Evolution of road test articles

Posted by abhishek at 06:27 am on Wednesday August 01, 2012

Here’s a thought. Commonplace terms like ‘blood test’ or ‘stress test’ are self-explanatory – one’s about getting blood tested, the other, stress. A ‘road test’ however is the test of a vehicle, not of a road. Strange, isn’t it? It was George Carlin who got me thinking on these lines when he said, “If crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight?”

As an auto enthusiast, I’ve been reading road tests for more than 20 years now. And the evolution of the road test, sorry, the evolution of the writing that accompanies a road test has been interesting to say the least. Road test articles had a simple structure and predictable format: Introduction. Exterior. Interior. Driving Impressions. Conclusion. And the inevitable technical data table. This structure has remained mostly unchanged in those 20 years, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. More on this structure bit a little later.

First, I’d like to spare a thought for some writers from back in the day, noble souls for whom brevity was a sin. Their road test was a 5000-word migraine-inducing rant. These were people who had perfected the dubious art of writing technical spec tables in paragraph form. If you’ve ever read something on the lines of the ‘ideal’ 0.0006 tappet clearance for some engine, the ‘big difference’ a bore change from 4.096mm to 4.125mm made, or the genius of reducing the teeth on the rear sprocket from 49 to 48, you know what I mean. Forming sentences out of technical data is the laziest way to write a test.

Back to the structure, which like I said, hasn’t changed much. But will it stay the same 20 years from now? I predict some day soon, road testers will have to resort to reusability of content to make their lives easier. I’m actually surprised why this hasn’t happened yet. Reusing content, I reckon, could take away at least 80 per cent of the effort involved in writing a road test. Let me illustrate with an example of my visionary vision.

At slow speeds, this car (glides over undulations / makes you feel every bump in the road / lets only the bigger bumps unsettle it). At highway speeds, the car (feels composed / doesn’t inspire any confidence / tends to pitch beyond xxx kmph). The steering (is precise and fun / is vague around the centre position / doesn’t weigh up enough with speed).

Around bends, the car (comes into its element / feels nervous / has lots of body roll). The materials used in the interior (are high-quality, however, some of the plastics look cheap / look like they belong in a higher-segment car / would be out of place even in a lower-segment car).

See what I mean? Just arrange these sentences in sequence and insert drop-down menus for the options listed within the quote marks and you’re done.

There might even be the remote possibility that road tests of the future will move away from prose. Since more people write poetry than read it, I believe some future poets will consider alternative platforms to air their poems. Like road tests. So possibly, road tests of the future will include sonnets, limericks and allegories.

Here’s a somewhat imperfect example of an allegory:

Turn the ignition and the engine comes to life,
With a strong mid-range you can amble along in higher gears, Jew,
Around the bends it corners like it’s on rails,
And the nose points exactly where you want it to.

And here’s an example of my favorite form - a nature-loving 17-syllable haiku, for when space is tight on a page.

Angry tyres spinning on tarmac,
Evening mist slowly drowns the smoke

I can’t wait to read road tests of the future. A day might come when they even become pointlessly profane, pretentiously irreverent, and religiously offensive. One can always hope. Sigh…


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