Ask The Best and Brightest: Shouldn't We Shut Up About Styling?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
ask the best and brightest shouldn t we shut up about styling

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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2 of 86 comments
  • Monty Monty on Jun 28, 2010

    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.

  • DC Bruce DC Bruce on Jun 28, 2010

    +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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