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Volkswagen Gaming Test Results With Stacked Models?

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On: Thu, Dec 1, 2011 at 10:00AM | By: Chris Weiss

Volkswagen Gaming Test Results With Stacked Models?

After some recent testing on the 2012 Volkswagen Passat, Consumer Reports suggests that the test cars VW supplies to the media are fine-tuned over the cars actually being sold to the public. Is it a small issue or an industry-wide epidemic?

You know when you watch a commercial for Burger King that the picture-perfect burger that you see on TV will never actually make it into your mouth. Heck, that burger probably isn't a burger at all. It's just designed to look like the most perfect burger-of-the-heavens so that it makes you hungry and you go out and buy some BK. What you'll actually get is going to be sloppy, greasy, misproportioned and, possibly, downright nasty.

While you know the drill with ads, reviews by objective, third parties should be the straight dirt without any fancy coating. That's kind of the whole point of having organizations like Consumer Reports.

Unfortunately that doesn't mean that companies can't game reviews the way they game advertising. After all, before a reviewer ever gets his hands on a new television or car steering wheel, the company has to manufacture it, double check everything for quality and put its stamp of approval on it. So the idea that an automaker would have a media stock and a general consumer stock isn't all that shocking. Disappointing, yes, but not really surprising.

Consumer Reports compared some fine-print-level details on a VW Passat press car and a VW Passat that it purchased at a dealer and found some small discrepancies. The only real detail CR focused its attention on was the trunk hardware, which is better detailed on the test car. It's really a non-issue in terms of the hardware, but it does bring up the question: Do automakers tweak their test models to trick testers and consumers into thinking the vehicles are better than they actually are?

While the specific Passat finding isn't all that interesting on its own (who really cares about the trunk hinge), it does have to leave you wondering about what else differs from test model to consumer model. You can't really blame a company for polishing up its test version and making it look as picture-perfect as a TV cheeseburger, but are they also tuning the engine, suspension and brakes? Is that review you read in Car and Driver or Motor Trend related to the actual car you'll be buying or to some optimized version of it?

Consumer Reports' piece is based on Volkswagen, but there's no doubt that if VW is doing it, so are other auto manufacturers. That may not mean that you can't trust magazine reviews at all, but you may want to be a little skeptical and balance magazine reviews with your own test drive and reviews of actual drivers. Check the car's hardware to be sure that a feature that the magazine loved is the same. Don't rely on a magazine to tell you what's good and bad--discover it for yourself.

Even if Consumer Reports' VW example is a simple matter of a change being made prior to production, which it very could well be, it's always a good idea to rely on your own two eyes more than other people's observations.



Stephy21 | 9:07AM (Fri, Dec 2, 2011)

Its crazy how they can let people test drive cars that aren't actually the cars that people will buy. Is that even legal? I guess so Volkswagen's doing it.

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