This being April, at least as far as the publishers of monthly magazines are concerned, it's time for a few not-entirely-random observations from the 2003 Auto Issue of Consumer Reports. (Both of you regular readers will note that I did this once before, two years ago.)

Three of six Hyundai models made the magazine's Recommended list this time around, a first for a Korean automaker, and a record better than any current domestic marque. Chevrolet, at six out of sixteen, made the best showing of the Detroit brands; Cadillac and the moribund Oldsmobile had none at all. Then again, neither did Mercedes-Benz.

No vehicles are more reviled these days than sport-utility vehicles, and given the generally leftist stances taken by Consumers Union on most issues where there's a recognizable left/right divide, you'd think that SUVs would be relegated to a category somewhere between "Not Acceptable" and "Suitable Only for Satan's Minions" by the magazine. And you'd be wrong. Fourteen SUVs made the Recommended list, and although they definitely seem to prefer the newer car-based models, three of their picks are old-school truck-based bruisers.

Then again, I have a sneaking suspicion that something other than dogged devotion to political correctness prevails at the CR auto facility in Connecticut. Their highest-scoring vehicle ever is — what? The sweet, inoffensive Toyota Camry? The soccer-mom special Honda Odyssey? The fuel-miser's delight Toyota Prius? Nope. It's a BMW 530i.

And this suspicion extends further. Since 2001 there has been something called the "CR Safety Assessment", and contrary to the sort of advice one gets from the likes of the Feds or the insurance industry, both of which seem to operate on the premise that we live in some sort of inverse Lake Wobegon where all the drivers are below average, the Safety Assessment gives just as much weight to the ability to avoid an accident as it does to absorb crash forces. I've noted before that accident avoidance is somewhat driver-dependent, but taking the driver out of the equation strikes me as intellectually dishonest; plastic dummies do not occupy real-world motor vehicles, except in certain areas of New York, Hollywood and Washington, D.C.

Could it be that CR's auto crew actually likes to drive?

Hey, it could happen. I admittedly haven't driven much in Connecticut, but apart from a couple of brief periods of white-knuckled frustration on I-84, I enjoyed the experience immensely. Maybe they're having just as much fun doing their prescribed testing routine. Or maybe it's just the realization that knee-jerk political responses affect one's ability to shift gears. Either way, the popular notion that "Consumer Reports hates cars" is, I'm persuaded, demonstrably false.

On the other hand, they still don't know squat about computers.

The Vent

#332
8 March 2003

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