By on March 1, 2007

3822.jpgWhenever a new medium appears, it frees the old one to reinvent itself. When TV arrived, radio dropped soap operas, fragmented its audience and developed new formats (e.g. talk radio). Now that the internet’s here, magazines are free to evolve. Only someone forgot to tell the magazines. Take Car and Driver (C&D) and Road & Track (R&T). Someone should. With sinking circulation and disappearing ad dollars, the car mags (and their buff book brethren) are up against the wall. Rather than pursue creative reinvention, their owners have embarked on a by-now-familiar strategy: whoring themselves.  

Automotive News reports that Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. is looking to their recently launched "virtual test drive” (VTD) web feature to generate significant revenue. These multi-media sales spiels now sit above the C&D and R&T’s websites’ fold, inside the third column (normally reserved for in-house editorial). Surfers click on the box to “explore today’s hottest cars and trucks in our new manufacturer sponsored area.” So far, the VTD’s include the Chevy Silverado and the Ford Edge.

Once the pop-up window launches, there’s no further indication that the be-logoed content is editorially compromised. And compromised it is. Host and former race car driver Tommy Kendall showers the vehicles with unadulterated love. Equally damning, Kendall quotes the magazine's editors liberally on the vehicles’ positive aspects– which also appears as published text. For example, we learn that the Silverado’s “bed length is a Goldilocks-esque situation.”

The VTD is a logical replacement for/complement to C&D and R&T’s “Special Advertising Sections.” These manufacturer-sponsored magazines-within-magazines “review” new vehicles using the buff books’ well-established look and feel. In both cases, the publisher is happy to blur the line between independent editorial content and paid-for content dressed up to look like independent editorial content.

Clearly, the VTD is nothing more than another attempt to sell the car mags’ [remaining] editorial credibility to the highest bidder. Hachette Vice President Robert Ames doesn’t see it that way. He defended the virtual test drive by claiming that they don't contradict anything written by the magazines' reviewers. "If the editorial staff has said that the vehicle is overweight, we'll never say it's light," Ames told Automotive News. "We'll focus on other aspects of the vehicle on behalf of the consumer."

Ames’ implication– that the VTD is in the consumer’s best interest– is curious, given that they’re charging the automakers $250k per segment. Any suggestion that the buff books’ advertorials are somehow quarantined behind a Chinese wall seems equally dubious, given Stephan Wilkinson’s revelations about advertisers’ power over Car and Driver's editorial choices.

Actually, it’s worse than that. Next week, Hachette Filipacchi Media’s U.S. CEO Jack Kliger will team up with top execs at his dead tree rivals to bring a big ass begging bowl to Detroit automakers. Automotive News says the rag tag army of glossy rag providers will call upon no less a personage than Mark LaNeve, General Motors' North American marketing chief. There’s bound to be talk of VTD's and "onserts"– the aforementioned advertorial “brochures” bagged with mags.

There the media mavens will stand, Canute-like, commanding the retreating tide of ad bucks to stop. More accurately, they’ll sell their souls for a percentage of the hundreds of millions of dearly departed dollars fleeing trad mags for the “new media.”

The Devil will demand his due: lay off our products. Those words may not be uttered– until later. There’s no getting around the fact that Car and Driver and Road & Track, as well as Motor Trend and Automobile (which are also launching VTD’s), are sinking deeper and deeper into editorial prostitution.

According to Brock Yates, you can already see it in Car and Driver’s basic structure. Yates told me that Editor-in-Chief Csabe Csere’s reliance on comparison testing allows the magazine to compare “relative merit” with “the occasional mild poke” rather than “take a good hard look at any one car” and “kick its ass when it deserves it.”

As we’ve said before, these are not trivial matters. An automobile is the average American’s second largest purchase, after their house. It accounts for a large amount of their annual expenditure. Its relative safety is a matter of life and death. When car magazines sacrifice their editorial independence on the altar of corporate profit, they clearly demonstrate in whose interests they ultimately act, and it ain’t you.

Of course, all of this is good news for Consumer Reports and independent automotive websites like The Truth About Cars (TTAC).

As TTAC embarks upon its latest reinvention (due within a week), you can rest assured that this website will never violate our readers' trust. You may not like or agree with our opinions, but as long as I remain the site's publisher, advertisers will not shade, color or dictate our editorial choices. By the same token, until and unless the buff books regain their independent voice, they will continue their long slide into mediocrity and irrelevance.

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72 Comments on “Car And Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Automobile: America’s Buff Books Laid Low...”


  • avatar
    Seth

    I like Top Gear, CAR, Evo, AutoCar magazines better.

  • avatar
    Eric_Stepans

    As Colonel Klink once said…..”verrrrry interesting”

    I noticed years ago that Motor Trend had ‘sold its soul’ and Automobile was more focused on the automotive ‘high life’ than real evaluation of product. But what RF describes is a whole new level of prostitution.

    It’s not so bad for the typical automotive ‘geek’ (like most TTACers) who can recognize BS when they see it, but the typical consumer whose car interest ranges from mild to none are being done a disservice. Now they have to become expert in which sources of automotive information are trustworthy

  • avatar

    Stephan Wilkinson's relevations about C&D's editorial choices are in his comments on this article.

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    Yes, well, Robert – this is one of the reasons we need all the car guys (and gals) we know to frequent your pages instead of their pages.

    Actually, for that matter, once you get the “redo” done in a week or less, we can feel free to send our non-car-nut friends along as well.

    Kudos for on staying on the straight and narrow path of automotive journalism at it’s most independent and non-biased.

