Car and Driver

Car and Driver ranks as perhaps the least imaginative publication I've come across in my hitch as a magazine reviewer guy person. It showcases cars. It speaks to drivers. Those interested in the "automotive lifestyle" (driving gloves! vintage Quaker State t-shirts!) or deep ruminations on the family-appropriateness of certain models need not apply.

And gol-dang gosh gol-darnit, that's the way it oughta be. I stand firmly opposed to exclusion based on ethnicity, race, religion or height--on many a sad night did I find my puny younger self turned away from the Wildwood, N.J. Tilt-a-Whirl--but enthusiast magazines should erect huge, imposing barriers that keep out the dilettantes. Subscribers should have to prove their worthiness via a series of rigorous written and oral examinations. Newsstand buyers should be required to flash bar-coded ID cards and undergo retina scans before being allowed to pluck an issue off the shelves.

Until the day when such measures are technologically and constitutionally feasible, I guess we'll just have to settle for self-policing of the sort Car and Driver does so ably. The magazine doesn't come out and announce, "Johnny Sunday Drive, you are not welcome here." But just about every word and image in the June issue practically screams it.

Take the "Steering Column" editor's note from the alliteratively named Csaba Csere, in which he bemoans Ford's decision to water down an internal division devoted to factory-tuned performance models. The column is so detailed and densely reasoned as to scare newbies away; hell, I'm not sure I got its general gist, and my reading-comprehension skills rank in the top .000000001 percent of the adult male population. Lesser intellectual lights simply have no chance.

The sub-hed for that story reads "Ford drives its 13-year-old SVT group off a cliff," which brings me to another of Car and Driver's charms: its writers don't hesitate to layeth down the smack when the situation demands it. The June issue boasts three Chevrolet ads, yet a review of the Chevy Impala SS notes that the car "looks great on paper but fails to satisfy in reality." Ford receives both the aforementioned slap as well as the smug dressing-down (in a Futura Sprint Wagon review) that "too much variety can be constipating." Yet pages later, the mag enthusiastically points to several Ford models manufactured overseas that could help turn around the automaker's domestic fortunes. This is a title that has editorial credibility to burn.

As for the test drives, I'm not a car guy--I ask nothing of a vehicle beyond getting me from point A to point B without any Dave Matthews songs on the radio--so I can't judge them on technical merit. I'll say this, though: they are remarkably comprehensive and persuasively written, appended with charts, specs, measurements, turn-ons, turnoffs and just about anything else an aficionado or savvy prospective buyer could want. I'm so swayed, in fact, that I'll pass on the too-easy fart joke prompted by the headline "Divine Wind." Oh, wait.

The June issue also does well when it gets out from behind the wheel. A visit with dune buggy godfather Bruce Meyers injects warmth and personality, while writer Mark Hughes asks Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher all the right questions--even if Schumacher dodges the interesting ones about his future in the sport.

Car and Driver might, however, want to eliminate its sporadic attempts at humor. In one of the "Ms. Goodwench" 'toons, a mechanic guy lies on his back, aiming upward with his camera as a woman holding a pie approaches him; the caption reads "stealth 'worm's-eye-view' photography." I don't get it, times ten. Then there's the photo of a guy passed out in the back of a Rolls-Royce Phantom with a bunch of (seemingly unopened) champagne bottles nearby, which is captioned, "The senator later claimed he wasn't drunk but had, in fact, merely been shot by the vice-president." Hoy-o! Next issue, the mag should dive deeper into the trenches of obscure, non-obvious humor and insinuate that maybe, just maybe, Jessica Simpson ain't all that bright.

Since Car and Driver doesn't go for the giggles too often, such lapses don't compromise the mag's laserlike focus on auto performance. Straightforward and straight-faced, the publication rarely deviates from this winning formula. It's really that simple.

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