Pros, Cons and Trade-Offs
After lunch, I found Redding and Bancroft looking under the hood of the Malibu. Bancroft had pulled the plastic cover off the battery. "Nice feature," he said. "Might keep your terminals from corroding during the winter."
Redding considered the point. "I don't know," she said. "I have a covered battery on my Equinox and the local car parts store wouldn't do a battery check on it. I had to take it to the dealership."
Redding seemed like a well-informed car buyer, and she admitted that she is often drafted by friends who are in the market for a new car. This event would be very useful for a shopper, she said, because "the cars are right here, side by side. You don't have to go from one dealership to another."
Meanwhile, the other consumer critics were busy loading suitcases, coolers and golf clubs into car trunks and strapping baby seats into backseats. Impressively, they turned the luggage different ways, measuring the clearance height left in the trunk. School teacher Barr even went for the tape measure, stretching it across the trunk opening and frowning in disapproval.
Comments and measurements all went onto the pages of the clipboards. I put myself in their place and imagined having to review all the notes. When the event concluded, they were tasked with writing a 600-word road test on the cars and ranking the cars in the order of their preference.
Driving on the Racetrack
The last event of the day was the chance to drive the cars on the Streets of Willow racetrack. The tension mounted as Dan Edmunds told everyone they would have to wear helmets. This apparently was an invitation to push the cars through the corners at any speed they wanted. Ample space was left between each car, and right away it was evident that some drivers were into speed, while this was a fairly new experience for others.
"It wasn't as scary as I thought," Redding said as she returned from her first lap. A testing team staffer nodded understandingly, "OK, so maybe you can pick it up for this next lap and see how it feels?" Redding pulled out at a brisk pace and returned beaming with excitement.
The others followed suit, settling into the experience after only a few laps around the Streets. Speeds increased and soon the air was filled with the sound of roaring engines and squealing tires. Now the real testing had begun.
And the Envelope, Please?
The consumer critics seemed more excited than tired as they filed back into the van for the return trip to Santa Monica. Shooting a last look back at the cars and the test track, they sat down, reviewed their notes and compared impressions. With the test driving and evaluation behind them, it only remained for them to return home, write up their reviews and rank the cars.
A week later I received an e-mail that contained the reviews from the six critics-for-a-day. As I read the words, I matched them with the people I had met and could almost hear their voices. I could also sense the struggle behind the words: wanting to be thorough, wanting to be fair. I even detected a small desire to see the Malibu top the list. And yet they had all those notes about all those cool features and different impressions.
Maybe they found out that this job is tougher than it seems.
Maybe they'll be knocking on the door and asking for a job soon.
In any case, you're probably wondering which car they chose. For the answer to that question, you'll just have to read the Consumer Comparison Test: 2008 Family Sedans.