The Automotive Review Fill-In-The-Blank

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So you’ve always wanted to be an automotive journalist, eh? Well here is a little helper to get you started. For years, auto journos have been churning out formulaic and demonstrably familiar reviews of cars that they may or may not have ever even driven. It’s easy enough to do, and before long you can add esq. to the end of your name, and start racking up the frequent flyer miles as you get occasional glimpses into the frequently amazing life of a person who would actually be able to afford the cars you’re driving. Anyway, to help you on your journey to internet stardom and comment thread hatred, I’ve created this Fill-In-The-Blank to make churning out fluffy and fun reviews easy to do. All you have to do is fill in the blanks and follow a few simple rules, and you’ll be making easy money in no time! Instant, overnight success is at your fingertips, just click the jump to reach out and grab it!

THE RULES

  1. Photos are important. You can sell a mediocre article on great photography, but you can’t sell the best article in the world on below average shots of the car. Luckily, manufacturers give you a handy USB drive filled with great photos of their cars. Use those and you’ll be fine! Besides, taking your own photos of the car just takes time away from when you could be eating free food and drinking free booze.
  2. Insert as much poetry as you can. Even if it doesn’t make sense, just do it. It’ll make you sound smarter, and people will love it. You’ll win a Pulitzer, like Dan Neil.
  3. Read as many automotive print monthlys as you can, and just copy what they do. If you just ape what everyone in a dying industry does, you’ll be a winner!
  4. Start with a history lesson, end the first paragraph with a leading question, fill the middle with facts that nobody will read, and end with your condescending opinion of the whole thing.
  5. Never give a bad review, because then manufacturers would stop inviting you to drive their cars, and your revenue stream would dry up. Your new personal mantra is “There are no bad cars”.

2016 Infiniti Q50

CRAFTING A TITLE

Your title, outside of your leading image, is the most important part of any article ever. It’s what gets people to click on your article, and after that, who cares how long they stay. The click is all that matters, because that’s what gets you PAID! So now that we’ve established how important your title is, here’s how you make it.

The (Brain-Meltingly Beautiful/Tire-Smokingly Powerful/Manly-As-Opening-A-Beer-Bottle-With-Your-Eye-Socket/Entire-Fields-Of-Cows-Died-For-It Luxurious/Perfectly Cromulent) (Car Model) Is (The Best/An Epic/A Perfectly Crafted) (Throwback To A Simpler Time/Thing On Wheels/Way To Display Your Superiority)

And there you have it. The perfect title.

THE OPENING PARAGRAPHS

Like I said before, in the opening paragraph, you want to give a history lesson. Because the easiest way to prove your authority on a model is to spend 30 seconds cruising the Wiki page on it to find something about the history of either the model you’re reviewing, or the brand it comes from. As long as the site you publish to doesn’t have a comments section, it doesn’t even really have to be true. Try to make it sound true, though.

(Make) has been around since (year of inception/if not known, guess) when (founder) decided making (chuckwagons/bicycles/internet payment facilitation software/Formula 1 racers/coke-fueled paintings of sea otters) was for the birds, and the world hasn’t been the same since. Back then, (Founder) made a promise that his company would (be the best at making cars the world had ever seen/would change how people think about cars/would get people out of carriages and into cars). (Length of time) later, when the (Make – Model) was introduced, it was (considered revolutionary for the time/answered the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything/an immediate sales success). With this new version, though, (Make) has introduced (amazing new features/stylish new bodywork/an exciting new engine) that has made it (even better/more amazing-er/the best of the best).
This vehicle will definitely make you smile at how (fun/comfortable/safe/hilariously sideways) it is to drive. There is nothing wrong with this car, and I’ll be surprised if any are left on dealer lots when you go to look for one. This (car/truck/SUV/CUV/sportabout/dual-cowl phaeton) is a guaranteed hit among the target demographic (Suburban Moms With A Safety Fetish/MEN!/RaceCar YaYas/Collectors Who Will Never Drive Them Ever). Not only is it (beautiful/polarizing/a vision of The Lord God Himself), this thing (drives great/handles anything you throw at it/corners like it’s on rails/crushes the spines of the weak). So now that we’ve told you it’s awesome, you want one, don’t you?

boxsterspyder

VEHICLE EXTERIOR APPEARANCE

Describe the outside of the car as best you can without getting into too many specifics. If there is something you don’t like about the outside of the car, just call it “polarizing”, because that’s not exactly negative, but it gets across the point that *some* people might not like the way it looks without pissing off the manufacturer. Basically, you just want to write this part of the article as if you’re walking up to the car for the first time and describing it to someone who recently went blind. Here, try this.

