Automotive writers serve three masters: their readers, the publication and the manufacturers who supply cars — but not in that order. While you re guessing who goes where, October 17th s AutoWeek provides yet another off-kilter example of a tri-cornered car hack struggling to balance these forces. Steven Cole Smith supplies this week s lesson in comedic tightrope walking: a review of Jaguar s Super V8 Portfolio entitled More Super Than Clark Kent. Hang on; shouldn t that be more super than Superman? The headline is the first indication of Mr. Smith s, shall we say, ambivalence
Smith begins with a lengthy quote from Joe Greenwell, Chairman and CEO of Jaguar Cars. Joey G lays out the raison d etre and USP of the marque s special edition XJ in typical PR spin speak. But just when you thought AutoWeek s masthead-deprived reviewer was burnishing the average car journo's rep for kissing ass and rewriting press releases, Smith turns on Greenwell like a Rottweiler who s put up with a toddler s tugging for that tiny bit too long.
It s a good idea to start out these stories with earnest quotes from executives, because with their limited attention span that is often as far as they get before they turn the page.
While we would log that one under cheap shots (and clunky construction), props to Smith for tearing off a chunk of the hand that feeds. Oh wait, no. In the next sentence, Smith goes all submissive — to the point where he s pounding his proverbial head against the metaphorical floor, redefining obsequiousness for generations to come.
Not that we re going to say anything bad about the Jaguar flagship, as it is not targeted at this precise demographic, an aging and overweight malcontent who couldn t afford one if his richest relative died and left him his mobile home and cats. Jaguar gave us a Portfolio to drive around in Las Vegas, and we appreciated it.
Of course, he s lying. Smith detests the Portfolio in an enormously condescending not to say class warrior kinda way, and he s going to make damn sure his readers know. His opening salvo revolves around the Portfolio s investment value (geddit?). After revealing that Jaguar is only producing 150 examples, and dissing the US vis- -vis Canada for taking the lion s share, Smith has a message for buyers who think their Jaguar Portfolio will appreciate over time: To these latter people we say, Good luck!
The review continues in multiple personality mode, as Smith struggles to turn negatives into positives. To wit: the writer s observation that the ZF transmission keeps pretty close tabs on the accelerator pedal and the steering is overboosted [sic] but that s simply Jaguar. But Smith can t help himself; he quickly slips back into laughing at the stupid rich white guys who shell out big bucks for these top-of-the-line limited editions:
Out back are Portfolio tailpipes, which are enormous chromed exhausts tips the size of Crisco cans affixed to what appear to be regular Super V8 pipes. Every time we saw a 1992 Civic sedan drive by that had been the recipient of a J.C. Whitney-type exhaust enhancement, we said, Look! Portfolio tailpipes!
Having exhausted his exclamation mark quotient, Smith s rhetoric quickly sinks to low murmur. He cruises towards his conclusion, substituting literary check marks for creative writing whilst describing the Portfolio s interior, engine and handling. The penultimate paragraph recommends the regular Jaguar Super V8 while dissing the Portfolio s wikkid power vents. If only he d stopped there
Deploying the circle of life closing technique, Smith ends as he started: mocking a Jag exec while presenting a direct quote.
For those executives who skip right to the end of a story, here is what Bibiana Boerio, managing director of Jaguar Cars, says about this newest cat: The Super V8 Portfolio offers
For those automotive journalists, editors and camp followers who skip right to the end of a critique, here is what we have to say about trying to balance entertainment, information and analysis in a car review: just tell the truth.
2006 Jaguar Super V8 Portfolio [AutoWeek]
[Jalopnik s Between the Lines column parses the rhetoric of the automotive industry, and the media that covers it, from the point of view of that kid at the back of the class with ADD, a genius IQ and a thirst for mayhem.]
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