Motoring journalism – it’s a dream profession for many. Those lucky guys and gals get to drive virtually every car on the market, make comparisons and ultimately recommendations to us, the buying public. And we tend to use their findings to pick our cars or at least to produce a shortlist to test drive.
But are their recommendations relevant to the needs and wants of the normal, less sophisticated driver i.e. you and me? Are the factors they pick out as being important and differentiating actually shades we wouldn’t notice and therefore wouldn’t get any value from? Is the fact that, unlike the average Joe, it’s not their hard cash being invested mean they could recommend options or features that don’t add true value in the real world.
For instance, What Car? Magazine, which I read avidly, is a great fan of the BMW 5-series with good reason as it’s a fantastic feat of engineering, is very efficient and is priced well plus has the premium image. However they always recommend adding something called Variable Damper Control which is a £1000 option to improve the suspension. No doubt, when constantly hopping in and out of cars with varying types of suspension, the reviewers notice the difference. But would you or I? Or is it more reasonable to think that BMW’s standard set up is more than sufficient for the “standard” driver?
As well as choice of optional extras I think this line of thought applies to overall vehicle recommendations too as reviews tend, in my opinion, to be skewed towards driving pleasure as determined by the day spent with a brand new car and away from other considerations such as living with it day after day, reliability and running costs.
The proof of the pudding for me is the often vast discrepancy between the motoring press’s annual awards and the customer satisfaction surveys completed by actual owners. For instance in February 2016 the motoring section of the Telegraph compared the Nissan Qashqai with the Renault Kadjar, two cars which share many parts and basic design. The verdict was a win for the Qashqai. What Car? reached the same verdict in January 2016 despite the Kadjar’s price being a grand lower. But the 2016 Driver Power survey, based on owners’ feedback placed the Kadjar in 3rd place overall and as the top placed mainstream car (the top two were electric cars). The Qashqai? Ranked at 132. So maybe it’s a bit better to drive, maybe a single day spent with both by a connoisseur would result in a vote for the Nissan. But the hoi polloi of ordinary drivers spending day in and day out with their SUVs have rated the Renault as better by a distance.
So read the reviews but ask yourself if what the professional journalist looks for in a car such as slight driving edges corresponds to your practical requirements. Then do your own research and see what owners who have had their motor for months not days have to say. Arrange a test drive but spend as much time checking the practicalities out as you do trying to impress the sales person with your driving skills. And looks at the deals on offer, both from the dealer and a good leasing broker, as those minor features that grabbed your attention and made you prefer one model or option over another might just become less important when you realise the impact on your wallet.
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