By on September 8, 2016

Couple buying cat Courtesy chronicleherald.ca

Let’s be real with each other for a minute, okay? Car reviews are just plain awful. They serve no real purpose for today’s in-market automotive consumer — they only serve to boost the SEO rankings for anybody searching for “MID-SIZE SEDAN UNDER $30,000 NEAR ME,” which is approximately nobody.

Your friend Bark is here to tell you how this, um, industry of car reviewing needs to be improved in order to help customers find and buy the car they need instead of the car they’ve already decided that they want.

The way the car buying journey is supposed to go is as follows:

  • Oh noes my car is old and busted
  • I wonder what car would be best to replace it
  • My budget is $XXXXX and I think I’d like something different from/similar to what I already had
  • Let me read some reviews of cars in that segment from sources I trust
  • Oh, that one looks good
  • Let me search some reviews of local dealers to find the best place to buy my new Maibatsu Monstrosity
  • I’m enjoying a nice test drive and this salesman is friendly and helpful
  • this price seems fair and the financing suits my budget
  • FIN

Here’s how it actually goes:

  • Oh noes my car is old and busted
  • I don’t know much about cars
  • Everybody at work says Toyotas are good
  • I’m going to read a review of a Toyota
  • This professional reviewer says that this Toyota is best, safest, most exciting, and sexually virile car on the market
  • I’m going to buy a Toyota because I’m not aware other cars exist
  • There’s a Toyota dealer next door to my office park so I’ll go there
  • Help me I’m in a very confusing office with lots of numbers
  • I now own a car I don’t know if I particularly like and I’m an indentured servant to the bank for the next 72 months
  • FIN

When has anybody ever read a review of a car and then changed his mind about the car he already decided to buy? Before you answer, let me ask you another question that might help you answer the first one.

If you’re supporting Hillary Rodham Whitewater Clinton in this election cycle (#imwithher), is there anything that Donald Trump could say that would cause you to switch your vote? Likewise, if you’re supporting Donald Drumpf LOL (#makeamericagreatagain), is there anything the Hilldawg could say that would cause you to throw your vote behind her?

Of course not. 

Car buying isn’t dissimilar to voting. People vote — and buy cars — based on their internal value system, which is very difficult to change. Most car buyers have some sort of emotional attachment to a brand or a model — and not necessarily for enthusiastic reasons. They might feel safest in a brand that they feel is reliable (Toyota buyers). They might like owning the same car as everybody else in the building (Honda buyers). They might like knowing they have the best car for the money (Ford buyers). They might have bad credit (Nissan buyers). Okay, I’m just trolling now. Regardless, you get the drift. Very rarely is a car buying decision made rationally and with a comprehensive data set. I’m quite sure that you, the TTAC reader, make a spreadsheet that includes all variables, including the price of jet fuel in Brunei, but most people just buy what they like.

The modern car review does nothing to help those people. Rather, it mostly serves as a justification for the buyer’s confirmation bias. It’s far too easy for a consumer to find a review that justifies his predetermined decision to buy whatever car he has already decided to buy, regardless of what it is. I’ll prove it to you.

Edmunds likes the Mitsubishi Mirage. The Car Connection thinks that the Jeep Compass has a “refined 6-speed automatic.Motor Trend gave the Dodge Journey 4 out of 5 stars.

What the hell are these people smoking? If you’ve ever wondered how anybody has ever ended up buying one of these “cars,” now you know — experts told them that they were making good decisions.

So what can these reviewers do that would help a car buyer? A few things.

  1. Ensure that they’re telling the truth. I know that this sounds simple, but it really isn’t. When you’re on the free car gravy train, it’s difficult to do anything that might cause you to get booted off of it. If a car is terrible, say it’s terrible. Don’t give it a 7.2 out of 10. Give it a 1 out of 10. Or a zero.
  2. Don’t spend too much time telling us what’s good about a car, especially in a short-form (500 word) review. Tell us what’s wrong with it. Buyers shouldn’t be focused on the Pros — if I’m reading the review, I’m already fairly interested in the car, so I know what I like about it. I’m driving a car this week that shudders every time I hit the gas pedal. I’m not going to spend too much time talking about anything else, trust me.
  3. Learn how to drive. I’ve been to three track-focused car press events this year, with a total of 30 drivers or so. Approximately two of them knew how to drive — the rest of them shouldn’t have been allowed near a track without supervision. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t qualified to review interior materials, or sound systems, or storage areas. It does mean that they shouldn’t be allowed to talk about suspensions, acceleration, braking, or driving dynamics.
  4. Compare, compare, compare. If they’re reviewing an Accord, they simply must talk about how it compares to the Camry, Altima, Fusion, and Malibu at the very least. I don’t really care how it’s sooooo much better than the old Accord. I need to know how it compares to the other entries in the market.
  5. Stop copying and pasting data from the press kit. The average car review seems to be about 75 percent facts and figures that can be found anywhere, including the OEM’s own site. If you’re doing instrumented testing, great — share that. Otherwise, don’t quote stats. Tell us a story. Share your experience with the car.

That’s it. Again, it seems simple, but how many reviews have you read that do it? Not nearly enough. But if the reviews don’t serve the customer, whom are they serving? You guessed it —the guys who get to go on the free trips and the OEMs who get the sweet Google love.

You deserve better.

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171 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: Car Reviews Need A Reboot...”


  • avatar
    John

    I’ll write the reviews in two lines: the car consumers NEED is either a low-mileage used Corolla or Sienna, depending on family size/job. Everything else is wants.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      Stop saying things like that, I don’t have time to be sick to my stomach today.

    • 0 avatar
      Frylock350

      Lemme just pull the boat out of this lake with its unpaved landing with this FWD minivan…

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        Unless you fish for a living, you don’t need a boat. You wanted a boat and all things that go along with a boat.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          We get it.

          Unless you live in a tent on a small patch of land where you grow your own food, most of what *you* have are wants. so stop with the lecturing.

          • 0 avatar
            Quentin

            Jim, nowhere did I say that wants were wrong or bad. He picked a luxury (a boat) as the justification for his “need”. Would you have raised an eyebrow if I said that I needed a 4WD SUV for WV winters because my RWD sports coupe isn’t good in the snow? It is a ridiculous premise that you “need” something when it exists to support a luxury. I didn’t need a child or need a sporty car. I wanted them.

        • 0 avatar
          Carlson Fan

          “Unless you fish for a living, you don’t need a boat. You wanted a boat and all things that go along with a boat.”

          Your right, let me just fall on my sword right now and end it! That sounds better than driving a Toy Sienna and especially a Crapolla!….LOL

          BTW your kid is a want not a need, get rid of that too!. I’ve got 3 so I’m not pointing fingers. My boat housed all 4 of us for 3 days last weekend, so maybe?

          • 0 avatar
            Quentin

            One could argue that children are necessary on a macro scale. I didn’t specifically need a child, though, as the rest of the world seems to be doing a pretty good job of reproducing. Some level of reproduction is needed to continue the species.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            My Siberian relatives could actually justify an American crewcab half ton pretty well based on their needs and actual use (small scale farming, a lot of it potatoes and raising some chickens and pigs), but ironically these people with real needs end up doing their potato hauling in the trunks of Ladas and Moskvitches and Volgas, as well as hay on roof racks. My grandfather’s Izh 2125 was particularly adept at hay hauling with its useful liftback shape and sturdy rear leafsprings. I could really put my 4Runner to work over there, a vehicle I bought based strictly on wants (hauling dogs, camping gear, another fun non-essentials).

          • 0 avatar
            SSJeep

            “Wants” are what drives our economy forward, not “needs”. Most automakers wouldn’t exist if people didn’t “want” a better or newer (and more profitable) vehicle.

            Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
            – Water
            – Food / Nourishment
            – Clothing
            – Shelter

            Everything else beyond that is a “want”, even a car for that matter.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Transportation is a need and anyone living outside of an urban ecosystem needs personal transportation. Bicycles can serve for some of these, but for most a four-wheeled, fully-enclosed (or enclosable) vehicle capable of carrying at least two people and some minimal amount of cargo/luggage is mandatory. It is not a “want”, it is a “need”.

          • 0 avatar
            pdq

            I thought kids were necessary to mow the lawn, do the dishes, wash the car and take out the trash.

            I never had kids, so maybe I misunderstood.

    • 0 avatar
      Coopdeville

      My boat will be DOCKED at a MARINA befitting a CIVILIZED mariner.* Therefore I only need the Toyota Corolla, and indeed will only be able to afford a Corolla.

      *Yes, I am the BTSR of boats.

      • 0 avatar
        npaladin2000

        My boat will be inflatable rubber and will therefore fit in the glove box of whatever I buy. Assuming it doesn’t fit into the armrest. :)

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I’ve seen that marina on the west side, down there on US 50. Not too too civilized!

        • 0 avatar
          Coopdeville

          Corey, I don’t know if you were kidding or not but I had a slip at a shady, mafia run marina for a while. Civilized it was not, but I learned a lot about life from the owner.

          Later I upgraded to Rivertowne and enjoyed a classier experience, because I know you love that word, lol.

          EDIT* just realized which one you were talking about, I was thinking east side. I was on the far east side of 50, not west.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I wasn’t joking! The one I saw (don’t know the name) was in a more West Side location, over by janky Sedamsville somewhere. Was this mafia place recent? Or in Old Newport gang days in the ’70s?

            RIVERTOWNE IS SUPER MORE CLASSIER. You can tell by the E on the end.

          • 0 avatar
            Coopdeville

            Lol I think you mean Ludlow Bromley, on the KY side? It’s super classy because it’s a YACHT CLUB. It sez so in the name. In all honestly that place was fun as hell to tie up to on weekend nights and party and try and get laid.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      I would rather walk I think than own a Toyota.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    “They might like knowing they have the best car for the money (Ford buyers)”

    As a serial Ford owner, I wouldn’t make this statement. I would say that Ford products are a good value if you don’t hold them for more than 80K miles. This was proven again last weekend when I had to replace the intake manifold on my Crown Vic with 81K miles due to a coolant leak. Mind you, this is a nonmoving part, and should have last the life of the car.
    Just keepin’ it real. Now I feel better.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      My cousin had issues with her Nissan at 59k miles. So, all Nissans are on borrowed time after 58,998 miles?

      My family has owned Ford products, quite a few bought new and all kept well past 80k. Decently treated and maintained, you’re leaving a lot on the table at 80k, save for some bombs like 3.8L engines (we never had a 3.8L product).

      Wasn’t there an issue in 1990s with 4.6L intake manifolds? I thought the problem was fixed a long time ago. You didn’t mention what year the Crown Vic is.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Yeah I think there was a coolant crossover tube or some such on the early run of plastic intake manifolds that could leak. Dorman (yikes) or someone else makes a replacement manifold with a metal tube for several hundred dollars IIRC. Aside from that issue, I think the 96-97 Crown Vic/Grand Marquis/Town car are where it’s at, last of the “fat” years for the Panther. There’s been a spate of well maintained ex-grandpa cars on the local CL for about $2k-ish, if it weren’t for the RWD I’d strongly consider one as a replacement for the Maxima.

    • 0 avatar

      I think this is statement was made as part of an ongoing joke regarding the accusation that Bark has a significant bias in favour of Ford (he owns and frequently writes about Fords).

    • 0 avatar
      pdq

      I’ve got a ’99 Ford Ranger with a 4.0L V6, 5 speed and 303,000 miles. It’s bullet proof even though I drive the snot out of it. I will never get rid of it. It’s been hand washed all but maybe 4 times when it went through a mechanical carwash. It cleans up real purty too!

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “I’m quite sure that you, the TTAC reader, make a spreadsheet that includes all variables, including the price of jet fuel in Brunei”

    No fair singling out Gtem that way!

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I’m only slightly less of a spread-sheety guy than you think I am ;)

      But yeah I did make one for my fiance’s father (a fellow engineer) for his car search last year, and I have one for expenses on my Maxima beater-project.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Haha.

        I’ve started keeping them to track car maintenance expenses here lately. Broken down further than the category on my monthly budget. It’s too hard to sift through paperwork and keep everything straight after a while.

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        My 2016 4Runner is the only vehicle that I’ve purchased that didn’t have a spreadsheet involved.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I made a spreadsheet before two car purchases.

      Then I ignored it for both of them. One told me to buy an Infiniti G37 6MT and I bought a G8 GXP instead. The next one told me to buy a RAV4 Hybrid and I leased a C-Max Energi instead.

      Now I won’t make spreadsheets anymore. The most I’ll do is put some thoughts and maybe a list of candidates in a text document.

    • 0 avatar
      freekcj

      No spread sheet, but I did run my ownership cost numbers through a MSMoney program for a E39 540 I had.
      Wasn’t to thrilled with what it showed me….

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    What the heck do track days and track performance have to do with 99.9% of car use? Sure it was fun watching Clarkson slide sideways around the track but it had zero to do with our daily commutes, trips to get groceries and driving kids to and from their activities. And also has zero to do with the durability of the car and its long term reliability.

    1. Do not allow auto ‘journalists’ to accept any trips or freebies from the manufacturers. Just like Consumer Reports.

    2.Only write long term reviews. Based on at least a couple of months of real world driving.

    3.Include reviews from actual owners.

    4.Try rental cars with real miles on them.

    5.Don’t waste time on talking about G-force, max speed, etc. Instead tell us if the child seat will fit behind the driver’s seat, if it can fit 3 in the back seat. if that model has had multiple recalls or safety or reliability concerns.

    6. Newer is not always better. Instead of towing the company line ‘tell the freakin truth’!

    Hey, I guess that is why I check out TTAC.

    • 0 avatar
      brenschluss

      For the 99.9% of the time you don’t need to make an emergency maneuver at the limit of the car’s capabilities, you’re right.

      For that 0.1%, I’d like to know if a car has some catastrophic handling or power delivery trait that would only be revealed in such a situation. This is best done away from public roads, by someone who knows what they’re doing.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        ^excellent point. But, I think Bark was actually referring to cars and buyers who will end up on a track at some point.

        Its okay if you buy an ST, SS or WRX and drive it to work, using 1/4 of the capability it has, and to use that same car on the track during the weekend, trying your best to access that other 3/4.

        That’s the great thing about such cars, they don’t really suck at the boring 99%, nor at the exciting 1%, as it were.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        CR has you covered in their avoidance maneuver test, then.

        I love reading about a track rat slinging family vehicles around for the entertainment value, but really that info is just about worthless for buyers.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        As 30MileFetch noted the Consumer Reports avoidance test is more than enough for everyday driving.

        When even trained First Responders cannot figure to put a car with ‘unintended acceleration’ into neutral, what chance do most North American drivers have of successfully making an emergency maneuver, regardless of the vehicle they are driving.

        • 0 avatar
          brenschluss

          If you’re telling me that police officers are well-trained drivers and the Consumer Reports Avoidance Maneuver is a perfectly acceptable test of a car’s maximum abilites in all situations where you might need them, then I have to assume that you live in a different dimension where those things are true.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            @brenschluss: Compared to 99.99% of driving situations an emphatic, yes. Anyone requiring more than that is probably driving too fast for the conditions, following too close or driving distracted.

