CAR Magazine Review—Muscle Car UK Review - Muscle Car

CAR Magazine Review—Muscle Car UK Review

Car Magazine Reviews


Written by Elise

4th December 2020

CAR Magazine Review—Muscle Car UK Review
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CAR Magazine Review—Muscle Car UK Review

By Jamie Wills

There was a time when Top Gear was about cars. Chris Goffey would drive something sensible, and Quentin Willson would discuss the UK second hand car market. Jeremy Clarkson would throw a bucket of similes at an expensive toy, and then Tony Mason would do some rallying. All bases were covered.

CAR magazine’s website is this version of Top Gear. Unlike its print edition, which still loves something shiny, CAR online has articles for all, from the BMW i8 to a Skoda estate, and embraces both a sensible VW California and the Radical SR10. There is industry news and a splash—but not an overbearing amount—of opinion. It is, in all honesty, what a car magazine ought to be.

In this sense, CAR’s move online is Top Gear in reverse: once a wild child, it has since become a professional and highly-regarded point of reference. Meanwhile, the TV show recently pitted ice cream vans against tanks. The question that remains, and the one this short CAR Magazine review will endeavour to address, is whether the motoring world prefers practicality or reverie  

History of CAR Magazine

CAR started life in 1962 as the badly titled Small Car and Mini Owner Incorporating Sporting Driver, before changing its name from the ludicrously complex to the achingly simple CAR in 1965. The modus operandi at the time was to step away from technically dense jargon written by engineers and instead make motoring accessible. This boiled down to a free-spirited formula: good cars were celebrated, bad cars were panned, and the car lifestyle was a public persona, not geeks with spanners.

“It brought a bit of the world of showbiz to the industry” is how Angus MacKenzie, a former editor, described CAR’s arrival. However, whilst populist, it wasn’t imbecilic: the magazine proclaims itself the creator of the group test, the drive story, and even the word ‘supercar’. 

The writing and design have as much merit as the photography. Indeed, the unison between showbiz and quality is seen in the number of celebrity contributors who wrote for them, such as Rowan Atkinson praising the Lancia Integrale, or Alexei Sayle pottering around in a Rover 75.

Success ultimately made CAR part of the establishment, but it wasn’t a linear move. Consider the 1990s, when magazines hit a crest before the internet ruined everything. CAR was sold in 1989 to News International, and again in 1991 to Emap as its sales hit an all-time high. 

However, the glossy style of lads mags proved too enticing. Although CAR never hired Denise van Outen, Gail Porter or Sara Cox, headlines of the era included ‘Alive and Unleashed’, ‘MGF-ing Marvellous’, ‘Absolute Power’, and ‘Haulin’ Ass Suckin’ Gas’. That last headline ran in February 1998. As if disgusted with itself, by August CAR had changed its logo and its top story was simply ‘BMW M Coupé’.

CAR now belongs to the Bauer Media Group and has toned down further. A flash car still makes the front page of the print edition, but the aim has shifted towards maturity. CAR magazine acknowledges its age and its 14 overseas editions. Grown-ups have to be articulate and intelligent, not drooling. Its website in particular, without the pressure of competing for shelf space, is even more so.

CAR Online: What You Get

The content of CAR Magazine online is comprehensive, neatly divided, and best explained by first going through the top menu:

– Reviews: includes new cars; long-term tests; comparisons; used cars; ‘best’

– News: first official pictures; industry news; motoring issues; motor shows; car tech

– Electric: electric car advice; electric car reviews; hybrid car advice; hybrid car reviews

– Spyshots: all spyshots; your spyshots

– Features: car culture; opinion; top 10s

– Leasing offers

– Newsletter

– Magazine: subscribe; preview

The first note to praise is how hidden ‘opinion’ is within that list. While CAR’s journalists display personality within their words, rants and polemics are not the point. One does not come to CAR’s website to read opinions heard over a pint of bitter.

