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Comparing the Car Magazines: Motor Trend Edition

Posted in auto industry, Car Reviews, Cars, General, Tips by Dustin May | August 6th, 2009 | 8 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.

Motor Trend

One of the oldest and most revered of the buff books, Motor Trend started in 1949. Known mostly for its Car and Truck of the Year awards, this is probably the most influential North American car magazine. Car companies, desperate for good press on their products, are willing to do whatever it takes to get Motor Trend to like their cars and trucks. I would not be surprised if Angus Mackenzie, Arthur St. Antoine, and Matt Stone were given their choice of booth “professionals” at every Detroit Auto Show or Geneva Auto Salon.

This is the problem.

You see, Motor Trend is bland. It is very functional. They give you the straight scoop. However, there is something missing. There’s no humor, no poking fun at cars, no…soul. Motor Trend is the Toyota of car mags.

Take, for example, the July 2009 edition. This was their big Comparison Test Special. They ran comparisons on the Cadillac CTS-V vs. BMW M5, the Camaro V6 vs. the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, the Ford Fusion vs. Honda Accord, Acura TL vs. Audi’s A4 Quattro, and, the big one, the Audi Q5 vs. Mercedes’ GLK vs. Lexus’ RX350 vs. Volvo’s XC60. The comparisons are very by the book and very fair. They seem to walk a tight rope when talking about the “losers” in the comparison tests. Come on. Let it rip. If you didn’t like something, say so! We, your readers and the ones who pay to subscribe to your magazine, deserve this!

Instead, they write about the Audi Q5 (1st Place), “If you love flogging your sport sedan but want more utility, this one’s for you. From styling to performance, the Q5 is unmatched. The investment is high, but so is the return.” Then give last place to the Mercedes Benz GLK350 and write, “A compact, comfortable four seater with excellent chassis dynamics, that is completely betrayed by indifferent steering. Shame the striking looks don’t match the handling.” Why not write, “The looks and foreplay are excellent, but then it’s just wallowing and waddling like it doesn’t know what it’s doing.”

Oh, right, we don’t want to offend.

It has gotten so bad at Motor Trend that they are no longer car guys. They are politicians. It is no where more apparent than in their Ford F-150 Supercrew Lariat vs. Toyota Tundra Crewmax Limited comparison. They spend the entire article talking about how the F-150 is capable, but the Tundra is fun. Who do they award 1st place to? The F-150. Really? If you find a truck more fun, give it the nod!

Worse yet, they write only 15 paragraphs about their first drive of the new Porsche GT3 and only include 7 pictures, most of them small. They give the same exact treatment to the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe and throw in 2 more pictures. Really? Are you kidding me? You’re going to give a race-prepped Porsche supercar the same treatment you give a plush, overweight, over-priced coupe?

Motor Trend, please stop trying to please the car makers and tell us gearheads what you really think.

News Stand Price: $4.99 US, $5.99 Canada
Subscription Price: $10.00 US, $22.00 Canada
Written Pages/Total Pages: 66/140
Market Focus: General automotive. Motor Trend does not really focus on any one type of car or motorsport.

Readability: C – It’s very well laid out, but I kept falling asleep
Information Value: A – They do pack a lot of information in each issue
Entertainment Value: D – No Soul

Website: motortrend.com

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8 Responses

  1. Marc Sketchler says:

    I lost all faith in Motor Trend after their Insight-Prius comparison. How does this result sound to you:

    An imperfect car, loud and coarse-riding, and also perhaps the most important hybrid ever built.

    The world’s best hybrid has become more solid and refined, yet has somehow upped its fuel economy as well. It’s an engineering triumph for the textbooks.”

    Guess which one got first place? No, you’re wrong. It was the Insight. The “loud and coarse-riding” “imperfect car” beat out the “solid and refined” “engineering triumph” that’s “the world’s best hybrid”. When everyone from Wes Siler to Jeremy Clarkson prefers the Prius. Um, what?

  2. Mike the Dog says:

    Excellent review, Dustin. I agree with virtually all of your points. I will allow, however, that the editors have to balance keeping their advertisers happy with retaining subscribers, because each is useless without the other. Unfortunately, I see MT trending toward appeasing advertisers, because a certain (seemingly growing) percentage of the readers will continue to buy out of force of habit and won’t bother to critically examine what they’re being told.

  3. FuzzyPlushroom says:

    If I want to read Motor Trend, I’ll pick up the Consumer Reports auto issue.

    (Combination of snark and HTML testing.)

  4. Suzanne Denbow says:

    @Mike the Dog: GM is apparently one of our biggest advertisers, yet our reviews of their products are usually slightly less than flattering. Go figure.

  5. Mike the Dog says:

    My criticism was directed at MT, not your fine website, Suzanne. Since MT has a much larger reader base and gets orders of magnitude more ad revenue coming in, this is going to be an exponentially larger issue for them. As you grow into dominance of the auto hobby blogging field, I predict it will become more of an issue for you, too. I hope when that day comes, you will chose to value your integrity and the intelligence of your readers over the lure of easy money to be made feeding pablum to the masses.

  6. Dustin May says:

    Mike, you are absolutely right that MT has to balance their advertiser’s and their subscribers wants/needs. However, they do a disservice to both when they are too soft on the manufacturers. The carmakers will not know there is anything wrong with their car unless the media and customers tell them there is.

    MT (and all car mags and blogs) should call a spade a spade. Beating around the bush and trying to protect the advertising dollars will only lead to subscribers figuring out that you don’t care about them. They will leave, and when that happens the advertising dollars will follow.

  7. martin roberts says:

    i think motor trend is an awesome car magazine. its supposed to inform people about the cars not make fun of them.

  8. bzr says:

    I got a free subscription to Motor Trend and Automobile a while ago (unused frequent flyer miles are fun). The “comparison test” between the Corvette ZR1 and a Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornet was the most bland, boring, squandering of a golden opportunity I’ve ever read. Also, their EIC’s name is Angus.

    See you on Jalopnik,