By Malcolm Gladwell
Last summer, the editors of Car and Driver conducted a comparison test of three sports cars, the Lotus Evora, the Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport, and the Porsche Cayman S. The cars were taken on an extended run through mountain passes in Southern California, and from there to a race track north of Los Angeles, for precise measurements of performance and handling. The results of the road tests were then tabulated according to a twenty-one-variable, two-hundred-and-thirty-five-point rating system, based on four categories: vehicle (driver comfort, styling, fit and finish, etc.); power train (transmission, engine, and fuel economy); chassis (steering, brakes, ride, and handling); and “fun to drive.” The magazine concluded, “The range of these three cars’ driving personalities is as various as the pajama sizes of Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear, but a clear winner emerged nonetheless.” This was the final tally:
Car and Driver is one of the most influential editorial voices in the automotive world. When it says that it likes one car better than another, consumers and carmakers take notice. Yet when you inspect the magazine’s tabulations it is hard to figure out why Car and Driver was so sure that the Cayman is better than the Corvette and the Evora. The trouble starts with the fact that the ranking methodology Car and Driver used was essentially the same one it uses for all the vehicles it tests—from S.U.V.s to economy sedans. It’s not set up for sports cars. Exterior styling, for example, counts for four per cent of the total score. Has anyone buying a sports car ever placed so little value on how it looks? Similarly, the categories of “fun to drive” and “chassis”—which cover the subjective experience of driving the car—count for only eighty-five points out of the total of two hundred and thirty-five.
That may make sense for S.U.V. buyers. But, for people interested in Porsches and Corvettes and Lotuses, the subjective experience of driving is surely what matters most. In other words, in trying to come up with a ranking that is heterogeneous—a methodology that is broad enough to cover all vehicles—Car and Driver ended up with a system that is absurdly ill-suited to some vehicles.
Suppose that Car and Driver decided to tailor its grading system just to sports cars. Clearly, styling and the driving experience ought to count for much more. So let’s make exterior styling worth twenty-five per cent, the driving experience worth fifty per cent, and the balance of the criteria worth twenty-five per cent. The final tally now looks like this:
3. Chevrolet Corvette 192
There’s another thing funny about the Car and Driver system. Price counts only for twenty points, less than ten per cent of the total. There’s no secret why: Car and Driver is edited by auto enthusiasts. To them, the choice of a car is as important as the choice of a home or a spouse, and only a philistine would let a few dollars stand between him and the car he wants. (They leave penny-pinching to their frumpy counterparts at Consumer Reports. ) But for most of us price matters, especially in a case like this, where the Corvette, as tested, costs $67,565—thirteen thousand dollars less than the Porsche, and eighteen thousand dollars less than the Lotus. Even to a car nut, that’s a lot of money. So let’s imagine that Car and Driver revised its ranking system again, giving a third of the weight to price, a third to the driving experience, and a third split equally between exterior styling and vehicle characteristics. The tally would now be:
1. Chevrolet Corvette 205