Long ago, back when I started buying motoring magazines, one of my favourites was an all black-and-white production whose road tests always featured the same tight, pock-marked “test bend” into which every new car was hurled without fear or favour. Photographs featured florid captions referring to old-school handling conditions such as “front-end kneel”, because cars weren’t even half as stable as they are today.
By the time I started working on motoring magazines we’d discovered colour photography, and road test writers had decided they needed to drive cars a bit further than the distances offered on staged car launches. The manufacturers had discovered the advantages of holding them in sunny climes with deserted roads (perfect for colourful pictures) to which the world’s test-hacks could be brought fairly easily — but only offering comparatively brief driving times on unknown roads — and that’s the system that largely obtains today.
Which is why we make such a fuss about publishing a “first UK test”: this is the first time a car will have been driven in the UK’s uniquely poor conditions, and probably with the steering wheel on the correct side. If you read tests, you’ll have seen occasions when we’ve had to tune our view on a particular car, just because it feels different on this side of the Channel.