.  There are a few exceptions, but the 200 isn’t one of them.  It is perfectly good.  The idea that it is still a dog is not true.  If you think it is, go to a dealer and drive one, and do it with an open mind.  If you do this, you will find that many cars are much closer today than many auto journalists would have you believe, but reporting that all cars are pretty good, doesn’t sell.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    Maybe it’s just age-related cynicism but I don’t trust any automotive review summary pronouncement of a car’s relative goodness, period. The parts of a review that seek to pass judgement aren’t worth squat. What I’m after is the presentation of facts. The more real facts there are in a review, the more valuable it is. I really don’t care what a reviewer thinks about the subjective issues such as, for example, styling. Furthermore, what’s important to me will never exactly match what’s important to a reviewer so if I blindly go along with the assessment of someone I don’t know, I’m being foolish.

    And since I’m not looking to autocross my next sedan, I don’t give a rat’s ass how good the reviewer thinks his or her skill behind the wheel is. But if the reviewer is 6’2″ and weighs about the same as me with the same inseam length, I do care how they fit in the car. If the autocross exploits are well-written, I’ll certainly enjoy them as a sort of filigree, but not as relevent data.

    And, finally, I’ve completely outgrown the frat-boy mentality of an awful lot of so-called “automotive journalism”. I don’t seek affirmation for my own opinions, I’m comfortable with both my criteria and my ability to make judgements based upon them.

    • 0 avatar

      If you’re looking for facts, why bother reading reviews at all? Reviews are inherently someone’s personal impressions. And rightly so. If a car gets all of the “facts” right, but it’s not enjoyable to drive, it’s a fail.
       
      I couldn’t agree more with most of the rest of this comment. Everyone perceives things a little differently, has different priorities, and so forth. While it can be possible to predict how much you’ll like a car based on reading a like-minded reviewer, the best test is always to drive the car yourself.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      “If you’re looking for facts, why bother reading reviews at all?”

      How are things such as, for example, measurement of trunkspace or “the door handle broke off” or “it took 155 feet to stop from 60mph” subjective?

      Any car is a collection of tradeoffs. The real question is whether a particulat set of tradeoffs matches my needs and wants. Reviewers who understand this and present as much information as clearly as possible are the one who are the most valuable.

    • 0 avatar

      True, cargo volume and braking distances aren’t subjective. But a review simply isn’t the right format for them. You’re looking for a specs sheet and a test report, not a review.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      A spec sheet. Right. Never any lies in those. According to one spec sheet I read about an identical apartment in my building, I occupy 450 square feet. the funny thing is that by my careful measurement, the most I could come up with is 280 square feet.

      In a former life I was an engineering tech for various hi-fi companies. I know how spec sheets lie when it comes to performance (500 watts! Really!).

      Is it too much to ask for journalists to actually do their jobs and provide objective information? Or are they all on freaking ego trips? Is every review more suited to the op-ed page?

      If reviews are nothing but opinions, well, we all know that old saw about opinions.

  • avatar
    Hank

    Well said, Jack.

  • avatar

    I never had a chance to look at 200, but I was getting Sebring and Fusion rentals and Fusion wins by a mile without any wobble (I only wish Fusion wasn’t so grotesquely wide). How hard can it be to write a magazine article about it? Jeez, wobble schmobble.

