By on June 27, 2010

It may not be apparent from the cheerful, distracted way in which I load my TTAC contributions with ridiculous jargon, shocking sexual audacity, and repulsive images of the ghetto, but writing an online auto review is actually a rather tightly woven proposition. One has about a thousand words, give or take a few, in which to convey the essence of a vehicle which has cost hundreds of millions of dollars to develop. There is usually so much data in the press materials that a simple Cliffs Notes version of that data would run to double the permitted review length.

That’s not all. Everybody has access to those materials, so one must be careful to save some room with which to convey accurate, personalized driving impressions. Speaking frankly, there are only three differences between the average denim journOrca (just made that up) and your humble author: I can drive a vehicle beyond four-tenths, I fit in most bucket seats, and I rarely sleep alone at press events. Therefore, in a thousand-word review, I have to set aside a few hundred words to be honest about how the car drives.

You get the point. There’s not a lot of room in the “trunk” of a review. This doesn’t stop most of us in the business from putting junk in that trunk. The “junk” in question consists of vague, uneducated ranting on automotive styling. Click the jump to hear some examples and discuss what should be done.

I had the recent misfortune of reading a CTS Coupe review which devoted nearly half of the available page space to a styling critique. The reviewer said “aero-sculpted” and “large-ish”. He compared the vehicle to a children’s toy and a Corvette. There was a moment where he appeared to simply be vomiting random phrases onto his keyboard.

This fellow isn’t a designer. He wasn’t trained in design. He didn’t go to design school. My personal experience with design was limited to a single course at university and two decades reading about Isamu Noguchi, but I’m not sure this fellow had even that. In other words, he’s completely unqualified to provide an informed opinion.

Perhaps, in the era where automotive reviews were delivered by telegraph and then shouted aloud to an anxious crowd of people standing in a dusty town square, this would have been useful. In the modern era, however, we can see photographs of the car and judge for ourselves.

I think it’s ridiculous to write more than a paragraph about styling in a review. Since I’m not always correct, however, I want the B&B to chime in. How much do you want to hear about styling in a review? Any suggestions as for how I can provide you better information on that topic? Do you want to hear more about sex on press trips? Who ate all the bacon at the breakfast buffet? Let’s have answers!

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86 Comments on “Ask The Best and Brightest: Shouldn’t We Shut Up About Styling?...”

  • avatar

    More about sex? Yes, forgive my salacious, juvenile nature.

    Styling is always subjective and eventually you wake up to the fact that after you see somewhere between dozens and hundreds of a car on the road, you don’t really care anymore.

    My dad recently said of my Grandmother’s Aztec: “You know, it actually drives pretty nice, and I like the leather.” I told him; “Yeah, once your driving it, you don’t have to look at it.”

  • avatar

    When I read reviews I focus on; Steering feel, body roll, acceleration, braking, brake pedal feel, over-steer and understeer. For non-sports cars I focus on ride and interior quietness and roominess. One spec I pay attention to in both cars is weight, I don’t like heavy cars; another caveat I heed in car reviews of all cars is what the reviewer says about visibility, I like cars that I can see out of well. I would also like a horspower-torque chart. I don’t pay close attention to what reviewers say about styling, I judge that by photos and encounters with those cars.

  • avatar

    Sex? Bacon? Those should be in EVERY car review! As for styling – I may not know much about design, but I know what I like. So I don’t need to be told if something is large, or ugly, or beautiful. I can decide that for myself. Stick to important things…. like sex and bacon.

  • avatar

    Sex, yes. Bacon, yes. Nothing else really matters.
    Keep up the good work!

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    An automaker’s image for quality, design, workmanship and integrity are my top issues. A broad taste palette greatly enhances bargaining power. Accordingly, my choices encompass several makes and models – all good fits.

    Occasionally the styling is so repellent I can’t bear to look at a car, much less buy it. Examples are the Lexus ES 330’s smiling bug visage, bangled BMWs and cheese grater Acuras.

  • avatar

    I actually did study Design in school and made a living in the field for over a decade before changing careers in the 90s. Looking at the reviews I’ve written it is a subject I’ve rarely mentioned UNLESS the subject of the review is either an example of Zeitgeist, meaning it captures the spirit of it’s time and expresses it through design, and/or was influential in the design of subsequent machines.

    So yes, Jack. You are right in that design rarely deserves mention beyond a paragraph, UNLESS it intrudes upon ergonomics, or is just plain offensive (as illustrated above.)

  • avatar

    I think it’s a worthy question… I definitely don’t read car reviews for them to tell me whether or not *I* like the styling… I do think it is valuable to know whether or not the reviewer likes it (in the simple yes, no, or “kinda” sense) just so that I can put his/her bias into context for the remainder of the review material. Someone who hates/adores the look of a car is going to be hard-pressed to stow that opinion while evaluating driving characteristics, seating position, and what-have-you. Also, keep in mind I find the car’s aesthetics to be a different area of discussion from the ergonomics/accessibility of the in-car controls, etc.

  • avatar

    They do the same thing with Linux reviews, a couple of paragraphs on the wallpaper and theme design. Of course with software a few clicks and you can change the appearance.

    • 0 avatar

      Change usually for the worse, not the better. Back in college and grad school, I used to be that guy who changed X-window managers/desktop environments more often than my underwear. These days, I stick with the default unless it egregiously offends my sensibilities. Take Ubuntu. Cannonical actually spends some money and time on the concept of human interface design. Most of these yahoos on can come up with some great looking screenshots but at the end of the day, the actual usability for most of these ‘designs’ is poor.

      Back to the Car Stuff – I agree with the majority on this. I don’t want to read the opinions of some doof about his subjective opinions of a car’s styling, which I’ll disagree with more often than not, anyway.

      I do want to add that the idea that design is always subjective is also wrong – some elements of design can be, but not all design is exclusively subjective.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve often the same could be true for cars….

      Go to the dealer and select what front end you’d like, lights, grill, wings etc, what rear light cluster you’d like and a few other styling options. As long as the hard points remained the same it would be quite easy to achieve.