            As for police officers, yes they are better trained than nearly the same percentage of drivers.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            If the Consumer Reports test is severe enough to engage the stability control, then it probably is. Your insistence on this point is becoming academic to the point of irrelevance. Stability control is designed to control a car when the driver is unable to, which I would imagine is 99% of us in 99% of those situations. If you’re the type of exceptional driver your rhetoric suggests you are, then stability control will kick in before your considerable talent is exceeded.

            What type of car and what type of situation are we talking about here. Mainstream cars entering a mountain curve too hot or swerving to avoid a moose? Or Audi RSs and Cadillac -Vs? I’ll cede your point on performance cars.

          • 0 avatar
            brenschluss

            First of all, thank you for recognizing my extraordinary talent. That you find its brilliance so blindingly apparent is a complement I will forever cherish.

            But anyway, I figured I figured I ought to see what this “avoidance maneuver test” entailed, and I see this:

            “Crucial emergency driving tests include an avoidance maneuver and a series of at-the-limit cornering assessments around a handling course—a snaking track loop.”

            So I guess we come full-circle. If even our Platonic ideal Consumer Reports is slumming it at the track, can we maybe compromise by calling it a necessary skill even for reviewers of “normal” cars? And if so, shouldn’t the guy at consumer reports be good at his job or no?

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            Your talent is intimidating, so I figured I should compliment my superiors to curry favor before I criticize them.

            Well sure, in an ideal world every car reviewer would both be qualified to test even Elantras in at-the-limit handling and be objective to the audience the car is aimed at. I’d enjoy that kind of review, but I still think the relevance to average buyers is limited when the established CR test will show whether a car flops onto its side if you swerve it.

            Unless…BIG idea pops into head…you tag team it for both aspects. Pair an Alex Dykes for the utilitarian side with a Jack Baruth for the track assessment and have yourself one heck of a comprehensive review with a little something for everyone. Bingo, we’ve guaranteed a future for TTAC!

    • 0 avatar
      GoHuskers

      Great comment!

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    But what car brand should a Gary Johnson supporter look at?

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Allow me to quote William Saroyan, from his play, “The Time of Your Life”.

    McCarthy: “The thing to do is have more magazines. Hundreds of them. Thousands. Print everything they write, so they believe they’re immortal. That way keep them from going haywire.”

    Saroyan wrote that in 1939. I believe he predicted the Internet.

  • avatar
    Whittaker

    For millions of car shoppers who don’t have the time and/or knowledge to research auto minutiae, buying a mass market Toyota or Honda is a smart move…after a test drive of course.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      Not necessarily. Toyota’s products are lackluster in many categories, and Hondas tend to be overrated although quite often competent. Lots of vehicles do things better than their Toyota counterparts especially.

      But, you’re only considering it from a reliability perspective, and a pretty dated one at that. Even for a “non-car person”, a given Toyota may not suit their needs as well as another vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        And in terms of reliability, so many people lease these days that going with a Toyota because it will last longer is kind of pointless. Reliability is pretty much the same for every car at the 2/3-year point.

      • 0 avatar
        Whittaker

        And how would they determine what vehicle is better than a Honda or Toyota without car knowledge and time to conduct detailed research…the two things I excluded in my post.
        Point is, when in doubt go with a company with longevity, mass approval and a reputation for quality.
        Avoid niche vehicles, new models and recently bankrupt companies.
        That isn’t good advice for people who live and breathe cars.
        It is good advice for most people.

        edit—This was in response to John Taurus.
        Good point on the leasing. I will limit my points to auto purchasing. To me, a lease is nothing more than a long-term rent-a-car. Lasting quality and resale value become moot.

  • avatar
    marc

    I would submit that most Toyota buyers (myself not included) are not reading car reviews. If they read the reviews, they would buy Mazdas.

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      If they bought Mazdas, they’d be looking to replace their rusted-out Mazda before freeing themselves of their 72-month indentured servitude to Acme Finance.

      The QUESTION here, is what are they buying a car FOR. If it’s for transportation, a used Corolla will do just fine. If it’s for Track Days, they’d probably want, variously, a BMW or something with a Hellcat in it. If it’s for status, right now the SUV is the way to go; preferably with a roundel or a white-metal crest of Antoine Laumet de La Mothe.

      The first step is to honestly assess what you’re looking for, and gravitate in that direction. Kid-hauler or status. Sport or durability.

      Toyota is a safe choice. Dull, not-much-fun-to-drive; but will last a quarter-century and STILL have value. Try that with a New Chevrolet. Or an old Chevrolet.

    • 0 avatar
      Dingleberrypiez_Returns

      Why? For their lower resale? For their anemic engines? For their high levels of NVH?

      /s

    • 0 avatar
      Kenn

      Yes, they’d buy Mazdas because reviewers are always madly in love with Mazda, while heartily in hate with Toyota. I read reviews out of a general interest in cars, but have enjoyed owning a 4Runner for 15 years (plus 1 Toyota lemon and 1 Honda lemon). I do give more credence to Consumer Reports and TTAC reviews over other publications, though not worshipping the narcisstic Baruth, as so many here apparently do.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Bark is channelling his inner Robert Farago.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    couldn’t you really eliminate #3 from most mass-market (i.e. non-performance-car) vehicle reviews? I doubt anyone looking for a CUV or a mid-size car cares about which one handles a bit better on a track.

    otherwise I pretty much agree with you. Performance cars reviews are by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts. They just phone in reviews of mass-market cars.

    one thing I’d add is for reviewers to dump claims of being unbiased (and for readers to drop that expectation.) No human being is unbiased. the way to handle that is to state your biases upfront. that way at least the review can be read in the proper context.

  • avatar
    yamahog

    Can’t wait for people to take the troll bait and miss the point.

    Bark, you’ve made a lot of good points. Something I’m surprised no one does is talk about who should buy a given car. I guess I have this belief that every car is tailor made for some set of attributes (no matter how specific)

    e.g

    The mirage is the perfect car for:
    Someone who will only buy a new car
    Doesn’t want to negotiate a Versa down in price
    Needs smartphone compatibility
    Doesn’t care about much else

    But it also sounds like you think car reviews should be closer to buyer’s guides?

    Some reviews are fantastic. If you ride bikes, read Hunter S Thompson’s “Song of the Sausage Creature” it’s the best review of any machine I’ve ever read.

  • avatar
    JMII

    #2 is right on.
    #3 is worthless, very few people track their cars. Telling me XYZ has a touch of understeer entering turn 2 has ZERO effect on my daily commute.

    I’ve found the best car reviews are the long term variety where people actually had to LIVE with the car for several months and update things blog / log book style. On a test drive you learn very little, basically visibility and seat comfort jump out. Beyond that you begin to get a feel for the car’s power and general handling. I rent often for work and honestly there are not big differences between your average commuter type vehicles. Blindfolded I doubt many could tell a Camry from an Accord.

    You need more time to figure things out, a one day review or test drive ain’t going to cut it. Prime example: when I bought my Eclipse GS-T back in ’96 I was not very comfortable with the car I test drove. So I went back to the dealership, got one with a lighter interior + sunroof so it didn’t feel so small and took it on a FULL day test drive. I drove from the dealership to work – then drove home, during rush hour, like I do every day. The standard drive around the block then down this fun road doesn’t tell you much because you have no baseline for comparison. Heck even when I track my car it takes one or two laps to get in the groove and start to feel things out.

