We made the final payment on the car last month, which means it’s been five years since we took it home. So far it’s still going strong, though we’re not exactly taxing it: we’ve put just over 60,000 km on the thing. The current plan is to drive it until the wheels fall off, and at this point it looks like that might take some time.

Back when we were car shopping five years ago, I did a ton of research, because I’m me. I read hundreds of reviews, and watched scores of online video reviews. Even after we bought the thing, I kept it up; and even now I still read and watch too many car reviews, especially when you consider that we have no intention of buying a new car right now.1

Which means I’m really, really familiar with how car reviews operate. For example, they have some ferocious, and consistent, blind spots.

Partly that’s because car reviewers get press fleet vehicles for a week. That’s not enough time to evaluate things like long-term reliability,2 so their impressions tend to be initial impressions, and focus on driving dynamics and testable metrics (fuel economy, acceleration, braking). They complain about infotainment systems because they don’t have time to get used to an unfamiliar setup.

And partly it’s because car reviewers are car enthusiasts (otherwise they wouldn’t review cars), so their criteria for what makes a good car is somewhat different from ours. For a case in point. see Doug DeMuro’s review of the 2020 Toyota Corolla hybrid:

Here’s a car that promises to be a superlative combination of affordable, fuel efficient and reliable, and DeMuro can’t work up any enthusiasm for it. This is not to crap on DeMuro specifically: this sort of thing is endemic in car reviewer circles, where affordability, fuel efficiency and reliability are not things they seem to care very much about—even though these three things are usually top of mind for the average car shopper.

Car reviewers as a class are all about driving dynamics, horsepower and refinement. Regarding that last one: most press fleet cars are top-level trims. These guys will be driving a Porsche or a BMW one week and a Yaris the next: that will have an impact on their opinion of the Yaris. (As someone who’s done videos on Bugattis and Koenigseggs, Doug in particular should stay the hell away from economy cars.)

It’s not just that they’re bored by reliable cars; it’s that they’re not turned off by the notion of an unreliable car. Remember: they’re enthusiasts. They like spending time, attention and money on the things they’re enthusiastic about. They’re the opposite of someone who would rather not spend all their money on their car, or think about their car all the time: someone who just wants something inexpensive and efficient that won’t break down all the time.

The opposite of a Corolla buyer, in other words.

This is a disconnect I’ve observed with photography and reptile hobbyists, whose recommendations tend toward the wildly expensive and impractical (“You don’t want the $500 entry-level digital SLR, you want this $2,000 full-frame model. You’ll thank me later!”) rather than what’s best for beginners.3 I had thought that this was a function of ego: offering advice denotes expertise, expertise denotes social status, and expensive or rare tastes denote sophistication.

Now, though, I’m thinking that it’s honestly and legitimately a blind spot: enthusiasts simply approach the subject from a different angle than the rest of us, if only because they’re willing to spend more time, attention and money.

That’s one thing when you’re talking about hobbies, which are opt-in, but, unfortunately, in most of North America car ownership is not really an opt-in activity. And well, cars are expensive. It would be better if there was more of a focus on what matters to car buyers than car enthusiasts, at least outside of Consumer Reports.

Notes

  1. Unless my mobility deteriorates enough that I need a car that’s easier to get into, or our needs change enough that another car is required, that is.
  2. If a press car breaks down during a reviewer’s week, it’s either a highly unusual event or Italian.
  3. Oddly enough, amateur astronomers don’t suffer from this problem, but so far they’ve been the only exception.