How Should Cars Be Road Tested and Reviewed?
In these last couple of months, many new cars have been introduced and several test drives have happened too. I have attended a few and have also been part of some round table discussions arranged by various automobile manufacturers for the automotive media. And I must say certain conversations were quite revealing and educative.
Lots of new cars have been launched in recent months.
Until a few years back, for most media test drives, manufacturers invited about 15 to 20 auto journalists from different auto magazines, newspapers, websites and TV shows to drive and review their products. The media drive itself lasted for just a day or two. But things have changed completely now.
And all have got hundreds of reviews.
The familiar specialist auto media faces are of course there, however with the explosion and reach of social media, now you also have bloggers, influencers, brand advocates and so on, attending these media drives. Nowadays car makers have several rotations for reviewers with the event being spread over several days. And at times the number of assessors or critics who are invited to such events is well over 100! Something unimaginable a few years back.
But what is the right way to road test and review an automobile?
And it's not just the number of reviewers that have increased, the way of testing, evaluating and rating and reviewing cars has transformed totally too. In a few of the round table conversations I realized that the primary focus for many of these vehicle appraisers is the number and kind of features it has with the focus being on things like sunroofs, the display screen size and resolution, connectivity, ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems), price, value, etc.
For many evaluators or reviewers, sunroofs are most important.
In fact I have noticed that few reviewers give such aspects so much emphasis, that they hardly even bother to drive the vehicle for a few kilometers! Instead they spend most of the time in visual inspections and standing in front of the vehicle and recording their views.
The display screen size, resolution and graphics and infotainment options are also very vital for several present day reviewers.
I honestly have nothing against these folk, because I believe everyone is entitled to their views. And it's up to them to decide how they want to review a vehicle. And if their followers, readers, viewers, etc, are fine with it, then who am I to say anything.
But for me, what is still extremely crucial is the way a car drives.
But though the times have changed, personally I still like to concentrate on what I think are the fundamental edicts or rules of test driving and evaluating a vehicle. What is of utmost importance to me is 1) How it drives and is it fun. 2) Looks and styling .3) Way it rides. 4) How it handles and steers. 5) Way it stops and sounds. 6) Safety and build quality.7) Interior space, comfort and ambience.8) Ground clearance. 9) NVH or noise, vibration and harshness. 10) Fuel economy and value.
And while reviewing such a machine, I would concentrate on those four pipes of the quadruple exhaust system and also the shape and stance of the car and what they mean and do.
And since we now live in a different world and environment, after following my, "10 Codes to Evaluate Cars" I also look at the features (especially things like ESP, driving modes, adaptive headlights, auto wipers, audio sound quality, etc) and then the screens and their user friendliness, and so on. Hence in a sense, these are now my "12 Tenets to Test Cars".
In my opinion the steering wheel and its response and feel, are more significant than the display screen size and contents.
And strangely, these doctrines of mine were part of a talk when I was recently invited to speak to students of the prestigious Xavier Institute of Communications, Mumbai. It was great fun being among enthusiastic minds and the students wanted to know about my almost 40 year long journey as a pioneering Indian automobile journalist. In the wide ranging talk we also spoke about my methods of road testing and reviewing an automobile and the importance of unbiased, properly analyzed and perceptive reviews that are free of any motivation inspired by gains or profit. All aspects of journalism that are highly endangered today.
Please note the strut brace bars on this BMW. Few reviewers in our country have completely overlooked them and I can't help but wonder how many know their relevance and how they work and aid the handling.
And of course there were discussions about the relevance of journalists in the current era of social media experts and reviews. And how honest and intuitive reports tend to get lost in the sea of thoughtless and poorly researched stories. Of course in today's world of "Instant Everything", including news and reviews, I guess this is inevitable. I just hope that people make their choices and decisions, based on proper information and some learned views and reviews.
Screens or steering feel? Displays or dynamic performance? Graphics or grip and ground clearance? Nowadays, vehicle dynamics are clearly not as important as features, infotainment, and connectivity and so on.
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