One of the things that “made” TTAC in the early days was Robert Farago’s occasional, and frequently caustic, test of a rental car. It gave the OEMs fits when he did that because they had no way to control the script: no plush press drive to make a positive impression surrounding the vehicle, no NVH-centric hand-preparation by a scrupulous press-fleet minder, no little “followup” phone call and/or email to make sure that the reviewer understands his review will be scrutinized to determine future press-fleet eligibility.
Nearly two years ago, Toyota de facto banned me from their press events. The reason given was that I had attended two consecutive press launches with two different women at each, for a total of four friends or two threesomes depending on the internal sanitation of your thought processes. Keep in mind that the sum total of my offensive behavior was basically having guests in my hotel rooms and letting Drama McHourglass wheedle half a bottle of cabernet out of a bartender at one of the events, a financial hit that was no doubt balanced by my decision to not eat any meals on the automaker’s dime at those events. Still, it was too much for Toyota to swallow.
Insert swallowing joke here.
Insert joke about insertion here.
There’s an odd double standard in this business. The gay autojournos, who make up a staggeringly disproportionate number of the golden-ticket crowd at press events, are allowed to do anything they want. I’ve seen a pair of boy writers run giggling into an elevator more times than I can count. Everybody winks at it. Which is fine, if you ask me. I don’t care what consenting hack writers do behind closed doors. If anything, it probably keeps them from writing more garbage and inflicting it on the readers. But if I have a couple women sleeping in my bed, I’m the Antichrist and need to be strictly punished as if the OEMs were, in fact, members of a Puritan congregation enforcing a scarlet letter of AH for Aggressive Heterosexuality.
Which brings me to this week’s rental review. A crappy four-cylinder minivan. The kind of thing that Toyota wouldn’t dream of letting its posh, pampered journo-crowd touch. Naturally, one of our more Stockholm-syndrome-esque readers had an issue.
Really!! A road test of an almost fleet only vehicle that is no longer sold that was picked up at the Airport? …The LE was reasonably equipped at the price point but I did buy the V-6 like most every other retail customer. Over a two year period of time and 30,000 miles there were zero defects. It rode well, returned reasonable gas mileage, and was one of the most versatile vehicles I have ever owned… I have read dozens of road tests and comparative tests between the different competitors because of my experience owning them. With rare exception, the argument comes down to the Honda handling better and the Toyota being more comfortable. Everything else is a distant third place… Most every automotive writer with more than six months experience gets around to writing about minivans. This review wreaks of trying to be controversial and anti-establishment. Should have taken the Corvette!
What’s upsetting this guy? Well, he’s upset that his “side”, the Sienna, is being represented by an actual Sienna out on the streets rather than by a $42,000 swagger-wagon with two hundred miles on it and a free iPad mini tucked in the glovebox. He’s also upset that my personal experience with the vehicle doesn’t match the other comparison reports he’s been reading, which adhere to a predictable and profitable formula. You give Toyota props for “comfort”, meaning it handles like shit. You give Honda props for “handling”, meaning the road noise approaches that experienced by someone standing in front of a cranked Marshall stack in full-feedback mode. Then you dismiss the other stuff because you don’t want to accidentally contradict the conventional wisdom.
Fuuuuuuuck dat. The Chrysler Town & Country is my favorite minivan, with the Dodge Caravan a close second due to equipment differences. And no, I’m not on their press list anymore, either. That’s the opinion I’ve generated by renting and driving minivans for several thousand miles, on my own dime. That opinion is subject to change based on future experiences. If it upsets a reader that said opinion does not match up with the aggregated bulk of what he’s read, or that said opinion might be different in the future, I cannot offer any consolation, except for this: right now, there are probably two guys doing poppers in a hotel room somewhere who will independently write something comforting for him in a pair of major outlets to be determined later.