Missing the point: Consumer Reports doesn’t get Jeep

25 03 2012

Really need to get back on the wagon as far as daily posting goes…I’ve got a lot of content but not a ton of time to commit it to writing. I’m also working on an Intercollegiate Studies Institute essay contest entry due at the end of the month, so there’s that. Topic is Hayek’s Road to Serfdom.

Anyway, on a completely different note: I’ve frequently cited Consumer Reports, along with Good Housekeeping and Underwriters Laboratories, as excellent examples of market-based, objective testing and certification services that are more efficient – and far less burdensome to the consumer – than government standards agencies.

But sometimes, reviewers are a bit too good at what they do. Take automotive reviews. Their exactingly applied objective standards may apply to the commuter-oriented appliances we call “economy cars,” but they lack the perspective necessary to understand the appeal of standout, exceptional vehicles with a long tradition or an enthusiast following.

I was reading about Consumer Report’s “Worst Built Cars for 2012″ over at Forbes. The Forbes folks whittled the list down the the bottom ten vehicles that are, in their opinion at least, the most miserable manifestations of motor vehicle mediocrity.

In their own words, “Most of the vehicles on our list are comparatively dated models that have fallen behind the competition in terms of automotive engineering and/or meeting consumers’ expectations.”

And there are some indisputable clunkers on the list: The Dodge Avenger, Jeep Compass, and Smart ForTwo may not be awful, but they haven’t kept up with 21st century vehicle tech.

Don't mess with success

But I can’t let their characterization of the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited slide. Forbes reports that “while the basic truck has seen many improvements over the years, including a more civilized interior and an improved V6 powertrain, it’s still a bouncy box on wheels (one that can be optioned up to nearly $40,000 no less). CR criticized the vehicle’s harsh ride and handling abilities, its braking, wind noise, access, driving position and visibility, seat comfort and its fit and finish.”

The neat Toyota FJ received similar complaints. But are they really valid? If you took the rough edge off of the Jeep Wrangler, you’d be left with a soulless box, not an American Icon. If anything the Wrangler has gotten a little too refined, and too far removed from its warrior/workhorse roots.

It’s hard to see how it is fair or accurate to judge enthusiast vehicles on the same merits as a functional but bland crossover. That’s almost like criticizing a Ferrari for lack of luggage space and poor fuel economy. But intangibles like “feel” and “character” are hard to assign a numerical value to. After all, it’s a Jeep thing. I wouldn’t expect the good people at Forbes or Consumer Reports to understand.

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