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Super Bowl car commercials: Which TV ads scored, which fumbled

Consumer Reports News: February 04, 2013 03:38 PM

Trying to make sense of automotive Super Bowl ads is like trying to make sense of American football. It's one of the most violent sanctioned games in the world, and for some strange reason there's actually a penalty called "unnecessary roughness."

For the amount of money CBS charged for an ad during the game, you'd think that the Super Bowl was the fountain of youth. The game, actually, used to be about which NFL team was the best. Now, the Super Bowl is all about which TV ads produced the zestiest buzz.

Several Consumer Reports Autos team members watched the commercials, looking to do a claim check on the ads. However, in reality, almost no facts or claims were even made in these fantasy-tinged promotions.

In the end, it was all about the buzz and the day-after chatter. So, here's our take on who scored and who fumbled.

Hyundai—How do you make a Hyundai commercial sound cool during the Super Bowl? Drift a Genesis and end it with the tag line "hot sauce." And with the Sonata turbo ad, we saw one too many images of the motorcyclist's rear end. Hyundai is trying to make the case that the Sonata has plenty of power for passing: no ifs, ands, or butts.

Toyota RAV4—"I wish the old spare tire was gone." Clever beginning, but the concept didn't address the numerous other changes to the RAV4. Or perhaps it did, as the redesign is subtle evolution. Instead, we could wish the RAV4 went from 0-60 mph in 4 seconds, returned 50 mpg overall, drove to Starbucks on command, and cost six bucks. Hot sauce.

Audi S6—Problem: Son has no date for the prom. Solution: Dad tosses him keys to his S6. Son is now brave enough to drive really fast, kisses the prom Queen on the dance floor and gets socked. Truer story: My dad tossed me the key to his 1986 Buick Park Avenue. My results were slightly different. Audi wants you to think it's brave to buy an A6 instead of the more conventional BMW or Mercedes-Benz competition. But Audi's doing just fine—most automakers are trying to emulate them. The real bravery is sending your teen to prom in your new 420-hp luxury car.

Jeep—There's really no way to criticize this ad honoring the service of our military and the sacrifice that their families make in their absence. Brief shots of a Wrangler and Grand Cherokee were purely incidental. At least Jeep had enough honor to not send a Compass or Patriot to bring the troops home.

Volkswagen—A white man with yellow tie channels his inner Bobby McFerrin and uses a red Beetle Turbo as a joy capsule, cheering up his dreary co-workers with a spin around the block. Even the people in the back seat are happy-- a surprise given that the Beetle's backseat is best only if you're under 5'8". But combining a Caucasian Rastafarian with a German car and the song that made the Partridge Family famous? Think of the odds of that happening...sort of like using Led Zeppelin to sell Cadillacs. Nah. That would never happen.—Perhaps the most boring ad. All they wanted to do was sell cars. Crazy talk.

Lincoln—The moribund Lincoln brand is trying to rise again, like a phoenix from the ashes, and the MKZ is their opening salvo. We loved how the ad started with an old 1990s Lincoln Town Car (yawn) to declare that isn't Lincoln anymore. This Lincoln is marching to a different beat and claiming up to 45 mpg, a figure we're not optimistic about given the test results on the related Ford Fusion hybrid. And the silhouette of Abe's likeness and stovepipe hat? Like he could actually wear that chapeau while driving it.

Ram—We get the message: Farmers are good people, therefore Ram trucks are good, too. But we're pretty sure most farmers are driving Chevrolet and Ford trucks. The ad, though, was very powerful. More than a ram; this ad kicked like a mule in the heartland. Not sure it will bring many sales from the coasts, however.

Kia Forte—Was this the first car commercial ever to feature a wedgie? Fembots were a nice touch and reminded us of being at the auto shows with all the living mannequins standing around looking pretty while the media paws the cars. Some of them deserve wedgies, too. At least this had a memorable catchphrase: "Respect the tech." (See our Kia Forte first drive video.)

Kia Sorento—"Has the answer for everything," like where babies come from. Not sure Kia could explain why the power went out in the Superdome, though.

Mercedes-Benz CLA—Young, too-thin man learns you won't need to sell your soul to the devil to get the new CLA sedan. (Gone are the days when Janis Joplin simply asked the Lord for a "Mercedes-BEEENZ." Now, I suppose, you have to go straight to hell to file this request.) Still, we think the company just sold a lot of CLAs last night. Plenty of young professionals and affluent empty-nesters would happily own a sleek sedan with the three-pointed star on the hood, all for the price of a loaded Toyota Camry. This is going to be a super-hot market segment as most upscale brands jump into the fray of selling small $30,000 sedans and SUVs. However, with its creased side flanks, it looks a lot like a Sonata. But I guess the devil's in the details.

Fast & Furious 6—Really? It is starting to feel like "The Expendables" on wheels. And could they please have some consistency with how the movie titles are written...

Budweiser Black Crown—OK, not an automotive ad, but premium Budweiser? Really? Is that like a premium Yugo? Fuel-efficient Hummer? Reliable Jaguar? Exciting Camry? We could go on all day. And yet, we don't recall any mention of what truly makes it different, other than packaging and marketing.

Finally, it's too tough to pass this one up. We noticed that the chief sponsor of the New Orleans Superdome is Mercedes-Benz...and half the lights went out during the game. We couldn't help but recall that in our tests of the Mercedes-Benz C250, E350 BlueTec, E350 V6, ML350, and SLK250, all had poor headlights. On a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being the best), all scored a 1.

In the end, the commercials were all about the buzz and hot sauce. Which ads caught your attention and have you talking the next day? Post in the comments below.

—Tom Mutchler, Mike Quincy & Jeff Bartlett

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