Road Test Lingo and Automotive Buzzwords

car blog

Are you confused by the road test evaluation terms bandied about in Motor Trend, Road & Track, Car & Driver, et al? "What are those auto writers and critics really saying?" you ask. Well, you need wonder no more. After many years of study (as an interested outsider), I have developed translations of the most popular descriptive catch-phrases used in car buff magazines:

Character - A marque with a storied history but you never know if the car is going to start in the morning. (examples: Jaguar, Citroen, Renault, Land Rover)

Charismatic - A publicity-hungry, wisecracking auto executive who has the ability to produce press-quotable quips while his company is circling the bowl. Sometimes, such chutzpah works and the firm survives and recovers. The following names come to mind: Lutz, Musk, DeLorean, Iacocca, Bricklin and Ghosn.

Class-leading - This vehicle's marketing department throws the absolute-best press parties ... period.

Edgy - A vehicle with so much oversteer dialed-in that it's inherently dangerous. (see also: Porsche, James Dean, Ernie Kovacs, Corvair)

European Handling - A narrow little car is press-previewed at a posh Mediterranean resort destination with lots of narrow, twisty roads.

In-Your-Face - Flashy paint colors, loud exhausts, oversized tires, mediocre build quality, half-assed suspension engineering. (Ford Lightning, early Dodge Viper, etc. And about 75% of the vehicles on the road wearing 'Shelby' decals.)

Old-World Charm - The import vehicle's platform hasn't been updated in many years, but the manufacturer treats journalists well - plying them with lots of food and drink. (My thoughts drift back to the 1970s and the Jaguar and Volvo brands.)

On The Continent - This is the writer's way of letting you know that he/she has actually been to Europe. And spoken with real Europeans (not just Disney Epcot cast members). And knows How Things Are Done There.

"On the continent" is generally used in the same sentence as "taut suspension" and "responsive steering." I must confess that these technical terms still confuse me. If your car's suspension is not taut, it is loose and you'd better get underneath it with a socket wrench pronto. I would hope that all suspensions are taut. I know what loose suspensions are like. I was once driving a 1956 Ford Mainline when the lower A-arm separated from the frame, due to rust-through. It was not a pleasant experience. Loose, indeed - although a certain portion of my nether region became quite taut as the Ford suddenly shot across three lanes.

The most 'responsive' steering in the world is on a go-kart. Who would want to drive one of those around town? I prefer cars with 'appropriately quick' steering. I don't want my vehicle hanging a hard left because I decided to scratch my nose. But I don't want something with twenty turns lock-to-lock like a Maersk Triple E-class container ship. Or a '78 Lincoln Town Car.

"On the continent" should not be confused with "Incontinent" - a condition you may suffer if you suddenly encounter a large Cinzano lorry coming at you head-on while driving on a narrow mountain road in northern Italy.

Quirky - Dials, knobs and switches are in oddball locations. Such automobiles are not generally found in rental car fleets because too many first-time users have been killed or horribly maimed in accidents while trying to figure out how to turn on the windshield wipers. Or headlights. This is not good for rental car companies seeking repeat business. (see also: Saab, Citroën)

Struggling - The manufacturer has decontented and redefined the marque and, in an effort to control costs, cut down on press perks. (e.g. - Lincoln, the late Mercury, Mitsubishi, the late Oldsmobile)

Teutonic - Overpriced, understyled and German.

Underappreciated - Decent-enough car, but the manufacturer doesn't have its new product introductions in splashy, top-notch resorts.

Value-Oriented - It's a crapmobile but it doesn't cost much and the writer doesn't want to offend the manufacturer because they still throw nice parties. (e.g. - Nissan Versa, Kia Rio, AMC Gremlin, DKW, Chevette, Pinto, Vega, Fiat, Yugo and too many more to mention)

And finally ...

Soulless - Dead-bang reliable ... but not Teutonic, Quirky or In-Your-Face. Lacks Character and Old-World Charm. (see also: Honda, Toyota and most practical Asian family sedans, although they'll often outrun and out-handle many older performance cars)

copyright 2005-21 - Joseph M. Sherlock - All applicable rights reserved


The facts presented on this website are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.

Spelling, punctuation and syntax errors are cheerfully repaired when I find them; grudgingly fixed when you do.

If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of trying to change my mind by providing me with vehicles to test drive.

If I have slandered any people or corporation, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.

Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.