      Smart were close to this with the interchangeable bolt on plastic panels but the style design of each was the same.

  • avatar

    Definitely more about sex. In great detail. Who likes what, how, when & why.

    If there’s always fresh material about sex at press trips, then I can forgive the occasional omission of bacon critique.

    Anyway, Jack: Are you really qualified to render an opinion on bacon?

    Now. back to the main topic: sex.

  • avatar

    My son made a off-handed remark about some local kids and their hair and dress.
    I told him to stop.
    It’s all about expression.
    Every human expresses themselves in some way.
    THAT was not important.
    What was important was what KIND of person he/she is.

    I explained that for me, ONE exception I cannot allow is meanness.
    I cannot stand mean people.
    Uneducated, lazy or whatever…nothing really mattered.
    Only if they were mean spirited can I object.

    Same with cars.

    Bless the low-riders of LA that colored up the years I was there.
    Salutes to the bright oranges or yellows that brighten up our streets.
    Racing stripes or Steer horns, it’s all about expression and style!

    So I agree!
    Leave the irrelevant crap or personal taste OUT of a review.
    Let us know how it drives.
    How it sounds, inside and out.
    Give the car the hard work out and let us know how it holds up.

    Again, the most hate filled review I ever read that shouted out its mean spiritedness was the Farrago MKT review.

    Talk about somebody in love with his own words!!!

  • avatar

    A picture is worth a thousand words. Hence, one picture doubles your prose budget in a decidedly impartial way. If you want a scientific methodology for optimized styling, figure out how to engineer spousal agreement.

  • avatar

    I’m curious about the “styling” of Baruth’s claimed press event conquests, myself…

    I can’t shake the feeling they may be the ones who ate all the bacon.

  • avatar

    Seems writers generally pine for “exciting” styling. How many times have I read that Camrys are bland, where as I see tasteful understatement. Busyness and ornamentation are something of a necessity in brand differentiation, but it adds up to my mind as being so much tasteless and gaudy makeup up on what would otherwise be a beautiful woman.

  • avatar

    Design doesn’t deserve more than a few sentences for so many reasons. First, the pictures will speak to each reader for themselves, and the reader will make their own judgment. Secondly, opinions are fluid and changing. The cheese grater grill we hate today, may be something we bear tomorrow. Perhaps we love it years from now. Third, just as opinions on style change, fads come and go. The accent stripe or screaming chicken that is so cool thirty years ago, departs, then becomes (somewhat) cool again.

    Tell me how the car drives. Tell me its failures. Give me the stats. That’s what I want to know.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I’m with the choir, the less said about styling, the better. Years ago, however, Automobile Magazine used to run outstanding, detailed styling critiques by a writer whose name I forget. Robert something perhaps? Those were always fascinating. Not because I necessarily agreed with him, but because he had a deep background in the topic and was both entertaining and educational on the topic.

    But, few automotive writers have the knowledge or skill to go there. So don’t.

    • 0 avatar

      Robert Cumberford. He tried to produce the Martinique, a retro roadster with wooden fenders, a BMW engine and Citroen running gear. He’s had a pretty interesting career.

      The Road & Track issue in the Magazine Memories I just did about the DeLorean, had a stying review by artist Werner Buhrer.

  • avatar

    Unless the car is a fascinating example of design, the styling never warrants more than a paragraph.

    Bad cupholders, though… deserve as much exposition as possible. Maybe even a part two…

  • avatar

    Shift-knob palm qualifies neither as nocturnal companionship nor as sex…

  • avatar

    Good point. I’m not sure of a review on a 2010 Mazda 3 or Mazdaspeed 3 has been written without a styling critique. As for me, I mainly look for driving impressions in a review, as I’m hoping that the author has both driving and writing skills and has spent enough time with a car to know things like how controllable and responsive the car is, how much body roll it has, how the controls feel, if it’s been designed to carry people in comfort or make them feel engaged. And, if the electronics will prevent it from doing things like heel/toe, I really want to know that. I’d also like to know if it creaks and rattles and seems put together well or will soon start falling apart. (I mainly check out long term reviews on the major publications’ sites). Styling should be mentioned if the choices made cause visibility issues (or great visibility) and maybe even if the reviewer learns that the styling has creating a cooling issue, but that returns to how qualified the author is to speak on engineering and design.

    I also realize that I’m not an average reader, however, and that what I want in a car is at odds with the majority of humanity, especially considering my demographic, and any reviewer has to take the mainstream driver into account, if only briefly.

    Edit – But if the guy from HotTread monthly (I just made that up and am not going to Google it) ate all the bacon and the car actually does garner an inexplicable stimulus response, yeah, throw that in, too).

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    To not at least discuss the style of a car is ignoring one of the most important elements in the buying decision. To dwell on the design is amateurish writing.

    While it’s great when automakers take risks, we get some successful gems like the new LeCrosse, the CTS, the VW Beetle, or the Ford Flex (which, oddly, I really like.) But we also get some flops like the Aztek, the current Accord, the Element, the LFA and the Lexus SC.

    Not all styling exercises are good ones, and thoughtful critique is good. But automotive writers shouldn’t bash them for pushing the envelope.

  • avatar

    Agreed: unless there’s some insight from the stylist or there’s some interesting function-form trivia about the styling, e.g., the car’s grill is completely non-functional, it’s a bottom-breather, then keep the styling remarks to a minimum. Honestly though most auto writing is fantasy crap and is full of esoteric jargon (driver’s car, heel and toe, feel, nine-tenths, skidpad, modulation, etc) that means everything to a 12 year-old and nothing to a family guy who has to make 60 payments (and insurance and maintenance/repair outlays) on something that his kid will throw up in and his wife might get stranded in. In other words, it’s just automotive porn. I guess that makes Jack an autopornographer and me an addict.

