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Road Testing New Cars: The Inside Scoop
By: Michael Cooney

I know what you’re thinking… ‘It’s a lousy job, but somebody’s gotta do it.’ In reality, of course, it’s both fun and enlightening to be able to drive a new car for a week, and then offer up opinions as to how well it performed for its intended purpose in life. In case you’ve been wondering what it’s like, I’ll try to put you in the driver’s seat.

Manufacturers ship examples of new models to numerous independent warehouses around the country, where cars are scheduled for use by journalists and for special events and promotions. There are several such warehouses here in Southern California, and I go to those to pick up my test units.

The first thing I do is make sure the fuel tank is topped off. I calculate the mileage I get under actual driving conditions, and I want the figures you see to be accurate.

My testing philosophy is simple: cars are like tools—each has been engineered and designed for a certain purpose. You wouldn’t, for example, criticize a hammer because it can’t drive a screw. Likewise, it’s not fair to criticize a family sedan for not cornering like a Ferrari. What I do look at is how a given car stacks up against its segment competitors, and how well it may fulfill the expectations of those most likely to buy it.

I drive each car in city traffic, on the freeways, and in the mountains because I want to evaluate its performance in each environment. Mountain driving is the most demanding, and the most illuminating. Acceleration up hills, handling on winding roads, braking on downhill sections—these are where cars most dramatically demonstrate their strengths and their weaknesses.

Because I love cars, I find things to like in every car I drive. So far, you’ve seen four new cars tested in these pages. The Buick Regal GS, for instance, had lower handling limits on winding roads, but is a comfortable and relaxing freeway cruiser with a supercharged engine providing good passing power. The Acura CL Type-S is a stylish coupe that rides more stiffly, but offers sharp handling and strong acceleration. Volvo’s S60 turned out to be an impressive all ‘rounder, and it’s turbocharger, like the supercharger in the Buick, meant it suffered less of a power loss at higher altitudes. Cadillac’s CTS is a fine-handling sedan that’s downright fun to drive, and exudes loads of character. All four were enjoyable, but in different ways.

You have a wide variety of interests when it comes to car shopping, so I strive to offer evaluations that are not just entertaining, but helpful in your decision-making process.

At the end of the week, I return the car clean and full of gas for the next tester. I typically put on about 400 miles during my reviews.

It’s a privilege to put new cars through their paces for you, and I’d like to thank some of the folks who helped me get started. Sincere and humble thanks go to Matt Stone, Executive Editor at Motor Trend magazine, for giving so generously of his time and expertise. He showed me the ropes and saved me untold hours in deciphering how the press fleet system works.

I hit the ground running thanks to you, Matt. My thanks and appreciation also goes to Chuck Harrington at Saturn, who approved my very first test car, an L300 sedan (for sister publication Senior Living magazine).

Someone had to be the first to trust me with a car! And it was Chuck. Finally, thanks to publisher John Krikorian, for committing the space to bring you these reviews, to offer a more enjoyable publication for you to read.

Exciting new cars will continue to appear in upcoming issues. Next time, read about Lexus’ fastest four-door—the GS430. I hope you’ll join me then. As always, I’ll do my best to bring you along vicariously for the good times ahead!