As noted before in “Comparison tests, what are they good for?,” even the most even-handed comparison tests reflect a specific set of specifically weighted criteria. Then there are those that aren’t even-handed. Car comparison tests don’t come much more tilted than the “Camaro vs. Genesis” comparison test in the June 2009 Car and Driver.
Let’s begin with the cover, which shows the Camaro nosing ahead of the Hyundai on a track and includes three bits of information on each car. The first, base prices: $23,000 for the Chevrolet Camaro, $26,000 for the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Get into the magazine, and you’ll find that they rejected a Camaro LS because it had awful upholstery and mediocre tires. Upgrade to the LT, like they did, and two-thirds of the Camaro’s price advantage goes away. Adjust for remaining feature differences, and the cars’ prices are generally only a few hundred dollars apart.
Next on the cover, fuel economy: 29 MPG for the Camaro, 26 MPG for the Hyundai. EPA highway figures, of course. The city figures are an identical 17. In C&D’s testing, the Hyundai went slightly farther on a gallon of gas.
The third bit of information, horsepower: 304 for the Camaro, 306 for the Genesis Coupe. Not as potentially misleading as the other two bits. And yet, unsaid on the cover: the Camaro is over 300 pounds heavier, so the Hyundai has a significantly better power-to-weight ratio.
Go to the test and skim the results, and you’ll find that the Camaro does win, as suggested by the cover photo. Look more closely, and you’ll find that the Camaro wins by a single point. Actually check out the details, and you’ll find that, despite the connotations of that cover photo, the Camaro trailed the Genesis Coupe in every single track test. Acceleration, handling, braking–the Genesis Coupe was better, sometimes by a substantial margin. Moving to the subjective scoring, C&D rated the Genesis Coupe more “fun to drive” by a not insignificant two points. C&D notes a few times that the Camaro feels too big because of its size, mass, and small windows, and that it doesn’t invite precise steering inputs.
So how did the Genesis Coupe lose this test? Two factors. The first, ride quality, was affected by the optional Track Package on the car C&D tested. They note that they cycled through three Camaro test vehicles before settling on the one they liked best for the test. Why, then, didn’t they also evaluate the Genesis Coupe without the Track Package? Such a car might have gained more points in ride quality than it lost in handling and braking.
Even the four point spread in ride quality–a huge difference as scoring in these tests tends to go–wasn’t enough to fully erase the Hyundai’s lead in nearly every other category. To give the Camaro a one-point victory, C&D had to resort to the score of last resort: “gotta have it.” And heavily: the Camaro was given a monstrous six-point advantage–22 vs. 16, out of 25–in this 110% subjective category. To put it bluntly, the Camaro won this comparison test because, in C&D’s estimation, people want it more. Chalk one up to the power of a name and an effective PR campaign.
Even if we grant that “gotta have it” belongs in the scoring table at all–and I don’t, since I’d rather a test compare what the cars are like to look at, sit in, and drive and not the model name or the PR–the Hyundai’s 16 is crazy low for a car that offers so much performance for a price in the mid-20s.
The issue includes one other comparison test, between the BMW 328i, Infiniti G37, Audi A4 2.0T, and Acura TL. The TL, the least “gotta have” car in that test, with far more faults than strengths, received a 16. The Infiniti and Audi both received 20s. In the context of these scores, the Genesis Coupe’s 16 doesn’t hold water.
And the Camaro V6′s 22? Yes, there’s a lot of interest in the new Camaro, but generally for the V8. Maybe that’s why they couldn’t go all the way to 25, and so had to dock the Genesis Coupe’s “gotta have it” score to carve out the desired margin?
No disrespect meant to the Camaro. If it handles anything like the Pontiac G8 with which it shares a platform, it’s a fun car, and it looks great. I’ve driven neither car yet myself, and have no predisposition in favor of either. In other words, I’m no fanboy or hater.
My focus here has been strictly on the fairness of the test. And this is the most tilted comparison test I’ve come across in a long time. In the end, “gotta have it” is like the “reviewer’s tilt” score used by gamespot.com when reviewing games. It’s being used to ensure that the car the reviewers want to win actually wins, despite what the other scores happen to be. I’d be much more satisfied with C&D’s result here if they simply renamed “gotta have it” as “reviewer’s tilt,” since this would make the presence of the tilt explicit rather than cloaking it in “gotta have it.”