  • avatar
    beken

    The “truth” about cars is subjective. Because you think the 200 is a “good” car does not mean I have to think it is.   In the same vein as just because I think my Pontiac Fiero is one the best cars I’ve ever owned does not mean I’m all up in arms because nobody else seems to think so.  I’ve personally owned a number of Chrysler products in the past.  The last one I owned, I thought it was a great car when I bought it.  But after owning it awhile, I noticed the fit n finish just wasn’t the same as other cars in the same class, or even the car I traded in.  And those little irks, I’ve noticed continued through Chrysler’s subsequent generations of cars.  As good as the 200 is, I still recognize those irks and it does prejudice me against buying with my own money, or recommending a Chrysler product to my friends.  I have the same issue with GM.  It doesn’t matter how good the CTS or Cruze is.  I’m likely going to get screwed by their customer service.
    If I were to write a review on GM or Chrysler, it will be tainted with my prejudices, as open minded as I like to think I am.  The reader is entitled to his or her own opinion to agree or disagree.  It is the writer’s journalism style that keeps his audience coming back to read.  Said reader may agree or disagree and I’m thankful that TTAC has a forum that is accepting of multiple opinions and, for the most part, not to be taken personally.
    I also understand that if one is making a living off of something, it is nearly impossible to maintain consistency in your job through thick and thin whether you are in a bad mood, good mood etc.  Look at all those actors and musicians that need drugs in order to keep up their high level of performance.  I would think the journalists kind of issues (consistantly writing good entertaining articles).  When deadlines loom, you need to produce something…anything, whether you’re in a good mood or not.  I guess that’s where the “Wobble” comes in.
    I am of the opinion that Mr Burgess got censored by his bosses because they couldn’t take the heat from those who disagreed with his writing.
     
     
     

  • avatar
    brandeselitch

    This is an extremely well written article, and it caused me to think a bit about why I collect old car magazines.  Also, for once, many of the comments were thoughtful and incisive, unusual for anonymous Internet posts.  Remember, writing and editing is hard work, and it can make you crazy.  It’s difficult enough just to get the facts right, particularly when you are facing a deadline.  There’s a fine line between being a “personality” and being a blowhard, not just in talk radio. I think this “cult of personality” started with ex-advertising copyrighter David E. Davis, who fancied himself as the Ernest Hemmingway of automotive writing.  Car magazines of the fifties and early sixties didn’t exhibit this writing style, but afterwards, everybody did, except, well, Consumer Reports, but what car guy would ever read that?  Also, not everybody is a car guy.  Most American consumers are fixated on getting the best deal, not getting the best product.  Marketing helps.  That’s why people buy Toyotas – they’re appliances, not something you would put away for your son.  I always say that a real car guy should have at least one Jag and one Alfa, but you certainly wouldn’t want to use them everyday.  In this regard, I appreciate a quote from Michael Karesh, from March 2: “A different driving experience is worth a few points in my book.  A vehicle can be flawed, even seriously flawed, but if it provides a unique experience, I personally find it more appealing than a technically superior but emotionally vacant appliance.”  Right on, Michael! Finally, in December, 2009, the editor of Motorcyclist magazine fired writer Dexter Ford because Arai and Shoei complained about a newspaper article he wrote critical of some helmet manufacturers who were big advertisers.  Ford had written for this mag for 30 years!  Now that is egregious, but when it comes to analyzing automobile design, well, that is pretty subjective, and one case where truly, Time Will Tell.

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      +1 regarding old car mags. C&D in the late 70′s and 80′s had style. I can still recall their “Motor Rooter” parody review of the Trabant.
       
      Oh how the mighty have fallen. Jack’s pricing history is spot on. I may have paid close to $10.99 for a year of C&D in 1982 – when the minimum wage was ~ $3.50/hour!
       

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      +1 regarding old car mags. C&D in the late 70′s and 80′s had style. I can still recall their “Motor Rooter” parody review of the Trabant.

      That’s good!  I recall the Motor Rooter issue, too.  It didn’t just tool on the Trabant, it hammered all of Motor Trend.  They copied the font to a T, and even had the tag line “Why are ALL cars good?  We aim to find out.   As they reviewed the Trabant, they made common references to their fanboi cars.  Statements like “Just like the Chevrolet Corvette…” or “Like the Pontiac Fiero”. or “smart, two note dual horn…I’m shooting from memory here, but I remember…

  • avatar
    zeus01

    “Wobble?” I’ve never heard it put quite like that before, and it sums things up nicely.

    But not quite as nicely as these words from Lemon Aid’s Phil Edmonston on page ten in his 2010 New Cars issue:

    “All car journalists (an oxymoron?) know it’s tough rating new and used vehicles without selling out to the car industry. That’s why most do. This fact has been repeatedly confirmed by some of the best writers and broadcasters who are critical of automobile manufacturers.

    Yet the road to auto harlotry is so subtle that few writers or broadcasters can resist compromising their integrity: The kids need private schooling; the mortgage must be paid. The smooth-talking executive car pimps are always there to say how much the company admires your work, but then they tell your editor or program director how much better your stories would be with more ‘balance.’

    And then these hustlers invite you on their trips to Asia and Europe, where they give you geishas, hats, jackets, laptop computers, specially-prepared vehicles and interviews with the top brass. They even sponsor annual journalism awards to make sure their coterie of friendly scribes spouts the party line.

    You feel like nobility, but you’re really a whore.”

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    Great piece, Jack.  Almost all auto “journalism” shills either to corporate sponsors or a given publication’s editorial bent, just like politics or any other reporting.  It’s all trite, if not completely unbearable.  I had a subscription to Motor Trend for about 15 years, mostly out of habbit, until I finally decided their nonsense comparo results and increasingly political/greeny editorial take wasn’t even worth the pittance they charged me.  I just want an honest, insightful take on new cars without all the garbage, regardless of where they were “imported from.”

    Independent-minded writers who have mastered the “wobble” are a rare commodity; No wonder the most prominent example is Clarkson, who hails from a country where political correctness isn’t the sore point that it is here. Not that I’d call Clarkson intellectually honest – he’s an arrogant blowhard, the Brit equivalent of Rush Limbaugh – but he’s entertaining if nothing else. These auto journalist hacks, taking themselves so seriously and trying to so hard to be edgy, never bother to be entertaining (at least not outside snooty, J-school concept of “entertainment”), let alone informative.

    Regardless of any corporate politics or axe grinding behind the scenes, this whole debacle reeks of crap writing and a crap editorial department.  I haven’t driven the 200, but I’ve had enough experience with the Sebring and read enough about the new Chryslers to believe Burgess’ review was dishonest…the smallest improvement over the Sebring, by a company written off by almost everyone, is commendable.  And lines in question like “If this is the best vehicle Detroit exports, then Glenn Beck is right” are a foolish thing to write in a general publication and an even more foolish thing to quit over.  Writing for a Detroit paper means you’re either going to be a Big Three apologist or get canned for not towing the new party line, post-financial meltdown.  Duh, no story here.
     
