How British Journalism Is Ruining Our Perception of Cars

I know most of our readers are male, though surprisingly as much as a fifth are women, which means we must be doing something right. And, let’s face it, us guys are kind of lazy by definition. We take our t-shirts straight from the dryer, drink beer from the can and wear the same pair of shoes until it gets worn out. We also prefer to play video games instead of reading light literature and we get most of our info from watching videos.
I myself have been watching every car test on Youtube for years now, but often shy away from reading those 10,000 word reviews unless I love the car it’s about. In the words of the now famous missus Sweet Brown, “ ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Videos of Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson eating bugs in an Atom are great and all, but I think we have a serous problem with perception because of them. You see, more than half of the most viewed video reviews come from Britain: Top Gear, Fifth Gear, Evo, most of Drive, AutoCar, CarBuyer, AutoExpress and I could name at least 10 more if I wanted to.

Without their viral clips, teenagers wouldn’t know which version of the Mitsubishi Evo to idolize, which stupid French car to laugh at and why the Golf GTI is overpriced compared to the Renault Megane RS. They don’t, however, know that the Evo has a plastic interior, that the Golf GTI is actually a very good car that outsells the Megane RS and that not all French cars are stupid.

The easiest to understand problem is nationalism patriotism. It’s only natural for the the guys on Top Gear to promote British cars that you otherwise wouldn’t have heard of, like the Ariel Atom or the Noble, comparing them to industry icons from Ferrari for example. If your father worked at Noble and your grandfather for British Leyland, you’d naturally think an Aston Martin is 5% cooler than it really is. Haven’t you ever wondered why Lotus sportscars are so great on the Top Gear test track but you rarely see them on the road?

I have no problem with that, since it’s an isolated issue. The real problem as far as I can see is the entertainment value that needs to be packed into a show. Because Top Gear is broadcast globally by the BBC, everything is done on a huge budget. As soon as that happens, it stops being about reviews and starts being about entertaining people. If a Jaguar XF drifts and the equivalent Audi doesn’t because the traction control stays on, it’s a bad car, right? Don’t be stupid! That’s like riding a wild horse without a saddle every day to work… for fun. How smoothly the gearbox shifts or how efficient the TDI diesel engine is are much more important.

I’ll give you an example so you can understand the situation better. Comparing supermini hot hatches, the Clio RS III, the old one, was widely considered a benchmark, but only because most of the reviews were carried out on the track. When it was time to make a new Clio RS, engineers said “if it doesn’t have four doors and an automatic gearbox, we’re going to lose to the Polo GTI in terms of sales”. And so, they copied the formula from VW.

How can that be? It makes no sense for the best handling, most fun model to copy a lesser car, right? The Polo GTI doesn’t even have flared wheel arches and exhaust pipes on both sides. It’s also got 180 hp compared to the Clio’s 200. The problem is the Polo GTI has a 1.4 TSI engine and standard DSG, and thanks to that it’s rated at 7.5 l/100km in the city, where it counts, while the 2-liter engine in the Clio is rated at 11.3 l/100km. That’s a 3.8 liter or 50% increase, but journalists who race them on the track don’t have time to tell you that. They’re much to busy letting the tail slide.

The Clio RS III is old news, but I saw the same problem recently when the brand new Lexus IS 300h was driven hard and found wanting. 220 horsepower wasn’t enough to impress some journalists whom I will not name, but that’s completely missing the point. Driving in hybrid mode around town and seeing how the battery fills up, getting diesel-like economy without the rattle, the quietness of the engine, that is the magic of a Lexus!

There’s also a big problem with British auto journalism that doesn’t have anything to do with the journalists themselves. The United Kingdom drives on the other side of the road, which means cars sold there are special. This creates costs problems for automakers, which are then transferred onto the customer. Dacia has no such problems for example, since it makes RHD Dusters very cheaply in India, cheaper probably than if they were made in Romania. But Peugeot has a big problem since it doesn’t make cars in India, and was forced to cut a few corners on UK-market 208 superminis to keep them cheap.

Every time you see a guy comparing two cars with the steering wheel on the wrong side, ask yourself if what he tells you is also true where you live.

Let’s stick with the Renault RS versus Volkswagen GTI theme for the next example. How many times hove you heard the Golf GTI is a lot more expensive than the Megane RS? A lot, I bet. But in Germany, the Golf GTI starts at €28,675 today, while the Renault Megane RS 265 is… €32,490. How now, brown cow?

That’s kind of an unfair comparison, but it proves my point. Prices are very market-dependent and can fluctuate hugely from region to region as well because you’re not actually buying cars from the carmaker. The Lexus LFA is probably a lot cheaper than a Ferrari in Japan, a Chrysler 300 is the size of a 5 Series but the price of a 3 Series in America… you get the idea!

Being on a first-name basis with your car dealer is a lot more important than the opinion of some guy drifting on Youtube. This editorial changes nothing, but I hope some of you will now be able to look beyond the entertainment and the smoke and the clever banter.
If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram
About the author: Mihnea Radu
Mihnea Radu profile photo

Mihnea's favorite cars have already been built, the so-called modern classics from the '80s and '90s. He also loves local car culture from all over the world, so don't be surprised to see him getting excited about weird Japanese imports, low-rider VWs out of Germany, replicas from Russia or LS swaps down in Florida.
Full profile


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories