Stocking Up On Received Wisdom

Seeking insight, your correspondent gives the BBC a punt. He’s both impressed and unimpressed by what he discovers.

100% Clarkson-free
100% Clarkson-free – the 2016 Top Gear New Car Buyers [sic] Guide. It knows the price of everything…

The car magazine I usually buy has given up on price lists so I had to get the Top Gear 2016 New Car Buyers [sic] Guide. That should be buyer’s guide (the guide of one buyer) or buyers’ guide (the guide of lots of buyers). In no particular order I gleaned some new received wisdom.

Before I launch into that, I am in the position of having to find my own car news. Car and Autocar’s content is not sticking in my mind after I read it. I don’t feel I know the state of the car when I read Car anymore. I feel I know only about driving an expensive car somewhere photogenic.Automotive News is good for nitty gritty industry news but not car reviews. So this Top Gear New Car Buyer’s Guide was a chance to quickly find out what this pillar of the automotive news world thinks we should think. I view it as a chance to see what the mainstream is thinking. What is it thinking?

It’s very nicely laid out, one finds. The graphics are really calm, like Car magazine circa 2001 and that’s a compliment. However:  the important cars that people already buy and know about get big panels and the cars people don’t buy get little panels, just to reinforce the trend. This is all the Guide says about the Peugeot 508: “6/10. This would be considered an excellent car if it wore a VW badge. It doesn’t though so it’s a life of being unrecognised for Peugeot’s biggest saloon. Maybe the facelift which further enhances its luxo-wannabe status, will change things? Hmm. We can perhaps guess.” 

The Vauxhall Insignia also gets 65 words and a postage stamp-sized picture, despite being actually a volume seller. Odd that. How should they appropriate the space? If the rule is that if it sells well it gets a big panel then the Insignia deserves a big panel too. If the rule is that the car is good and deserves a bit of cover then the 508 deserves a page like the Mondeo and Passat. I can’t help thinking the space allocation is capricious though, as I say, neat.

Page 10: The Guide likes the Toyota S-FR. They expect it to see production.

The Guide likes small Fiats. The 500 and Panda get good ratings. In fact, the Panda is the editor’s choice (or is that the editors’ choice?). I learned there is a 4×4 Panda. Or maybe I relearned that. One has not crossed my path, as far as I am aware. The Panda is vibrant to drive, says the Guide. All that on pages 14-15.

The Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto garner 8 out of 10 and 7 out of 10 respectively and are still deemed to lack character (the i10) and to be blunt to drive (the Picanto).

Renault’s Twingo gets a rave review but only seven out of ten. “As entertaining and satisfying as the old Twingo was mundane and mediocre”, they say. That means it is incredibly entertaining and really, really satisfying. So why only seven out of ten? The Smart ForTwo is not that good. 6 out of 10 is what it’s worth. Does that make sense?

2016 Suzuki Celerio. There are better cars out there. Image: Suzuki Denmark
2016 Suzuki Celerio. There are better cars out there. Image: Suzuki Denmark

The Toyota Aygo (which we have tested here) gets 8 out of 10. Decent refinement they say. Rubbish I reply. It’s as noisy as the inside of a Rolls-Royce jet engine at full throttle.

The Guide likes the Vauxhall Adam. I didn’t think they would. I like the Adam and that is a sure sign most people won’t go near it even if it cures male pattern baldness.

The Volkswagen Up is a “game changer for the whole class” and it has “quirky good looks”. What are they on at the BBC? There’s nothing quirky about the Up. It’s ruthlessly professionally styled. There is not one ounce of fat on that car.

Eight other cars share the final page of the city car section: the Citroen C1, the Seat Mwah, the Ford Ka, the Suzuki Celerio (which I thought Autocar liked a lot), the Mitsubishi Mirage (three out of ten, goodness me), the Peugeot 108 and the Vauxhall Viva. That last car is “boxy five door”. You might not like it but it’s not boxy any more than a hat is boxy. Or maybe everything other than Constantin Brancusi´s Bird In Space is boxy, if you are the Top Gear Buyer’s/Buyers’ Guide.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

35 thoughts on “Stocking Up On Received Wisdom”

    1. “Best in class” and eight out of ten. “Some rivals do beat in individual area” but “Already top of the class and keeps on getting better”. From 10,245 GBP.

    2. I always find the number rating they apply to a model somewhat arbitrary. Are they telling me that worst specification Fiesta is as good as the best (and I don’t mean boggo versus top), or is it a median rating between the best and worst specs?

  1. I had completely ignored the existence of the Vauxhall Viva until you mentioned it. Now I will make my best effort to Unlearn it, annoying both Vauxhall and Ford simultaneously.

    1. I read your comment before I read Richard’s piece. I was going to write something along the lines of “I can’t forget the Viva. I learnt to drive on one in 1969 – worst car I ever drove”. Now I realise that he was talking about the Nuovo Viva. I’d completely forgotten about that.

  2. From buying a copy of Top Gear Magazine once a couple of years back, I was at least relieved that it didn’t read as Jeremy Clarkson’s mouthpiece. However, it shares with today’s Car Magazine the trait of seeming to tell its readers what it thinks they want to hear.

    So it says that the Peugeot 508 is excellent but, because of course its readers don’t want one since it has no executive car park kudos, it obliges by marking it just 6 out of 10 so that they can dismiss it.

    I’d thought of buying one of these sort of reviews recently, since I saw a car the other day that I didn’t recognise. It was a very ordinary looking saloon but, once upon a time, I would still have considered it a matter of honour to know about it. I thought I should catch up before I settle into a permanent state of indifference.

    My own reading these days is confined to Classic & Sportscar and Motor Sport, so I either find something out from Martin Buckley 40 years too late, or read Andrew Frankel thrashing some piece of contemporary exotica that I have a marginal interest in. That said, Frankel’s opinions are better measured than the average motoring magazine hooner.

    1. Ah yes. Great review this month of the latest Drombey & Peters Clarence.

      “At last a Clarence that really delivers where it counts. Drombey’s move to 50 inch wheels on the rear makes for an exceedingly elegant profile yet ensures a sublime ride on the hardest cobblestones. Even a small beggar-boy who chanced to venture under the wheels through a moment’s inattention on behalf of your humble scribe, registered just the smallest tremor. An absolute Stunner. 11/12 (no dashed decimals here old chap).”

    2. I admit I was always impressed by his championing of the (previous model) Citroen Berlingo, and I probably use ‘Jeremy Clarkson’ as shorthand for a philosophical tendency rather than an accurate image of a real person.

    3. Frankel is a writer I’m also holding in some esteem. His – relatively rare – on-camera stints also possess a certain endearingly laconic quality. He appears to be someone with a viewpoint of his own, but without the urge to shout it out.

  3. One wonders whether Top Gear Magazine will retain its circulation now the Clarkson era has passed. Although that said, the magazine had very little to do with the show, apart from the odd column from the Three Stooges. Will Chris Evans or Mount Le Blanc even bother?

    1. The circulation probably is independent of Clarkson´s input which was usually nugatory. For a man who was paid so much I´d have expected him to have contributed some articles to the magazine instead of something shouted into his mobile phone and transcribed by some lackey in the office.

  4. Hmm, I really do not like many Volkswagen, but I do like the minimalistic look of the Up! It is a kind of I-phone under the Small Cars in my eyes.
    Its design is serious, not that kittenish as the Citroen C1 or with the please-take-me-for an-adult-car-look of those korean Kias, Hyundais and Vauxhalls.

    Sadly the Up! is an expensive car which offers not more fun to drive (even less than some other cars in its class), not an innovative concept as the Twingo I or universal skills as the Panda.
    It is just a copy of the Aygo, C1, 108 – concept of PSA.

    1. Like the ubiquitous iPhone the Up is a magisterial peice of design. I don´t suppose it´s owners care too much about dynamics but love the pared-down aesthetics inside and out. For that I salute it, though the noisy Aygo is a more entertaining thing to gaze upon. Presumably the market for this class of car is made up of people who value different things and the Up and Aygo serve those sectors in their own way. I can´t tell which one is “better”. It´s a head versus heart thing. Which of these cars generally is the funnest? The Panda, says TC,

    2. The quality of Volkswagens recent designs is becoming all too apparent now that it’s facelift time. The Polo is about a mu less perfect than before, but the Up has to suffer the indignity of being thoroughly messed up by the addition of a myriad of new details that are doing their best to spoil the entire car when combined. Which is a shame.

    3. It’s odd with the Up!
      I know a lot of VW lovers (basically 80% of German population…) who think of VW design as the holy grail – “but that Up!… *brrr* what where they thinking?!!??”
      Whereas for less make-oriented observers like the ones around here, it almost seems to be the other way around.