    If anything, Jalopnik’s promotion of this “injustice” as their latest “Awesomeness Manifesto” cause is a more interesting story here.  It goes to show that the establishment media insiders (and Jalopnik has become exactly that, no matter how irreverent and “tell it like it is” they pretend they are) are far more interested in pandering to themselves than actually covering the material their readership relies on them for.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    When I worked for a newspaper (not writing about cars, but about dead bodies and various other lesser examples of mayhem), we had editors.  Every story went through an editor before it was put into print.  A good editor would have (should have) excised some of the extreme statements in Mr. Burgess’ review that were edited post-publication after an advertiser complained.
    Of course, my experience was 36 years ago; and I imagine that various management consultants and efficiency experts brought in to help struggling newspapers stay alive pointed to editors and “re-write men” as redundant cost centers that can be eliminated.  So, they were.
    Jack speculates on Mr. Burgess’ motive for writing what he wrote.  Jack apparently has made Mr. Burgess’s acquaintance; I certainly have not.
    But, I have observed the same phenomenon in another enthusiast/hobby of mine — high fidelity.  Back in the day, the slick magazines, High Fidelity and Stereo Review excelled at reviewing components without saying anything of substance.  An underground, “subjectivist” press developed in reaction (which eventually became mainstream as Stereophile and The Absolute Sound.  These magazines were created by their founders on the basis that, unlike the slicks, they would pull no punches.  Sound familiar?
    But, I have observed in that arena as well in the post-slick car review era that there seems to be a natural tendency of reviewers to overstate the differences between product A and product B as part of a general effort to be more readable and less “dry.”  Every writer wants to be read and seeks to develop a “style” . . . and Jack is certainly no stranger to that notion (nor should he be).  Dan Neill gets ragged on because he’s “literary” and gets a Pulitzer . . . well d’oh!  That’s the guy’s style and his stuff is published in the Wall Street Journal, not the National Enquirer.
    Warren Brown is another car reviewer that I end up reading a lot because he’s in my local paper.  I used to look down on him because he did not write the usual “car guy” stuff, but one day I woke up to the fact that he was writing for a general circulation newspaper, not an enthusiast publication.  And, I’ve come to appreciate his point of view, which is that he tries to be a surrogate for an “average guy/gal” thinking about getting a car.
    On the evidence, I would say that Mr. Burgess’ sin is not a calculated effort to make the 200 a victim of his perceived need to do a wobble but rather that his attempt to create a distinctive style led him off into exaggeration and overstatement.  That’s why I said he needed an editor.  They actually can help save writers from themselves.  So, I agree with you, Jack, that he was clumsy, but not in the way you say!
     

    • 0 avatar
      WaftableTorque

      As an audiophile, the problem with the hi-fi rags is simply one of credibility. It was dangerous to assume that the critics knew what they were talking about. Eventually you had flowery reads of Absolute Sound, Stereophile, and High Fidelity which are entertaining, and ultimately uncredible because you couldn’t measure their measuring stick.
       
      Then you have the credible (and interestly enough, out of business) publications of Sound and Vision (Canada), Audio Critic, and Audio where double blind testing and NRC measurements meant that if they didn’t like a loudspeaker, they had the data to back them up (and there were a lot of mediocre speakers).  It didn’t matter if it was Alan Lofft, Ian G Masters, Dan Kumin, or Larry Klein, you knew they were consistent and predictable.
       
      Ultimately, automotive “journalists” like Dan Neil, Jeremy Clarkson, Robert Farago, and now Scott Burgess are entertainers. And entertainers don’t necessarily make credible consumerists.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      I have to say that I miss Audio magazine.  I gave up on Stereo Review almost from the start.  Still, even that was better than the stereo product reviews in Consumer Reports.  Audio used have that “big eared” guy…Julie Hirsche???  The golden days of audio have been swift-boated into irrelevance by downloads…<sigh>

  • avatar
    mrcrispy

    There will always be room for ‘wobble’ as you put it. The range may have gotten smaller, but there is a gap between the bestg and worst cars that will always exist.
    And the 200 is decidedly near the bottom of that gap in its class. I don’t care if cars in general are much better/safer than they used to be a decade ago, that doesn’t factor into my buying decision. If in fact there is little or no reason to recommend the 200 over its competitors, then the review put that point across very well, then there’s nothing wrong with trashing the car.
     

  • avatar
    bodegabob

    This guy got dissed for making drama?
     
    Someone’s got to do it.
     
    And anyone who thinks it isn’t necessary needs to watch an all-day Motorweek marathon.
     

  • avatar
    Prado

    Enjoyable article. As pointed out, cars are more competitive than ever and few truly suck. While the 200 may not suck, I do believe it is wobble worthy. However the review by Burgess is probably worse than the Chrysler itself. It reads like he only read the spec sheet on the car and mailed in a bad review. Did he even drive the car because nothing in the review indicated that he did. Criticism of the 4spd auto is an example. He just states they are outdated without expressing how it led to an inferior driving experience (if it did at all). His review just comes across to me as weak. Bye Bye Scott. Make room for the Jacks of auto journalism.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    Very insightful article…and oh so true!
    Yes the people of Detroit need a boost and my take from the Superbowl add was of Chrysler/Detroit generally..not so much the 200!
    Realistically, readers of TTAC will have NO EFFECT on the sales of this car.
    nor will Mr.Burgess!
    It will be the customer who gets the best financing deal with a bit of ‘Go Detroit” thrown in for free!!

