What is a “Review”?

I used to read a lot of car-magazines, and I watch a lot of Top Gear on NetFlix. In Top Gear they have a segment called “The News”. In this segment, the hosts look at press releases, and snapshots of upcoming cars. They may say that the new Citroen “look great, and comes with a 256 HP engine”. It is understood, that “looks great” is the subjective opinion of the host, while 256 HP is (presumably) a fact. The viewer may agree or disagree with the statement that the car looks good, but it’s hard to disagree with the 256 HP claim. This part of the show is not called “reviews”. They don’t start the segment by saying “we are reviewing the new Citroen DS” and then talk about a press release they’ve read, or pictures they’ve seen of the car.

This is NOT a review

“Reviews” are when the hosts actually drive the cars. As they do so, they are again mixing opinion and fact. For example, “the dash is cheap hard plastic”. Again, it is understood, that “cheap” is a subjective statement and “hard plastic” is factual. Since the show is on television, the viewer has a chance to judge for themselves if they agree or not. They are reassured that Jeremy Clarkson actually drove the car, felt the plastic, and that he has driven thousands of other cars before, so he has a great set of references to compare the car under test to.

Here’s a guy actually reviewing a car

It would be considered an extreme lapse of journalistic integrity if Top Gear hired an ex-engineer at Ford to come on the show, didn’t disclose that this was an ex-Ford employee, and then had the engineer review not only a Ford Focus, but also a Mazda 3 and a Suzuki Swift. It’s not hard to imagine that the ex-Ford engineer could be quite biased when reviewing the Ford. If the engineer was fired from his job he might give the Ford a bad review, or perhaps he want’s to lend a hand to his old mates at Ford. Either way, such behaviour would probably never accepted – by the shows editors or the viewers.

Even though Top Gear doesn’t purchase the cars they test, I still have no reason to believe that they are dishonest in their reviews. They have posted plenty of bad reviews on the show – the Tesla Roadster and Zenvo comes to mind. Primarily because both companies were very vocal about the bad reviews. Tesla even took Top Gear to court, shouting about libel and malicious falsehood (they lost – twice). Naturally, Tesla is obviously not going to let Top Gear test any more cars, but neither party seems to have suffered long term over the feud. However, even though the Corvettes and Vipers are usually ridiculed on the show, I would still give both cars a test drive if I had the money. Me standing around, claiming that a Corvette is a bad car – based on a review on Top Gear would be ridiculous.

I doubt that Top Gear would have many viewers if all they did was to offer comments on press releases as “reviews”, and have ex-car manufacturers test drive not only their own creation, but also the competitions. If someone said that they based their decision to buy a car on an ex-Ford employees comments on a Ford, or Jeremy Clarksons comments on a press release, I would call that person naive. I the person paid for that sort of  “advice” I would use a much stronger term.

I love Top Gear.


Author: prescienta

Prescientas ruler

2 thoughts on “What is a “Review”?”

  1. Hey Morten, great article.

    First off I should say I also love Top Gear (UK that is) and I rarely watch many other car review or testing shows.

    I think you pose a great question in asking “What is a review?”. At the end of the day every reviewer uses their own experience and expertise to judge a product based on what they believe to be important. Even if those measures are objective, they are objective measure that the reviewer has decided are most important.

    I’m not sure most people would blindly trust even the best reviews. Instead, I think most people trust a review based on who the person or organization is that conducted it.

    1. Clearly Top Gears many tests of Ferraris, Porsches, Lambos etc. means that only a very few viewers (zero) make a purchasing decision based on what Clarkson says. And if the reviews consisted solely of objective facts, it would be extremely boring to watch.

      A review always contains an element of subjectivity. For the Citroen, one might say “256 HP, 17 inch wheels standard”, but leave out “No radio, 3 forward gears”. Putting the car in a more flattering light.

      A good reviewer will be able to discern what is important and what isn’t. For example, a shit reviewer might say “typo in the service manual”, but leave out “38 MPG, 0-60 in 4.6 secs”. Thereby bringing forth negative, but irrelevant facts, while leaving out positive, but relevant ones.

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