For proof that isn’t your usual car review site, look no further than Alex Rae’s review of the Nissan GT-R. It scored a distinctly lukewarm three-and-a-half stars out of five.

GO TO ANY other source of car reviews and it’s hard to find even a tiny sliver of criticism for what is, you’ll be told, Nissan’s extraordinary feat of automotive engineering.

Alex doesn’t disagree that it’s ridiculously fast and capable of burning up a track like few other cars. But he also takes the time to point out the counterbalancing issue. That the GT-R is bumpy, cramped and prone to making noises like a soon-to-expire washing machine.

Why the disparity? Because most road testers around the world are petrolheads, and fancy themselves as quick drivers. That’s the sort of people they’re writing for. To an extent they’re not even writing for the public who click on the sites. Instead their writing is driven by their subconscious desire to prove to other rival road testers that they can discern tiny difference between the handling and steering of car a) versus car b).

Fair enough in the case of a fantasy supercar. But what about when car a) and car b) are low-powered diesel crossovers? You often see the same kind of reviewing here too. Even though small differences in handling don’t, to the actual buyer, actually matter in the slightest. If you’re buying a low-powered diesel crossover, that isn’t the dynamic behaviour you’re looking for. You want a placid suspension, freedom from road noise, and good stability.

Any suspension engineer knows that to get a comfortable ride, you need comparatively soft springs and anti-roll bars. But that to get sharp handling, those things need to be the opposite.

(Of course there are boundaries. If a chassis is set up too soft it’ll roll and heave all over the place, giving the passengers nausea and possibly becoming dangerously unstable when the driver has to swerve. But there is a happy medium, and most cars are a long way too far on the hard side of that medium.)

You can see why the car engineers want to please the automotive media. The media is pretty influential on car buyers, so a car that scores high in road tests it’ll do better in showrooms. But the media – most of it – serves the majority of buyers badly, because road testers want different things. Road testers want handling and ignore ride, and are happy to sacrifice comfort.

Many car reviews are written off the back of car launches. The car companies run these events at venues where there’s either a lot of deserted, unpoliced twisting country road. Or a handy racetrack.

These are not conditions that have much relevance for normal daily driving.  Daily driving means urban and suburban roads, going relatively slowly in amongst traffic. Or speed-restricted highways. Or, in Australia, dirt roads.

In all these conditions, you will notice a car’s ride comfort and suspension quietness in the first 100 metres of driving, and the entirety every 100 metres after that.

On the other hand you might have to drive 100km to find a stretch of road corner where you can, even for a few fleeting seconds, experience the sharpness of its on-limit handling.

That’s why if you’re a general reader looking for an everyday car, you’ve come to the right place.


2017 Hyundai Sonata Premium review


Reader help: What precautions do I need to take when driving my Discovery Sport on a beach?

About Author

Paul Horrell

Paul's working life has been paced out in cars. He began road-testing when the VW Golf was in its second generation. It's now in its eighth. He covers much more than the tyre-smoking part of the road-test landscape. He roots around in the financial machinations of the car corporations and the apparent voodoo of the technologies. Then he clarifies those complications so his general readers – too busy to lodge their heads up the industry's nether regions – get the fast track on what matters and what doesn't. A freelance writer living in London, he usually gets around the city by bicycle, which adds to his (sometimes justified) reputation as a bit green and a bit of a lefty. He's a member of Europe's Car of the Year jury.

1 comment

  1. Great to read some straight talking Paul. You’re probably aware of John Cadogen’s website. I love his content too – keep the bastards honest. His style is an acquired taste and obviously very different to ‘Practical Motoring’ here but you get my point – there’s not too many car reviewers or sites one can truly trust completely to have consumer’s best interests in mind. Yours, Johns and one or two others but that’s about it. The rest appear to be beholden in some way or ‘tuther to the manufacturers. Thanks for your tremendous work and website and please don’t ever stop!

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