These Automotive Journalists!
March 2002

After commenting so long about cars, let's change our attention to automotive journalists. 

Some readers asked how I manage to write high quality reports and news articles. The answer is every bit predictable - 1) good observation to find out how this car differs from other cars; 2) improve my own technical knowledge; 3) work hard to gather information; 4) write and comment in my own style.

Point 4 is especially important. However, since a couple of years ago I found most car magazines have been losing their own styles. One of their bad common mistakes is using sound recorder during group tests. Car And Driver, Road & Track and Evo like this especially. Here is how they comment a car:

"Its handling is simply unflappable !" said John. 

"Fool-proof, I'd say it's the most secured performance car I have driven for years" Tim said. One of the testers even describe it as "totally trustable". 

Tim also likes its brakes, describing it "amazingly powerful and with superb pedal feel". John, however, thought it needs more feel at the last 1/3 travel ...

In the end, after reading the whole report I have no idea whether the braking feel is good or not. I also don't understand what "unflappable", "fool-proof" and "totally trustable" mean. Instead of using these subjective words, I would describe body roll, grip, understeer, steering response and steering weighting etc.

Really, I was disappointed with R&T's comparison test for Infiniti Q45 and Lexus LS430 last year. After reading the whole report I still got no idea about the handling and ride of Q45. Normally I take notes when reading car magazines, but in that case I found nothing I could write.

Another common mistakes can be seen in Auto Express regularly. It usually says its news are exclusive or world's first, but in fact many other media (including mine) have already reported. 

Patriotism is another problem. When somebody rate a TVR higher than a Porsche or choose a Thunderbird as COTY, you know this is not the magazine you can trust. Even a magazine as highly regarded as Autocar can have such problems - sometimes it favours the soft ride of Jaguar XJR, sometimes it can forgive the harsh ride of MG TF and rate it as the class leader. So, as long as the cars are British, they are automatically added with 1 star.

There are many more problems but I'm afraid we will never have enough space to express. The last problem I am going to discuss here is about the technical knowledge of automotive journalists. This concern individuals rather than magazines. Yesterday I read someone called Ben Oliver writing about Seat Leon Cupra R in Autocar. He said the 210hp front-drive machine has no torque steer because of strong front tyre grip and sharp steering. I'm sorry with Mr. Oliver for his confusion between "torque steer" with "understeer". As I know, strong front tyre grip can only increase the level of torque steer. 

Automotive News' Joe Kohn also made me laugh. He said Infiniti G35 achieves a good 52:48 front-to-rear balance by moving fuel tank from under the trunk to under rear seats. Doesn't this make the car even more unbalanced ? This man seemed confuses "good balance" with "low polar moment of inertia" (maybe he doesn't understand this term). As I can proof, Nissan's press material really mentioned both things.

It is a pity that many people earn their living by being automotive journalists yet so many of them without getting sufficient knowledge to fulfil their jobs. Next time I won't read Ben Oliver's and Joe Kohn's reports anymore. These guys talk about what they don't understand.

Mark Wan

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