Don’t tell me how to review cars, Thanks!

The verdicts of other car reviewers makes no difference to me, I make up my own mind

By Shahzad Sheikh

Legit car reviews

Several times recently – and I find it a little weird because it’s never happened before – having announced a car that I’m testing, people have pointed me, either on social media openly or through private messaging towards reviews already done by more prominent reviewers on the same car.

Now it’s not that I don’t respect, appreciate or even read/watch other car journalists’ verdicts, but frankly I choose to make up my own mind when it comes to reviewing cars.

To my mind there are three reasons that I can see why people might be sending me other journalists’ reviews; and one is that they are looking for some level of corroboration and are attempting to pre-empt my opinion by showing me another review that they may already have bought into. ‘So and so really likes the car’, surely I must agree too, right?

Jeremy Clarkson

The second reason is probably that they’re just trying to be helpful, which is kind of sweet really. Whilst I usually try to avoid other reviewer’s verdicts until I’ve had a chance to form my own opinion with first-hand experience of the car, sometimes I might consult them for factual information regarding the vehicle that may not be to hand or which was not supplied to me by the manufacturer or PR. But I can manage to find the links myself thanks.

The third reason could be that they think I’m not qualified or competent enough to do a review, in which case, why are you even here? There are literally hundreds of car reviews on the net now for almost any given vehicle – which is wonderful because it means you have a choice. If you don’t like what I say, just click off.

Nonetheless, I think I have pretty solid credentials in the arena of auto-journalism – I’ve been reviewing cars since 1989, and I started off in Saudi Arabia so my experience is relevant to the region.

Lamborghini Countach

I also worked in the UK and launched the award-winning Parkers.co.uk website 17 years ago – a massively popular used car consumer-guide and was Deputy Editor on Used Car Buyer magazine. Additionally I worked with one of the largest global automotive data research companies as their news editor (Jato Dynamics) and before launching Motoring Middle East ran the Middle East Edition of the highly esteemed and historic automotive title, Car Magazine, for five years.

So after nearly 30 years of doing this, having driven everything from a Lada to a Formula 1 car, I think I do know a thing or two about assessing cars.

Nonetheless, despite all of that, some may still compare me to one of their favourite car reviewers and question how I could possibly disagree with that person’s verdict in any way?

Again, there are three things to keep in mind here. Firstly – have you even known a group of car guys to agree on everything? Mustang or Camaro? Ferrari or Lamborghini? Mercedes or BMW… or Audi?

You see what I mean?

stay cool

And fundamentally, we car journalists, at our core, are car guys. And whilst we try to be as objective as possible, there is a level of affinity we might feel towards a certain brand or type of car that might filter through in our verdicts. Usually though we do try to state or make apparent if there’s a chance we’re giving into our loyalties.

Secondly, there can be subtle or even significant differences in specs, engines, and trim levels between countries and markets. And pricing can have a key impact – a car that’s a no-brainer in one market because of reasonable pricing, could be a no-no for our region due to an outlandish price tag.

Maybe it’s the sweet manual change on a sportscar that makes it so good, but we only get an the automatic version – for example the first NSX I ever drove was an auto, and I was very disappointed with it until I finally got hold of a manual, and went from not liking the iconic Honda to desperately desiring the old NSX.

Honda NSX

We might get different engines and possibly transmissions or even drivetrains – whether a car we test is AWD or FWD or RWD could make a dramatic difference to its handling dynamics. And now there are other aspects such as variable steering, four-wheel steering, driver’s aids, different wheel sizes and tyres, ride setup variations and so on, etc.

Extend that further and you have to consider our very unique and quite demanding environment – the heat and the sand. A car might be great in Europe, but if the rubber seals let all the sand in and the AC is really not up to our fierce heat, then a great car there, is a sales flop here potentially.

And finally there are cultural differences – from how we approach and perceive cars to how we drive them. For example large SUVs are not particularly liked in Europe, but we adore them here; there are sensational B-roads over there where you can really extract the best out of a good hot hatch, here there’s only a couple of roads like that; open-top low-powered sportscars like a Caterham or even a Mazda MX-5 have a lot of appeal there, but trying driving one here now in the middle of summer.

Lamborghini Parade in Dubai to mark 50th anniversary of the marque

We also like torquey, powerful motors, and we drive them hard, especially as we are not yet too concerned with economy and emissions whereas these aspects are key in some Western markets.

There are also historic allegiances, for example the Toyota Land Cruiser, Nissan Patrol and full-size SUVs from GMC and Chevrolet have been kings of the desert for decades. Some markets may perceive them as irrelevant antiquated dinosaurs, but we simply can’t get enough of them!

So you see my reviewing a car and giving a verdict that appear to disagree with your favourite international car journalist doesn’t necessarily mean that either of us is wrong.

Clarkson Hammond May cartoon

A review of any kind consists of facts which are indisputable, but also verdicts that are ultimately subjective and/or contextual. And that is reliant on assessing cars sensitively within the local market, including its relevant pricing and spec, how well it works in our environment, prevailing perceptions of the brand, and inevitably our own personal relationship with the marque as well.

As a car enthusiast or someone in the market looking to buy a new car – by all means you should seek out and consume every bit of information and all the informed reviews of cars that you can find. And in amongst those, accept my offering and decide for yourself whether it’s relevant and relatable to you. Otherwise simply move on to the next review.

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