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All Star Cast

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

The DriveWrite Archives

All Star Cast

Geoff Maxted
October 20, 2013

Five Stars
Like most things in life including Marmite and Katy Price, cars are a matter of opinion. For years would-be car purchasers have relied on the opinions of others to help sort out the jumble sale that is the automobile market. A sensible buyer accepts that one person’s opinion is just that and, in the end, makes his or her own mind up.

One way that car reviews have of signifying worthiness is the star rating. Usually one through five gleaming celestial bodies line up to underline the ‘expert’ opinion. I use them here on DriveWrite Automotive. It is not uncommon for opinions to differ wildly.

Here’s an example. On one website a particular budget car got royally slated whereas here it achieved a heady three and one half stars. What do buyers have to deduce from that? Now, I can only say why I arrived at my opinion: When I review a car I look at the all the usual areas and give the thing a jolly good workout on the road. I then equate that to the price. A cheap car is bound to disappoint in some areas but if it is all the car a person can afford then it doesn’t hurt to point up the positive either. Thus - for the money - a buyer could do worse.

These days though it is getting harder to differentiate. There are few, or indeed no, really bad cars; it’s just that some are better than others.

The reason I bring this up is that - in one particular magazine at least - cars that have one or more named deficiencies are still being awarded the full Monty. Why? Five out of five stars suggests perfection in the eye of the beholder. Sure, the odd niggle can be overlooked but how about an unsettled ride and bad wind noise on a motorway? Or how about mediocre fuel economy in this day and age? How can these important aspects be noted but not judged?

There isn’t really any suggestion of bias. Most reviewers are not in the pockets of manufacturers. The problem is that cars have improved in terms of build quality and reliability and this means that to give a fair review summary we’ve got nowhere left to go and basically need more stars. This is why DriveWrite is going over to a ten star system. This will enable me to be more critical of the small things.

The first five stars cover the basics in that the car goes, stops and is as well made as price allows. As this should not unreasonably be a given for any car on the road it would seem that these stars are a bit superfluous. Not so. With the basics duly qualified then it leaves extra scope for a more detailed final result. Thus a car that scores eight stars can be assumed to be better than a car that scored four stars under the old system.

This then means that we won’t be in the ridiculous situation of awarding five stars to a car with obvious, if not major, flaws. The more scope there is for reviewers the more chance that the potential buyer can trust the review. That’s my opinion, anyway.

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