    These written mags are indeed, whores.

  • avatar
    Craigerzgt

    Top Gear is good, however, Jeremy Clarkson has his own ignoramus biases. Ever seen him do the Mustang vs. Mustang test, where he clearly calls a base model Mustang a Mustang GT? If not, Youtube is your friend. And that’s just the start of how idiotic his ramblings become sometimes.

    It’s unfortunate that “car buff” magazines have sunk to the level that they’re at. To the vast majority of the public (sans truly informed car enthusiasts like ourselves), these magazines will appear to be dictating to the reader, where in fact they are not. The only real way anymore to find out what a car is like is to drive it yourself (or read this website ;) ). It just shouldn’t have to be that way.

  • avatar
    JT

    I confess it–I am an apparent Luddite! I do not believe web-based media will ever replace print media. There will always be a place for ink-on-paper.
    That said, “Winding Road” is a spectacular version of what on-line presentation can be. (But I still take a print copy of C/D on the plane with me instead of reading a “magazine” on a computer.)

    Sooner or later, all the advertisers investing huge amounts in web-based stuff will realize their money is not working because there are SO many sites all clamoring to be seen that the message is either invisible or diluted.

    The major mags mentioned in TTAC’s piece, and some others, are falling prey to the same thing they decry in the U.S auto manufacturing world: optimizing profit over product.
    If you have a good product, it will make you a profit. If you’re after profit alone, your product will suffer. I join the others in grieving the demise of truly independent journals.

    /JT

  • avatar
    Tazman

    Top Gear is a wonderful show but I don’t think it is really about reviewing cars at all, and Clarkson’s rants (coherent or otherwise) are all about entertainment, something in which they absolutely succeed. Yeah, they do a few reviews and comparos, but for the most part it is just a show about having fun with cars, and in that, they are just brilliant.

    The standard automotive press truly is turning horrendous, as this article and the one linked to by Frank show. I always cringe reading the weekend paper here in Michigan and seeing the car ‘reviews’ in the Auto section. I desparately hope nobody actually takes them seriously, they read like a press release and never, ever have a negative thing to say. Hats off to TTAC for calling it like they see it!

  • avatar
    Albnyc

    Methinks that Automobile mag deserves the most brickbats. The more established books laid down long ago, but to me Automobile has strayed so far from their purported “mission” (in search of $’s, I guess) so fast, that the editorial has become a sucking, swirling eddy of discontent.

  • avatar
    Steven Evanson

    I’ve read R&T and C&D since the mid-fifties and find this latest move by the mags just more of the same. They’ve always accepted car ads and never, IMO, reported an automobiles strengths and weaknesses honestly in reviews and comparison tests. When the next new model comes out, as it always does, we learn of the problems with the prior model, but not until then. Speed, style, and status/exclusivity trump real-world issues like reliability, comfort, practical power vs. high revving engines with impractical torque curves for daily driving, gearboxes which are sloppy but not mentioned in reviews, handling which is great up until the car spins off the road (think Porsche up until the ’90’s), and today, glamour supercars which are so fast they have no usefulness on the street. These mags sell fantasies which most of their readers can’t afford and it’s harmless enough in a way but for those of us who like to know the whole story, TTAC is the only site which critiques cars and the industry with equal candor.

  • avatar

    What are these things called “magazines” you guys keep talking about??

    –chuck

  • avatar
    Eric_Stepans

    Historical Note:

    I used to read RF in the San Francisco Chronicle in their Saturday auto ads.

    They dropped him (as I believe several other papers did) because he was too critical honest in his car reviews.

  • avatar

    I have a stack of 70s R&T magazines – to read those reviews is a revelation – they actually give a honest, hard look at the cars. If its a dog they say so – none of the this read between the lines of the current magazine. Worse is they will be critical only when the model has been replaced.

  • avatar
    Harbinger

    Tazman, Craigerzgt,

    I believe Seth was referring to Top Gear, the magazine, not Top Gear, the show. While I agree with Craigerzgt that sometimes Clarkson’s anti-American and pro-British biases become ludicrous, the magazine is mostly Clarkson-free, but for a 2 page editorial. The magazine is definitely more hard news and reviews than the tv show, and most of the reviews are not comparisons, but how the car stands on its own.

  • avatar
    Tim

    Though none of these mags are worth subscribing to with the advent of the web and what not, I still always purchase one (or two) whenever I travel. This demographic is not going to go away any time soon.

  • avatar
    jrlombard

    Like Tim mentioned above, I still buy the “buff books”, as you call them, when I travel. I was a 15 year subscriber to Car and Driver and defended their honor long after Motor Trend went into the crapper. However, their last few years has not been the best, and with all of the obvious favoritism that certain advertisers have there, I no longer trust them to be objective.

    In addition, by the time those rags hit the stands I’ve already read all of the news that fit “for print” on sites like TTAC, Jalopnik, and Winding Road.

    I’m still an Autoweek subscriber, but that may change here shortly too. Not because I’m dissatisfied with the magazine, but because there is simply no reason to subscribe. They put 95% of their editorial content on their website for free!

  • avatar
    Colin

    You know, when I want truth and honesty about a car I am looking at to buy, I go straight down to the dealership and pick myself up a nice brochure. I figure, why pay for a subcription to a bunch of brochuers for cars that I am not interested in when I can go down to the local dealer and get ALL the information I’d EVER need to know about a car, straight from the (w)horses mouth.
    In all honesty…does anybody have any good suggestions of a magazine to subscribe to that gives good, honest reviews, about cars that are actually attainable? I need something to read in the bathroom that I won’t want to use to wipe with when I’m finished up.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    “I used to read RF in the San Francisco Chronicle in their Saturday auto ads.
    They dropped him (as I believe several other papers did) because he was too critical honest in his car reviews.”