  • avatar
    JBell

    The circle jerk is over.  Raw yet, Jack?  Ray?

  • avatar
    vbofw

    Simply throw a dart at the listing of mass-market new cars for sale in the United States, purchase that car, and you can be more or less assured that you will experience 100,000 miles — or more! — of low-hassle, low-cost operation.

    while the journos get caught up in the wobble, the reader replies are even more caught up in the wobble.  it seems 90% of comments either say/suggest the car is awful, or the car is terrible.  it is fun because it gives people something to talk about, and “be heard”.

    somebody get this man a book deal!

  • avatar

    I suppose this is a bit late, but I’d like to express the hope that TTAC will review the 200 soon.
    We could use a break from all those minivans!
    D

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    Great stuff, Jack — “kneepad fluffing” indeed.
     
    Yeah, Burgess will get his shot at stepping out from the pack, just as Dan Neil did when he got fired for writing about having sex in the back of that Expedition for a Bible Belt paper. Too bad he’s not as talented a writer as Neil, or you.

  • avatar
    Dave1951

  • avatar
    Ronman

    Working as an auto journo in the middle east, you just don’t diss cars in that way. that will put you on the ultimate list of black lists with both employers and the care dealers. Criticism has to be done surgically over here and for every fault there has to be a positive note somewhere. regardless of the fact that your opinion however positive or negative will never sell a car, just give the reader, possibly a car fan, some information while he’s sitting on the crapper… that’s being honest.

    in the middle east, and i speak about the majority here, people just walk into a dealership and buy a car. it can be a Toyota because their grandfathers used to drive one, or a Lexus because it’s a Toyota with some added Bling, so it must be good. same applies for every other brand, they are bought out of loyalty, with price and price to quality ration serving the minority, you also have the expats, they buy cars they would have never afforded at home regardless of what the press says (which is usually good reviews)

    I appreciate what Scott does in this case, but calling the 200 a dog is not something i would do, and don’t understand the need for such harsh language, he can convey the same message in much classier and acceptable language.

    I agree with Jack on the fact that the 200 is a good car, because the Sebring with all its shortcomings, was an honest car, it didn’t do anything well, but from the people (all retirees) that bought them in my country, they are all super happy with the comfort and simplicity it offers. so the 200 must blow these retirees off their hinges with the advances at about the same price.

    the thing, as Jack says, is that today most cars are good cars, you rarely get the actual dog, so these slurry reviews are unfounded, you can really go into the details and be annoying, but most probably when someone buys a car he can get over that annoyance by force of habit… the old Touareg’s low positioned indicator stalk is a case in point, drive that thing for 1 week and you will find that the high indicator stalk is ill positioned…and many other things of that nature…

    I think Chrysler are doing a great job now, and that the 200 is the product that identifies their new found standard, where every other product will sit above it… i’m sure the soon to come replacement will be far more superior, but in the meantime, had they kept the Sebring as is, Chrysler would be getting a monumental Shellacking for keeping it there… so they opted for the next best thing, update it for a short while with minimal investment just to avoid the Sebring downfalls, good on them for doing that, and any auto journo that does not recognize the actual mission of the 200 and treats it otherwise is fishing for readership and is greatly undermining his credibility….

  • avatar

    Weebles wobble (and they don’t fall down). I say a reviewer should tell the truth about a car and . . . that’s it.
    And for the record, I am not nor have I ever been a car hater. I love cars. It’s hypocrisy, lies, cowardice and poorly made, ill-fitting plastic that I hate.


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