How MotorTrend Tests Cars Now

Opinion


These are vexing days. As individuals, our No. 1 priority within a sprawling nation of 328 million is to stay safe. That’s the macro picture. On the micro side, here at MotorTrend it means delivering engaging and useful information to our readers—while also understanding that buying a new car is not necessarily atop your to-do list.

To wit, as physical distancing continues to be the best method of managing this terrible disease, how does MotorTrend go about testing, photographing, and creating videos of cars—at a time when “transmission” when referencing a gearshift knob can mean two very different things?

First, we need to thank automakers for keeping the lights on (while simultaneously producing much-needed ventilators, face shields, and masks) and continuing to have their press fleet representatives distribute vehicles for evaluation.

Within days of lockdown, Porsche sent out characteristically precise instructions for sanitizing cars between drivers, and we are following those guidelines to the letter (use 70.1 percent isopropyl alcohol, not bleach-based solutions, to preserve car interiors while killing any potential novel bugs).

Even so, some automakers have taken the extra-cautious path and have shut down their media fleets. Our proving grounds at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana are closed. No shame in either. The safety of employees and contractors is paramount. But if you are wondering why certain cars aren’t represented here and why there’s a sudden paucity of quarter-mile times, that’s why.

Meanwhile, MotorTrend photographers have had to navigate a new set of rules and regs. Unable to perform car-to-car action shots, which require a camera-car driver and photographer to be in close proximity, we’ve created novel ways to get action shots. Car interiors can no longer be shot from within the featured car, so we’ve engineered ways to manipulate a camera from outside the vehicle. Even panoramic multicar shots in scenic locations are a no-go due to physical distancing restrictions.

How we write about cars has needed to adapt, as well. Scrolling through these web pages you will continue to find articles involving high-performance vehicles. We will continue to drive through many of our usual haunts in the foothills surrounding Los Angeles, as well as some of the world’s most scenic places.

But you may notice that the tone of our writing has shifted. During this time of collective fear and uncertainty, it feels right to temper runaway enthusiasm while still paying appropriate tribute to the cars and the roads we traverse.

You may question what the point is of writing (and reading) about cars in the time of #SaferAtHome. Escapist content may be just what some people need when faced with yet another disheartening briefing from government officials.

In these pictures accompanying this article, our Miguel Cortina and  Christian Seabaugh wipe down our test vehicles with 70.1 percent isopropyl alcohol, a step we take before and after each driver. We aren’t using gloves because first responders need them more. We just wash our hands a lot more. Plus a quick spritz of isopropyl and hand sanitizer works, too.

But sooner or later, we will get back to work. Most of us will still need cars to get there. By the time you read this, that may already be the case. However, as I write this on April 16, that prospect seems presumptive, as numerous automotive events stretching deep into summer have already been delayed or canceled.

We hope you consider us a respite from your daily dose of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety. We will endeavor to safely deliver stories that will make you smile, laugh, furrow, consider, and ponder—in the hopes that someday in the not-distant future we will gather again and admire the sheetmetal that makes our pulses race and our nostrils flare.

In the interim, please, be well.

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