Consumer Reports Track Visit for the 100th Episode of Talking Cars

Even if you have never bought one their magazines, never visited their web site, totally ignored their YouTube channel and iTunes podcast, you've probably heard of Consumer Reports on some car blog or site quoting their car reliability statistics and scores.

But where do these statistics come from?  Where do all their pretty car photos come from?   And do they really test the actual cars?  I'm visiting to Consumer Reports to celebrate their 100th episode of Talking Cars and find out all the answers.
Spoiler apart!  After my visit to Consumer Reports' 327 acres car test facility out in Connecticut I can tell you that they test cars here for real.  They have the actual cars here for the pretty magazine photos, beat the daylight out of drive on the huge test track, and score it all here.

Disclaimer: Consumers Report invited me out to their facility for their 100th Talking Cars Episode and paid me with fruits, granola bars, and pizza. I paid my own way to get there, by camel trekking... with a plane and a rental Corolla
When the under maintained barely wide enough for 2 way traffic road becomes almost all dirty, you'll find Consumer Reports' car test facility.

And it was etched in stone that this place shall be called Consumer Reports

The Entrance to their Secret Labs

It's fully past CA but is it really?

A always wanted to sit in the back seat bench of an old American muscle car.  Reminds me of the '67 Chevy Nova.

Yeah, I'd want one of these too but with just keys of exotics.  Poor TDIs are not going to get any play time.
Each new car Consumer Reports buys with their own money goes through at least 2000 miles with the employees before they get reviewed. Apparently that's needed to get through the break in period - you do baby your car, right?

Mixing and Mingling

There were a bunch of Talking Car fans that turned out for the event.  Most drove about 2 hours to get here.
Many Consumer Reports staff like Ryan Pszczolkowski and Mike Monticello, mixed in with the common Joe. Conversation topics included where people came from, new car purchases, current rides, troubles with old cars, and thoughts on the industry.  Yup, nothing about ECU flashes, engine rebuilds, exhausts, piggy backs, and other mods or high performance cars like Shelby, AMG, M, or S-line cars.  But we also didn't have any car crashes that come with a typical Coffee and Cars.  Some significant others were also dragged brought along.  They probably enjoyed it as much as the person seated at the blue table.

Travel back in time by flipping through a few annual compilations of Consumer Reports they had on hand. The oldest edition I found was 1942.  I never knew Consumers Reports reviewed tampons (Definitely not in the pic below.  I didn't think you'd want to see that).

Jennifer Stalkburger is the director of operations of the auto test and still has a passion in baby seat testing.  Great timing as I'm looking for one.  Poor Stacy (the test dummy) sits in a booster seat for the demonstration. She's also used for sled testing where Consumer Reports tests car seats in simulated car crashes.

Gene Peterson, tire program manager, handles market analysis, tire purchases, and determines test methods.  Tires go through dry, wet, snow, and ice conditions on their test tracks and various snowy mountains like up in Buffalo.
Key take aways: 1) Winter tires are very important in winter. Sounds obvious, right?  2) All seasons are a compromise but getting very close in performance to ultra high performance (UHP) tires and usually have better trend life.  3) Warranties are usually a marketing gimmick and don't expect a free tire.

The Photo Studio

This might be a familiar scene for Talking Car fans but those stools don't look familiar.
They were probably going to film something here so we weren't allowed anywhere remotely close to the falcon door Tesla Model X.  The building was originally meant only for photos but the move to the Internet has increased the importance of video so they've adapted this room for that.

Jake Fisher (left), director of auto test, and Tom Mutchler (right), Program Manager, were available for photos

The guys that perform the magic behind the scenes
Dave Abrams, manager of auto test video, talks us through the photo process,

This is the grey backdrop most episodes of Talking Cars is shot at
If you've ever tried to take a photo of something shiny for eBay you'll know how hard it is to avoid having background or even yourself appear in a reflection.  They have a camera mounted at the opposite of the building to take the photos.  The car sits on a turntable to get different angles of the cars.

Since Consumer Reports buys their own cars, they also sell their cars with first dibs to employees for fair market value.  If there are no takers, the car goes to auction.

The Test Track

Consumer Reports first brought out Joe Veselak, auto test technician, in a Scion iA to illustrate the difference traction control makes in emergency handling at ~50mph.  It was fun watching the iA spin out without traction control.  A tall SUV like the 4Runner would likely roll over at the same speed.

Out comes the Tesla Model S P85D and everyone suddenly wants a ride. Oh, yeah, there's a Scion FR-S and 2017 Honda Civic too
Photo Courtesy of Mike

Jen raffling rides for testing traction control in a Scion iA, straight line acceleration in the P85D, and around the track in a Civic, Miata, or FR-S
It was a hot 95 degrees but it felt hotter with the sun reflecting off the track so we all camped under the tent.  They got through test drives pretty quickly so they dropped the raffling and just asked who wanted a ride and hadn't taken one.  As expected, most wanted a ride on the Model S and Miata.

Got a ride from Gabe Shenhar in a Civic around the track
They have a pretty fast track and didn't need to break much around the corners.  No apex markers but Gabe caught all of them.  We made up some distance to the Miata while on the curves.

Pizza lunch served on car lifts. Pretty ingenious.

Jen's guards the stage while Tom prepares for the 100th episode. As you can see, Tom knows how to operate an iPad or so he says.
The familiar chairs you see on their podcast are here.

The filming of the 100th episode begins with Jake Fisher, Tom Mutchler, Jen Stalkburger, and Jon Linkov and features a white Toyota Prius Mirai and Buick Cascada.  A grey Audi TT and red Jaguar F-Pace watch on.
A few fans will be asking their questions on air in the 100th episode.  Sadly I had to catch a jet back home to attend a wedding so I missed out.

And finally it's loot bags for some (winners of a raffle from a water jug) or all of us.
Yup, missed this as well but I'm sure it'll be going to a fan that will cherish it for years and years.

Thanks to all the staff at Consumer Reports for hosting a great event that provided a quick glimpse into the Consumer Reports auto testing facility and celebrated its 100th podcast.  Turn out was impressive for both fans (almost all the name cards were handed out and some were hand written) and more than half the auto testing team (almost everyone on Talking Cars) came out too - a big feat considering it was such a lovely weekend.

Catch episode 100 of Talking Cars on Consumer Report's YouTube channel and iTunes on August 16th early next week and see for yourself what all the excitement is about.  Perhaps you'll catch me in the video.
Consumer Reports Track Visit for the 100th Episode of Talking Cars Consumer Reports Track Visit for the 100th Episode of Talking Cars Reviewed by Eric on 8/15/2016 Rating: 5

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