    Me too Robert.

  • avatar
    Robert Rosenberg

    CAR, the Brit mag, has maintained high standards for journalism and straight (if often jingoist) talk.

    LJK Setright and Stephen Bayley set high standards.

    With the Web in ascendance, they’ve reengineered, recognizing that autos are to men as fashion is to women.

    Higher gloss, higher end.

  • avatar
    Luther

    What are these things called “magazines” you guys keep talking about??

    They are those things next to the buggy whips at Walmart. I guess magazines still have there place until wireless Internet become available in restrooms, airplanes, and doctor’s offices.

    I cant remember the last time I bought a magazine or newspaper. I stoppped buying them for the same reason I stopped dating American women… I was tired of being lied to. It became obvious to me that when C&D/R&T reviewed say a Ford and then had a 2-page color Ford ad that something might be, um, up.

    Thanks for that link Frank. Confessions of the front-line man Stephan Wilkinson… I think I know that WSJ cutie also or maybe it was USA Today… $#%@& Tequila.

  • avatar
    Tom

    I too am a long time Buff book reader, going on 30 years. Over the years, my subscriptions have dwindled down to just Car and Driver. With their latest redesign and general decrease in length (and quality) of reviews, I am about to give them the boot as well.

    Which is too bad, because as others have pointed out, there is still a place for a decent car magazine. Too bad there aren’t any anymore. TTAC print edition, anyone?

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    Robert, I think you’re both overestimating the effect that the buff books have and underestimating the savvy of the typical consumer. Editorial independence is pretty much a myth anyway. Even supposedly independent mags like Consumer Reports are subject to (a) their own editorial biases and (b) the need to occasionally slag a vehicle just to establish their “street cred” as a take-no-prisoners magazine.

    At the risk of sounding post-modernist, there’s no such thing as an “objective” review anyway. A review is pure subjectivity any way you cut it, it doesn’t matter whether the subjectivity comes from the fact that the reviewer likes or dislikes a certain type of car or whether it comes as a result of the fact that the reviewer is a paid shill for the company. Either way, you’re not going to get the “truth” in any objective sense until you get behind the wheel yourself.

    The objective stuff like dimensions and HP ratings are out there for those who like them, but the proof is in the driving.

    While the manufacturers may crow about how this vehicle or that vehicle won car-of-the-year from this or that buff mag, I don’t know of anybody in their right mind who would consider a factor like that in making their purchase decision.

    And I don’t know of anybody who would choose to purchase car A over car B solely (or even significantly) because of what a reveiwer said on C&D, R&T, or, for that matter, TTAC.

  • avatar
    MRL

    I still get C&D, and it is worth the $10 a year it costs (but not a penny more).

    Roundel is the best printed car mag out there, IMO.

  • avatar
    Cliff

    I spend more every month at my local Barnes and Noble for magazines than than I would if I bought an entire year’s subscription of the US buff books. Specifically EVO (usually), sometimes Car, and Bike. The English put out large oversize issues featuring superlative photography and personalized tests that represent enthusiasm and knowledge at its’ best. I can read a C&D front to back in a half-hour, the others I enjoy for a month.

    Interestingly the only US based magazine that mimics the English approach is Martha Stewart’s Living. Why exactly no US based publisher is willing to give the auto enthusiast market the same approach is completely befuddling. Of course Newsweek would never dream of trying to be The Economist either. Shame on them. Maybe if the editors/publishers of the US mainstream books thought as much about their readers as they do their advertisers something might change. What am I thinking? Hahahahha.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    While the reviews are a tad polite I find C&D and R&T useful. The statistical measurements whether performance, size, interior space, hauling capacity and so forth are still valid. I do think they could and should be more critical but I understand their dilemma. As far as comparisons in C&D go I actually like them. When you are shopping for a car you look at the segment not just one car and these comparos show how things stack up.

    Perhaps I’m in the minority here but I actually come to TTAC for the editorials not the reviews. The reviews while sometimes amusing would not give me any real data or detailed impressions of the vehicle as a whole and how it fits into its segment. The 800 word limitation doesn’t allow for any indepth observation. Honestly how can you not include criticisms of the poor manual top mechanism an storage space in the text of the review?

    While referring to Subaru’s new grill as a “Flying Vagina” is a tad amusing it is also crass, unprofessional and not especially genteel (not that you were trying to be). I expect this to some degree in an editorial as its focus is the author’s opinion, whereas a review should strive to be more objective and more professional.

    IMO Edmunds does a good job of being critical, thorough while remaining professional. Johnny might disagree since he has had some dealings with them that a user of their site is not privy to.

    Take it for what its worth or not.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    My problem with print media is outside of the niche magazines like Sport Compact Car or Grassroots Motorsports, none of the cars they feature interest me. You can only write so much about a Nissan Versa, and to be honest, an econobox shootout between that, a Honda Fit, a Toyota Yaris, and a Chevy Aveo is a downright yawner.

    There are a few shining stars in print media, like Automobile magazine where even if you hate their writing, you can’t fault their photography, and then there’s….hmm…..I guess that’s it.

    The best webzine I’ve found so far though is Winding Road (www.windingroad.com), which not only tests cars in the U.S. but also gets behind the wheel of the latest overseas offerings, and so far has been the only magazine I’ve seen ask the question everyone seems afraid to ask: Why does every manufacturer under the sun stick us with the boring cars while the rest of the world gets the good stuff?

  • avatar
    pete

    Wow – people still pay for magazines.

    I only look at those curios as I wait to have my hair cut…

    Seriously though – the slide into prostitution for business or political purposes in the printed media has been visible for some time and not just for car mags. Just look at the NYT or NBC.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    I miss Stephan W.

  • avatar
    Blunozer

    As a long time reader of both Road & Track and Car and Driver, I weep at what they have become.

    Road & Track seems to have reduced its actual “reviews” to one (or less) a month. At least the layout and photography is top notch and Peter Egan’s column is still a joy to read.

    Car and Driver… WHAT HAPPENED? A magazine that once reveled in its ability to write a scathing review now dumps praise on the highest bidder. Just look at the recent review of the GMC Acadia, an overpriced/underpowered giant that couldn’t possibly compete against a Honda Pilot or Mazda CX-9. You can almost hear the writers gritting their teeth while reading the article.

    Only the occasional “fluff” piece, like the “24 hours of Lemons” and the sheer hilarity of John Phillips keeps me shelling out $5 a month for bathroom fodder.

  • avatar
    ash78

    I wish there were at least one auto magazine that could achieve the depth of content and nonstop readability of what I consider the gold standard of magazines: Wired.

    Its focus is technology, but there is just so much rich content in the pages, from techie articles to op-ed to McNews-style sidebars with cool graphics. On the surface, you’d think it was just another mag full of gadget reviews, etc, but that’s a small minority of what it’s about. I’d love to see a car mag take a cue from that method, reporting on the business in general, trends, and accessories, in addition to just the cars themselves. Makes for a lot more interesting reading than the same old comparison testing.

  • avatar
    nweaver

    A good test on the magazines is how they review the solstice/sky.

    If they don’t even mention how baroque and broke the top and interior ergonomics are, especially compared to the benchmark, they are corrupted.

  • avatar
    Gottleib

    I rarely read the auto magazines anymore after being a subscriber for over 10 years to R&T, Car and Drvier and Motor Trend. In the 60’s and 70’s I read the auto magazines and educated myself since my family members looked upon automobiles as transportation, nothing more nothing less.

    I recall learning about horsepower and torque, the relationship between the two and the difference between oversteer and understeer. Everything an aspiring driver wanted to know. Why independent suspension was better for ride and handling, why European car air conditioning didn’t work worth a damn, the breakthrough of radial tires and how to become a better driver. Today you rarely find anything of educational benefit but the pictures are nice.

    I think I still have somewhere an article from either Car and Driver and Motor Trend that compared the Cadillac Fleetwood, Lincoln Continental, Chrysler Imperial, Mercedes 300SE and the Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II or III.
    I wish articles in car magazines of today could be written as well as that one was. Each of the cars tested had some positive attribute that the others did not possess and the author expounded upon each of those attributes, whether it was the automatic climate control of the Cadillac, the torsion bar suspension of the Chysler, the design and ride of the Lincoln Continental, the ability of the Mercedes Benz 300SE with the smallest engine to actually cruise comfortably at 90 miles per hour or the superb quality, comfort and ability to impress of the Rolls Royce. Negative attributes were also mentioned such that one was lead to conclude that the perfect car would be one that was somehow a combination of all those being tested.
    I think some of the British car magazines come close to providing similar articles today, but unfortunately I tire rather quickly when reading about cars that are not always available to us on this side of the Atlantic.
    Today I do read Consumer Reports and various internet sites like this one for information, but it just isn’t the same as it used to be.

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    I still get C&D, and it is worth the $10 a year it costs (but not a penny more).

    I agree. I take it more for the raw data (dimensions, performance). If they every raise the price significantly, I’m gone.

    Looking forward to the improved TTAC…

  • avatar
    P.J. McCombs

    IMO, there’s a big difference between the inevitable subjectivity that comes with any written review–which the author can mitigate by being up-front about their personal preferences–and the sort of covert, revenue-driven bias that pervades most auto mags. In the former, the author is at least *trying* to be honest about their experience with a vehicle.

    The major mags–and an increasing number of well-known websites–are great at making fluff sound like editorial criticism. My favorite devices:

    – comparing a new model to its predecessor, instead of the more relevant matter of its current competition.

    – focusing on figures, rather than tactile sensations: “On the skidpad, the Grand Prix has zero steering feedback pulls 0.80g!”

    – “Preview,” and increasingly, “Road Test” cop-outs: “Our hour-long demo drive didn’t give us a feel for the car’s dynamics…” Bullshit. Pro reviewers like those employed by the major mags are sensitive enough to know whether they’ve enjoyed driving a vehicle within a few blocks–and, to a limited extent, why.

    It’s frankly depressing to read back issues of the major mags. Their criticism has backed off considerably since the mid-’90s, and it’s now gotten to the point where you have to wait for comparison tests to discover their opinion about a vehicle. The previews and road tests read increasingly like extended commercials.

  • avatar
    TeeKay

    I can’t stand the mainstream US car magazine — all are industry whores.

    Windingroad, TTC, EVO, CAR, and Top Gear are much better.

  • avatar

    Truly insightful! Excellent editorial.

    Robert Farago: Whenever a new medium appears, it frees the old one to reinvent itself.