From the front of the vehicle, you can instantly tell that this is a (make), because of that signature “corporate” grille [note: This might sound too specific, but don’t worry, every car maker has one now]. The A-pillar is (sharply raked back like a dancer/nearly vertical for excellent visibility/angled at a degree enough to provide a nice cabin, but also decrease wind resistance over the outgoing version), and that helps give the car its distinctive silhouette. The doors (scissor upward like a bird of prey about to take down a vole/open quite wide for maximum efficiency ingress and egress/are completely removable so you can show off your summer bod and shoulder tats to the honeys in that little red convertible number next to you at the stop light). Out back, the tail lights (are perfectly visible to anyone behind or to the side, as law mandates/feature multiple LEDs for a nice high-tech look/look like awesome light up circles at night, like flyin’ saucers/are mounted high on the rear facade to give the car the visual appearance of being taller when viewed from the back). Put that all together and you’ve got a (cohesive appearing/awesome/curvaceous/polarizing) package.

The 2016 Nissan TITAN XD, which made its world debut at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, is set to shake up the highly competitive full-size pickup segment when it goes on sale in the United States and Canada beginning in late 2015 - with a bold all-new design that stakes out a unique position in the segment between traditional heavy-duty and light-duty entries.

INTERIOR

The inside of the car is most important to a lot of your readers, because that’s where they spend their time. It does well to remember, though, that you’re often not confirming a purchase for someone, rather affirming that they’ve made the right one. If you insult the interior of the car that they’ve payed good money for, they’ll write your editor and get you fired. And besides, that manufacturer will be less inclined to let you back into the interior of one such car any time soon. Always say that ‘everything falls nicely to hand’. I don’t know why, but it’s a phrase that pays, and it’s been used for decades. What ain’t broke, don’t fix. Keep it light, keep it airy, keep it positive!

Once seated inside, you’ll find that everything falls nicely to hand, and is within easy reach of the driver. The steering wheel is exactly where you’d want it to be for this kind of driving, and features a number of buttons for various functions. The center stack holds your (size) infotainment screen, HVAC, and various other controls (manipulated simply by your thoughts and gestures/in a single piece of wizardry shaped like a giant knob that you can sort-of pseudo write on with your finger/among a few dozen different switches, toggles, and knobs, as it should be). You sit (low/high) in the seat as a king or queen might, and view the world of your dominion, because this four-wheeled motion machine will make you feel like royalty. Comfort is exactly as you’d expect for a car like this, and easily on par or better than others in this market segment. No matter who you are, you’ll enjoy your seat time here. (The back seat is more than spacious enough for the kids and their gear, too!/The back seat is vestigial, and would probably be best reserved for hauling groceries, but it lowers your insurance rate, and can be forced into service if absolutely necessary/Besides, who needs back seats when this car makes you feel so good?)

volvo-s90-12

DRIVING EXPERIENCE

This is the make or break part of the article. If you are worth your salt, you can make it sound like you have driven every car in the segment and know without a doubt that this one is the best. Maybe. See, this is where it gets difficult. You’ve got to walk the fine line of pleasing the manufacturer you’re driving right now, without making a competitor to that manufacturer angry. This balancing act is your bread and butter. You can’t really earn the right to objectively say one car is better than another until you’ve been playing this game for over a decade, at which point your decision will be predicated on which manufacturer buys the most pages in the annual ad buy with the publishing company that writes your paycheck. That’s an advanced level lesson for a later time, though. Let’s stick with the basics for now.
Even if you’ve never driven a car before, you would have a pretty good idea of how to write this section convincingly only if you’ve read a British automobile glossy magazine at any time in the last decade. The American pubs will give it a shot to emulate them as well, but it’s no good to emulate an emulator. Watch a few Jeremy Clarkson reviews on YouTube, too, if you think it’ll help. People love that guy. What you’re aiming for is a place to put all that poetry you studied/ripped off from better writers. If you get stuck, try this formula.