    How people can make such a huge decision as a car purchase after just reading something then driving around the block is beyond me. However as mentioned most people just pick whatever car someone else has and as long as it doesn’t smell bad they’ll buy it. After all people bought Dodge Nitros despite almost every review telling you to run away from this joke of a vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      DevilsRotary86

      I disagree on your disagreement of #3. I would welcome and value hearing about how well a car handles at its limits. It may not be of interest to your daily commute, but I like to have a little fun on the road more than I should. So for me it is pertinent information and I would welcome the opinion of a competent driver.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        As I track my current car I too like the track info, but in the general sense of a car review? Worthless. Now if said car is of the sports / performance orientated vehicle then we deserve a good track take. Same with trucks that perform off road or tow, if that is their primary mission then the review should include some notes on those metrics.

  • avatar
    PRNDLOL

    That woman’s peekaboo ear has made so many appearances now that it deserves its own SiriusXM channel.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    I’ve never driven on a track but I feel plenty qualified to state my opinions on how a car accelerates, rides, how well it tracks on the highway, etc.

    If anything some press events for mainstream sedans and CUVs that take place on windy scenic roads and tracks are absolutely useless, especially people that live in the Midwest. Test all the cars in Detroit or something. All of a sudden all those vaunted Mazdas will start to lose their luster, and conversely oddball stuff like the GX that gets slammed for ‘outdated’ this and that and ponderous handling will turn into a shining star.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      And for those of us that live in places where the roads are rarely straight and never flat, reviews done in Detroit are completely worthless. For many years, cars designed in Detroit were largely worthless for the same reason.

      Car reviews are purely entertainment, IMHO. I can drive a car I am interested in and make up my own mind. Conveniently I get to do 35+ extended test drives a year, paid for by clients.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Point well taken, I should refine my qualm to state that for something like a mass market sedan/CUV (Camry, accord, altima, CRV, etc) they should absolutely try to include some urban driving on pockmarked pavement. And sure, also have some driving on fun back roads. But when they hold a press presentation for something like a Civic somewhere in California wine country (or something similar) and have journalists drive on nice twisty and smooth pavement, and wine/dine them, of course they’ll come away with very positive impressions. I want to hear about how confidently a Chevy Malibu starts up in a Polar Vortex, how quickly the windshield defrosts and how soon the heater starts to warm the car, how well the suspension deals with a bad road when the shocks are cold and stiff, how well a turbocharged car deals with heatsoak when stuck in NYC traffic, etc.

        I want more worst case scenario testing, not best case.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    Try renting the vehicle you intend to buy for even a couple of days, I found that the 9th and 10th gen Corolla was not comfortable to sit in none of the seats, I avoided it, ditto for the Kia Hyundai compacts. The rear seat access was horrible. Yet I really liked the much maligned Yaris, so I got that one.

    • 0 avatar
      kcflyer

      I second the rental idea. Two or three times a year we make a 2800 mile roundtrip drive to visit family. I have had good luck getting rentals for less than $20 a day through Priceline. Additionally I rent three or four times a year on business trips. We have both eliminated and added cars to our potential shopping list with these experiences. Very few car reviews are useful. Mostly trivia and track focused stuff that doesn’t matter unless its a sports car. I miss Alex Dykes reviews on this site. He liked pretty much every car but also showed real world useful information like passenger room and trunk space. Regurgitating manufactures specs is useless since they all use different baselines.

  • avatar
    zoomzoomfan

    I feel like car reviews in general have to be taken with a giant grain of salt. Perhaps the whole salt shaker.

    If I’d have listened solely to reviews on TTAC, I’d have never bought my Mazda6 for fear that the road noise would have my eardrums bleeding, the 184 HP it has couldn’t make it move at all without me pushing it, and it would rust into 5,000 pieces before I got home from the dealership.

    Okay, I exaggerate. Obviously. But, upon test driving the car, I noticed no more road noise than in a similarly equipped Sonata, the 7.0 second 0-60 time is MORE than adequate for my daily commute that never sees speeds above 60 MPH, and my trade-in (an 8-year-old Mazda3 hatchback) was daily driven year round and had no rust on its body and nothing aside from surface abrasions on its undercarriage.

    It all comes down to bias. This is true in ANY review of ANYTHING. Cell phones, TVs, cars, home security systems, whatever. A reviewer is going to have a bias for or against a certain brand already built into his or her brain and that’s going to affect the entire review. That’s why the best review you can do, at least for a car, is the review done by yourself.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Yeah, you’re consistent with this “only track drivers can judge dynamics” theme, and it’s still wrong, and it detracts from what is otherwise an accurate critique.

    Reasonably perceptive average drivers can judge ride, body control, transient response below the limit, steering feel below the limit, panic braking performance in a straight line, and whether normal driving maneuvers cause any loss of grip. The only thing where track training will really make a difference is in evaluating behavior at or very near grip limits while turning. That’s probably the facet of handling that matters the least to buyers of everyday cars.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Track testing a Sentra SL is likely unneeded but Bark specifically mentioned “track-focused car press events” for his #3.

      If I’m shopping for something like an ATS-V or Evora or even an IS350 F-Sport I would want there to be an emphasis on its dynamic ability and at least some competent evaluation of its on-track performance.

      In the same way a 4Runner review should have some off-road portions and a Duramax Silverado 3500 should have a towing discussion from someone not useless.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I read point 3 more generally as saying that only drivers with meaningful track experience are qualified to evaluate “suspensions, acceleration, braking, or driving dynamics.” Except for certain select facets of driving dynamics, I disagree.

        I totally agree that *if* a car is likely to see track use then a track session by someone who knows what he or she is doing should be part of a good review. I don’t think that applies to any car that sells more copies than a Mustang GT.

    • 0 avatar
      notwhoithink

      Funny you should say that. A few years back (OK, nearly 20 years ago) I took a position that came with a company car. I had my choice of a number of GM sedans, and decided to test drive the 1997 variations of the Malibu, Lumina, and Grand Prix. At the time I was very surprised just how differently each of them drove. Despite being similar cars intended for similar purposes from the same manufacturer, they were all distinct in their ride quality and handling.

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    When’s the last time you read a car review that said “this car sucks?” Never. Why? Because if said reviewer says that he’ll never see another press fleet car from that manufacturer ever again.

    That’s one of the reasons it’s actually good to read Consumer Reports…they’re one of the few outlets not dependent on press cars for reviews, so they can be more honest.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I heartily disagree with the notion that only qualified race drivers should be allowed to discuss acceleration, braking, or dynamics. What kind of B.S. is that?

    One need not be familiar with every curve of VIR to say “Damn, this brake pedal feels like I’m pushing it through a Tempur-Pedic pillow.” or “*bleeep!* this car merges slow!” or “I ran over a ripple in the road and the car felt like it was going to shake apart.”

    Yes, if you are going to claim to evaluate a car “at the limit”, then yes, you should be familiar with a track. But for a workaday car targeted towards mere mortals driving to work, that qualification is certainly not necessary.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      “Yes, if you are going to claim to evaluate a car “at the limit”, then yes, you should be familiar with a track.”

      I interpret this as the key to Bark’s complaint. Commentary on a car’s dynamic ability is fine given honest context. Most reviews are written to make you think the driver knows what he/she is doing on a track when they start talking about understeer at the limit, neutral handling, or having conversations or some sh1t with the front wheels. I don’t think that’s the same as if I complained about a choppy ride, too much brake pedal travel, or video game steering feel.

  • avatar
    oldowl

    Assuming that you know roughly what you want and have read a basketful of reviews, renting examples of the first few choices can be helpful. But it is not easy to find exactly what you are looking for from the big agencies. Twice I’ve rented a vehicle for a week’s time through Turo, formerly called Relay Rides. You are renting a specific car from a private owner, and Turo does the paperwork. Not a perfect way to preview a car but useful.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    Today I saw a Youtube video of a reviewer who got a call from Subaru after he declared that that BRZ was “gutless” (something most reviewers agree on) and that he would not get any more Subies to review. Go figure!