  • avatar

    This is a good question. I concur, about a paragraph is enough at most. Though after reading John Horner’s post, I wouldn’t at all mind seeing a detailed critique of a car’s styling from someone with an extensive background in that area. I think it could be enlightening.. as an editorial completely seperate from the proper car review, of course.

    With that said I was going to say it would be nice to have more pictures to look at as I am reading the review. It sucks when the the entre back end of the car is missing or there’s only half the interior showing. But then I much prefer TTAC’s current format where the pictures don’t serve to distract from the most important part: the text. Well, I guess there is always Google!

  • avatar

    Thread drift. Where’s the bacon?

  • avatar

    So, Mr. Baruth, when you say you never sleep alone at the events, is it BYOB, or are they supplied? I recall the days when we supplied them, but they were long ago ….

    • 0 avatar

      And when customers/dealers were “gettin’ biblical” with company-supplied entertainment, only three holy rules applied:
      – Matt & Mark on the Make Rules [#13:12 and #4:25]: “For whoever has, to him more shall be given.”;
      – Luke Gettin’ Lucky Rule #12:48: “To whom much is given is much required.”;
      – OEM PR, Sales, Dealer-Principal & Valued-Customer GOLCEN RULE #1: “Don’t ever let the tax-authorities, the law, your mistress, or wife catch you.”

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      There are three avenues; I have taken two.

      0. Bring your own lady friend or source it from local resources (Facebook, female TTAC readers star-struck by the sheer macho ridiculousness of the Maximum Street Speed series)

      1. Seduce lady journalist. They exist, at a ratio of approximately 1 to 20 men. On the positive side, the competition is as weak as it gets.

      2. Hire a rental. I’ve never done this but I know a journo who does. Scratch that. Two. One who brings strippers back and one who arranges in-call.

  • avatar

    And of course never to a lowly blog writer, waste of money, and they are liable to post pictures …

  • avatar

    I’ll be the voice of dissent here, I’d rather here MORE about the styling…from those with at least some design background/ education…and even that’s negotiable, because we all have eyes and opinions about what’s attractive and why… if someone is articulate and has some knowledge of basic design language/terms, why is how a car looks NOT a valid aspect of discussion? We will all have to look at hundereds or thousands of them out on the road, and in traffic, over the course of a vehicle’s lifecycle, so I’d welcome some articulate discussion on the matter.

    Specifically, what’s frustrating is when the entire car is either dismissed or praised in a bland, blanket, or vague few sentences. Mention specific aspects of the design that are well done, or questionable…and of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so opinions will vary, but furnish some examples before dismissing an entire design as ugly…or praising something as beautiful…why do you find it so striking?

    Even some ugly cars have interesting or well-done design aspects or details, and some attractive cars have some odd vantage points, and/or clumsy details. Like the new Bentley Mulsanne is very attractive, sleek and elegant from the sides, rear 3/4 and rear view, but that God-awful ‘clown face’ front end is unbelievable…who did it and how did that get greenlighted?! Conversly, the new Nissan Juke is, overall, an abomination to my eyes, but certain details are interesting to me, like the side glass/greenhouse, and rear taillights/hatch.

    Maybe I’m just a frustrated design geek, but I really enjoy, say, Robert Cumberford’s detailed design analysis in Automobile (admittedly, he’s ‘an expert’, so his opinion holds some weight).

    All this said, styling shouldn’t take up the majority of a review, but spending just a few bland sentences on the appearance of an interesting car (no need to endlessly analyze the visual merits of a Cobalt, etc.) is an insult to the many people deeply involved in creating that overall design.

  • avatar

    While styling is very much a matter of personal taste, and thus cannot be objectively quantified. So is much of a how a vehicle feels going down the road (i.e. whether the steering is light or heavy etc.) In reviews of some cars, mention of styling is particularly warranted. For example, I am interested in whether the styling significantly intrudes on sightlines, or causes distracting glare in the interior. Additionally, I like to hear about about styling when the true “live look” is not well reflected in the photographs.

    I would like to think of myself as an individual who values function over form. Most of the time this is the case. However, I’m also a car nut, and I am occasionally smitten with beautifully styled car.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Since it’s the design experts who have created some of the visual abominations that ply the roads, perhaps that expertise is a bit overrated. Yet I’d like to better understand why a particular design elicits the general response it does, good or bad. Of course, some things are seemingly obvious, as with the current Mazda 3, the schizoid Accord and the Camry snout. Those are the easy ones. But what exactly is it about the ones that have no glaring flaws and yet sit so uneasily on the eyes? For me, it’s the current crop of bloated-looking Fords.

  • avatar
    The Guvna

    I disagree with the majority on this, I suppose: I absolutely want to hear thoughts on a car’s design. The notion that only a designer is qualified to advance an opinion about how a car looks is so howlingly stupid and wrong-headed, to my way of thinking, that I can scarcely even comprehend the objection, let alone form a cogent counter argument for it. Particularly strange is the idea that a designer’s opinion will even necessarily deviate from that of the average ink-stained wretch—it’s been my experience that people who test cars in bulk quantities tend to succumb to the same “Well, it’s ‘striking’, so it must be a success” conclusion that the stylists themselves seem so fond of. Yes, someone trained in the theory of automotive design is perhaps better qualified to address the specifics of influence, and certainly the designer’s intent.

    In recent years, however, both groups (regardless of whether or not one of them happens to be speaking from the appropriate orifice) have seemingly disappeared up their own arses so far with respect to “design language”, that we seem to be caught in a weird perpetual loop where jaded journalistas are pissing and moaning about “bland” and “pedestrian” designs, and pushing for more “striking” work (striking, as near as I can tell, is a stylish euphemism for “a riot of willfully ugly and overwrought contours and shapes”). This, in turn, is suggesting to the Chris Bangles of the world that their utter contempt for the (admittedly subjective) notion of beauty (or even mere handsomeness) over complexity is entirely justified. Thus we get more and more overwrought designs (don’t kid yourself that companies don’t pay heed to styling criticisms…), and in turn, more and more overwrought prose attempting to make sense of it from people who wind up fighting way, way above their weight class. I *do* want to hear what someone thinks about the way a car looks, about how it moves them (or doesn’t, as the case may be), just as I want to read their impressions of how it drives. Yes, it’s a subjective opinion, but I’m interested nonetheless. Otherwise, what, exactly, is the point of having a…well, a *you*, Jack?