    It’s as if you’ve read my mind: What better medium to do a “deep dive” on a car or truck than in print? Want 800- or 1,000-word reviews of a given vehicle? Those are easy enough to come by. ;)

    The Internet is fine for our fast-moving lifestyles, but a magazine offers the opportunity to slow down, dig deeper, and present the reader with far more information than they do now. (Sort of a mini book.)

    With so little content, an avid reader can whip through any of the major mags in an evening or two, max. Like an absolute base-level car, the 4 major car magaines are far too decontented.

    To pick on just one: While presenting some nice full-page photography, the March ’07 issue of Automobile is 140 pages. Of those, 66 pages are ads, leaving 74 pages of actual content. (Some of the 74 are photographs, but that’s okay.)

    When car magazines sacrifice their editorial independence on the altar of corporate profit, they clearly demonstrate in whose interests they ultimately act, and it ain’t you.

    The values of the corporate world in all of its unfettered glory.

    The kicker is, we pay for the privilege of reading such corporate propaganda, er, advertising presented in the guise of original thought pieces appearing in the printed form.

    To get away from ads is why I subscribe to Sirius satellite radio. But with the mags, we pay twice, if you will: Subscription fees, plus all of the print ads presented in the magazine.

    Thanks for the awesome thought-provoking editorial, Robert.

  • avatar
    geeber

    As a long-time subscriber to Car & Driver, I’ve noticed that its content has decreased, while the reviews have softened. It’s still the best one of its type out there…at least among the American magazines.

    I’m surprised that no American magazine has taken a cue from Top Gear or Car, which manage to be entertaining AND informative by “telling it like it is.” Perhaps the “not-invented-here” syndrome isn’t limited to the American automobile industry.

    These trends aren’t limited to car magazines…when I was growing up, my parents subscribed to Newsweek. I didn’t bother subscribing when I moved out, and recently picked up an issue when visiting them. I was shocked at how thin it was, and how little content it contained, when compared to the issues published in the 1970s and 1980s.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    Gottleib: but the pictures are nice

    This sounds too much like most NA-produced computer games these days. Gameplay sucks, storyline is pulled out of a finger, there’s no balance, AI is dumb, BUT LOOK AT THEM GRAPHICS – THEY’RE ALMOST REAL!!! And of course, to salespeople, this makes sense – you can’t show your great gameplay or your challenging plot on a glossy cardboard box.

    It seems like this continent has some kind of curse. Excellent workers have assembled from all over the world to pursue a wrrong objective because the management is too busy selling themselves.

    This is, of coure, a generalization, but US appears to be the most affected by this pursuit of milking their customers right this second for all they’re worth.

    Until this culture changes, soulless games, rattling cars, and whored-out magazines will remain mainstream. Say “Hi” to the ugly face of capitalism ;)

  • avatar

    If I can coin a phrase, I’ve abandoned the buff mags for the geek mags. My current favorite is Hemmings Classic Car with its vivid, technical writing and thorough photography, it’s hard to beat. Who says Americans can’t write a fine car magazine?

    (and if I need to read about a car newer than 20 years old, I still keep up my AutoWeek subscription despite their incessant NASCAR coverage)

  • avatar
    Elrae Yelrah

    I tend to take all car reviews – print, online, TV – with a large grain of salt because like Martin Albright said, it is difficult to find any 100% non-biased automotive journalists. Everyone has pre-conceived notions of what to expect from a car that can blur their vision. They often fall prey to making ridiculous comparisons as well as weighing certain aspects of the car in question more than other characteristics in a ratio that will not agree with the priorities of every reader. And unfortunately, these reviews are influential in the purchasing of a new car for many people – if not directly, then sometimes to the effect of getting advice such as “I heard Car and Driver liked the new Tribeca.”

    What I find most enjoyable in any automotive media are the “off-beat” or adventure articles. EVO does this well with their lengthy road trips that spend as much time discussing the event as they do the cars themselves (not to mention the astounding photography). I have enjoyed Car and Driver’s articles that are often relegated to the back of the issue (where they might review a fire truck, drive cross-country non-stop, or discuss demolition derbies). Winding Road is becoming a strong force, too, in this aspect. Currently my two favorite reads are EVO and Octane.

    I would like to see R&T, Motor Trend, C&D perhaps try to join forces and instead of 4-5 directly competing magazines, create 1 or 2 higher quality rags. Take the best writers and photogs of the bunch and send them on unique missions. If the product is good enough, I would be willing (and I imagine others would as well) to pay $10/issue rather than the current $10/yr subscription.

    The bottom line is that I can go to the dealership and test drive the new Highlander on my own. I can not drive a Lambo Murcielago across Canada during the winter. That is what I want to read about when I buy a magazine.

  • avatar
    frontline

    To me it begins and ends with the spy shots, prototypes, show cars.
    My old man used to say that I could support families on what I spent on car magazines.

    The 7th or 8th day of the month was like Christmas when the new mags hit the stands

    Now I am getting 95% of my fix online.

    But, you are into the classic cars, it is very hard to find an online alternative to the wonderful british classic car magazines

  • avatar

    It’s probably less than coincidental then that Brock Yates, who wrote several insightful columns of what The General (and other domestics) needed to do, was bounced from C/D’s pages.

    Given the cost of producing and shipping a magazine, you have to expect a bit of cozying up to the manufacturers. Sadly, it will never be like it was when the late Bill Davis owned C/D; and he allowed Leon Mandel to keep his job as editor, despite the fact that GM pulled all their advertising, from all Ziff-Davis publications, when a writer for C/D slammed the Opel station wagon (calling it, among other things, “a eunuch on four tires,” as I recall).