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I wish someone would reincarnate Tom McCahill and then we could read AT THE LIMIT handling reviews of Impalas, Lacrosses, Chrysler 300s, Toyota Avalons, etc. And we would have a reviewer who would take a Jeep to its factory fording depth and report back. The kind of reviewer you’d like to throw back a double shot of scotch with while smoking a cigar…

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      “throw back a double shot of apple cider vinegar with while vaping…”

      Modernized that for you.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Hey I know I’m a relic.

        I believe that real luxury cars would come with a built in humidor and crystal decanters.

        I believe that having an advanced degree is just as important to my life as being able to do basic maintenance whether it is on my vehicle or my house.

        I believe that a slightly exasperated staff member telling me (in a huff): “You’re such a GUY!” is a compliment.

  • avatar
    Lex

    I wait for Alex Dykes’ reviews and call it a day.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      He don’t work here no more.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Shame for a number of reasons. He was very thorough in a way few reviewers are and I never felt like he expressed strong biases. Not terribly interesting to read, but if you wanted a lengthy comparison of traits and features, he was your man. He was criticized for being complimentary to most vehicles, which I suppose violates one of Bark’s rules above, but really even Jack had some good things to say about the old Sebring. I never got the impression he was qualified to write authoritatively on driving dynamics, but that was a small part of his style.

        Why don’t he work here no more?

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Mark just said he’d parted ways with TTAC. Perhaps for a similar reason to why it happened the first time?

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            Unfortunate, as his website features only videos now and there’s no way I’m spending 15 minutes to watch something I could read in a small fraction of that time.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I never did watch his video portions on here either. Unless I want to see how a particular feature operates on a vehicle I’m really interested in, I don’t bother with video reviews*.

            *Unless it’s historic MotorWeek, because that’s fun.
            “This Fiat X1/9 is a fun car! Other manufacturers would do well to emulate Fiat!”

            LAWL you guys.

  • avatar
    Dingleberrypiez_Returns

    I don’t think it’s the reviews that necessarily need to change, but rather how folks make their purchases. For most vehicles, there is TONS of info available online, and it’s reasonably easy to separate the chaff from the grain. Car buyers can and should read a variety of “professional” reviews, owner experiences, manufacturer specs, transaction prices, and similar info for comparable vehicles. After doing so, you should have a pretty good idea of the pros/cons of a vehicle and how it stacks up to other cars. Ultimately however, car buyers should try as many cars as they are able to, as odd things can be deal breakers. Anecdotally, Hondas often give me a negative visceral reaction although they look great on paper.

    The unfortunate truth is most people are unwilling to go through this effort. For them, buying a Honda or Toyota probably isn’t a bad bet, and that’s what many of them do (hell, even folks who go through the lengthy research process reach the same conclusion). This is where good reviews can come in handy.

    I’m certainly not the first person to point out that Alex Dykes reviews are consistently the most helpful, mostly because he adheres to Bark’s rule #4 and has established his reputation.

  • avatar
    Rday

    you so called auto enthusiasts need to be quiet and just go to Consumer Reports to find out what the true records are on the different cars/trucks. of course that would cut down on all the rhetoric and baloney that is posted here by all the 14 year olds or the old farts that have nothing else to do with their lives. Pretty depressing!!1

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I tracked various reviews and data of the last-gen Impala for four years before I bought my 2004 Impala new, which I kept for 8 years. Ditto similar research on my current ride. That included riding in other people’s Impalas and rentals I had. In other words, I really wanted one. I did not want a Toyota or Honda.

    Here’s my long-term review of my car:

    My 2012 Chevy Impala LTZ has 98,500 miles since I bought it new on July 27th, 2012. 4 years of droning my way to and from work on mostly interstate, about 100 miles round trip 5 days a week.

    I am getting the original Goodyears replaced today (!). Yes, that’s true. I will replace the battery very soon.

    The car stops very well, handles nice and smooth, gas mileage between 27.5-31.5, depending if I drive it briefly around town on the weekends – I usually don’t. I drive very carefully due to being legally blind in my left eye.

    I peg my speed between 62-66 mph. On cruise. I do use the A/C.

    Two repairs: Front engine cover gasket back in December (covered by GM) and a purge valve in April (covered by me). New front brakes. All maintenance done at my Chevy dealer by the book.

    How’s that? Trying to be as objective as I can.

    No – I did not want a Toyota or a Honda, either – hmm… I already said that.

    Let the beatings begin…

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      ‘Zackman’, That is just the sort of review that we need more of!

      How are the seats, is the interior wearing well. Does the back seat split/fold? What are the sight lines like and can you get into and out of it without hurting your back and/or knees?

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        @Arthur D:

        The interior is very good, but I’m generally the only person in the car, for on weekends, Wifey drives me around in her 2002 CR-V w/131,000 miles. She just got rear brakes the other day.

        My Impala has everything the LTZ comes with – split folding rear seats, flip-up rear cushions with shallow storage beneath. Sun/moonroof. Leather seating surfaces, somewhere besides the steering wheel & shifter. Everything works perfectly including the seat heaters. Good stereo. I see out of the car very well, unlike the 2011 LaCrosse we looked at and that was the second deal-breaker. Price was #1! I have no trouble getting in and out of the car. I’m 5’10”, 190 lbs.

        Yesterday got new tires before the weather changes. I’ll need struts soon, as the right rear “clunks” occasionally.

        When I said “new front brakes” above, I meant new rotors – the pads we fine. Rotors were warped. Impalas used to have weak rear rotors. Now it’s front rotors? Oh well…

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Zackman, glad to hear that it’s holding up well for you, I’m particularly glad to hear that the LFX seems to be running well and without timing chain issues, and no DI-related problems either. These are certainly a tempting proposition as low-mile used cars for someone that just needs a comfy commuter. The 300hp V6 doesn’t hurt ;)

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        I had the timing chain changed when the engine cover work was done. My expense. When I looked at an image of the chain and all the little associated parts my heart jumped a beat! My old railroad watch doesn’t have that many parts! GM also kicked in a new water pump. Of course the coolant was changed at the time, too.

        Recently in June, tranny fluid was changed as well.

        Of course, that 300 hp up front makes this Impala the fastest car I have ever owned! Gets to 100 insanely quick – the three times I dared to! That power had also gotten me out of some hazardous scenarios more than once, too. Sure is nice having the power when you need it!

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      You are the sort of owner everyone wants to buy their next car from. That’s about the easiest duty cycle you can give a car. It’s led an easier life than the leased Civic that I gave back after just 12,000 miles of half-mile trips through Boston and DC gridlock.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        My mother-in-law is who you want to buy a car from. Her mechanic just has to look at her car funny, and she reaches for a $2,000 check. She gave us a Dodge Shadow that was 14 years old, and in the 4 years we owned it, all it needed was the occasional oil change.

        CraigsList is about to go apesh1t, as I am about to list her Toyota 4Runner with 98K miles on it. Her dealer was “kind” enough to offer her $1,000 to take it off her hands for her. I expect people will be jumping over each other to hand me $7,500 for it.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          @VoGo

          A colleague was not happy with the fuel economy of his 4Runner and to reduce the amount of time spent driving it he bought his father’s 2005 LeSabre from him for exactly the offer the dealer made in trade: $2,000.

          The car is flawless except the non-working heated seats. Likely another elderly owner who threw money at the car.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            Next time I need a cheap ride, I will go to Craigslist, look at listings by actual owners and type in the search word “estate.”

