Auto Express Car Magazine Review - Muscle Car

Auto Express Car Magazine Review

Car Magazine Reviews


Elise

Written by Elise

8th January 2021

Auto Express Car Magazine Review
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Auto Express Car Magazine Review

By Jamie Wills

Many motoring magazine publishers live under a class delusion. They imagine their readers reside in a Hampshire pile and go to work in a Jaguar F-Type. They foresee city boys buying a Porsche 911 Carrera. They appeal to enthusiasts who own a separate garage in which to undertake a five-year Chevy Camero restoration project.

Reality for many, of course, is cheaper. Whilst a feature may discuss Ford v Ferrari, most people just buy a Ford – and usually a Ford Fiesta, Britain’s most common car. In fact, considering that one in four British cars are made by Ford or Vauxhall, and the average age of a vehicle on the UK’s road is 8.3 years, the boys over at Evo et al. are living in Narnia. 

Fortunately, there is a car magazine that caters to Average Joe rather than Fancy Dan. Auto Express recognises that most car buyers are buying a car, not a dream. It knows trades are professions rather than hobbies, and a spade needs no fancier name. It is, in short, grounded, and its website doubly so. 

History: A Motoring Tabloid is Born 

September 1988 was the time of the Seoul Olympics. Gorillas in the Mist was the big new film, and two Scottish brothers had just released a song about walking 500 miles. The BBC had a couple of interesting new children’s TV shows called Count Duckula, and Stoppit and Tidyup. This was the world into which, on September 23rd, Auto Express arrived.

Being a weekly paper, Auto Express was deemed competition to Autocar (our review of which you can read here), but in reality they were embracing different markets, with the former unashamedly tabloid. The populist approach could be seen in its earliest reviews: the Mini Jet Black, Jaguar XJ40, Ford Fiesta XR2, and Nissan Bluebird.

Further everyman credentials were established in 2001 with the annual ‘Driver Power’ survey in which readers’ verdicts established the top cars to currently own, regardless of the release date. That Skoda owned the top two spots in 2013 shows a poll far from supercars, and the reigning 2020 champion is the Kia Sorento, which saw off the Peugeot 3008 and Lexus RX. 

This salt-of-the-earth approach has served Auto Express well. However, the recipe also adds sugar, for like all tabloids the magazine has thrived on gossip and scoops. Spy shots are a selling point and proudly acquired through ridiculous means. Cash in a brown envelope was given for pictures of the Bentley Continental GT. Another brown envelope was anonymously left at the office with sketches of the Mazda 3. The Ford Focus MKII has tracked down four months before launch by a dog. It was classic skulduggery.  

Eventually, the magazine would reach peak circulation in 2011, hitting 60 840 copies a week – or nearly a quarter of a million sales per month, the largest in the country. Since then the internet has forced adaptation, and the weekly average is nearly half its heyday. 

Happily, Auto Express has embraced online and its website proclaims to receive 4m unique users a month. Currently owned by Dennis Publishing, and having sister magazines Auto Plus (France) and Auto Bild (Germany), Auto Express still motors on.

Content: Straight to the Point

Although enthusiasts are adamant that a car is more than a machine to get from A to B, Auto Express starts with that functional approach. Reviews concern statistics, prices, MPG, and boot space so that purchasers can make informed decisions. Perhaps one paragraph may be given to how a car feels, but there is certainly no space for egomaniacal motoring journalists comparing a Lexus to Ozymandias. Many of the reviews don’t even name the writer.

The reviews themselves come in five categories: in-depth, road tests, car group tests, long-term tests, and product group tests. Of these, the in-depth reviews best suit Auto Express and cover areas fancier car magazines would not touch, such as CO2 emissions and reliability. These truly are pieces designed for readers considering a purchase.  

Equally practical in purpose is the section on accessories and tyres. It is a concept that many editors would deem too dull to include, but Auto Express has radically realised that cars do indeed have tyres, and batteries, and jacks, and jump leads, and people may need to buy them. There are even articles on the best wheel cleaner and a review of the BeSafe iZi Twist child car seat. The literary equivalent of a visit to Kwik Fit, such appreciation of the needs of average car customers is pleasing.

Quick advice is also the name of the game in the ‘best cars’ and ‘advice’ sections, with one recommending best in class models, and the other tackling matters such as the best oils, when to change tyres, and how to transfer number plate registration. One has to admit that the articles here are not particularly in-depth, only granting a few paragraphs to each subject, but at least raise proper issues. 

