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Comparing the Car Magazines: Automobile Edition

Posted in auto industry, Car Reviews, Cars, General, Tips by Dustin May | August 31st, 2009 | 3 Responses |

They Write About Cars, We Write About Them!


I’m on a mission. I want to get a subscription to a car magazine, but I don’t know which one to get. I asked friends, but got a different answer from each one. So, I decided to just get an issue or two of each and read them. Then, based on what I read and the subscription price, I would decide on one. So you, my faithful readers, will get to benefit from all of my hard reading.


Automobile was started in 1986, making it the youngest of the US car magazines. Started by David E. Davis and a handful of Car and Driver (read our Car and Driver review here) defectors, Automobile is more focused on the automotive lifestyle than just cars themselves. They do reviews, but not all of their articles are about cars, which can be disappointing. What isn’t disappointing is the photography which is easily the best of all the magazines we’ve reviewed.

The most disappointing article was in the “Wheels Up” travel feature in the August 2009 issue. They drive through Modena in a Maserati GranTurismo S Automatic. Sounds like it should be a great article, right? It isn’t. It’s pure and utter crap. Don Sherman should be hired by Conde Nast, not Automobile. There is one, small paragraph that talks about the car, and this is only about how the GranTurismo is now offered with a ZF six-speed. The rest of the article dedicated to telling you what to see and do in Modena. The other articles in this section – such as the Fiesta drive through Madison, Wisconsin, even though it comes off as a bit creepy – at least provide the subjective feedback Automobile is known for along with information about the areas they were in.

The magazine does try to redeem itself with an article on the lustful Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B that won Best of Show at the 2009 Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza. A beautiful car that should make every car aficionado take pause. They further try to make amends with an article where Sir Stirling Moss drives the last Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. He compares it to his W196S 300SLR. Which one does he prefer? The old one, of course, saying, “After all, I do enjoy living in the past.”

Further articles show the lineage to Car and Driver and that magazine’s sense of quirkiness. These include a history of parking meters, a short bit about two men who rode their Segways from Seattle to Boston (you can see more at 10mph.com), and a fun piece about a man who put a Motorlet M-701 turbojet engine in the bed of his Ford F-150 STX titled “One Wild Hybrid”.

Automobile does long term tests and provides quick updates on them. They also write about standard automotive magazine fare, such as reviewing the 2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid, Lexus LS600hL, the beautiful new Lotus Evora, and the Ferrari 599GTB. It is here that Automobile starts to really shine. Unlike other car magazines that seem to think that if they are nice people will like them, Automobile pulls no punches. In the review of the Evora, they say, “Poorly resolved front end allows license plate to intrude into air inlet, which could have been wider and shallower. Lower scoops are nice, but the whole front end is inelegantly blunt.” They aren’t unfair – they compliment the aspects of the Evora that deserve compliment – but they don’t gloss over faults, either.

Other interesting features of the August 2009 issue are a history lesson about Honda to commemorate American Honda’s 50th anniversary, an interview with Toyota’s energy guru Bill Reinert, and a look back at the Plymouth Duster. In this manner, Automobile is probably the most rounded magazine.

In the end, Automobile magazine comes off as a strange, yet natural, mix of car magazine and lifestyle periodical. This can lead to disappointment if you go into it expecting the same experience provided by Car and Driver or Road and Track (read our Road and Track review here). If you are looking for a magazine that is less objective and more emotional, Automobile is for you. It still contains car info – most of it very good – but without the technical prowess of others. Another bonus? You get more written pages, as a percentage, than any other US car magazine.

News Stand Price: $4.99 US, $5.99 Canada
Subscription Price: $10.00 US, $22.00 Canada
Written Pages/Total Pages: 57/103
Market Focus: General automotive lifestyle

Readability: A – Very well laid out with little featurettes tucked within articles
Information Value: C – Minimal amount of specs on reviewed cars and too much non-car content
Entertainment Value: B+ – Sexy cars and good writing combine for an entertaining read

Website: www.automobilemag.com

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3 Responses

  1. FuzzyPlushroom says:

    Hell, I read it for the laughs. If I want politely stated facts, I’ll read a Consumer Reports. If I want car-geekery, I’ve got go-to websites for that. Automobile is more of a clever form of amusement that just so happens to be constructed around a topic about which I’m passionate.

  2. .357 says:

    Dustin, I hope that you get a job at an Auto mag out of this.

  3. Marc Sketchler says:

    Hot damn, Dustin. Thank you so much for reminding me that 10 MPH exists!

    Seriously, I downloaded a trailer for that movie about three years ago. I’m unspeakably excited. You are my best friend today.