    Thing is, as you have rightly pointed out, people read magazines, and now web sites, with an eye towards making the second most important purchase of their economic lives – maybe even equally important, given that if a car leaves you stranded on the way to work, too often, you might lose your job.

    There’s a point in everyone’s life, where to compromise too much means that you are yourself, anymore. One has to wonder what Car and Driver is about anymore. I myself took a one year trial subscription to Road & Track, in 2003; but dropped it, after that year. That magazine sure isn’t what it was. Of course, since both magazines have the same parent, what happened to one magazine, seems to be happening to the other.

    I’m just glad that Barry Winfield, Patrick Bedard and John Phillips are still on-board C/D. But how much longer, eh?

  • avatar

    Meant to write, in the last post, that “there’s a point in everyone’s life, where to compromise too much means you are not yourself, anymore.”

  • avatar
    Zarba

    My Car and Driver is down from 175 pages last October to about 125 pages now.

    Some “re-design” that is…

  • avatar

    Elrae Yelrah: I would like to see…instead of 4-5 directly competing magazines, create 1 or 2 higher quality rags.

    Agreed. (Not unlike some manufacturers long list of brands?)

    Steven Evanson: Speed, style, and status/exclusivity trump real-world issues like reliability, comfort, practical power…

    Uh huh: They may love the latest whatever car, but mention the reliabilty of the brand in question? That’s irrelevant when they’re not actually paying for, nor maintaining, the beast.

  • avatar
    cbrjim

    I wondered why C/D didnt include the new edge in the comparo. The next month I got my answer. The carmakers-ad-disguised-as-an-editorial!

  • avatar
    allen5h

    Colin wrote: “You know, when I want truth and honesty about a car I am looking at to buy, I go straight down to the dealership and pick myself up a nice brochure.”

    It has been my experience that when I ask these dealerships for a brochure, they are bewildered by my request. They frantically go looking for these things on the showroom floor, only to find one year or two year old brochures for their other models, none for the model that I am interested in. Then they go asking the dealership’s management people (leprechauns who typically hide in the back office, not to be seen or heard of until after you have been given a good “working over” of about two hours or so) and a frantic search/panic ensues in the front/back/everywhere office. If the dealership is not a good place of information on their cars (their revolving door of BS’n salespeople cain’t tell you anything) then why would anybody even want to be bothered with them?

    ******************************
    Gottlieb wrote: “…why European car air conditioning didn’t work worth a damn…

    The A/C in my new ’97 Pontiac did not work a damn and the dealer never could fix it, and people have told me about the A/C in their new early 80’s Chevy Citations did not work a damn and the dealers could never fix it. History repeats itself at GM. My prediction: In future decades GM will continue to build cars (in China) with A/C that does not work a damn that no dealer can fix.

    ******************************
    Steve_S wrote “The statistical measurements whether performance, size, interior space, hauling capacity and so forth are still valid.”

    I wonder about these “valid statistics”. Do these car rags really test these 0-60, 60-0, hp, torque, and other specs on their “test tracks” and “dynos” or do they simply go through their motions and then re-hatch the manufacturers inflated stats like a congo cult? I recall the recent snafu about HP ratings. Just say’n.

    ******************************
    My final comment about these car rags: If you want toilet paper then just buy toilet paper. It is softer and more absorbent than high gloss, cheaper, more conveniently dispensed, and goes down in one flush.

  • avatar
    Luther

    I wish there were at least one auto magazine that could achieve the depth of content and nonstop readability of what I consider the gold standard of magazines: Wired.

    Agreed. I think Wired was the last magazine I ever bought like 10 years ago or something. I also liked OMNI way back when. Now Im partial to “The Onion” for its cutting-edge investigative journalism.

    http://www.theonion.com/content/news_briefs/u_s_dollar_drops_against

  • avatar
    Chris

    Too bad TTAC hasn’t considered entering into the print fold…

    I’d love to see a straight forward, beautifully designed (on par w/ this site) TTAC magazine bidding for my $ at the local Borders mag rack.

    Besides, I pretty much stopped visiting the Car & Driver site once I found TTAC. I’m especially peeved by their watered-down (dishonest?) reviews of Big Three products.

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    Coming up on twenty years since my first issue of C&D arrived in the mailbox….I have fond memories of the anticipation of each new issue…I’ve even saved every one, arranged chronologically on the shelf. If a new issue showed up the night before a final exam…well, the studying had to wait!

    The magazine has certainly taken a turn for the worse with the last redesign, but I still consider it subscription worthy, esp now that $15 will get you a 3, 4, or even 5 year subscription on ebay.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Every month for the past 35 years I have eagerly awaited the delivery of my new C/D, tore it open and read it cover to cover for my fix. This month was no different, though I still get aggravated when I see the new issue in the airport 4-5 days before my copy arrives…..

    these days, TTAC, Autoblog, and AE fill my fix on a weekly, daily, or even hourly basis (don’t ask about Jalopnik… they ‘hoon’ everything too much….).

    I still like C/D, although yes, they are a different magazine then they were 5 years ago. Remember when they ripped the then-new Saturn Ion to shreds?

  • avatar
    Antone

    EVO and CAR…

    EVO actually has a Lamborghini Murciélago in its long term test fleet. Enough said.

  • avatar

    Chris: If anyone would like to bankroll a TTAC mag…

  • avatar
    alanp

    For car enthusiasts like me I have found I really don’t look to much good stuff in C&D anymore, it’s WAY too biased towards the big businesses that support it. When they started doing editorials on how cars didn’t affect CO2 or global warming, and how oil was just not a problem, I realized they had sold out.