    I suppose what it comes down to is, the “what” is not even slightly important to me. The “how” very much is. It isn’t an automotive hack’s conclusion about a car (be it with regards to styling, performance, its relative overall success, or what have you) that engages me. It’s the persuasiveness of his argument. The best ones will be able to articulate a thought or, better yet, a feeling that is perhaps just beyond the reader’s grasp. No, I don’t need a two-page insert by an amateur styling theorist telling me what he believes a particular B-pillar treatment is designed to invoke. And I don’t care enough about the conclusion that I jump to it just to have my own subjective opinion validated by a “pro”. What I appreciate, however, is an articulate, evocative description of whether or not it happens to work for them, personally. And if they feel strongly enough that a company’s overall design direction is either a help or a hindrance, I want to hear that, too. But the two-page insert consisting of little else other than empty, meaningless jargonese, unless indeed it’s actually from the stylist responsible, I could gladly do without.

  • avatar
    M 1

    Sex only if the vehicle played a significant role. Bacon always. ALWAYS. Styling is obvious. Tell us the stuff we can’t figure out from photos.

    Actually, photos of the car with bacon would be important data as well.

  • avatar

    I think styling is worth discussing in a few contexts — particularly interior/dash styling, particularly when it’s overwrought or impedes function.

    But I think that if we were to do away with vomited phrases and rewritten press releases, the amount of “professionally”-written content on the intertubes would go down by at least 90%. Not that that would be a BAD thing, necessarily.

  • avatar

    I rarely read reviews, so I guess I don’t care all that much.

    If I do read one, I guess someone’s “opinion” on styling is as usefull (or not) as their opinion about any other aspect of the car.

    One thing that might be good is to talk about design vice styling. For example, why was my wife’s CR-V designed with a 150mph speedo? It won’t go 150, and I wouldn’t drive a CR-V that fast even if it could get up the steam. I’d also like to know why the speedo was designed without nice fat lines for the 5mph increments. Most speed limits in the US end in 5. My aging eyes find it convenient to have a nice clear line to rest the needle on – I don’t like having to keep it “about” halfway between 40 and 50, or whatever. Nothing wrong with talking about design in terms of how it affects the driveability of the car.

    • 0 avatar

      I completely agree about having a speedo that completely outperforms the capabilities of the car. I can understand having a speedo go to 100 mph because that is something one might expect to get to if they’re so inclined. Recently I got a car the has 10 mph marks instead of marks every 20 mph. My brother always had trouble with the 20 mph gaps.

      Now onto the bacon.

  • avatar

    I agree with the commenters above who focused on visibility. So many styling choices affect visibility negatively today, such as the redesign of the Five Hundred/Taurus into today’s Taurus, or the previous versus current Sonata sedan. I do not believe that grossly raised beltlines are actually a function of increased passive safety; active safety (such as being able to turn one’s head and see at a glance what’s going on behind and to the side of your car) lets you avoid being involved in a crash in the first place.

    • 0 avatar

      The effect of styling on living with the vehicle is a big thing. It results in things like trunk lids tapering towards the bumper leaving little trunk space, pickups that require a ladder to drop something into the cargo bed from the side, or cars with slit windows that need a periscope to be driven.

      These we need to know about, one other issue is that pictures don’t convey vehicle size well.

  • avatar
    George B

    Jack, in my opinion beauty is largely a matter of proportions. Same for cars and for women. What you and other automotive journalists have of value is advance information about the basic shape and appearance of cars that we haven’t had a chance to see in person yet. The basic question is do I settle for what I see now or do I wait a short time for something better? In the pre-production stage when we only see grainy 2D pictures of test track prototypes wearing car burkas, automotive journalists get to see the shape of the body. What I want is your in person impression of the 3d shape of the body. Do you think she looks well proportioned and fit or do you think she is poorly proportioned and needs to loose some weight?

  • avatar

    Many cars need to be understood – which takes time. Looking at my Peugeot 207 at a first glance, sombody might think that it is boring and weird. Giving it a little time, you’ll start to discover its wide shoulders, smooth lines and akward yet stylish wheel arch…but who has the time to fully understand a car when you only have it for several hours? So let’s leave this part out of the articles then.

    I believe that DESIGN should be commented…on it’s usefullness. As stupid as it may sound – why don’t they ever WASH AND CLEAN the cars when testing them? No matter how much you paid for a car – it’ll get dirty. An GOOD DESIGN – that should be commented and reviewed – allows easy cleaning inside and out. Plus, when you clean a car you’ll know the vehicle inside out when you’re done.

    Moreover, I’d enjoy reading about interior design that has enough room to store everyday stuff. I think every test driver should try to place a single CD, a CD-case, two large bottles of water, sunglasses, wallet, cell phone and pack of cigarettes in every car tested and see how well the car is thought through. And guys, I wanna place these items in my super-mini as well as in my Camaro as well as in my big van!


  • avatar

    If they really had something to say, I’d find it interesting for reviewers to critique styling. But most of them just reheat the pabulum that comes from the mfg, which is–and I think I’m simply repeating what Jack said here–a waste of space and time, because it would be useless even if there weren’t photos, and because there are photos, and the reader can damn well judge for himself.

    As an example of a worthy critique, if I were writing about the PT Cruiser when it first came out, I would say something about how inappropriate it is to put Pokemon eyes on a car that is supposed to be retro.

    I agree with what TheEuropean says about critiquing design, direclty above this post.

    And, unrelated to the post, 10 points for trailertrash on what he says about mean-spiritedness.

    • 0 avatar

      And, unrelated to the post, 10 points for trailertrash on what he says about mean-spiritedness.

