Monday, June 03, 2013

Reviewing new cars

I will be writing a deeper, more insightful, post about this topic, but I want to throw the idea out there to see what your thoughts are.

Thanks to Hooniverse and Carenvy/Bitcoin Pete, I will soon begin reviewing new cars. Driving cars-- whether big or small, fast or slow, ugly or gorgeous-- makes me happy. I am really looking forward to the opportunity, not only because it will be fun to try different cars, but because I'll be able to write about them as well.

And that's the challenge. I am mindful of two things. One, I want my reviews to be interesting and different. We have all read thousands of car reviews over our lifetimes and 98% of them are formulaic. How can I describe my impressions without it sounding like a dull Consumer Reports/ spewing of safety and reliability data? Or worse, how can I describe my impressions without it sounding like a florid and bullshit-ridden press release?

The second issue I am mindful of is related to the press release. There's always that conflict of interest that few automotive journalists/bloggers mention (other than the folks at TTAC). The car companies do not pay reviewers for the reviews. But subconsciously (or consciously), the journalist/blogger is always mindful that Car Company X may stop giving you press cars to review if you have badmouthed the last seven offerings from Car Company X. And more subtly, I truly believe that the freebies offered by car companies' marketing departments-- invites to car events, track days, fancy hors d'oeuvres, booze-- cloud the reviewer's judgment.

As I work these issues out in my mind and heart, I invite you to share your thoughts. What do you want to see in a review? What don't you want to see? How do you see the current state of the autojournalism landscape? I'm willing to bet that 15 years ago, we all subscribed to at least one car magazine. I'm also willing to bet the last time we touched a car magazine was at an airport newsstand or the doctor's office.

I'll end this ramble with three car reviewers I have always looked up to:

John Davis of Motorweek. I grew up watching Davis and Co. every week. His review of cars is the epitome of formulaic, but his honest persona makes it all okay.

Csaba Csere of Car & Driver. Just as I watched Davis every week on TV, I read Car & Driver every month as a teenager. I like Csere a lot mostly because of his name.

Jamie Kitman of Automobile. Kitman is hands down my favorite. He is bright, funny, and like-minded politically. He's also a lawyer who manages They Might Be Giants.


F1Outsider said...

Just be straightforward and don't try too hard a'la some guys on Jalopnik. I can't name them because I never pay attention to who is writing the review.

There's a youtube channel called everydaydriver with two guys taking turns testing affordable sport(y) cars.

I really enjoy their differing opinions and their reviews are well done and entertaining without the overly-dramatic burnouts and drifts and tire shredding.

Peter Dushenski said...

Jim, have FUN with your reviewing and writing, just as you always do. If they take your press car privileges away because you're having "too much fun", you'll be no worse off than you are today. On the contrary, if you somehow get banned, it'll be because you're too interesting/out there for their narrow worldviews. There's really no higher compliment from marketing folk who pretend to understand macro level thinking.

Life's short. Ruffle some feathers.

Alan said...

Congrats, man!

I'd love to hear a bit about the feel of a car, what it's like to steer, how it rides, and so on. Most reviews seem to be of the "wow this is fast" or "gee this thing has a lot of toys" type. A bit of detail on things not easily quantifiable with numbers or rehashing of a press release are always welcome, not that you'd do that sort of thing.

Can't wait to see more.