    Now I prefer and read and reread the Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car magazine each month. Lots of info on real cars that drivers own and love as well as reviews with lots of info, both good and bad. Very fun.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    Speaking of the TTAC redesign, it’s much easier on the eyes than the last try. But what happened to the lovely cropped photos?

    I do miss the narrower columns of the original which I think is easier to read, as the eyes don’t have to move back and forth across the screen.

    Besides, you can cram even more ads in the sidebar!

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    Also, will the “Edit Comment” button return?

  • avatar
    sitting@home

    The business model for all magazines like C&D, R&T is to maximise ad revenue. They would give them away for free just to increase circulation (hence what they can charge for ads) but Barnes&Noble, 7/11 et al need a cut, so there’s a cover price. They send schoolkids door-to-door hocking $2/year subscriptions just to get the circulation up. The content is irrelevant, the advertising is all that matters and they’ll do whatever it takes to keep you reading the ads; whether that’s increasing the ad/page ratio, or blending the ads with the articles.

    Same thing in all other ad based media; think shows like CSI and American Idol are produced for their entertainment value … No, they’re just filler between the ads.

    Unfortunately most people are unwilling to pay the money for a subscription service that pays the true cost (XM/Sirius are still losing money) so we’re all just drones to the advertising industry wherever we go.

  • avatar
    Johnson

    C & D at least, is getting more and more out of touch with consumers and the auto market in general. Every review or comparison I read from them is increasingly hollow and less substantive.

  • avatar
    Craigerzgt

    Harbinger:

    Ah I see. Top Gear the show infuriates me sometimes from the overdose of lunacy, but the magazine is pretty good. Tom Ford’s articles are, IMO, the best I have yet to read from a print magazine. Hillarious! Too bad the magazine takes a decade to read through though.

  • avatar
    Lamborghini48907

    I just visited CarandDriver.com to check these VDT’s out and see how accurate your review is of them. Well, let me say you’re 110% right. I hate them, they’re god awful. I subscribe to Car and Driver, Automobile, and Road and Track, they are clearly biased in a number of ways, but like someone else said, a seasoned car enthusiast such as myself and many others here can see through the bullshit and find what’s real underneath it, and there still is a wealth of knowledge to be learned from these magazines, but they sure are heading downwards fast, and have sped up this process significantly with the atrocious VDT’s.

  • avatar
    Mike S.

    When I was a boy, I used the read the “buff magazines” because they were fun in an era when the car was a joy. But times and technology has changed, and frankly, I am tired of all of the “Big Four”–“Motor Trend” is juvenile pap; “Car & Driver” is “The National Review” with opinions to match; “Automobile” was fine when David E. Davis was editor; now it’s just boring (and I have dropped my subscription); and “Road & Track” is a throwback to the days when British cars actually meant something. The only magazines I read now are “AutoWeek” and “Consumer Reports,” with occasional glances at “USA Today” and Warren Brown’s reviews in “The Washington Post.” I don’t always agree with TTAC, but I find it lively reading–and that’s more than I can say for the “Big Four” paper users. It’s ironic that “CR” is actually HIPPER than any of the car buff magazines today. If that’s not a sign CarRoadAutomobileTrend is in big trouble, I don’t know what is!

  • avatar
    Michael O'Sullivan

    A year ago I broke my 30+ year habit of buying C&D and R&T regularly. The trigger was my experience of test driving most of their favourite cars to find something to replace my 1991 Prelude. I ended more than a couple of drives wondering how in hell they’d managed to keep quiet about some thumb-in-the-eye flaw designed into the car I’d just driven. I concluded they don’t lie but they don’t tell the truth either. They slip past flaws in cars that appeal to their enthusiast perspective.

    Now, apparently, they will slip past flaws in everything in their VTD. The Hachette suit quoted in the article says point blank that the VDT will replace criticism elsewhere in the mag or site with fluff, no doubt from the manufacturer’s PR department. I don’t know what else “We’ll focus on other aspects of the vehicle on behalf of the consumer.” means. It’s censorship, plain and simple. Tommy Kendall is the perfect toe kisser in this enterprise. He’s a fine race driver and probably a nice guy but his gushing car tests on Speed Channel never passed a critical word about anything.

    The internet has rendered the mags irrelevant as sources of information and opinion. I’ve noticed C&D and R&T have tilted towards cover stories about concept cars, tuner one-offs and high end cars. Cover stories about cars nobody can buy and the large format a couple of them adopted must have something to do with grabbing eyes on the newstands. I don’t get it but I don’t have the exalted insight of a Hachette suit. Blatantly selling your readers to your advertisers to generate phoney content free of critical comment is the beginning of the death spiral for any publication.

    As GM, Ford and Chrysler spiral down the drain the American car mags seem determined to go with them.

  • avatar
    BTEFan

    oGreat article on the buff books. I stopped taking Motor Trend seriously around 1987 when it seemed like they were on Ford’s payroll. even though I was 13 years old at the time, I could clearly tell that their articles, comparision tests, etc were clearly biased towards the Ford Motor Company. The articles on other cars didn’t have any sort of criticism at all. All cars seemed to be good in the eyes of Motor Trend. Also, the language that they used was a little too, for lack of a better term, ‘slang-ey’. I couldn’t take it seriously. Car and Driver was quite hard hitting and unbiased in thier opinions and reviews. Automobile just seemed snobby – David E Davis talking about his Suburban and hunting dogs and the marvels of the Cumberford Martinique just seems a little nose in the air to me.
    CAR and Top Gear out of England seem to provide the most hard hitting and non biased writing. CAR doesn’t hold back – thier editors write reviews that are unbiased (except the Jag XJ40 in the mid 1980s, for which the appologized for later).

