The Problem with Car Comparison Tests

"What is the best v6 Sports Car?"
"Luxury Convertible Shootout"
"We Pick From 8 Mostly Indistinguishable Midsized Sedans"

I love car comparison tests. But they are seriously flawed.

The issue is this: when car magazines and websites do a test, they get hold of a type of car, and find the best one. Compacts, sports coupes, near-luxury, floaty old boat Florida luxury (though mercifully that one is rare other than the AARP auto column).

But that's not how we, as human beings with certain levels of income, buy cars. Or at least not how most of us buy cars. Most of us have a price point, something we go in thinking "I really want this car, but I have to see if I can get it at the right price." We probably have a few cars in mind, and possibly a few sets of options as well - heated seats, navigation, 4wd/AWD, tall seating position, stick-shift (there's still a few of us), v6 vs. 4-banger.

But the number one thing will always come down to price. Which is what makes reviews like this one ridiculous:

They test the 370z vs. V6 Mustang vs. Hyundai Genesis Coupe. And their conclusion is that the 370z is the best car. But... this is the last para of their test:

"Here's the real kicker: Our Nissan tester stickered for a whopping $9,000 more than the Mustang V6. At $34,605, the 370Z is also nearly $4,000 more than the $30,875 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8. This means that our third place Mustang verdict comes with a big old asterisk. We knew the Ford was punching above its weight, but we didn't know exactly how much until we looked at the numbers. At $25,780 then, the 2011 Mustang V6 is something of a hero. Our point is this: if one were to pour $9,000 into a Mustang, not only would that tick nearly every single option box, but you would also get a 'Stang GT stuffed full of Ford's righteous new 5.0-liter Ti-VCT V8 with 412 hp and 392 lb-ft. Gussied up in that garb, and complete with a set of Brembos, we strongly suspect the Mustang GT would wipe the floor with the Genesis Coupe 3.8 and wholly humble the winning Nissan 370Z. But alas, that's another comparison."

NO. Its NOT another comparison. THAT IS THE WHOLE FRIGGIN POINT. If I were buying a sports car there is a goddamn huge difference between $26,000 and $35,000. I could throw the Porsche 911 Turbo in as a 6-cylinder sports car and I am sure it would win the test, hell its even a similar size, weight, and shape to the 370z... but, shockingly, it costs $132,800. Whoops, well, I guess we should put an asterisk next to that one.

The point is, car comparison tests are so rarely actually dedicated to comparing cars that buyers will you know.. compare. That is except Consumer Reports, which rates the Ford Crown Victoria a "recommended buy."
You know what else is a good buy?

So there's the issue. You have car and driver, road and track, autoblog etc all out there writing for the guys like me who are already in love with cars (mmm 500hp showdown and a supercar challenge all in one issue! I wonder which car is the centerfold this month...) and then you have Consumer Reports saying that the best bet is to buy a coal-powered steamship from 1812: they really are reliable.

What this leaves is the average consumer walking into a dealership where they are told that the car they really want has been sitting on the lot for 9 months, has leather, the premium package, navigation system, and the "sport package", and ends up costing $8,000 more than the car they were there to buy in the first place. Oh and its "this model year" but really its an aging platform which really is far behind the competition - but did I mention it is the v6?

There is this massive disconnect between what people are looking at from the dealer, and what the automotive press is writing about (yes - I love the Mustang, BMW 3-series/M3, Porsche 911 or Chevy Camaro, but honestly you would think they were the best selling cars on earth). Again, with the exception of Consumer Reports, which is still lamenting the passing of Oldsmobile because that eliminated 50% of its "recommended buys".

I would personally love to do it, but I dont have the time. What with working, upending the world order, and driving around in a variety of cars - I'm just a little short on time.

I'll do what I can though - next up is my $3,000 summer car challenge.

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