      When it comes to styling, I agree that there’s too much written. Reviewers should agree to disagree with the car’s stylist and move on.
      And +1 to TheEuropeaon…

      But there are some areas where a little spice is necessary. Especially if the competition offers more. Automobiles are a significant purchase for many – if I want Kumbaya automotive advertisementsreviews, I’ll read my local paper.

  • avatar


    The problem is that the people who do know what they’re talking about, the stylists themselves, speak in their own jargon, “styling language”, “flame surfacing”, etc.

  • avatar

    Do you want to hear more about sex on press trips?

    It’s impolite to gorge oneself in front of those going hungry.

    The first time I met your current lady friend it was at the NAIAS and she said, “I know Jack from outside the automotive world”. From that point on, I assumed that you weren’t exactly taking a vow of chastity during the press previews.

    If you bring her to Detroit next year, ask her if she has a friend that’s into decrepit creepy old men.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      She thought you were, and I quote, “a unique intellectual”. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than “total babe”, but there you go :)

  • avatar

    When TTAC reviews a car I scroll through the review until I get to driving dynamics. Then, after that, I scroll back up – look at how the reviewer liked the comfort levels of the interior; and lastly, if I can muster it I read how they liked the appearance. But by and large their comparisons and judgments although defendable, are not not identical to my own and I can come to a decision far more rapidly simply by looking at a front picture, a side picture and a rear picture.

    In rare cases (Looking at you Honda Crosstour) I have to withhold judgment until I see one in the metal; but no amount of journalistic masturbation could help me make my mind up.

  • avatar

    wtf you guys arguing about?

    i just check the pictures, then scroll down to read the
    final conclusion of the reviewer. thats it. who the hell
    has the time to read a full page review, style or no style?

  • avatar

    I mostly agree. A paragraph usually does it just fine. What is usually necessary is for the reviewer to point out some of the things thats the pictures don’t show. Cars are three dimensional, while the internet (for now) only works in 2D. Certain lines and especially proportions can really look different in person as opposed to a pic. Nothing that can’t be described in a few lines though.

  • avatar

    I’m with the choir.

    Unless someone’s a particularly Derek Flint-ish Art History Professor, I am educated & experienced enough not to care ~too very much what their crit is. (not that all professors are interesting by default, btw)

    -Stick to your knitting. Write exactly the amount appropriate to your design training and don’t pad the article one bit.

    If you want to learn, then that’s cool. Take a few classes & then come back with a few more sentences based on your new chops.

    Keep it succinct and pithy. Maybe even shoot for a 1-2 sentence Lieberman or Clarkson. ie: “That Subaru looks like a smashed buttock.”

    Note: One thing I’d like to see more of here on TTAC is more photos & better photo galleries ala AB.
    Serial + Random pick access in 3 sizes.

    Anyhoo, the other thing I’d like to know about the auto reporting circuit is:
    What are the absolute 5-10 roughest Shoot-Downs you’ve heard on the circuit from a chick a journo was trying to pick up? (change the names to protect the guilty)

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I’ve never seen a male automotive journalist perform anything but the most fumbling, ridiculous pickup attempt. Open-mouthed starting is the modus operandi for most of these dudes. An exception was one guy I saw in a wheelchair who was using his lower platform to shoot less than perfectly-discreet upskirts of the Fiat 500 models at one auto show.

      I did once observe a writer for a newspaper-of-record attempt to seat himself next to a lady journalist. His efforts were stymied by his inability to fit between the table and the wall.

  • avatar

    Sex? Sure!

    Posturing? Not so much… but it’s clearly established as part of your sytle (a.k.a. “schtick”), Jack, and asking you to give it up would be like asking Hemingway to omit drinking or hunting references, or Bukowski to clean up his language.

    Just sayin’.

    Now, style? Some review info on how a car ended up looking like it does can be entertaining and even useful. And, pointing out when styling gets in the way of function (i.e. gun slit windows and how they hinder visibility) is very much part of a good review. But, as many have said, we can all make up our own minds as to whether we like a car’s styling or not, so I’m with you there, no need to gunk up a review with such opinions.

  • avatar

    Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Talking about form over function is silly when we’re talking about vehicles where utility is it’s primary function – pickups, sedans, minivans, SUVs (haha) etc.

    On the other hand, for the class of vehicles where the form IS it’s functions, primarily sports cars/coupes, then I think style is perfectly fair game.

    Obstructed visibility in a two-dour coupe that’s obviously built to sell on image, whether it be a Challenger or a Ferrari, is a “meh” item for me. Obstructed visibility in a station wagon to make it look, shall we say, ‘swoopier’ (I’m looking at you Dodge and Saab), then that should be discussed seriously.

    Arguing about which make has a better look, Jag or Aston, I think should be fair game. Or even if last year’s model was better, that’s cool, too. Spending three+ paragraphs on the Camry/Accord/Sonata? Yeesh.

    Of course, if your vehicle is remarkably ugly (Aztek/Impreza’s “snout” years), then game on.

    Which reminds me, several years ago, I remember reading an M-B design team guy trying to sell an interviewer on round headlights. Ur, no! I’m glad the round headlight era is over.

  • avatar

    What always amazes me about car design is how few people (a couple hundred, maybe) around the world are the gatekeepers of millions of dollars of investment. It really is a highly specialized and closed community. Good design can make a so-so car a winner in the marketplace (think the early Ford Mustang). Bad design can make a good car a loser (yep, the Pontiac Aztek). I’m also fascinated how design influences are copied by other manufacturers, like the way that headlights are now extended so far back onto the hood of the latest designs (think Ford Fiesta here). There’s a lot going on in a car’s design and a good car reviewer should be able to convey to a reader the thinking that went into it without being pretentious.

    • 0 avatar

      The headlights creeping up the hood & fender thing is part fad (cf. Ferrari 458) and part aerodynamics. As someone who came of age during the sealed beam era, I for one, embrace modern headlight design. If you think about it, considering how restrictive the legal headlamp regs used to be (your choice of two or four circles – later augmented by rectangular units), the fact that auto stylists were able to create distinct front end designs, including unique headlamp treatments (think ’57 Chevy vs. Jaguar XJ-6), is testimony to their talent.