Escapism from this abundance of practicality comes in the news portion. Everyday matters (new MoT and drink driving rules, for example) line up alongside a large dollop of anticipation as new designs are dropped. There is even celebrity whispers speculation. Will the Kia Sportage SUV have an expanded grille? 

For those looking for clever writing, Auto Express is not the answer due to its education-over-entertainment goals. This expands into its photography too, where some shots are well below the quality found in glossier magazines. Yet the standard is acceptable, and many of the images are taken in genuine road conditions, surrounded by buses and street furniture, rather than atop a windswept Scottish moor.

Finally, if there is one section that summarises the content within Auto Express, it is ‘vans’. Here the website reviews vans, discusses van insurance and van security, and asks questions such as ‘Should I buy a petrol van?’. At no point does it race a van against a Maserati, or make jokes about white van man. It is almost like they don’t understand the concept of a car magazine at all.

Layout and Navigation: Yikes

Auto Express claims to test and review over 1000 cars a year, a believable boast based on its website landing page. Clutter is an understatement for a space awash with reviews, group tests, and best car guides, and when translated onto a mobile screen this becomes a truly epic scroll. Whether on a desktop or phone, the menu needs to get to grips with the volume of content.

The main menu is simple to understand. However, it does not ease the noise: upon choosing a category there arrives a fresh tsunami of articles, with only a small ‘show me’ menu for buoyancy. We cannot blame Auto Express for offering so much information, but a drop-down menu, listing sub-categories, would be a great improvement and reduce the number of clicks required to reach meaningful words.

One advantage of an abundance of articles flooding each page is that the advertising gets swallowed. Although Auto Express does offer the same quantity of marketing real estate as many sites – top, side, middle x 2 – the commercials rather merge into the crowd on the primary pages. Only within the articles themselves does capitalism slap you, but not so hard. Alas, not all is wonderful: pop-up videos, like mayonnaise, ruin all that is good.

All in all, Auto Express’s attitude to layout is ‘if less is more, just think how much more more will be.’ For anyone stepping into the den—especially using the single columns of a mobile screen—patience is required. 

Interaction: A Little Deadpan Chuckle

Of the thousand and one articles on the Auto Express site, few appear open for comments, and those that are get minimal response. Therefore, a trip to the usual social media hubs is needed to truly have one’s say, albeit few do that either: some Facebook posts may rack up 100 comments, but these tend to be exceptions.

That Auto Express does not have many comments is a shame, or possibly its making, because the level of car often reviewed does lead to less complimentary—and therefore mildly amusing—feedback. 

There is disdain at Skoda and Audi selling the same minivan, and claims that the new Toyota BZ is made out of Lego. One visitor asks whether Citroen and BMW use the same blind designer, and several posters speculate on how to use the £250 000 you didn’t spend converting a classic Range Rover to electric. None of the comments are constructive, but cruelty can be fun.   

Conclusion

When one sees an advert for Armani eau pour homme, one would think Italy to be a land of men designing their stubble and drinking espresso. Yet it is also the land of Ciao Darwin, a madcap Friday night game show featuring comedy obstacle courses, semi-naked dancers, and soaking bemused contestants in water tanks. 

Similarly, if one were to purchase the top end motoring magazines, the land of cars is Aston Martin DBX vs. Lamborghini Urus vs. Bentley Bentayga. But the world of motoring is also made up of the van drivers, the Fiat owners, the second-hand Corolla, and the need to buy more de-icer. Auto Express, both as a magazine and a website, plays a vital role in cutting out the upselling and reflecting the reality. 

The sheer volume of content on Auto Express online is excellent, but equally a mess desperately in need of better filtering tools. Furthermore, the writing is heavy on purpose and devoid of art. This site is about informing potential purchases, and a comparable site would be Pricerunner, rather than Etsy and its ethnic scarves. 

Overall, therefore, Auto Express deserves its space because it acknowledges that which many motor publications ignore. For most people, money is counted out with a grimace rather than counted in with a smile, and purchasing a car requires considerations such as boot space and running costs. In relationship terms, Auto Express is not romantic, but it knows how to change a light bulb and when to take the kids to football practice.

Author: Jamie Wills


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