  5. Tangentially, have any of you ever had a look at the Evo Magazine YouTube channel? They’ve been turning out some really well produced video content. The best pieces generally feature Henry Catchpole and are akin to the slower paced experiential items that Top Gear would occasionally run, in amongst the usual bluster and Clarkson shouting POWERRRRRRRR in a haze of tyre smoke. I would recommend it.

    https://www.youtube.com/user/EVOTV

    1. I also enjoy the odd Motor Trend video, particularly if it’s being hosted by Jonny Lieberman in his very American (but in a good way) style. I may not agree with the man in each and every case – he loves the Mercedes GT’s styling, to name but one example – but he possesses a lightness of touch and eloquence I find quite entertaining.

    2. I find that watching longer form YouTube videos on a TV rather than sat at a computer has improved the experience immensely. I recently hooked up a semi-redundant PS3 (gathering dust since its replacement with a PS4) to the lounge TV, as it makes for a rather excellent combined Blu-Ray / online services unit. Installing the YouTube app was an afterthought, but the content it has opened up (car videos for me, footage of obscure sea animals for the boy) is quite magical.

  6. Sigh.

    Self-styled car enthusiasts in the US have nothing good to say about Consumer Union’s monthly car reviews and advice on cars in the annual Buyers’ Guide. But CU shines in several respects. Their tests and reports are focused more on what the car is like to live with than on “wottle she do?” Their evaluations are consistent. CU is explicit about the preferences behind their numerical ratings. And their test reports aren’t lightly rewritten press releases.

    One last point about CU. Integrity. CU purchases cars to test, doesn’t borrow them from manufacturers. And CU doesn’t sell advertising of any kind, so editorial staff isn’t subject to pressure from marketing.

    I vaguely recall that some organization in the UK (AA?) used to publish Which Car. I always thought that Which Car was the UK version of CU’s annual guide. Am I mistaken?

  7. One of the reasons I took the plunge on buying my Clio was to challenged the reviews. The real experience of ownership shares little with the impressions gained through a short term lend, a schism that I feel journalists should make more efforts to confront. I will hopefully expand on this in a later post, but if you’ve read my previous posts about the Clio, you may well already have gained the gist of my thoughts in this regard.

    1. That is quite true. That´s why I wrote up my car reviews whenever possible. As you say the ownership experience is not reported, more the test drive experience. I don´t think quantifying everything is the answer but donning a pair of runners and an anorak to thrash an Aventadorghini for two days is much use. Even then, I am sure I could present clearer impressions of such an experience than the chaps who do this. Is that boring?

  8. If I had accepted the rating of every UK car magazine – and a few French ones too – I would never have bought a C6. My Bank Manager may have been pleased about that, but I’d have missed out on a truly different type of driving and ownership experience.

    I completely agree with Richard’s comments about rarely getting a proper sense of what a car is like to drive from most magazine reviews these days. In that way, the Autocar Road Test actually stands out these days, which says it all.

    1. If it was on sale around here I might buy Autocar just for that reason.
      I found the magazines (as I have said) failed to capture what was good about the XM I sometimes drive. I really must try a BMW 5 series someday to see if it is as good as it´s cracked up to be,

  9. Daniel: that´s an interesting insight. I would never have thought the Up would offend anyone other than by seeming a little too “simple”. Time and again I am surprised at the way the world sees things compared to how I would expect. What do you imagine they are unhappy with? Does it look to square? Too “quirky”? I think it is supposed to be as simple as an iPhone, very product-design. And that´s of a piece with the rest of VW´s range, generally. The CC is quite expressive and also very lovely.

    1. Are you really surprised? I know that the majority tends to see such things differently than I do, but my biggest surprise would be if they agree with me.

      By the way, Daniel’s statement reminds me of how I see the Audi A2. While for me it’s the only acceptable Audi of the last fifteen years, most Audi drivers / fans I know are put off by it. Presumably it’s not sporty and aggressive enough for them and therefore lacks premium image.

    2. German punters are conservative, probably even more so than in the UK. They like cars to look like their handed down image of a “proper” car. Restrained looks are fine as long as they are imposing enough and serve the need to signal the neighbours that one is capable of sensible purchasing decisions.
      The Up! might be just a tad too cool, too Iphoney in its approach. My goodness, it doesn’t even have a grille!
      Interesting enough that this is one of the parts messed with in the facelift.
      It’s a similar story to the Passat B3 -> B4.

    3. I’m aware that our shorthand on this site for describing a car whose design we like, but that we know generally pleases neither petrolheads nor general punters is that ‘it’s a great bit of industrial design’.

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