      Remember, there was about 70 years of suto styling done with round headlamps, and the freedom that designers now have relative to the past is a relatively young thing. The art and science of integrating headlamp design into overall styling is evolving.

  • avatar

    I vote for FEWER words about styling in a review. A picture is worth a thousand words, so since reviews include photos you can use a thousand words to talk about something else!

  • avatar

    If car reviewers didn’t focus some on the styling of the car, then what would reviews of Alfa Romeos or Aston Martins consist of?

    Personally, I don’t mind reviewers spending time writing about a car’s styling. I think it is too important to just gloss over.

    What I hate though is when a reviewer wimps out and refuses to call a vehicle ugly and instead goes with something like: “It will work for its audience”, “You’ll love it or hate it”, or “It isn’t for everyone”. I want to read the reviewer’s opinion, not his/her skill at avoiding pissing anyone off.

  • avatar

    A paragraph’s about right for most vehicles, unless photos just don’t tell the whole story. Some cars just don’t photograph well–my favorite recent example being the Panamera. I think it looks hideous in most photos, yet when I see one in person I find its proportions strangely alluring (perhaps because it’s much lower than it seems in pictures). Other cars can look perfectly acceptable in photos, yet repel me in person (often a goofy or awkward stance provokes this reaction–as with, for example, several current Nissan products).

  • avatar

    @Ronnie Schreiber: The headlight creep also helps to disguise the ungodly amount of front-end real estate needed to pass crash tests.

    It doesn’t take a design degree to critique design. Just a sense of beauty and a good eye. For one, I thought that the first generation Mazda3 was an interesting case of intelligent design. It’s a very modern “jellybean” of a car, but they hid some of that successfully with design cues that made it look more classical in proportion compared to, say, a Corolla or a Civic.

    Other times, a reviewer simply has to point out that your typical autoshow and vanity shots completely misrepresent a car. You’re hardly ever looking at a car straight in the schnoz with your eyes at grille level or crouched up at the rear quarter panel. You’re looking at it from a standing position before you get in and from a sitting position in another car. Designers know this, and design their cars accordingly.

    I just wish more designers also realized that we have to sit inside the damn things. American tank turret design makes for horrible sightlines (the need to crane your neck to see a stoplight is a good enough reason [b]never[/b] to buy an American SUV) and sexy beltlines and trunks make for “exciting” parking exercises. Volvo started this trend… even a decade ago, seeing out of the back of a Volvo was a monumental chore.

    And the less said about the Prius’s stupidly large Star Trek console, the better.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    We live, pretty much, in the post-styling era of the automobile. They really are all starting to look the same… The greater unwashed masses will choose autos in a pyramid roughtly akin to Maslow’s heirarchy of needs….we’ll choose on price, number of doors, number of seats, etc…and for the vast majority, the choices are not differentiated much style-wise. From a distance, as child and young man, I took pride in my ability to tell differenct car models and years at night by their taillights or headlights/grilles. Nowadays, it is pretty hard to tell a Camry from an Accord from a Lucerne from a Sonata from a Fusion…in broad daylight. So. With respect to the topic of styling, and the relative importance in reviews….if a vehicle’s styling is so quirky or clumsy that this factor could possibly impact its residual or resale value down the road, that impacts the total cost of the ownership experience for that vehicle. Stuff like that is relevant. Beyond that, if the writer doesn’t have the writing chops to identify the influences of the stylists, keep it minimal….

    BTW….don’t know what this says about me, but as I get older, the Aztek is kind of growing on me….when I first say one 10 years or so ago, I thought…”Oh, Sh!t, a Citation on stilleto heels…gawd that is awful….” Now I think, “You know, from certain angles, that ain’t as bad as everyone says.”

  • avatar

    One does not need a POLISCI degree to comprehend the sub-par IQ of Sarah Palin.

    Neither does one need to have studied industrial design to ascertain what looks good, or is Gabourey Sidibe vomit in your mouth ugly.

    • 0 avatar

      Har, I knew I liked you, porschespeed.

    • 0 avatar

      I usually like P.S.’s comments, but was disappointed by this one … it was worse than my Rosie Palms jibe at Jack above… it was mean.

    • 0 avatar


      I didn’t say she was a horrible person who stuffed baby bunnies down the toilet after coating them with homebrew napalm and setting them alight.

      I’m sure there’s several people out of the 6B+ on planet Earth who find her smokin’ hot. I’ve just never met one.

      Perhaps if I go with Susan Boyle all will be forgiven?

      Regardless of the ‘un-pc’ minutae, the Sphinx was designed and built without the validation of a degree in architecture. Or the attendant vocabulary snobbishness.

      Just sayin’…

      Thanks Signal11,

      I aspire to be the resident Herb Kelleher.

    • 0 avatar

      If you think that Sarah Palin has less than an average intelligence, you must not know many average people. Perhaps you’re in Mensa or something. I’d say she’s got an IQ of at least 100, probably 105 or so, maybe even a standard deviation smarter than average, 110. She’s performed at least adequately in all her reported jobs, some of them fairly complicated and responsible, so there’s no reason to suspect she’s some kind of an idiot unless you have some kind of class or political bias.

      Sure, Barack Obama has more intellectual horsepower than she does. To use Joe Biden’s phrase, BFD. I know at least a dozen people smarter than Barack Obama, including folks I share DNA with. Does she think in soundbites? Any less than the average MSM member using Journolist to shape the public discourse in a manner favorable to liberal Democrats?

      Obama’s many, many misstatements show that he’s not intellectually curious enough to get his facts straight. It’s just that when a Democrat makes a fool out of himself, the media protect by ignoring it, when it’s a Republican, we get Dan Quayle potatoe jokes. I have an IQ at least a couple standard deviations to the right of the middle and I have a bunch of common misspellings I make. It takes conscious thought for me to spell bureaucracy properly. I’m a terrible speller and have to use all sorts of mnemonic devices to remember how to spell some words.

