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Comparing the Car Magazines: Road & Track Edition

Posted in auto industry, Car Reviews, Cars, General, Pop Culture by Dustin May | August 19th, 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.

Road & Track

Reading through all these magazines has taught me something. It has taught me that each magazine, because of the people behind it, has its own personality. I can’t put down one then head straight on to the next one. I have to wait a day or a week between magazines to let the feelings I had for the last one dissipate. Time, like a cracker to a wine taster, cleanses my pallet.

I should have let more time go by before picking up Road & Track (R&T).

I read it too close to Motor Trend (read the Motor Trend review here) and may unfairly be giving it too much praise. I hope not. However, I found R&T, sister magazine to Car and Driver (read the Car and Driver review here), to be…fun. Not quite as quirky and technical as Car and Driver, but fun in the fact that it focused on high performance cars and racing.

Mike Monticello gave me the first glimpse of the fun that would be inside with his Ampersand column. In it, he made my inner dragon snort and claw to get out by talking about the Aston Martin V-12 Vantage. As an Aston Martin fanboy I couldn’t help but feel some excitement at that article. Turn the page, and there’s an article on the new Ferrari 599 GTE and 599XX. Then we get some Maserati, then…a Subaru Forester? That can’t be right. Oh, it’s a Forester body on a WRX STI chassis. Lesbians of the world, your super-ute has arrived!

The only “normal” cars reviewed in the August 2009 issue of Road & Track were the new Ford Taurus and the Lexus HS 250h. Both cars are significant in their own right. The Ford is a major step forward for the once-dead-but-now-alive-again Taurus nameplate that proves it is not a zombie, and the Lexus offers Prius driver’s a step up in luxury and prestige with a corresponding increase in smug.

Then they tickled my inner dragon again with the cover article about the Aston Martin One-77. Not only was my fanboyism raging, but the personal observations of the author, Ian Adcock, had the same awe and delight you would use to describe the perfect woman’s body to a blind friend. “As I walk around the car my eyes are caught by numerous details absent on the clay: The side strakes now have LED repeaters sunk into them and the nose badge is milled from a solid piece of metal into a 3-D version of the Aston winged badge, with all its intricate facets, peaks and troughs, while the grille itself is handmade.” Other, lesser magazines may have simply said, “Unlike the clay model there are LED repeaters in the side strakes. Oh, and the Aston logo on the nose is milled and there’s a handmade grille.”

That passion runs the other direction, too. Unlike the overly diplomatic writers and editors at some other magazines, John Lamm pulled no punches when he wrote in the byline to the BMW 750Li review, “Still big and agile, but not the trendsetter it once was.” Did he just call BMW’s flagship sedan “average”. Granted, average in a class that is in and of itself above average. Yet, this is BMW we’re talking about here. A car company who strives to be class leading, especially when that class carries an $85,000 price tag.

I could bore you with more synopses of articles where they drive an Audi R8 V10 along side an Auto Union D-Type, or the long term test of the Nissan 370Z, or the comparison of the Cadillac CTS-V to the Jaguar XFR, but I want to point out something else.

Unlike a pure enthusiast’s magazine, Road & Track also reports on the auto industry. Something that has been a bit like watching an old friend die. In the August issue, they reported on some of what they learned and heard at the SAE show. By listening to engineers and managers living deep within the walls of the car companies, they are able to convey the mood of the industry and the technical challenges that lie ahead. There’s some interesting stuff there, including assessments of plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles (unlikely unless battery costs come way down) to a true Atkinson cycle engine from Honda that yields a 20 percent improvement in fuel economy.

Overall, I enjoyed Road & Track. While more focused on performance cars and motorsport – a fantastic article on Der Nürburgring 24 – it covered a wider array of issues and subjects than a pure enthusiast magazine would. It also had something else. Passion.

News Stand Price: $4.99 US, $5.99 Canada
Subscription Price: $10.00 US, $20.00 Canada
Written Pages/Total Pages: 59/132
Market Focus: General automotive and Racing.

Readability: B – The layout can be a bit funky in places
Information Value: A- – Charts and graphs helps pack more information into each issue, but there aren’t as many as in some competitors
Entertainment Value: B+ – If you like performance cars and racing, this is the magazine for you

Website: roadandtrack.com

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3 Responses

  1. Maymar says:

    I’ll absolutely continue to read R&T as long as they have Peter Egan (and that Morgan-lovin’ Dennis Simanaitis). That being said, it tends to remain a solid read.

  2. Biotech is Eggzilla says:

    I loved Road & Track when I was younger, when I thought I would be rich and drive a Countach. I don’t have much interest in da supercars anymore, so I don’t check it out too often, but they’ve stayed true to what they cover. The prose can get a little purple at times, but the love of the cars comes through, and I appreciate that.

    Nice writeup, Rocketman.

  3. FuzzyPlushroom says:

    I’ve read my share of R&T and thought the honest, descriptive writing was what put it over the top. It’s one of the few car magazines that’s still relevant in this day and age.