This motor handles (corners/the rat race/potholes and the trampled corpses of the proletariat in equal measure) with aplomb. Driving this beast (in the Atacama Desert/in the heart of Istanbul/up and down the Himalayan mountain range from peak to peak/through some of the best roads that southern Italy has to offer/around the Yas Marina circuit/to the North Pole) was one of the greatest experiences of my entire life, and it will be really hard to top that one. The thing I was driving managed the trip with no worries, and it was a great way to test out the new suspension design that it won’t really matter if you’ve heard of before or not. The sound of that engine is perfect in a way that no other engine could sound when it’s really doing its thing. The torque and power are both what you’d consider adequate for motion. There’s just something about this method of transportation that makes it superior to most other forms of transport. There’s a wheel with a tire at each corner, you’ve got bumpers to protect you, and probably some airbags or something.

2015-Lincoln-Navigator-front-end-in-motion

STATS

This is where years of staying out late and cramming the morning before an exam helps. You can find everything you need to pass this section either on that USB stick the manufacturer gave you, or failing that, on Wikipedia. Just throw some numbers at the page and try to give an educated guess as to why they are important. Nobody really cares about anything but horsepower, 0-60 times and top speed anyway. They might tell you they care about payload and towing, but payload and towing doesn’t get their dick wet. Even truck guys and minivan moms care about horsepower and 0-60. If they’re real-f**kin’ nerds, give them a Nurburger-onion-whatever-kind-of-ring lap time. That’ll shut ’em up.

COMPETITION NOTES

Stick to the basics. Find one competitor that is worse than this car in one metric and only compare them on that metric. That way you can later say that the competitor is better than the car reviewed here. It should look like this.
The (Make-Model) is quicker than (Competitor 1), handles better than (Competitor 2), and has more interior headroom than (Competitor 3). If that isn’t enough to make you get in your old jalopy right now and drive down to the (Make) dealer, perhaps the price will. At only (price), you really can’t afford to pass this one up.
003-2017-fiat-124-spider-1
And there you have it. Now that you know how to easily compile consumable and palatable automotive reviews, you’re almost ready for prime time. There is only one more lesson, but unfortunately that one you’ll have to learn on your own through the experience of being around other seasoned journalists, and that is how to bitch about your provided travel accommodations. Everyone does it, and I can’t seem to figure out why. Once you’ve got that figured out, you can start a podcast and you’ll be a 100% bona fide auto journo scribe. Welcome to the fold!

0 Comments

  1. The formulaic approach that hasn’t changed in 40 years is why I no longer read automotive reviews.

    1. I have a stack of about eight Car and Driver magazines from the past seven months and the upcoming February that I haven’t read for this very reason. When shopping for cars or searching for information about them I often do turn to magazine reviews for the statistical items though, which some magazines, like Car and Driver, do a pretty good job at.

    2. It is very easy to drop out of reading an article when detecting this approach. On the other hand, it is very hard to create something interesting, that stands out and delivers actual consumer advice.

      1. Difficult, but worthwhile.
        I admire Zach Bowman for his ability to do just that.
        I’m not saying my work is amazing, and I definitely fall victim to a bit of this (I’ve definitely used “With aplomb” and “falls easily to hand” before), but I try to make my car reviews like I’m giving advice to a friend. “Here are the things I found excellent. Here are the things that annoyed me.” and I usually end it with “If it were my money, this is what I would do…” It may not be the most compelling way to write, but I want to be honest without being boring.
        If anyone has any feedback, I’m always happy to hear it.

        1. Yep, I guess it boils down to honesty. Avoid empty phrases and just sploosh out what you really think. That has been the obvious success behind a couple of blogs, too. The worst thing happens when people get afraid of the industry they review and start using worthless euphemisms.

          1. I have the disadvantage of being a pretentious, boring blowhard when speaking with friends IRL, so for me, using clichés with aplomb falls easily to hand.

        2. I always worry that, when describing a driving experience, people remember that my daily drivers include an eighteen year old Rover.
          Finger on the pulse, me.

        3. Feedback: it’s important to switch it up every once in a while.
          Replace “with aplomb” by “with a plumb bob”, and “falls easily to hand” with “easily crushes your hand”, and you’ll be good for several more years!
          😉

  2. Flippant comment focusing on an irrelevant minor point, followed by a jarring transition to an, at best, marginally related personal enthusiasm. Implied or overt grumpiness towards all things new, juxtaposed with a cynicism towards nostalgia. Perhaps a photo. Done.