      It’s funny, because with his thin skin, Obama obviously has a substantial ego, so large that he doesn’t recognize when he’s embarrassing himself because he’s been the smartest kid in the room his whole life so he hasn’t had to bother with little things like facts.

      I have a large ego too. Large enough that, as I said on a comment to one of my posts, I hate making mistakes in public. So I try hard to get my facts straight and when I’m not sure, hedge my language.

      Obama and his crew (and plenty of Republicans too – Ray Lahood is a nominal R and a chucklehead), just plunge right ahead, facts be damned.

      Our nation is ruled by lawyers who think they’re so smart they can’t be bothered with learning math and science, but still think they know all the answers. No wonder they come up with the cockemamie crap they do.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey Schrieber,

      One, the most common standard dev for IQ tests is 15, which means 85-115 makes you more or less a normal human being. A 5 point deviation is the difference in having eating your Wheaties the morning you took the test. (A “couple” std devs right of the middle is 145+ territory, BTW.)

      Two, IQ is a pretty retarded measure of a man’s intelligence. Or in this case, a woman’s. The idea you can put a number on an individual’s intellectual capability borders on pseudoscience. My engineering field is very heavy in fluid mechanics and partial differential equations, which I have an intuitive feel for them. My medical field of epidemiology is heavy in biostatistics, which is supposed to be the easier math, but I feel like I’m counting numbers on my fingers when I do them. (As circumstances would have it, it’s the latter math which I used to use to make life-or-death decisions about entire populations.)

      Three, chillax man. You know who else go made fun of in this topic? Dudes with poli sci degrees. Oddly enough, I did one of my bachelor’s degrees in poli sci and my butt’s not hurt at all.

      Oh and all Shakespearean jokes aside, lawyering is a fine use for one’s intellect.

      And really, for a guy who hates to make public mistakes and hammers on the Prez-O-Dent for not getting his fakes straight, you ain’t doing so well yourself. (I’d suggest you look up the definitions of “ego” and see if any of those have anything to do with fault tolerance.)

    • 0 avatar


      Always nice to hear from those who understands standard deviation. (BTW- I’m sure you’ve figured out that I’m a bit ‘over the top’ rather deliberately.)

      Though I am more than ‘Dove purity’ sure we disagree on the Judeo-Christian Bible as a real-estate document and a host of other topics, I really would love to hang out with Ronnie at some point in time. I sincerely believe he’s a decent person.

      I’m also with you on the true value of IQ tests (as well as any other standardized model). Regardless of the part of the bell-curve they are measuring, it inherently is geared to a mean. (FWIW, last time I took one I was grossly overqualified for MENSA and under qualified for PARS or Olympiq. Regardless, I’d never join a club that would have someone like me as a member…)


      C’mon now. Just because it took Sarah 5 colleges in 6 years to earn a degree doesn’t necessarily make her a complete idiot. She has managed to identify with a segment of the population, and get their attention. In the environment of mass politics, that is valid.

      I’ve read/watched her sub-junior high level speeches, replies, and interviews since she popped up. I never would have gotten a double ruby from the NFL (national forensics league) in HS for the crap she spouts, but, and it is an important but, I wasn’t on the national stage. I was competing in a solely intellectual arena.

      You are obviously smarter than her by a long shot. Seriously. That you somehow wish to elevate someone who really hasn’t accomplished a damn thing in her life does puzzle me. Greatly.

      We all know that the Founding Fathers designed the Electoral College to prevent people of her populist ilk from achieving the Presidency. Democracy is great, but the fact remains the average citizen is, well, average. (Yeah, I guess I’m an elitist bastard…)

      FWIW, Obama ain’t on my XMAS/Chanukah list either. Unless I’m giving out lumps of plutonium. Continuing the tradition of doubling the national debt that started with Reagan and has continued unabated (save for a nice blip in Clinton’s last 2) is not a quality I admire.

  • avatar

    Styling is fun to comment on, discuss and read about. It’s one of the areas that the buff books used to piss everyone off with because they used to gloss over it or give props where none are due, like calling the pontiacs of the 80s “Sporty” looking. Especially on the interiors, where before the internet, you had to read a british car magazine grabbed from a lounge in Heathrow to hear anything negative.

    There are good, bad and average designs, and I want to hear about it from car reviewers. I can’t stand the people that say you need 4 years at CCS to comment on styling. Everyone should comment, if only to say thumbs up or down even if they can’t articulate why. I love hearing designers decompose a car, but it’s only not vomit inducing if they are explaining something rather than trying to convince me that flame surfacing is cool, or that the compromise they had to make to the engineers or finance just pushed them to a better design (thing Austin Powers “freedom and responsibility BS” line). I want to know if people generally think car X is cool looking, well proportioned and (unfortunately) most importantly, do they agree with my take on it.

    So yes, tell me what you think about the car’s looks inside and out, and I’ll read your review. If it’s bland or average, one line will do. There’s no need for a paragraph. If it’s great, one re-fresh from great or terrible, I’d rather read about that then the X% improvement in torsional rigidity.

  • avatar

    If the styling is interesting, write about it.

  • avatar

    Until computer monitors can project 3-D holograms, comments on a vehicle’s in-the-flesh “presence” are still useful. But longwinded rants about anything which is blatantly obvious in photos – such as the Aztec’s bile-in-your-mouth styling – are pointless.

  • avatar

    I don’t mind hearing a bit about styling as long as it isn’t completely based on the writer’s gut-reaction. For brand-new designs that have yet to filter into the market if the in-person impressions in natural sunlight strike one as markedly different than either magazine pics or carshow spotlights write about that difference (good or bad). I think this phenomenon is responsible for much of what people said/though about the Crosstour, Accord before that, the 2011 Odyssey, even the Mazda3, plus why my grandfather thought the new Sonata was hideous.

