All auto writers, even those of us here at Jalopnik, have sometimes been guilty of turning out crap car reviews. And when a review fails, it's likely because it falls into one of these seven, fail-encrusted categories.
1.) "The Night After the Press Drive Brain Dump"
Who has time to enjoy the fine wines and aged steaks that cap off a test-drive junket? These days, many writers spend the evening after a drive in their hotel room unpacking dense press releases, deciphering scribbled quotes from engineers and shotgunning details into Wordpress like a Western Union cable operator during the earthquake of 1906. All in an attempt to beat the guy in the next room to the "save" button. Brain dumps are no fun to write, they usually contain few real insights, and the best a reader can hope for is more verbs than adjectives and enough pretty photos to take the edge off.
2.) The "This Would Have Been Readable, But The Assistant Editor Was Intimidated By The Overbearing Writer Who's Also an Engineer" Review
The poor kid. That cranky old writer came back with 5,000 words on polar moment of inertia, camber thrust, slip angle ratios and lateral force variation, and couldn't be bothered explaining what the hell any of it means. "Oh, they'll get it," he bellows at the kid, who doesn't get paid enough to deal with this asshole. The kid knows the copy's bullshit, but the big bully's not having it. Who pays the price? The reader, because we're left with nothing worth reading.
3.) The Over-Detailed Tome (aka The Unedited, Self-Indulgent Litany of Crap)
The level of detail on these reviews is so excruciating, the pages so dense with terms and coinages and metaphors, that by the time you're nearing the vicinity of judgment on the car's cargo volume — at around, say, word 1,559 — it's too late because you've already climbed up on a wooden chair and looped your tie around a hot water pipe.
4.) The Unsuccessful Attempt at a Clarkson-esque Extended Metaphor (aka The "Clarksonian Auteur Screed")
It takes a real pro like Jeremy Clarkson to launch a car review with an anecdote about a chutney spoon, then keep us engaged as he grouses about the Cotswolds, gets a haircut and drops a reference to Sir Robert Walpole –- before getting anywhere near an actual car. Most amateur attempts at this kind of writing fall flatter than one of Sir Geoffrey Howe's pocket squares.
5.) The Unsuccessful Attempt at a Dan Neil-esque Literary Reference (aka "Where's MY Goddamn Pulitzer")
There's no sin in calling on the great masters to make a point, just make sure it's precise, or you might wind up like the pompous windbag at the cocktail party who's trying to put his tweed sportcoat on over the lamp that's sticking out of his ass. "Be not afraid of greatness," Shakespeare once said, "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. Like this 1597 Datsun."
6.) The "I Should Be Writing For Conde Nast Travel, This Shit Is So Damn Descriptive" review
It starts by putting the reader right into the action. "There I was, caroming athwart a dewy ribbon of Spanish pavement at 9/10ths, the luscious scent of orange blossoms filling the German sedan's cockpit with the early spring of Basque country, the honey'd aroma awakening my senses for the long, right-handed, on-camber sweeper I was about to skim like Danish butter across my Asian grandmother's vintage Griswold frypan ..." Seriously. Cut. It. Out.
7.) The "My experience racing Dodge Neons elevates my opinion on an object's intrinsic worth to godlike status" meta-review.
Sure, we're fascinated with how it's possible to shave milliseconds off one's lap time in a Chrysler 300 by not being a careerist hack with an upside-down Detroit mortgage and two kids to support. But being an elitist whose cause célèbre is sniffing out elitism in others doesn't make a review more interesting, it makes it tedious garbage.
Now here's the fun part. Find for us an example for each and show your work in the comments below. Let's see who can collect them all!