The bar erupts

Posted on August 24th, 2003 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

It’s both a curse and also one of the reasons that so many people read this online magazine: cars stir passions in a way that few other mass-produced consumer goods do. The tactility, history and rewards available in cars inspire people to love and hate, engender loyalties and animosities, cause passion and dogmatism. And the journalists who write about those products can inspire almost equal strengths of view….

But back on the products. There’s one aspect I have always found very hard to understand: the blind loyalty to one manufacturer. Simply, I just don’t get it.

I think that I can empathise as strongly as anyone about the history of a marque: Mercedes Benz, the grandfather of them all and so unswerving in its integrity of research and development; BMW, who nearly went broke and pulled themselves out only by producing a fascinating small car; General Motors, responsible for so much of the technology that we now take for granted.

But that is a world away from believing that all GM products are good. Or that DaimlerChrysler never makes mistakes. In fact, to be honest, these notions of manufacturer infallibility strike me as ludicrous.

So when we recently (well, recently when I am writing this) ran a very critical story about the Nissan 350Z, I was slightly bemused by the nature of the widespread discussions that occurred on forums around the world. (It’s easy for me to see what people are saying: I simply follow our in-house referrers’ list that takes me straight to the discussion.) In that story I’d suggested that the 350Z – basically – handled like crap on bad roads, and that the Holden Special Vehicles Clubsport would be a much sweeter car in the same conditions. (To see the story go to “New Car Test – Nissan 350Z Track”.)

So the Nissan discussion groups said that the story was obviously rubbish. And the Holden discussions groups said how wonderful the story was.


There seemed to be no thought given to the fact the journalist – in this case, me – might not have cared less whether Nissan or Holden ‘won’ the comments. Not one person in any of these discussion groups had driven both cars. Now it’s quite possible that my conclusions are erroneous, but surely those commenting on them should have at least experienced both cars before their comments had any validity? I mean, would you say that Bose is better than B&O – without having listened to both?

Then there were the people writing on the discussion group whose members were once a part of an AutoSpeed forum. We got sick of their ramblings and self-importance and basically kicked them out by closing the AutoSpeed forums – and since they suffered from the delusion that they were the very foundation of AutoSpeed, they’ve never forgiven us. Especially when they said that without their presence, we’d be broke within a few months. (That was said nearly two years ago!)

Click for larger image

Being people who – in the most part – react before reading, they saw my name at the top of the story and assumed that all the points expressed in it were mine. However, as I am sure you who read the story know, I deliberately distanced myself from a car that I consider quite poor and gave it for a few days to someone who I thought (wrongly, as it turned out) was much more likely to enjoy the mix of characteristics… a man who just happens to be a moderator of that particular discussion group!

It took dozens of posts before the majority woke up to the fact that the person that they thought they were sledging for his viewpoints (the devil incarnate JE) was actually their beloved Q!

Talk about a laugh!

Don’t worry about the points that are being written, just get stuck into them on the basis of who they (erroneously) thought had espoused them! Add to this the prejudices based on brand names, and you had a screamingly funny mix of abuse. The posts from Nissan owners (summarised as: “I own a Nissan and it’s a good car. This guy reviews a new Nissan badly so he must be a f%&kwit.”) and those who hate me (“JE wrote the story. He is an idiot who knows nothing.”) became a masterful discourse in totally misunderstanding a story.

Deep into the thread there were back-peddles so swift they must have dislocated some ankles (“well I haven’t driven one so perhaps my comments are out of line”) and plaintive requests from those who evidently can’t read (“I’m still confused as to who originally wrote that article?!?”) and then after the recognition that ‘their man’ had expressed most of the negative views about the 350Z, all of a sudden the points made in the original article were somehow taken as gospel. (Not quite, but the change in analysis was extraordinary.)

Dear me.

That’s not to say that all the viewpoints expressed in all discussion groups were useless – only about 90 per cent of them… Personally, I found the post to the (mostly US-based) one of the most interesting. In part it read:

I’ve heard similar complaints about the sedan chassis variations (G35/Altimas). Basically, it’s too rough for comfort, and doesn’t handle as well as you’d expect for that level of brutality. Plus it’s easy to overcorrect via throttle-off oversteer, because the rear will break loose when the power comes back (too jerky, too upsetting).

I found this somewhat true in the sedan G35. There’s a particular S curve I can take at 80-85 [mph] in the [Audi] A6 that leads into a sweeping, decreasing radius right. It felt a little sketchy at 80 in the G35 Sedan. In the A6 (and Miata [MX5]) I throttle off as I apex the first turn, let my weight transfer to the opposite side of the car, then hit the throttle again and nail the apex of the second turn. I can usually hold it into the decreasing radius turn, cut the corner a little tight and have a nice straight exit.

When I tried in the G35, it felt like 80 was too fast for the first turn (as it pushed a slight bit), and when I throttled off, the turn-in was choppy (it didn’t do anything at first, then suddenly snapped in place, as if maybe the tires didn’t grab at first, then suddenly connected). The timing couldn’t have been worse, as that was the same instant I was planning my corner-exit acceleration. I pulled out anyway, but at a slower speed than I had planned (75). I think that somewhere in the transition phase, the suspension didn’t absorb enough of the road, and instead deflected the car through the turn. This really destroyed my confidence for the decreasing radius turn, and I opted to just “roll through it” instead of pushing it.

I think the rear of the car is simply too rigid by design. I’m sure it was done intentionally to make it handle tauter, by it doesn’t seem necessary for the “stock” version of the car. (Usually people who want cars to handle like this, will opt for rear sway bars and strut tower braces – this car doesn’t really need all that).

Out of all the posts to all these discussion groups (we had many hundreds of referrers to the article), this was one that I actually gained something from…

The reaction to our story surprised me a little. While Paul, the man who drove the 350Z and who was quoted at such length, wondered before the story was published whether anyone would even bother ploughing through his comments, I was confident that it was a strong article. But still, even as the most negative review of the Nissan 350Z that I have seen, the sheer intensity of reaction was startling.

But to suggest that there was more heat than light is an understatement.

Web discussion groups can be an amazingly good source of information. Recently when I was buying a new camera lens, one of the first things I did was a Google discussion group search to find users of the lens… and see what they thought of it. I did the same when I bought a new mobile phone. ‘Course, with the lens you can see the images that have been posted on websites – a somewhat better indicator than comments on car handling! But there can still be no denying the worth of other people’s opinions… you just need to analyse and sort, expecting to discard 90 per cent of them.

Especially the opinions from those who apparently believe that certain car manufacturers – curiously, often the same manufacturer who made the car that the poster owns – can do no wrong…

Comments are closed.