    Also, keeping one’s mind open yet mindful of likely outcomes, if objectionable styling is/isn’t likely to interfere with the model’s commercial success then state your opinion. There are lots of decent vehicles with objectionable styling that were less-than-successful (Taurus-X, Flex, Five Hundred, Aztek, Dodge Magnum) and those that were successful (Fusion, Mazda_, Crosstour? I see a lot, Dodge Charger). It would be interesting speculation that could be checked later to see who has the best “score” for rating a questionable model’s styling success.

  • avatar

    I like to read TTAC reviews because most of them are really well written. Some days I wish RF would still write for this blog.
    To me any words written on design are a complete waste of space. Photos abound on the web.

    [off topic]
    On the issue of sex, how about you test every car for suitability. Do the seats fold flat, is the back seat cushion sloping downwards too much, ceiling height, sturdiness of handle bars, etc. etc.
    On the issue of bacon, just bring it home and don’t talk about it.

  • avatar

    Aerodynamic design of the new Prius is said to aid in boosting mileage. But the fast sloping hood, the severely raked windshield, and the high rear deck make it difficult to sense from the driver’s seat where the vehicle ends. And so parking is made more difficult. But you get used to it.

  • avatar

    In general, I can see styling, so I don’t need an auto journalist to wax poetic about it. Tell me about things I can’t see – the suspension, for instance.

    OTOH, discussions of styling serve as a fine negative indicator. If a journo rambles on and on about styling, I suspect he/she has very little else to contribute, so I ratchet down my belief in the credibility of any other comments. (Warren Brown, late of The Washington Post, is a fine example of such over-reliance on styling comments, with his “head-turning quotient.” Dan Neil’s are about the right amount.)

    So, if you need to fill your quota of word, please do go on about styling. It’ll save me time since I won’t have to read it.

    • 0 avatar

      “In general, I can see styling, so I don’t need an auto journalist to wax poetic about it. Tell me about things I can’t see – the suspension, for instance.”

      +1 And don’t fault big family cars for being “floaty.” Historically speaking, that’s what middle America has wanted, and manufacturers would be idiotic not to give it to them. But if you wish to attempt to describe the ride and ergonomics in detail, do so.

  • avatar

    Really the most important thing about design is how it translates from seeing the car in the flesh to photographs. For example, the Accord Crosstour looks simply terrible in photos, but when parked on the street looks completely anonymous. That would be worth knowing. Somewhat similarly, fit-and-finish issues aren’t always apparent in photographs, and the impact design concessions have on interior space. Otherwise, I agree that design is relatively subjective.

  • avatar

    I’m trained as a graphic designer and having studied industrial design also, styling, design and ergonomics are fairly important to me. That said, I don’t subscribe to a particular orthodoxy when it comes to the design and styling of my own cars. Ergonomics are important, and my buying decision comes after having sampled the cars in reality. Never have any reviews about a car (with or without sytling critique) gotten me in or out of a car.

    I find that styling is fairly important to me, just not as much as it used to. Having a degree in design, I used to read Robert Cumberford’s column in Automobile to gain some insights. As I matured, I felt my own design instincts were just as valid, I didn’t not need his opinion any more than the guy next to me at the local bar. I do give him credit for being able to WRITE the column, I just disagree too often to read it any longer.

    Along with finding styling and design fairly important, it takes a while for me to truly understand the design in front of me. Like another poster mentioned, the car I hated 10 years ago, becomes less ugly 5 years ago, and now is handsome this week. Other folks may not work that way.

    Do or do not review styling, I can ignore it just as easily as anything else included in the post.

  • avatar

    I don’t see a need for a hard and fast rule. It’s up the reviewer. If a reviewer looks at/drives/examines/whatevers a car and thinks there’s something about the styling that should be mentioned, it should be mentioned.

    The styling of a Prius, for example, probably isn’t worth mnentioning. That’s not what the car’s about and the form of it reflects this.

    The styling of a car like the Mustang, the Camaro, the CTS, etc, is probably far more significant, as those cars are at least partly about a visual statement and seek visual differentiation.

  • avatar


    Don’t want to sound like a young punkass, but this may an age related issue. Young guys who grew up with 3D video games have a much easier time with visualing spatial relationships from three dimensional objects represented in 2D (paper/screen) space, particularly if that 3D object is manipulatable.


  • avatar

    I think you are right on track, Jack. Your reviews are the best available on the web or in print and are rivaled only by some of those from the early years of Car & Driver. Seems to me that the purpose of the review is to learn what I can’t by walking around a car in the dealer’s showroom.

    P.S. A degree in POLISCI is itself a pretty good indicator of a sub-par IQ in its possessor.

  • avatar

    Why do I need to read anything about the styling? Isn’t that what the accompanying photos are for? I can make up my own damn mind regarding styling, BECAUSE I CAN SEE IT. Regarding driving dynamics, ergonomics and the such, that’s what I what I require from a review.

    Personally, I think the Aztec is not the worst ever (in my opinion, that’s either the 1974 AMC Matador coupe or the 1998 Fiat Multipla), and I absolutely love the Cadillac SRX and CTS with the tiallight tailfins. It’s a very subjective opinion, which I can decide for myself from the pictures – so I see no need to devote more than a paragraph to styling.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    +1 on the styling point. Your expertise is driving; so that’s what you bring to the table for us to read. To the extent that styling affects driving (i.e. visibility, comfort, ease of using the controls), sure . . . let’s hear about it. When it comes to interiors, photos are an much more inferior substitute for being there than when it comes to exteriors.

    Recognizing that sometimes a car looks better (or worse) in photos than in person; if there’s a big difference, that’s probably worth a sentence of comment. But — to take an extreme case — like a lot of TTAC readers, I don’t think I would drive a new model Acura if it were given to me. I’d sell it for what I could get and go shopping for something else. Nothing you or any other reviewer could possibly say is going to change that.

    But maybe I’m just a knucklehead. ;-)

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