          • 0 avatar
            SSJeep

            Ah yes, the early 2000s GM crap heated seats. I think those heated seats failed on every single vehicle on which they were installed. They must have been made of potmetal wire or something.

            When I had mine in for the 2nd replacement (for which the mechanic had to remove the entire seat skin), I was advised to stop “kneeling on the seats” as that would cause the heating element to fracture. Of course, I never kneeled on the seat at all.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        More or less the definition of “highway miles” as the classified ads say.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        @dal20402:

        I suppose so. Every car I have sold has gone to friends & neighbors!

        One old neighbor used to drive by the house waiting for me to sell him a second car years ago.

        I did.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    What is the threshold for “can drive”? Will they have to get a certain license? Hold some number of podiums in certain sanctioned events?

    Again, TTAC, in an indirect way, tells us that reviews from practically anywhere else are useless. Only click here at TTAC! Never mind that 90% of our reviews are on rental cars! Don’t use your brain to separate the wheat from the chaff! Give us all of your money… er, clicks!

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      There is also some irony here, as TTAC has featured some pretty hideous press release quality reviews during the past months. I don’t think Bark is behind that, though.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    Automotive reviews have no relevance to the car buying process. They are purely for entertainment, just like horoscopes and political pundits.

    Here’s the actual car buying process, for most people.
    Realize you need a car.
    Decide what type of car you want (sedan, CUV, etc)
    Visit a few dealers, rule-out some contenders for arbitrary reason
    Run numbers, declare that “cars are expensive”
    Optional: ask a car friend “is the Osmobuick Credenza a good car?” The answer is always a qualified yes.
    Buy the one you like, or the cheapest one if you are that type of person.

    People who have spare time at work might read a review or two, but only to confirm their decision. Other than that, no one looks to reviews for anything more than entertainment.
    Same thing goes for film reviews and restaurant reviews. Do you realize that the words “critics rave” are the kiss of death for a film?

    #3 is delusional. I know people who don’t drive who can point-out a critical flaw in a car’s suspension that a reviewer would be oblivious to. Your typical reviewer is too busy pretending to be Steve McQueen in Le Mans to notice that a car is undrivable on a bumpy street.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Really I do not give a crap what a car does at a track, I will never track any car I own, do not even know where a track is near me and do not care, If I buy a 911 tomorrow I would still not care about any track reviews, I get some at TTAC are track happy, not my scene and I skip those articles, tell me why this car i.e. mazda 6 is better than a Accord and the reasons why you feel this way, Alex was pretty good at this , it seems it is lost at TTAC now, a shame.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      My local track closed down, and its availability was actually going to have some bearing on my next vehicle purchase. I wanted to learn firsthand about driving dynamics and have a daily driver that would be enjoyable in that environment. There isn’t another track within hundreds of miles so now I’m in your camp.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    I agree with a lot of this, but there are caveats. The “there are no bad cars anymore” concept is a long debated one here, but there is some truth to it. A Dodge Journey is a 0 out of 10 for Bark. For a family who needs a transport appliance that a) is a 3 row CUV and b) is cheap, it may honestly be a good fit for them. Context is important, reviewers should make it clear as to what kind of buyer they are judging the vehicle against. Incidentally, some analysis of actual transaction prices and depreciation would be an informative part of an honest review.

    #3 is true at its core but somewhat dependent on context. Any reviewer should be free to give their opinion on ride comfort and daily driving performance, but don’t pretend to know what steering feedback or understeer is if you don’t. Don’t use technical driving terminology if you have no real experience with it. This will make it hard for a lot of reviewers to have anything authoritative to say about performance-oriented cars, and brands like Mazda may not get as much love from them as their marketing department may like, but that is fair.

    I would argue, though, that a car buyer who is unengaged in the buying process is not going to locate and read your review regardless of how TTAC it is. How you reach someone who wanders into the first dealership they feel drawn to and signs on the line is beyond me.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Agreed, for a family on a budget a Dodge Journey would be a good vehicle as long as one of i) they can do some of their own repairs, ii) they know a good, honest independent mechanic, iii) they don’t drive a lot of miles or iv) they lease.

      Both of my retired neighbours have Journeys and highly recommend them. Easy to get into and out of, easy to load groceries into, good visibility, neither too big or too small, decent ride (for what they want), room for the grandkids and dog, all the amenities that they need (A/C, adjustable seats).

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        My district has pre-refresh (2008-2009) Journeys purchased during the Bankruptcy for a song. They are V6, 3 row, FWD models that generally get used for travel to meetings/conferences in Albuquerque (130 miles away) and Phoenix (300+ miles away). They don’t rack up miles quickly (each is likely at under 50,000 miles) but have been reliable for what is essentially “rental/fleet” duty.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I’d take a Journey over a Camry any day. At least you can fit a lot of stuff in it easily and it is cheap.

      There simply are no bad cars being sold today in the US. I absolutely despise Camrys on many, many levels, but as a transportation appliance they are perfectly adequate. Even the much maligned Mirage is a cheap, extremely efficient entirely adequate method of getting from point A to point B.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        “I’d take a Journey over a Camry any day”

        Ewww, that’s gross. There are some things one should not admit in public.

      • 0 avatar
        Frylock350

        I’d take a Grand Caravan over ANY midsized FWD sedan. For the same price they’re better at almost everything and decently quick with the Pentastar. If I’m driving a soulless FWD appliance, it better be a useful appliance.

  • avatar
    brenschluss

    Ascetics with dulled senses are over-represented here, so of course the idea that there’s anything to be learned by putting a car into the most extreme dynamic situation possible will fly over their heads.

    “But I only use the car to get the bread and milk!”

    Folks gotta understand that when they represent the lowest common denominator, they may not properly represent an average which can sometimes aspire to more than a cloud of isolation that doesn’t jiggle their wittle tushy-wushy too much.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Don’t get your knickers in such a wad around your sensitive tushy-wushy. If you know enough about driving dynamics to glean anything truly useful for your purchase decision from a track star hooning a CamCord, you know enough to see the difference in your own test drive. If you’re the typical CamCord buyer, this information is useless and stability control renders it a moot point. Recognizing the practical reality of this last point doesn’t mean we’re austere dullards. Well, maybe I am.

      You know you’re above average, you can handle this.

      • 0 avatar
        brenschluss

        Now I almost wish I hadn’t gone in full troll because it is worth an honest post or two. The article did hint at, basically, reviews of track-appropriate cars when lamenting reviewers’ inability to drive on track, but I’ll die on the hill of believing boring cars should be tested to their fullest as well.

        Any discussion on this very specific point needs to take into account a couple of truths which others have already stated:

        1. Many people will not be looking hard enough to find an “enthusiast’s” review of a new CUV, should one exist, and a majority will not understand and be turned off if presented findings from such a test without distillation.

        2. There are (going by a general understanding of the consensus,) no cars that are actually bad enough dynamically to be dangerous sold in the Western world anymore. I haven’t driven a Versa or a Mirage but I bet with my remarkable abilities I could drive one without crashing into something.

        With all that said, I believe there is a small but significant portion of buyers who need a safe, comfortable, unexciting car because they have other things to think about, don’t feel like dealing with an excess of stimuli, and don’t need a new hobby, but who are also able enjoy a little motion and slip angle.

        Since a polite individual is unlikely to find the limits of a car on a test drive, an honest review of a car’s limits could be the difference between loving one’s $30k purchase or having it be another grey cloud that frustrates when both mind and traffic and clear and the lizard brain wants its due.

