Cars! They are good. They are fun. Some people like writing about cars (myself included). Some people like writing about cars and get paid to do so (not me). A lot has been said about cars and even more has yet to be recorded. After all, there are many cars and many people want to know stuff about them.
With so many burgeoning automotive journalists a few things are bound to be repeated. Or regurgitated, overused, projectile vomited onto blogs and magazines, etc. As an astute (or obsessive compulsive, depending on who you ask) reader I’ve singled out several cliches I would be more than happy to never come across again when taking in the words of a car review.
How’d It Come To This?
The fundamental issue is that hundreds of new cars are released upon the unsuspecting public every year. That number is probably in the thousands if you consider emerging markets like China and India. New models, new trim levels. Updated and revised ones too. They keep coming. Yet the number of available words in the English language to describe, for instance, acceleration, is not increasing. We have to make do with what we have.
Furthermore cars themselves haven’t really changed all that much in the last century. The technology has come a long way but the overall recipe hasn’t strayed far from the path. A top-of-the-line 2018 Tesla and a Ford Model T from 1908 both have four wheels, doors, windows, a steering wheel, and many other common traits. This will continue to be the case until autonomous vehicles come into the picture and shift the focus away from driving and to being driven.
They’re Not All Bad…
Before getting to the list I want to say that this entire thing is a bit of a parody. Looking back at some of my own articles I realize I’ve written the exact phrases I now shun – not that this confession clears my name or anything. But sometimes a corny line can add a bit of colour to an otherwise bland story… if used in moderation. The problem is seeing these examples back-to-back.
Now let’s get the cat out of the bag and look at automotive phrases which can go the way of the dodo bird!
The inaugural entry is on the list because there are only so many ways to describe an adhesive object. The first time I read “sticky tires” I thought it was a clever way to talk about grip, but then I started seeing the term everywhere. It is now firmly an automotive cliche.
“Sticky tires” also draws my ire because I see it all the time in car reviews. “Once you get some heat into the Pirellis, the sticky tires help propel the Porsche firmly around the bends”. Listen, that same Porsche would go round the same bends just as well on Yokohamas or Kendas. Car manufacturers will spec a tire to put on their models but that is one of the easiest items to change or upgrade and there are many equivalents from different brands. Quit complaining about the economy-focused tires for everyday driving on your Subaru BRZ – just go get some new ones.
Respectable Amount Of Power
If you had to make a blind guess about which car produces a “respectable amount of power” you could answer with anything and be both right and wrong. An 8-cylinder Mustang makes a respectable amount of power because it doesn’t cost a lot. A turbo’d Elantra makes a respectable amount of power for the compact segment. A Huayra makes a respectable amount of power because, if you don’t respect it, you’ll end up wrapped around a tree.
Not only is this highly subjective but it’s also very cheesy. Just give us the damn power figures and 0-60 times and let the reader decide what’s worth respecting or not.
One Time That Was Supercar Territory
Ugh, this is the one I hate the most! I find this as unnecessary a statement as “no one could have predicted…” or “I have a quick question”.
It’s just so obvious that it’s a stupid thing to say. “This Tesla from the year 2018 is faster than this Ford Model T from 1908”, or “the Kia now has features previously found only on top-of-the-line BMWs”. Gee, thanks for those elusive facts. I bet your readers had no idea that technology is constantly advancing to the benefit of cars. They are becoming safer, faster, and more efficient. It only logically makes sense that an econo-box from this era can outpace something ‘nice’ from many years back. Quit dwelling on the past, which is where you should leave this quote.
Handles Like It’s On Rails
There are a few technical flaws with this cliche.
When talking about ‘rails’ you are in fact making your comparison to trains. Some people might think they are talking about roller coasters but those have ‘tracks’. Now, one huge benefit trains have over cars is the minuscule amount of rolling resistance metal train wheels have with rails when compared to the rubber wheels of a car on pavement. This is great for efficiency but terrible for stopping and starting which is why freight trains and high-speed passenger trains need a mile of space to stop. Therefore, as far as straight-line handling goes, trains suck. And trains aren’t great in the corners either. Overcook a turn and you’re toast. Although it paints a vivid scene, cars definitely do not handle like they’re on rails.
Let me inject personal experience into this one. My mom has been entrapped by her Toyota dealer which always goads her into upgrading to a newer model partway through her lease. Her Camry is an OK car… but I believe she can get something nicer and more suitable for the price. I suggested a new Buick Regal because it’s a good choice. “Buick? But American cars always have electrical issues” was the response. Well, how ‘American’ is the Regal considering it was developed and produced in Germany?
I have to say it so please grant me a pass just this once: the world is changing. It truly is a global economy and although we still have borders the lines are super fuzzy. Take the quintessential Italian car – the Fiat 500. Of the two lead designers one is Italian and the other is “British-American … born in Morocco to a Norwegian father who held American citizenship and a Spanish mother”. Keep digging and you find out the 500 is produced in Poland and Mexico. And to add to it all, Fiat’s current CEO was born in New York City. Now tell me, please, what percentage of this cute little car is even Italian anymore?
Associating a car company with a particular country and bringing along all of the stereotypes from years past is simply no longer accurate and does a great disservice to the consumer. Unless you’re talking about Alfa Romeo who just can’t seem to make their cars work reliably.
Pushes You Back Into Your Seat
Here’s another one that’s overused and technically incorrect. First of all there aren’t any magical forces which push you back into the car seat. An accelerating car moves itself forward while your body wants to remain at rest. The seatback actually pushes you forward along with the car, but that doesn’t sound as visceral. Oh well, what are you going to do?
Whether you’re driving the latest Porsche Cayman or a clapped out Toyota Tercel you too can channel your inner Ricky Bobby and head to a track day or autocross event. And regardless of the vehicle you’re in you’ll probably have a blast. Sure, some cars are better-suited for eking out those last few tenths of a second but so much of it is up to the driver. If there’s anything lovable car shows like Top Gear and Roadkill have shown, it’s that nearly everything can be made to go around the track.
In The Hands Of A Professional
This phrase is often dropped in front of #7 which results in the redundant “in the hands of a professional, this car can be a real trackday weapon”. What separates a professional athlete from Joe Schmoe is their skill and ability to outperform others with even mundane equipment. That wasn’t a groundbreaking statement, was it? It goes without saying that someone whose job it is to be good at something will do just that. By saying this you’re only highlighting your own inability to make good use of the tool.
Oil does not actually come from dinosaurs. The petroleum that’s retrieved from beneath the Earth’s surface is much older than the reptiles and was probably formed by dead plankton and algae. Yeah… nowhere near as cool. Oh well. With the proliferation of electric vehicles this cliche is destined to join its namesake creatures in the history books.