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Print Will Eat Itself: A RideLust Rant

Posted in auto industry, Car Buying, Car Reviews, Cars, General, Pop Culture by Kurt Ernst | August 31st, 2010 | 3 Responses |

I’ve been around cars and motorcycles for a long, long time. As a kid, I started working in the family garage long before I had a driver’s license. I spent years pumping gas before my dad would trust me with my first oil change, let alone a tune up on a customer’s car. Over the years I’ve spun wrenches on bicycles, minibikes, motorcycles and cars, and I even spent a year chasing my dream of becoming a professional racer. I spent a lot of money, learned a lot of lessons and found out that I was neither fast enough to get rich nor rich enough to get fast.

My previous career took me to a lot of places on business, so I’ve rented cars and driven them in some pretty exotic locales. I’ve got plenty of don’t-know-how-I-lived-through-that stories, all of which I can look back at now and laugh. Ever crest a hill, catch a gust of air and lose all front grip in a rented Mustang at 110 miles per hour? Ever track a race car across a dirt infield on two wheels, wondering if you were going to flip it end-over-end or just roll it? Ever get lost driving a vintage Corvette through the streets of Tokyo, or drive a full sized Volvo tour bus through the narrow lanes of Britain’s Lake District? I can check “yes” to all of the above, as well as a host of other automotive insanity. When I give you an opinion, I generally have a fair amount of experience to back it up.

One thing in my life has been relatively constant: I’ve subscribed to car magazines for as long as I can remember. As a kid, it was Hot Rod, followed by Car & Driver, Road & Track and Automobile. As an adult, I even signed up for Autoweek back when it actually was delivered weekly. For years, I trusted the writers and editors to give me educated, unbiased opinions of what worked and what didn’t.

There’s been a lot of criticism of “online journalism” from the print mags (and printed media in general), and I used to agree with them. After all, how many times do we see online stories that are written without research or validation of facts? How often do you read online car reviews that are written straight from a manufacturer’s press kit? Until recently, even I would admit that the quality of print journalism was better than the quality of online journalism.

Something has changed, however, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. All of the publications seem to be soliciting work from previously unpublished writers, and I’m left with the feeling that they really don’t have a clue about cars, driving or even the automotive industry. Take, for example, the latest issue of Autoweek, which featured reviews of both the Nissan cube and the Suzuki Kizashi. I’ve had both of these as press fleet cars, and I’ve written full reviews of them. Consider some of the comments made by Autoweek staffers:

On the Nissan cube:

2010 Nissan cube

• “some editors would like … a weightier feel to the steering”.
• “About the CVT: Man, is it whiny!”
• “Wind noise has been a nit throughout our time with the cube”
• “I wouldn’t want to have to drive this car long distances in any kind of wind”

To all of the above statements, I have one reply: quit your whining and remember that the Nissan cube is built for functionality at a price point. If you want a weightier feel to the steering, you’re shopping for the wrong car – go look at Honda Civic Si instead. Think the CVT is whiny? Drive a CVT from any other manufacturer and then comment on it. I’m not a fan of CVTs, but Nissan builds, in my opinion, the best in the industry. Think the cube is noisy and unstable in a crosswind? Of course it is – it’s got the aerodynamic properties of an apartment building. I drove the cube in a crosswind, and it was fine; try driving a VW microbus across the Colorado plains, then talk to me about stability in a crosswind.

On the Suzuki Kizashi:

2010 Suzuki Kizashi

• “most of us agree that the Kizashi gets healthy power from its 180 hp… four cylinder motor”
• “the cabin’s beige color reveals dust”
• “I know for a fact that Suzuki’s manual (transmission) is a good one”

This review just leaves me scratching my head. Unless your sum total of driving experience is ten cars or less, I guarantee you’ll come away with a different take on the Suzuki Kizashi. The motor may be rated at 180 horsepower, but the car sure doesn’t feel like it and the leisurely 8.3 second run to 60 miles per hour doesn’t back it up either. Of all the phrases I’d use to describe the Kizashi’s motor, “healthy power” isn’t among them. As for the color of the cabin revealing dust, who cares? Why is an enthusiast- oriented mag giving me Good Housekeeping advice?

As for the manual transmission, I actually advised buyers to opt for the CVT since the long throws and ridiculously tall gearing of the manual transmission removed any joy from driving the Kizashi. If you have experience with a gearbox from Honda or Mazda, you’d never accuse the manual transmission in the Kizashi of being bearable, let alone good.

I certainly don’t mean to go off on the writers of the above reviews. If I had to venture a guess, they’re unpaid interns told to turn random staffer soundbites into a coherent article, all for a byline in a national magazine. That’s not enough for me anymore; I used to subscribe to the print mags because they were written by experts whose opinions I valued. Lately, I find myself questioning those opinions more than valuing them.

As an online journalist, I welcome the competition from print magazines. I could cite examples from other national mags as well, but why go on? If content like this is the best print can offer, then the battle for readership is already over.

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3 Responses

  1. TMINUS NYC says:

    Agreed. Wholeheartedly.

  2. a says:

    I get those magazines for free anyway, nowadays fewer and fewer people are willing to actually pay for them.

  3. Set says:

    Exactly, why pay money for news I can get online sooner, better, and more often?