        Honestly, I like the idea of “Odd Couple” reviews you presented above. No sub-textual implications there, I promise.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          I pretty much agree with you, brenschluss. Yes, I do like to know if a vehicle can perform well enough to handle emergency conditions and I know there are many that have no ability to meet my needs.

          No, I’m not a street racer; I could hardly care less about track times around the Nurburgring. But that doesn’t mean I don’t take acceleration and agility into account; I want my vehicle able to get out of its own and other vehicles way. I know some will question that considering I own a Fiat 500, but that little car is amazingly quick and extremely agile, even if it isn’t the fastest car on the road. It can out-accelerate my Ford Ranger despite having almost a full liter smaller engine under the hood and it can even out-accelerate my Jeep Wrangler Unlimited despite the Jeep having twice the horsepower. It can also turn inside of both those vehicles to the point that just this past weekend I performed a three-point turn in a crowded parking lot to back into the same slot just to get the sun out of my eyes without leaving the spot uncovered long enough for another car to sneak in. This doesn’t even mention the fuel mileage, where the Fiat nearly doubles both other vehicles city and highway real-world mileage. Even so, both the Jeep and the Ranger demonstrate turning radiuses far tighter than the majority of so-called full-sized vehicles… especially pickup trucks.

          So reading reviews that emphasize the negatives without at least mentioning the positives tends to have me dismissing those reviews as too petty. An honest review will discuss both positives and negatives.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    All told, not a bad article. However, just telling people what’s bad about the car doesn’t answer the question about why you would want to buy that specific model in the first place. You have to show the good with the bad to be an honest review.

    500 words is not necessarily enough, depending on the vehicle. It might be the worst car in the world for reliability but offer a level of fun and performance that negates the fact that you have to rebuild it after every race. Or it may be the most reliable beast ever built but suffer when it comes to actually being capable of outrunning a horse. Yes, these examples are extreme but I’ve also seen reviews right here on TTAC that come pretty close to them. In such cases, I want to know the whys and wherefores; because I’ve found my personal experiences in the same make and model often far different from the reviewer’s.

  • avatar
    Freddie

    Car reviews can be a good guide but ultimately you have to put your butt in the seat and decide for yourself. When I have tested driven or rented vehicles after reading the reviews I have sometimes been disappointed and sometimes pleasantly surprised.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    Can’t stand some of these reviewers who just read spec sheets and nothing else, how about trying to fit different bags the trunk or hatch are, or instead of 0 to 60 data, let us know how well a vehicle can merge, pass or avoid a collision.

  • avatar
    wumpus

    Ok, so you insist that reviews cover cars in ways that will not effect car buyers in the slightest (because they’ve made up their minds and want a confirmation bias) in ways that have absolutely zero difference in any single mile while they drive it (it isn’t going on the track, and they aren’t trained to drive it on the track. So any track-based review isn’t going to help).

    Car reviews are there to entertain readers first and act as confirmation bias second. Actually providing “truth” is pretty small (people who want this typically subscribe to consumer reports. In fact, for any Walter Mitty who wants to “know” he has the most trackable car on the road, lies will work wildly better. I’m fairly sure car reviews have converged on this point for a reason).

    Didn’t your brother mention last week something about “he won’t recommend cars any more but you still believe in it”? The point was that he should recommend a Lexus to anyone vaguely interested in a Lexus. Why? Because nobody whose Lexus falls apart blames anyone who pointed them at Lexus, they figure it is a freak unpredictable thing. A Genesis might be wildly better, but any perceived fault (real or not) can be laid at the feet of the recommender. There is no downside to recommending Lexus. There is *tons* of downside recommending anything “more appropriate”. Of course, this has less to do with reviews, except that they are more likely to be read by those not ready to buy another car.

    Sure, I’d like to come to ttac.com and read truthful reviews. But I’d also read less truthful reviews that are more engaging to read. Top Gear didn’t get where it is by bothering with mere facts (presumably that was how it was canceled after the 1977-2001 run and revived into a the over-the-top bit for the 2002- editions). Basically car reviews are a lemon market. There is no real value in truth.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    I wonder if Mark and the boys sit around all day tossing around ideas for articles that would reasonably allow them to use this picture once again.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    When I’m in the market for relevant shopping information, suspension performance on track isn’t when it matters. Panic braking distance? sure, tell me that. Track time, or driver track ability have nothing to do with reviewing a passenger car’s suspension.
    When I’m reading for entertainment? Track the damn minivan already!

  • avatar
    cheezman88

    For real though, there hasn’t been a good car review on TTAC in a while now. I feel like this site really went downhill the past 6 months or so. I think that’s the real issue here folks!

  • avatar
    jhughes

    Generally I agree with you. I’ve reviewed cars, and I always try to make sure I mention something I don’t like about every car I write about, no matter how much I like it (Ford Focus ST). Yes, you can end up on a blacklist for saying or doing something a manufacturer doesn’t like. But you have to break a few eggs to make lemonade.

    Speaking of the FoST, that’s one point where I disagree with you. I’m a Subaru fan. I’ve cheered for them in rally since Colin McRae drove for them. I own a BRZ, which I bought while living by myself in an apartment. Now that I’m married, inherited her two kids, and have a house, a WRX is a natural progression. But comparing and driving the WRX and the FoST, I’m actually leaning toward the FoST as the better option for my wants and needs. It just makes more sense, even without AWD, a flat-4 motor, and World Rally Blue. I have yet to try a GTI, the third contender for “Justin’s Next Daily Driver.” I reserve the right to change my mind again based on the results of that test, because while I really like the Ford, I’m open to the VW being better if it proves itself.

  • avatar
    mshenzi

    I’m doubtful about the premise of this article. If the Venn Diagram of car review readers and car shoppers has a giant overlap, then you’re making a solid point and CR’s got most of them covered. But I think the vast majority of the review reading audience isn’t shopping for their next car. I’d bet the core audience, (like me), read lots of reviews of vehicles they’ll never actually consider buying. Part of it is that it’s info we like to learn; partly it’s a side-trip from the day, to imagine McLaren life (or Euro-only/minivan/hot-hatch/track key/luxo-barge/econobox life); partly it’s a genre that, for whatever twisted reasons, we enjoy.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    6. Stop writing “required” commentary about, “hard plastics in some high touch areas,” or, “surface on the center console can reflect the light at times,” or, “road noise is acceptable but under hard acceleration the engine can be obtrusive,” or, “with upgraded tires from the OEM offering…”

    I mean this all falls in the no $h1t category.

    It is just a waste of a paragraph. If the interior is simply horrid, like in the Chevy Trax then yes, write about it.

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    As far as not changing someone’s mind, I don’t agree. We’ve had Mazdas for a while now. But the new 6 front seats are way too narrow for a missiles sedan. So comfort Trump’s my internal value of a good handling sedan. A car could drive like a dream, but if it’s not comfortable, it doesn’t matter.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Does the damn thing have a cushy ride or no? Include that.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Can you get in without knocking a top hat off? That’s a priority, too, right?

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        Maybe for others. I generally avoid hats as they promote sweat & stink.

        • 0 avatar
          Maymar

          I just assumed top hat would be a good metric of not crampy.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            It also is a good metric of car guys’ smug insularity toward mainstream adult preferences in cars, assigning them the same significance as a Monopoly token.

            The arrogance of toy dogs.

          • 0 avatar
            brenschluss

            Once more, with feeling:

            The bottom of the bell curve does not represent the mean.

            Even old men rarely display your unnaturally persistent and vocal disdain for anything more visceral than a warm shower.

            I don’t understand why you’re here, frankly. Unless you just keep coming back because you know you annoy people and you’re the type of person who relishes that, in which case, have a nice life guy.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            “I don’t understand why you’re here, frankly.”

