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Auto reviewer reveals all


Looking out my window this morning, I see a car -- a midsize Japanese sedan -- painted a dark and sober shade of gray called Polished Metal.

Last weekend, in the grocery story parking lot, I led the young man pushing my cart to another car of similar shape and color. “Wrong car!” my partner Diane called as she headed for the other row, where the green Acura sat.

This is one reason I rarely let the grocery-store helpers help me; I’m forever forgetting which car I’m driving and where I parked it. It’s an occupational hazard, the byproduct of driving a different car every week for the last quarter-century.

I forget what I’m driving. I don’t know how to change the radio or set the cruise control. If it weren’t for the little pointer in the gauge pod, I wouldn’t know where to look for the gas cap.

Don’t get me started about the nav systems, the Bluetooth, the streaming audio -- all the electronic wizardry that demands my mastery.

It’s a tough job, but it must be done. Here’s how the gig works.

Weekly new-car tests

I drive a car for a week before writing a review. The cars come not from local dealers, but from the manufacturers, who maintain press fleets for the purpose.

Cars are delivered to me by one of two Seattle-based companies contracted to managed the region’s fleets.

Certain conditions limit the brands I test. Manufacturers try to expose a car to as many writers as possible before it reaches a pre-determined mileage limit. The 550-mile Seattle-Spokane roundtrip is for some the automotive equivalent of empty calories, and I don’t drive their cars.

For its part, The Spokesman earmarks the top half of the automotive page for cars sold in the immediate area. No Minis, Teslas or Rolls-Royces.

The space below the fold is fair game, though, and contains content from various sources on vehicles of all types, including RVs. Next week, I’ll review the newest Rolls-Royce in this space.

First drives

To test the Wraith, I’ll fly (will have flown, by the time you read this) to Phoenix, where I’ll be one of many writers in attendance.

This is standard procedure. When a manufacturer releases an important new product, it assembles the press at a central location for a product presentation and test drive.

In most cases, the trip involves a night or two in an upscale hotel. The manufacturers picks up all the expenses, including airfare, lodging, meals and drinks.

Occasionally, a first drive review slides up the page into the lead-story slot. But a proper evaluation requires more than a three- or four-hour drive. A car should be tested in real-world conditions, doing the stuff of everyday life.

Here in reality, passengers are an invaluable source of insight. Riders help me see a car through the eyes of a dispassionate observer. They often alert me to a flaw, a detail or a highlight I otherwise would have missed.

For example, we’ll drive the Wraith in the Arizona desert, where we’ll get a good sense of its driving dynamics. But its performance in the real world (though I’m not sure what that even means in the life of a R-R owner) is another matter entirely.

Whether it’s a full review or a first drive, my goal is to grasp and reveal a car’s essential nature. As long as I can remember where I left them, I’ll keep it up.

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Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.