Consumer Reports is all hot and bothered. According to the publication, Volkswagen may be trying to game the vehicle review process by providing publications, like us, with slightly tweaked versions of production vehicles. What evidence does CR have to support this claim?

According to Jon Linkov, Consumer Reports was provided with an early press fleet 2012 Volkswagen Passat shortly after the model's debut. The vehicle's trunk hinges were trimmed in nice plastic cladding to hide the bare metal, but when the organization went to purchase its own Passat models for review, the sedans wore only one cover on the driver's side to protect the trunk deck wiring loom.

Big deal? Probably not, but as Consumer Reports points out, the change raises all sorts of other questions. Is Volkswagen tweaking its press fleet engines? Adjusting its suspensions? Adding extra sound deadening. Consumer Reports is crying foul in a big way.

Yes, this sort of gaming happens throughout the review industry. Ferrari has been caught red handed cherry picking vehicles for calibrated analysis in the past, but is The People's Automaker really doing the same? We doubt it. As Consumer Reports says, their press fleet tester was an early model. Chances are the decision to nix the two plastic covers came down from on high after the review vehicle made the rounds. Check out the full CR report to decide for yourself.


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  • 74 Comments
      DC
      • 3 Years Ago
      Two points: 1. Was the press car meticulously assembled in order to increase perceived quality? 2. Is the trim supposed to be on the retail car, but inattentive assembly omitted it? Either way, I am a bit impressed by the CR catch, no matter which point they have illustrated.
        DC
        • 3 Years Ago
        @DC
        Well, I read further at CR, and this cover is only found on press fleet cars and on none of the retail ones, so it looks like VW intended it.
      jimbo
      • 3 Years Ago
      Gaming the system or cost cutting, either way you slice it, it's potential buyers who are let down with such practices.
      Temple
      • 3 Years Ago
      Seriously, we need independent sources that actually buys their own cars instead of using what is handed to them. If I was a massive company, and had over a billion dollars riding on a product, I too would make sure that I can squeeze every bit of positive press from a product. We know that companies do this, Autoblog has already mentioned Ferrari. The fact is, if cars that are being reviewed are different from what we actually buy, then we can't put credence in the review or publication as well.
      masteraq
      • 3 Years Ago
      I wouldn't consider any reviewer that relies on manufacturer press fleets to be truly independent. I respect Consumer Reports for actually buying the cars they review. Obviously that isn't feasible for smaller publications with limited resources, but big publications like Car and Driver that rely on press fleets should be seen with some skepticism. If only CR would fix their outdated, 80s-era reliability rating system to something more . . . reliable.
        Lachmund
        • 3 Years Ago
        @masteraq
        totally with you on all points. I don't have any respect for them left.
      Hazdaz
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is a pretty big deal if true, and AB writing a sensationalized headline does not help the situation. With the pressure that the entire company must be on because of the CEO's insistence to become the #1 carmaker, I really would not be surprised at all to see them gaming the system and giving reviewers the better-finished cars. That's what makes CR reviews all the more important because they actually BUY their own cars for their long-term tests and don't rely on a press-fleet of possibly tweaked review cars.
      Karl T
      • 3 Years Ago
      Spend some time on model- or make- specific 'Net forums and you'll find all kinds of oddities with things like trim, and even attachment points or methods. For the life of me I can't recall what it was, but my '05 Mazda6 wagon has piece of trim that caused several questions on a forum. Some had it - some didn't. No rhyme or reason with regards to body style, trim level, or engine.
      Basil Exposition
      • 3 Years Ago
      If VW is really doing this, they are unbelievably dumb for doing it to CR. They could get away with it at any other outfit. Everyone knows CR buys their testers retail, so obviously they will be comparing the one you lend them to the one they buy.
        Martin
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Basil Exposition
        I was going to say this too: CR buys all their own test vehicles. They do not get handed press vehicles for review like magazines and blogs do. So how could VW have rigged this, unless they were rigging an entire early build of cars? As others have said, every manufacturer has incidences where small parts can be changed or removed after introduction either due to a problem, or more likely, to save money. All things being equal, isn't this the simplest explanation?
      SpikedLemon
      • 3 Years Ago
      I bet the issue is more widespread. If one manufacturer is doing this: I bet more are.
      Christian Hepler
      • 3 Years Ago
      I remember when the new camaro came out, there was a list of like 50 known installation errors that people would post about that were usually absent minded assembly errors. Which N54 BMW's were and weren't supposed to have oil coolers My scion tC is supposed to have a small light in the center console cubby, I never noticed it until I saw it in another one and thought the guy had done it himself, didn't realize it was supposed to be factory. Mine is actually there, but was never put in it's socket.
      bobmarley
      • 3 Years Ago
      Its a bad good idea. Its bad if they are trying decieve the testers but it could probably gain a ton of sales by doing so. It makes you think twice about how much importance consumers put on reviews.
      wafflesnfalafel
      • 3 Years Ago
      Hmmm... not the best article from CR. I think CR is a quality and impartial organization and I have used their data dozens of times, (and has been backed up with my personal experience consistently.) The author should have pointed out the disparity but it clearly did not need to be the focal point of the entire review. (I am just surprised so many folks are buying the new Jetta/Passat, especially with so many other new options available, (Ford? Hyundai? Camry? Kia? - I personally wasn't impressed. Maybe the reliability will be better on these new gen cars...)
      Alterego
      • 3 Years Ago
      I doubt automakers can get by with too many shenanigans in this respect. Certainly the trunk hinge cover is not a smoking gun. Of course, in the past, tomfoolery was rampant. I recall Tom McCahill claiming 161 mph top speed on a 327 split-window, and 150 mph for an E-type of similar vintage. I don't think so. I know my 65 Royal Enfield Interceptor would never do a 13.8 quarter mile (as Cycle World reported) without a hell of a lot of mods..
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