            1) I still have to buy and drive f*cking cars for the next 10 years or more.

            2) Car guys like you need reminding of how outnumbered and unrepresentative you are.

            3) Grango.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Oh frend, much thanking.

            -GR

          • 0 avatar
            Maymar

            Sorry, didn’t realize you needed a good thaw cycle, I meant to gently chide with hyperbole, not outright dismiss. I’m long-torso’d, I get it to an extent.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I read Consumer Reports and car reviews with a grain of salt. I have a 99 S-10 that was given low marks by Consumer Reports and most car reviewers would not like it. After almost 18 years of ownership there are some issues I would agree with Consumer Reports with like the body hardware is not as good as some other vehicles but overall my cost of ownership has been low and the mechanical issues have been minimum. Most reviews are based on the short term which I understand but to me the long term reliability of a vehicle with proper maintenance is the important measure of a vehicle. Every vehicle regardless of reputation needs to be properly maintained. My 99 S-10 is not perfect but it is far from being a lemon and with proper maintenance it has many more years of reliable service in it.

  • avatar
    brn

    “Car reviews are just plain awful.”

    Pot calling the kettle black? Bark’s reviews aren’t reviews. They’re subjective opinions without a methodology, but he’s going to tell the industry how to do it right?

    TTAC, get Alex Dykes back and regain a little credibility.

  • avatar

    Bark, you very nearly nailed it.

    The way I see it, the vast majority of car reviews are read for entertainment purposes only. Schoolkids, college grads and any octane-blooded horsepower fetishist wants to know exactly what clipping the apex in a Huayra feels like, even though his next car will be a Focus on PCP.

    There are so many humdrum cars on the road that there is no way that the vast majority were bought on the basis of review verdicts, otherwise the entire motoring landscape would be full of cars straight from the Consumer Reports top ten.

    In the same way as Top Gear changed from the ’80s to recent history, the movement of car magazines away from providing straight consumer advice, towards entertainment and offering escapism is inevitable, particularly in print media.

    Journalists currying favour among manufacturers continues to be a worry, you’re right. It’s rare that you read a truly scathing review – it tends to be those organs that are less than household-name famous that bend over furthest to be obsequious to the makers. That said, with publicity on the internet easy to come by, it probably wouldn’t hurt FCA too badly if they told Autocar to self-copulate following a condemnation of the Fiat 500’s cupholder count.

    I take slight issue with your statement re. track events.
    “….It does mean that they shouldn’t be allowed to talk about suspensions, acceleration, braking, or driving dynamics.”

    As an enthusiastic driver, but one who’s accrued very little track time, I consider myself among the more able of average British motorists. On the couple of track-focused press events I’ve attended, I’ve been perfectly able to report on levels of grip, handing characteristics and balance- from the perspective of the average motorist. And lets face it, if we’re talking mode, that’s the majority of drivers out there.

    If an average man from the street were to buy a Ferrari 488, he wouldn’t have a clue that the steering feel was a little less informative than it was in the 458 Italia. There’s no way he’d feel “a little detached from the driving experience” as reviewers who are drip-fed constant supercar track events often put it.

    For most folk, a £15 Bordeaux and a £150 bottle from the same region both taste like “really nice wine”.

    The more extravagant the press event, the better the mood of the reviewer, the greater his enthusiasm will be. Makes for good reading, even if the majority of it becomes hopelessly skewed. It’s up to the reader to decide which review to believe. Or, more importantly, which bits of each review are actually relevant to them.

    A lot of reviewers, even those from quite high profile publications, don’t know the difference between handling and roadholding, but nor does the typical man on the street.

    When I write a car up for http://www.Hooniverse.com all I can do is express how a car feels to me. It’s likely to feel the same to anybody else. I can explain what sensation I get from the steering, how confidently it lets me corner at speed, whether I sense that a car is open to a little tail-out mischief. But it’ll all be based on my own opinions – I know it’s up to the reader to determine if he likes the car, and, heaven forfend, actually buys one.

    As you said. People don’t buy the best, they buy what they like, or what other people buy, or what they see the most of on the road. Or whichever is the most convenient, or from whichever dealer’s lovely young man makes the best cup of tea and offers the fanciest biscuits.

    But as long as the reviewers continue to entertain, let ’em write.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      “there is no way that the vast majority were bought on the basis of review verdicts, otherwise the entire motoring landscape would be full of cars straight from the Consumer Reports top ten.”
      not sure what percentage of car sales are from the CR recommended group, or top pick either. Interesting Q for Tim. My gut is it’s close to “all the cars sold”, while the stuff we like reading about is “too few to mean anything”.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Exactly. The top selling lists in North America are littered with Camrys, Accords, Corollas, Civics and CRV’s. Primarily based on old Consumer Report recommendations of Hondas and Toyotas.

        Those auto ‘journalists’ who write about their feelings of the ‘fizz’ that a car gives them are focusing on a very small audience.

        As for the Clarkson, Hammond May version of Top Gear, it was not a car show. It was a travelogue, variety show, talk show and comedy with vehicles in it.

  • avatar
    TDIGuy

    The big problem with the internet is there is too much information out there. So much if fact that instead of searching for the truth, most people just search until they find information that agrees with them (you’ll note I didn’t say “information they agree with”). Since this is what people do, publications have to write for this audience in order to sell copy/get eyeballs/generate hits.

    I’ll admit to reading car reviews for entertainment. For serious research, I do like to have the numbers. So I appreciate that the data is in the review somewhere. Not just for car reviews, either. The rest is a matter of filter; Looking for where the reviewer gives some information on something I care about. i.e. Seat not comfortable for short people? I don’t care, my wife and I are both 6’0″. However will there still be leg room in the seat behind us?

  • avatar
    kosmo

    “When has anybody ever read a review of a car and then changed his mind about the car he already decided to buy?”

    Me. With a review on this site. Been a BMW guy for a long time. Casually read a TTAC review on the Volvo XC60 R-Design. Drove it and an X3 side by side on the same 20 minute test loop. Bought the Volvo, a brand I would have said I would NEVER own.

  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    “When has anybody ever read a review of a car and then changed his mind about the car he already decided to buy”

    Funnily enough, I had the Focus ST at the top of my list until I read the TTAC article mentioned the somewhat poor safety ratings. With two small kids, I’m a lot less gung ho about the car, and it may be enough to steer me into something like a GTI instead.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      FoST, GTI, and maybe try a WRX? If you’re in the market for an automatic, ignore the WRX though. They’re spiteful without a clutch, and there’s no reason to put up with the odd “maintenance” involved in the boxer layout (CV boots bake) or the Subaru inability to spec out a decent wheel bearing unless it’s fun.

      • 0 avatar
        Nostrathomas

        As good as it might be, I don’t think I could get over the general ugliness of the Imprezza/WRX these days, as well as the fact that you can’t buy it in hatch form. The hatch is what makes the hot hatch a realistic buy.

    • 0 avatar
      Nostrathomas

      Whoops, meant to write Fiesta ST, not Focus.

  • avatar

    Todd,

    I decided to not include free software-based repairs in our stats long before Ford introduced MFT. Software updates were clearly going to become more and more common, such that they could easily outnumber traditional repairs, and with such updates it’s often difficult to distinguish a repair from an upgrade.

    Many Fords have fared poorly in our stats even without including MFT issues. I even wrote an article for TTAC noting that Ford was trying to blame its poor scores elsewhere on MFT, when many of the problems with its cars were not MFT-related. That you somehow got the impression from this that I was tweaking our stats to favor Ford surprises me.

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/ford-quality-is-job-one-again/

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