Of the main sections, the reviews are excellent for their scope. New cars are expected, of course, but car comparisons are extensive and can put up to four models side-by-side. Meanwhile, the long-term tests, which are evolving articles expanded each month as a person lives with a vehicle, offer a nice feeling of how a car integrates itself into life. 

Importantly, all reviews list specs in a sidebar, as if ensuring the piece remains focused.

However, it is the news section that really shows CAR’s seeking and achievement of respectability. Many sites would be content to run through press releases and whispers from manufacturers or dandy around motor shows, but the ‘motoring issues’ section here gives policy, legislation and data their turn. Headlines such as ‘Road pricing poised to fill taxation hole in UK’s green future’ are very FT, but cover stories that reach further than ‘Haulin’ Ass Suckin’ Gas’.

One might think the weak point in CAR online would be electric cars, but reviews of the Tesla 3, and even the Bugatti Baby, sit alongside the prosaic brands and news on batteries and charging infrastructure. 

Instead, the softness is Spyshots. Meant to reveal sneak peeks of future models—either road tests or engineering graphics—it is mostly guesswork akin to Sky Sports on transfer deadline day. This is understandable. Yet, this section collapses where readers are asked to contribute. There has not been a submission for over three years, suggesting Joe Public is best ignored. 

CAR Magazine Layout

A key concern for any online publication should be how any adverts come across to readers. Far from driving readers insane, CAR scores an average mark for this: on the desktop, the entire right-hand side of the page is marketing, as is the masthead, as is a final panel before the footer. Most annoyingly, the content is split midway in order to market other articles on the site. On the mobile website, scrolling the home page encountered three large commercials and several opportunities to buy insurance; clicks and analytics strike again!

On the flip side, the menu and navigation are extremely good to find current content. No article is more than two clicks away, and the search function is quick and decisive. Sadly, this ease does not extend to archive material: anyone wishing to find what Rowan Atkinson had to say about his Lancia, or the two-part history of the magazine, is better served by a search engine than the site itself. 

Finally, the articles themselves are nicely laid out in terms of clarity and functionality on the desktop, with headlines, specs, prices, ‘at a glance’, and a link to leasing offers all easy to see. 

The photography loses vim by being online, because even when opened in a lightbox gallery it doesn’t pack the same punch as upon quality paper, but this is a matter of the medium rather than the publisher. The layout is inevitably more elongated on the mobile, where one must keep scrolling. Phones are convenient for casual reading, but the feeling of a magazine is lost. 

Reader interaction

Most reader interaction happens on apps now, and CAR Magazine has nearly 250k Twitter followers as well as a lively Facebook presence. That said, its website is still open to comments. A top piece will bring in over a hundred responses, while non-sexy matters may get fewer than ten and there are occasional dusty corners where nobody has anything to add.

Not every site has readers worth the time. To be fair to CAR, the majority of its audience appears to stay on point and write in paragraphs, and Godwin’s Law is not required: nobody is stooping to call all BMW owners Nazis or compare the new Honda to 9/11. However, a number of threads on big articles tend to descend into petty insults, disappointingly lacking the wit for ‘I’m just here for the comments’ to apply. In short, the journalistic content in CAR is still the reason to visit, and the noise BTL is take-it-or-leave-it.  

CAR Magazine: Best Online Car Magazine in the UK?

In conclusion, CAR online is an excellent site for people with a broad interest in motoring. It ticks the wish list of ease of use, a wide range of subjects, and a willingness to include both the boringly practical as well as attractive new launches. 

Consequently, the honest truth is that visiting CAR Magazine’s website achieves two sensations which cannot be overlooked: being educated while being entertained. Sure, it doesn’t have the same snazzy content as the print edition, and isn’t as satisfying because the pep of quality paper and sparkling photographs is replaced by adverts, but such are the sacrifices made for free content. Moreover, a real enthusiast would use both. For anyone looking for a wide-ranging, functional website, CAR would be a recommendation. 

Author: Jamie Wills

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