    Fast Forward to 2007. Car and Driver is slicker but the articles seem to be shorter, and the ads are multiplying, Motor Trend has acquired some editorial bite and actually criticize cars, and Automobile is still sort of stuck up.

    As for Road&Track, it bugs me to no end that they call power windows ‘Electric Window Lifts’ – I think its their attempt to sound/act/think/feel British, just like the aged British cars that they wax poetic about.
    TTAC is great. Keep up the good work!

  • avatar
    Lichtronamo

    What were “Stephan Wilkinson’s revelations about advertisers’ power over Car and Driver’s editorial choices”?

    C&D’s VTD is along the same wrong line as their “comparision” ad for the Ford Fusion (AWD) against the Accord and Camry and (surprise!) all the people favored the Fusion. Then their’s the editor for a day.

    Winding Road shows the forthcoming demise of the buff books. Ironic that its DED, Jr. showing them to the gallows. I particularlly like their format allowing mixed media (like DED, Jr. reading his columns-even when he makes a mistake and says #$@% the the file keeps recording).

    The buff books convoluted attemps to intergrate their paper format with the web are torturous to use – like Automobile’s recent summary of the Detroit Auto Show that promised more insight as to future trends on its website. The problem being that 1) I had to put the magazine down to go find what I wanted to see on the internet and 2) I couldn’t find the feature on the webside.

    I subscribe to the big four US buff books, but I wonder for how much longer?

  • avatar
    rainking2

    I find the love for Car and Top Gear magazines fascinating. They are no more biased than the US rags, they LOVE LOVE LOVE their Brit shi**boxes. In fact they still think the UK actually HAS an industry! Anybody that thinks Car and Top Gear are “better” than the US books is not really READING them.

  • avatar
    rainking2

    ps: Ditto Winding Road. It’s run by David E Davis Jr., the king of “I never met a car i didn’t like as long as the ad dollars are there.” Besides, yet another monthly magazine for all of DED Jr.’s old-guy pals is a bad enough idea. Putting on the web, which those old dudes don’t know how to use, is even dumber.

  • avatar
    noley

    The main car mags all sold out long ago. There are no car mags that are worth reading, and I have subscribed to most of them, some for a couple of decades. But no more, not in several years, for all the reasons noted here by others. I want car mags that are like Wired or perhaps Outside, both of which win awards for general excellence over and over again.

    I want some content that is actually useful and interesting (what a concept!), not a constant string of car reviews. I want to hear about other gearheads actually doing stuff: road trips, track days, racing, building a racer, building something special like a Factory Five Cobra, all the crazy stuff we all do with cars. In detail. There are a lot of stories out there.

    Among other things, I run a site in the print industry and have edited 3 different magazines in that business. Content is critical. It’s what keeps an intelligent, literate audience coming back. The mags that don’t deliver die. And that’s where CR, RT and MT are headed. And sad to say, it’s no loss. Sites like TTAC have a future because the publishers of the print books just don’t get it.

  • avatar
    Marc

    Do I see a Google Sponsored Link to Car and Driver on the front page of the new unbiased TTAC??? Isn’t this a little hypocritical after all the bads things you said? Also there’s a Solstice review and then a link to the Pontiac site? And you set yourselves up as being unbiased. I think we know who is paying the bills now

  • avatar

    Marc:
    Do I see a Google Sponsored Link to Car and Driver on the front page of the new unbiased TTAC???

    Yes you did, and the key thing there is Google-sponsored link. We have no direct control over what ads Google feeds us. In fact, we have no idea what ads will appear when or where. Their ad engine matches ads to the content on the page. So, yes, you’ll probably see ads for cars that are being reviewed. Rest assured these ads in no way influence our editorial policies or content. We would discontinue the ads before we’d let that happen.

  • avatar

    I stopped reading Motor Trend years ago when they couldn’t find anything bad to say about anyone’s cars. For a long time C&D seemed releatively independant, but in the past couple of years it has become as bad as Motor Trend used to be. It’s lost all of it’s soul. Witness the current truck comparison. They somehow rate the Silverado as best based purely on driving dynamics, despite them having nothing good to say about its utility as a truck compared to the others. So they subjectively strained for a way to rate it best. Seems suspicious to me.

    Automobile doesn’t seem to have gone down that path yet, but maybe I’m swayed by the glossy covers and great layouts.

    But yeah, I would love to see a US equivalent of Top Gear mag.

  • avatar
    Lichtronamo

    Again, what were “Stephan Wilkinson’s revelations about advertisers’ power over Car and Driver’s editorial choices”?

  • avatar

    Lichtronamo:
    No wonder you couldn’t find things on their website…
    Click the link, Ctrl-F (or Command-F on the Mac) Type (or paste) Stephan Wilkinson into the find box, click ok. It’s his first post. Duh.

  • avatar
    Michael O'Sullivan

    ===

    Lichtronamo:
    March 3rd, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    Again, what were “Stephan Wilkinson’s revelations about advertisers’ power over Car and Driver’s editorial choices”?

    ===

    Here’s the link:

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1978#comment-4955

    So far as revelations go it doesn’t amount to much, plus the incident must have been 30 years ago.


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