Between the Lines: Motor Trend Disses BMW. Ish.
Source Interlink Media owns Motor Trend magazine. Both conglomerate and car mag are heading south, quickly, in a big way. Ad revenues and circulation are in free fall. Motor Trend (MT) is fighting for it survival with glossy pimpatorials for equally doomed advertisers. The August issue features a glossy "special advertising section" for Buick ("Drive Beautiful") and a slick "advertisement" for the Dodge Challenger ("Motor Trend drives the new Dodge Challenger Through Europe"). Meanwhile, the chronically undercapitalized columnist arthur st. antoine takes a whack at a premium car brand: BMW. Huh?
Start with this: BMW doesn’t advertise in Motor Trend. GMC, Extenze (male enhancement pills), Mercedes-Benz, The Sinclair Institute (“Better Sex for a Lifetime”), MINI, Xomax (male enhancement pills), Infiniti, MAGNA-RX Inc. (male enhancement pills)– but no BMW. You could say with all those pills readers need not buy a BMW– but I couldn’t possibly comment.
Anyway, no feeding hand is bitten, bitte. If MT’s Editor at Large had taken a shot at the Chevrolet Aveo on the mag’s back cover– now with extra hideousness (courtesy of an Audi meets Malibu snout)– I would have been impressed. But he didn’t so I’m not.
“We car journalists are suckers for BMWs. Every model the Bavarian Brand produces is an engineering masterwork, manna for driving enthusiasts, an internal combustion mallet for pummeling comparison-test rivals into humiliated awe. Why even bother to conduct such tests? We’ll choose the machine with the blue-and-white propeller every time. Right?”
Clued-in parsoholics will realize that “Right?” signals st. antoine’s sarcasm. Clued-in pistonheads will realize antoine’s defense comes hot-on-the-heels of Car and Driver’s July comparo, where the mag rated a BMW M3 higher than a Porsche Turbo and Nissan GT-R. Though st. antoine is a former Car and Driver writer, doesn’t he have anything better to do than defend his erstwhile rivals? Apparently not.
“That’s the cliché… But the reality is this: BMW’s supremacy is a myth, one based in part on some historical validity but sustained in recent years largely by a single model, the 3 Series (okay, the new 1 Series seems strong, too). As for the rest of the lineup… where are the superstars? M5 sedan? A thrilling drive, yes, but in its most recent comparo (February 2007) a second-place finisher to the sweeter, sleeker Audi S6.”
Is it me or is st. antoine trying to gum BMW to death? The new BMW M5 blows compared to any car in the entire world that doesn’t have an SMG gearbox. The latterly six-speed manual M5 is OK, and plenty damn quick by any metric, but the Bimmer is a bling-bang-boom travesty when contrasted with its legendary predecessor.
There, that wasn’t so hard was it? And either the 1 Series is strong or it isn’t. It “seems” like a good time for st. antoine to get off the fence. Of course, attacking BMW isn’t really the point of this dietribe [sic]. It’s all about defending MT’s “objectivity” and “integrity” (har-har). Hence st. antoine presents a list of MT comparos Bimmers DIDN’T win within its increasingly tissue-like pages.
And now, a bit of dead horse beating…
“…the iDrive controller remains a poster child of frustration and feature-glut (do you really need a an electronic menu to adjust the airflow from individual vents?), we simply can’t heartily endorse a car– no matter how surgical its steering or smooth its inline six– blemished by that glaring chrome iDrive mole.”
Wow! That’s a LOT of punctuation. But little punch. Critizing BMW for iDrive is like slagging an Escalade for lousy mileage; it’s safe, well-trodden ground. Oh, and in this case, st. antoine's claim of withholding his love for the propeller people's products simply isn't true. st. antoine on the 135i:
“I'm blown away by this little stealth fighter. I can't recall another car that's been more surprising to drive; I expected the 135i to offer solid performance, but it's breathtakingly quick. Refined, too- it's a bona-fide BMW."
Sounds solid to me. Uh, where was I? More importantly, where was st. antoine? Ah, giving the BMW X6 what the Brits call a proper pasting.
“…the X6 is also grotesquely heavy, too small to carry anything, compromised in the back by that free-falling roofline, saddled with iDrive and a needlessly complicated shift lever, and absurdly expensive.”
Finally! st. antoine substantiates his contention that BMW ain’t so big (it’s just tall, that’s all). The paragraph is also a compelling argument that his employer isn't in BMW's pocket. So, a quick twist of the knife and out. Right?
“That BMW’s engineers are gifted goes without saying. As German-born architect Mies van der Rohe once said, though, “Less is more.” Also, “What is this big chrome mole here?”
You gotta admire a writer who can so deftly blend ass-kissing, name-dropping and a non sequitur. Still, at the end of page 24, st. antoine’s quasi-rant provides proof– if proof be needed– that MT is doomed.
WildBill on Jul 02, 2008
Qwerty, I agree that all mags have much less text that they used to. I can blow through one in one short sitting, in most cases. I think the problem is that we as a country don't read enough and that effects the quality of writing. Advise I got once was: "to write better, read more". All print pieces seem to be in trouble these days and they seem to be clueless about what to do, not that I have any answers either.
Pfingst on Jul 03, 2008
The traditional "buff book" model is based on advertising from primarily auto-based sources - and, apparently, sex pills. They also rely heavily on "freebies" from manufacturers. The result of both is an inability to deliver bad news about a product that deserves it because to do so would be biting the hand that feeds them. Now in the days of "Teh InterTubes", automotive news is broken not by the buff books three months after the fact, but by dedicated web sites as it happens. With their status as the source for the latest dirt gone, the buff books need a new model. The presence of this website and the success of the BBC's Top Gear and Consumer Reports (yeah, yeah, they have their problems, too, but stay with me here) would seem to indicate that there is a market for TV/internet/print media that deals in "just the facts ma'am" automotive commentary and reviews. The reviews don't need to be especially timely - some reviews on this very site come out months after the vehicle does. And that's fine. The reviews and commentary need to be thoughtful, insightful, well-written, and above all, honest. Don't just tell me the Chevy Aveo sucks, tell me why you think so. I may disagree with you (I wouldn't), but if your reasons are spelled out, I can make my own judgments from there. All of this is a long way of posing this question: Couldn't you have a print magazine that does honest reviews and well-written commentary, by people who truly love cars in all (most?) of their forms, supported by advertisers who have nothing to do with making or selling cars? People that read car magazines buy clothes, computers, office supplies, food, and yes, sex pills. Top Gear regularly trashes cars that deserve it, and yet they don't seem to have trouble getting cars to review. The readership fleeing in droves from the buff books must want something better, so why can't a print magazine give it to them? If your reviews are thorough and honest, and your biases and "freebies" made plain, people will read your stuff even if your review is "late". Not everyone seeking a review is planning to buy a car. Some of us just like cars. Part of me says that if this could work, somebody would already be doing it. Another part of me says that the existing auto-journalist culture is so entrenched in the old ways that they can't envision doing things any other way. I don't claim to know the answer, but it seems to me that it could be made to work. I'm just not is a position to do anything about it.
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