‘Feel’ is most important

I host a motoring show on an India-headquartered global English news channel that you might have heard of — it’s called WION. If you haven’t, do look for it on your television; you may actually like it. It’s not the typical shouty news-telling deal — the voice pitches are fairly calm, the views are balanced. 

The nature of the channel was the main point that attracted me enough to say yes to the offer and this is my third year of presenting the show. The show itself is called Pitstop. We also won an award recently — that of being the best auto show in English language on TV. So we might actually be doing something right. Or so I’d like to imagine. Why any one would want to watch a greying old coot blabbering about cars is beyond me though. But to those who have stuck around for the past few years and sent in words of praise, I say you’re weird and amazing. And, thank you. 

We’ve always been a very small but close team. From back when we were three in total — Sneha and Ameen as producers — to now with just Naveen as my partner on the show, we’ve kept the format and the style of presenting pretty much unchanged. We are discussing on how to grow the show beyond the level we are at, but the style will pretty much be the same. 

And that’s what I want to bring up in this post. In fact, what prompted me to think about it was a conversation that Naveen and I once had about the way I review cars and just generally look at things in a bit of a peculiar way. 

A little backstory: whenever we get cars to drive for the show or go on media drives, I don’t instantly jump in and start talking about them. I take my time in settling the car down in my eyes. The exterior — what excites me or makes me scoff? The interior — the smell, the seats, the way it is laid out. The drive — does it really drive, or just goes about without having any emotional effect? And then, I start with the thing I find perhaps the most eccentric or unique.

I remember once mentioning a manufacturer’s intent of harming me because the seatbelt was non-adjustable and the polyester was rubbing against my neck enough to cause a discomforting graze. And then I went on a rant about the absolutely must-have features in every car — price not withstanding. That needs to be a stand-alone post.

That’s how I started the story. It was nothing to do with the mechanicals of the car I was driving or how it looked. It was a bit — as some would say — obtuse. But that’s how I’ve been going about my evaluations since over one-and-half decade. It’s worked out fine so far — and at least it gives me the satisfaction of observing something strange and bringing it up. 

Guess I don’t like the straight-forward format all that much. But I also understand that it’s a way that works best for the masses and that’s why a lot of auto reviewers get insane hits and numbers on their social pages. Just that it’s not for me. I don’t connect with it. I’ve been an enthusiast and consumer before I became a motoring journalist, so I just go with the stories and styles that churned my mind into excitement. It’s absolutely okay if it’s not for you. 

So, Naveen pointed out that I do this a lot — pick out something strange or quirky and build the story from there. And that I hate to talk in detail about the exterior design or the way the cabin looks.

Yes, I do not like talking about every single element of exterior design or every small crease on the dashboard. I mean, come on — why should I tell you how angular the headlamp is when you can clearly see it? Why should I tell you how the centre console looks and flows vertically towards the gear lever? Why should I judge whether the car looks good or not? You have eyes, decide for yourself! The designers did — didn’t they? 

Looks are subjective. So, I do not go about caressing the sheet metal or romancing the shape of air-con vents. I just give a basic view on them — whether to me the overall shape looks good or not and I swiftly move on. For example, I think the latest BMW Z4 doesn’t look that great, but there is a mob out there that thinks its gorgeous and wants to kill me. That’s okay. That mob is wrong, but it’s okay.

What matters is — and isn’t subjective — the way a car drives. I’m fortunate enough to have cultivated a deeper sense of understanding of a car’s dynamic boundaries than the average Joe who represents the typical buying public. That gives me a bit of an edge as I can push the car and explore its limits and driving personality. The responsiveness of the steering, the linearity of the engine, the biases in the chassis — it’s all very elemental and dependent on the engineering design invested in the development of the product. If a car has a natural oversteer-y nature, you can’t argue that it doesn’t. It just means that you are a milksop. 

Another thing you must know is that if these days a car isn’t loaded to the gills or at least as well as others in the segment, it’s quite possible that it’ll fall by the wayside. So features are mostly at a similar level across all cars in their respective segments. 

So for me, it’s not about the looks. It’s not about the features because it’s imperative that every manufacturer matches or betters the competition. For me, it’s mainly about the feel from a car. That’s why I approach cars the way I do — by talking about what their basic design makes them feel like. It’s not something that can see; you have to sense it.

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