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The Best Car Ever

Posted in Posts, and Syllabus Schedule

Consumer Reports recently gave the Tesla Model S a score of 99 out of 100, and other media outlets immediately began proclaiming that the car could be the best vehicle ever made. A small number of journalists responded by arguing that the entire idea of a “best car” simply doesn’t make any sense.

Does this vehicle look comparable to the Tesla Model S, pictured below?

I agree with them, but I drew an even more extreme conclusion from reading about the car and the consumer reports rating system: the entire concept doesn’t make any sense. People buy cars for remarkably different reasons: perhaps a Range Rover to drive around Manhattan in isolated comfort, or the same Range Rover to tow horses to a show. In this case, even with the same vehicle, it would receive two different ratings: one of the New Yorker and one  for the horse owner.
Tesla Model S

This issue becomes worse when trying to compare different vehicles. Comparing an F-350 pickup to a Tesla Model S on the same rating system is almost impossible. The question then becomes why do journalists use this system? My guess is that reviewers have found that people find the ratings systems more interesting when they can compare all of the models together, even if they make less sense that way.


  1. There are two audiences. One is the car guys (and gals) who like to argue about cars and their features and driveability and styling. Ratings are great to spur discussions over beer (or, perhaps for a Tesla, wine).

    The other are car purchasers, who are likely to look at sites that compare cars within the same segment. For them, these grand competitions and “best of the best” ranking games are not meaningful, as you point out. However, cars are an aspirational purchase, and “halo” cars and the general image of a brand matter. If nothing else, you want all your cars to have decent to good ratings…

    May 17, 2013
  2. tyler

    I agree with the professor, as one of those car guys. Although I read car reviews all the time, my parents (people who have actually bought cars before!) could care less. Their concerns are general reputation in terms of quality and reliability, price, and the test drive. Where does that leave the purpose of these reviews, I begin to wonder? Maybe they are part of that “general reputation.”

    May 17, 2013
  3. tommd13

    I agree with Blake the rating system does not truly make sense if comparing an SUV to a sedan. I would understand if they had different classes for each type of vehicle (i.e. SUV, light truck, heavy truck, sports car, sedan, etc.), but comparing all models against each other does not make sense. Each vehicle serves its purpose, though I do not know what category the ME.WE would fall in. When it comes down to it personal preference always makes a difference and like Tyler and the professor said the car purchaser has the ultimate say. I know when I was first looking at cars trucks were out of the question because my father thought they were impractical and I would never be lugging around logs or construction equipment. In terms of reviews I never truly looked at “best of the best” but if I saw a car I liked and a friend drove it I would ask their general opinion in order to get real feedback from someone who was not trying to sell me the car.

    May 18, 2013
  4. cookg15

    One could make an argument that a unified rating system makes sense given a very specific requirement: that it is based n the “drivability” of the car and ignores function. In this sense, the slower, less fuel efficient F-350 is a lesser car then the Model S. While a pickup truck is obviously meant to serve a different function than the Model S, examining them from the point of a view of a driver behind the wheel has some legitimacy. However, I am sure that Consumer Reports’ ratings are not that narrowly focused, and much like their reviews for many products, the system is flawed and their services provide very inconsistent and biased information for buyers who consider their opinion to be authoritative.

    May 18, 2013

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