Enough With the Negatives: What Do the Auto Industry’s Good Panel Gaps Look Like?

2017 Lexus ES300h panel gaps - Image: © Timothy CainWe’re auto writers. By our very nature, we’re irritable complainers, apt to harp and carp. Yet while we enjoy a humorous headline, needling readers, and looking far into the future, you’ll more likely find us sharing photos of horrendous automotive disappointments on TTAC’s digital HQ, Slack.

Sometimes the disappointments are obvious and consequently publicized. Departed managing editor Mark Stevenson, for example, profiled a 2015 Ford Edge Titanium’s build issues in late 2015.

Panel gaps are one means of quantifying perceived quality. Industry observers and many customers use perceived quality to make educated guesses about future real quality. If a vehicle appears to be built well, surely it is. If a vehicle appears to be built poorly, how much worse is the quality of assembly under the skin?

2017 Lexus ES panel gap collage - Image: © Timothy CainThis issue quickly became a topic among TTAC’s staff earlier today when associate editor Steph Willems shared a Reddit posting of a Tesla Model X with doors that don’t even come close to lining up. These kinds of images are shared on Twitter all the time. But rarely do we take time to consider the opposite end of the spectrum. Teslas often feature comically poor perceived quality, but how much better are other vehicles?

Fortunately, the manufacturer-supplied test vehicle visiting Prince Edward Island this week is an apt comparison, widely assumed to be among the most reliable vehicles known to mankind. If a Tesla Model X fails to live up to reasonable expectations, how much of a space is there between a Californian EV and a Japanese hybrid such as this Japan-built 2017 Lexus ES300h?2017 Lexus ES panel gaps collage - Images: © Timothy CainIf there’s a car for which consumers expect to see perfection, the Lexus ES is the obvious candidate. It doesn’t sell based on superior performance or engaging dynamics. It’s not the most attractive luxury sedan. It’s not the least expensive luxury sedan. But Lexus manages to sell an average of 65,000 per year because people know exactly what they’re going to get. And if loyal ES buyers were to ever walk up to a next-generation ES in 2018 and see doors that didn’t line up or a misaligned badging or tilted taillamps, concerns about lasting quality would be made obvious in Lexus’ sales reports.

So, is the 2017 Lexus ES300h that TTAC will review next week a prime example of perfect panel gaps and peerless build quality? Or does that right-side taillamp’s trunklid portion appear a nanometer higher than it is on the rear fender?

[Images: © Timothy Cain]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.