Rediscovering Our Automotive Fanboy Roots
Auto journalists need to remember that it's OK to be a car fan.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: August 7th, 2012
When auto writers are off the clock, they indulge in plenty of "fanboy" passions.
ournalists, especially those who review products, are supposed to be objective, and with good reason. As a writer at Web2Carz I strive to keep that objectivity when writing car reviews, since reviews mean nothing if they aren't honest.
However, sometimes I stumble across cars that are so good that I can't help but be passionate about them.
Because cars inspire so much passion in those who read and write about them, it's not unusual for us writers to bring our own biases to the profession. When I'm reviewing, I put those biases aside, and stay as objective as possible. And if a writer who grew up loving one brand has to give that brand's rival a nod in a comparo, so be it. It's part of the job. Sportswriters don't cheer in the press box, after all.
But when auto writers are off the clock, they indulge in plenty of "fanboy" passions. Almost every journalist I know has a weakness for a certain make and/or model car, and many journalists either own or are scheming to own examples of these models.
This isn’t a secret, of course. Plenty of auto writers wax poetic publicly about their favorite rides and road trips, and I think it's understood that a good auto journalist can love a car or brand and yet still be critical when a test example shows up at the office. Sure, some tin-foil hat types love to write letters to the editors complaining that advertising and editorial are more than just friends, but I know from experience that most of us in the business put our passions aside when evaluating new product.
That said, I'm often plagued by cynicism. It's easy for us journalists to put aside our passion when most of the products we test don't set our hearts racing. We know that most commuter cars aren't meant to inspire, and we're aware that few cars on the road are poorly built. It's a pretty good time to be a car journalist (even with the economic uncertainty that's rocking the publishing industry) or a car buyer.
Even so, few cars remind me of those teenage days when I was first discovering my love for cars. The reasons are varied, but electronic intervention (think traction control), increased weight, and designs that emphasize safety over performance can take the fun out of driving. Even some of today's most fun-to-drive commuter cars still occasionally seem to lack a certain something.
This isn't a cranky old-man rant about new-fangled technology; the nursing home won't be my primary residence for many years. I actually like some of the new tech out there, as you'll see in a minute, since of it actually enhances the driving experience. But as great as the automotive fleet is at the moment, from subcompact to super-sized sedan, few cars have really made me want to run off to the dealer and sign on the dotted line.
Until recently, that is. Earlier this spring, I was introduced to Chevy's killer Camaro, the ZL1. I'd seen it before, at its unveiling at the 2011 Chicago Auto Show, but it didn't quite stir my soul. Sure, its numbers were impressive, but so were the numbers of its prime competitor, the then-upcoming Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang. And while I liked the other Camaros (RS and SS) well enough, the car's looks didn't do it for me—I preferred the lines of the Mustang and the Dodge Challenger SRT8. The Camaro's lack of visibility earned another demerit, and when comparing Mustangs/Camaros/Challengers, the 'Stang seemed like the best choice as a daily driver, regardless of trim. I say this both as someone who grew up a Fox-body Mustang fan and as an objective auto journalist.
That was before I drove the ZL1. I'm a fan of Ford's Mustang Boss 302 (admittedly, not a direct competitor to the ZL1. The Boss stacks up better against the Camaro SS 1LE, new for 2013), and when I tested that car late in the summer of 2011 it brought out my inner fanboy. But not as much as the ZL1 did. The ZL1 reminded me of why I liked cars (and driving fast) in the first place. I wasn't alive during the muscle-car heyday of the '60s, but the ZL1 made me wish I was.
Some of that comes from the 580-horse supercharged V-8 and basso profundo exhaust note, and some of that comes from the modern tech, such as GM's magnetic ride control, which keeps the ZL1 civilized in daily driving while also allowing it to have handling prowess that no muscle car with this much power and mass should. I recently piloted a convertible ZL1 through West Michigan's countryside with the top down on a perfect summer day, and the combo of the exhaust note, the available power under hood, and a slick-shifting manual transmission engaged me in a way that few cars can.
I'm still not enamored with the Camaro's looks, and the poor visibility is an issue, but I've been geeking out about the car in a way that I rarely do anymore. Cynicism can be trumped, it seems.
On the other end of the spectrum is the 2013 Scion FR-S. I haven't spent as much time in the FR-S (I haven't yet driven the near-identical Subaru BRZ) as I have in the ZL1, but like with the ZL1, the FR-S surprised me pleasantly. I knew before I even sat in the driver's seat that the relatively light-weight little sportster would likely be very fun to drive, but until I got it out to the track, I had no idea exactly how fun it would be. In fact, at first, I was underwhelmed—the little Scion felt underpowered around town. But at the track, it shined. Sure, the launch event I attended was held at Nevada's Spring Mountain Motorsports complex, and the track there is almost perfectly matched to the FR-S, but I didn't care. Driving a car with steering that accurate (and razor sharp) and with handling that adept was a reminder that for every mid-size sedan sold, at least some buyer out there is looking a car that gives them grins.
There are other cars that bring out the fan-boy in me, of course. The Mazda Miata has done so for years, and the new Fiat 500 Abarth is a hoot to drive (if not to live with when commuting.). Mini Coopers give the driver go-kart like steering, and the aforementioned Boss 302 remains a personal favorite. Really, any muscle-car or supercar still can get my blood flowing, no matter how cynical I'm feeling that day.
This isn't just about the ZL1 or the FR-S shooting up to the top of my fantasy shopping list. It's about these two cars being among the most recent models that rekindled my fire for the auto industry. The Abarth and Miata—both of which I've driven in the past few months—did so, too, if not quite so forcefully. Those cars and others remind me that reviewing cars isn't just about testing dynamic responses, or measuring cargo-area size, or bemoaning poor materials. It's a reminder that I test cars, and not refrigerators, because I care. And some cars bring that enthusiasm to the fore.
If I care that much, so much so that I can forget my jaded cynicism and geek out a bit, that means plenty of readers, who are also consumers, do too, and that's a good thing for an auto industry still crawling out of the wreckage wrought by the global recession.
Consumers are cynical, too. But once in a while, we journalists are reminded that today's automakers can crank out some truly great product. If consumers can let their inner fanboy/fangirl out, maybe car culture can once again have a prominent place in American life.
Yeah, today's would-be car geeks are all busy virtually driving on their smartphones, but isn't the real thing more fun?Related Vehicles: 2012 chevrolet camaro | 2013 scion fr-s | 2012 fiat 500c | 2012 mazda mx-5 miata | 2012 mini cooper | 2012 ford mustang