    1. Did I do it right?
      Succumbing to the onslaught a million clueless automotive bean counters, Glizzbat’s new Motontator is no longer available in a two-door coupe. This just demonstrates to what extent Glizzbat has ceased to care about the Motontator’s performance lineage — I, for one, will never forget watching Zurgen Bittermark’s blistering victory at the ’92 Ice Forest Rally in a first-gen Motontator coupe. Many of the “new” features of the fourth-gen Motontator, such as doubling the number of cup holders and moving the shifter from the dash to the console, only serve to strip away the distinctive, iconic character Glizzbats have always possessed in a misguided attempt to gain more mainstream sales from secretaries and soccer moms. Unfortunately, the result is more bland than bankable.
      http://indianautosblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Ford-EcoSport-rear-legroom-max.jpg
      [CAPTION: Despite being available only as a four-door sedan, the new Motontator’s rear seat legroom is inadequate.]

  3. I recommend buying all the coke-fueled paintings of sea otters that one can find. They always appreciate in value.

  4. My favorite one over the last decade or so has been discussions of body-on-frame platforms. On current models, it should usually be described like this: “Unlike most of the competition in this segment, the [ _______ ] is underpinnned by a full, ladder-type frame, which we applaud because it has the toughness to stand up to even the most rugged driving environments.” However, as soon as the model be upgraded to a unibody platform, be sure to state, “It was high time the factory retired the old model, which was one of the few cars in this segment that still used a crude, old-fashioned, separate frame. The new version uses a modern unibody design for lighter weight, better gas mileage, better handling and a more comfortable ride.”

  5. Aww man, you’ve sucked all the romance out of it! Now I have to try breaking into my next great love, fashion reviews.

  6. Car & Driver’s Opel Kadett review from 1968 is the right way to skewer a car. I remember reading it when they reprinted it on the magazine’s 40th (?) anniversary year. It’s worth reading from beginning to end.
    “It stands for nothing, affirms nothing, suggests nothing; it’s your definitive non-car, a limp, unending mass of tapioca, the embodiment of zeppelin-sized boredom on an economy scale.”
    http://wildaboutcarsonline.com/members/AardvarkPublisherAttachments/9990438632447/1968-02_CD_Opel_Kadett_L_Station_Wagon_1-5.pdf

    1. C&D wasn’t kind to the Sonett V4 in 1968, either. This is from the July issue:
      “You could buy a Saab Sonett, take off the Saab escutcheon, and tell people you built it yourself. You wouldn’t run too much of a risk of standing corrected. Your friends would nod sagely and say you always were handy with your hands.
      “Or, you could buy a Saab Sonett, and tell people you spent $3600-plus for it. Your friends would nod sagely and say you always were a sucker for a right cross.
      “As it stands, the Sonett, (Saab model number 97) is little more – or less – than a small-bore wish fulfillment for the would-be racers willing to pay a steep price for the privilege of acting out their fantasies on the public highways.”
      Naturally I rather enjoyed mine.

        1. I just developed that theory for the relative success of Daewoo cars, badged as Chevrolet in Europe: the parked managers simply didn’t accept their punishment and worked their way out.

      1. Now here’s a pro’s (different profession, though) top tip: if you are all-capsing and need to stress one point even over the all-caps but “!!1!” won’t do, use spaces:
        I BET THE OPEL REPRESENTATIVE DIDN’T FIND THAT RESPONSE V A L U A B L E !

    2. More than anything, C&D just needs to let John Phillips off his meds more often
      “Cadillac’s brand manager says, “Cadillac research showed that there was a real need for the EXT.” A real need for a Cadillac pickup? Really? If so, then here are a few things that I really need: An air-conditioned front yard. Iguana-skin patio furniture. Stigmata. Mint-flavored Drano. Gold-plated roof gutters. A 190-hp MerCruiser SaladShooter. A dog with a collapsible tail. An office desk that converts into a Hovercraft. Chrome slacks. A lifetime subscription to Extreme Fidgeting. A third arm. A fourth wife. A smokeless Cuban Robusto. Reusable Kleenex. ”
      http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/2002-cadillac-escalade-ext-archived-test-review

  7. Great article. I think I’m only guilty of one or two of those on occasion 😛
    But you forgot about another option for maximum SEO. There’s an option for finding titles that only the pros with the most popular websites use. You simply use the title “X Reasons Why The [Car Model] Is The Best Car In The World And Cures Cancer!” for your first review and then use “X Reasons Why The [Same Car Model] Totally Sucks And Stole Christmas” as a title for another contradicting piece set to run a few days later.
    It’s perfect. You attract clicks and keep your readers wondering if they should trust your publication’s opinions!

  8. Hey, if more and more, manufacturers are going to just design a relatively small handful of components and put them together in slightly different ways, why not write about those products the same way?

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