Clarkson on: public relations
No journalist has driven the new MGF yet, but already I know that it throttle steers very neatly, that it grips like a limpet and that there's a whiff of initial understeer on turn-in.
Wow, sounds like quite a car. And there's more. The MGF combines the best handling features of the Mazda MX-5 and the Toyota MR2, gripping well but offering adjustability at the same time. And it rides far better than its two main rivals.
I know this because I read it in Autocar magazine, who, in turn were enlightened by that most balanced and unbiased of sources: Rover.
"How do we know all this?" they ask, in print. "Because Rover's engineers told us and, in our experience, engineers never lie".
Dammit. All those years I've spent on frozen hillsides trying to work out why the car behaves the way it does have been wasted.
Instead of agonizing over a verdict, I could have simply telephoned the manufacturer and asked for its impressions. Lada, undoubtedly, would have told me that the Samara was a modern, front-wheel-drive equivalent to the Escort, and that it offers unrivalled value for money.
Volkswagen would have claimed that their new diesel Golf was fast, and instead of calling the new Scorpio ugly, I'd have said it was bold and imaginative. The Saab convertible was conceived as such from the very early stages of the model's design and suffers no scuttle shake whatsoever.
And the best car in the world is a Ferrari, an Aston Martin, a Mercedes, a Bentley, a BMW, a Lexus, a Cadillac and a Jaguar.
“Engineers are hardly likely to spend eight years working on a new car and then present it to the press as ‘a bit of a duffer’”
Engineers never lie, my arse. They're hardly likely to spend the best part of eight years working on a new car and then present it to the press as ‘a bit of a duffer'. When I was at the launch of the Escort a few years ago, I never heard anyone on the podium say that it ‘handles like a dog'. Not once did the people at McLaren say the F1 was ‘a bit pricey'.
The worrying thing is that Autocar may be on to something here.
I mean, every popular newspaper in the world relies on gossip, most of which is untrue. Divorces and affairs can happen entirely in the imagination of the writer, in the same way that handling problems and steering stodginess can happen entirely in the imagination of a car journalist.
Look, if you were a gossip writer on the Sun and you saw Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman having a row over lunch in San Lorenzo, you've got a story - even if they were merely arguing over what colour to paint the west wing's sitting room.
Same goes with cars. You feel a bit of a wobble over a particularly nasty pothole and as far as you're concerned, the car is crap. I've said it before; car testing is an inexact science, same as writing gossip stories.
But then along came Hello! and all of a sudden celebs were queuing up to open their hearts. Here, at last was an outlet where they knew they could put their side of the story without fear of contradiction.
As a result, Hello! gets into everyone's lovely homes while the rest of the paparazzi are camped outside, looking at the action through a Nikon F2.
Hello! buys up all those photo-graphs of Diana with her breasts out to ensure the world never sees them - the bastards - but you can be damn sure that Diana now owes them one. When she's ready to talk about the new man in her life, Hello! will get the story first.
And it's basically the same with cars. Every magazine fights to be first with the road test of a new car - and I shouldn't be at all surprised if Autocar beats everyone to it with the new MGF.
The trouble is, how do we know that what they'll write about it isn't total bollocks? We don't.
Take Paula Yates. I suspect she's a silly two-timing bird who ditched her husband and children for a fling with a hirsute Australian who looks like he needs a good bath. This is a line most newspapers are free to take. But in Hello! we get her side of the story, which isn't quite the same. And nor, frankly, do I find it rings very true. Bob Geldof deserves better.
And you, the reader, deserve better than what Autocar has in store. They may get the stories first, but if you want opinions rather than public relations puff, stick with the Beeb.