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Wednesday, 10 October 2018


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I gave up on car “enthusiast” magazines when they started evaluating the radio as part of their “road tests.” Referring to youe peeve about track testing, at least the testers are not out on public roads making jackasses of themselves and endangering everyone else.

[Right, except that's left to all the amateur *video* reviewers, who are legion. I wince when I see what some of them post. --Mike]

Still like the Triumph TR6. A nice roadster that is fun to drive.
As far as top speed goes, why not? When I test drive a vehicle - be it car, van or pickup - I make sure to take it out on our quiet and clear country roads and see what it will do when pushed to its highest speed. No traffic, view for 5 miles on straight sections. Most won't hit the limit on the speedometer.

But, I do know what that limit is so when I hit an honest emergency I already have the feel of the vehicle.

Does help a bit that I've spend a fair amount of time in NASCAR and INDY racing vehicles on the track.

All in all, specialty vehicles are not for most of us. Watching the guy with the $180,000 200mph semi-racing vehicles slog along at 15mph in bumper to bumper traffic on freeways does have me wondering just why they subject the vehicle to those conditions? Being seen in an obscene vehicle is downright silly.

I love that the Miata still exists and is aging gracefully. Call me blasphemous, but I'd love if it came as a fastback coupe or, even better, if they could get the design to look right, a shooting brake.

[But...it *does* come as a fastback coupe, albeit one with a retracting roof. Have you not seen the RF? (It even stands for "retractable fastback.") If you want more of a coupe than that, better look to the Porsche Cayman. --Mike]

Isn't that awful? "The suspension is a bit firm, so we recommend that you go for the optional air suspension package. To be honest, we have to say that even with the optional air suspension package the ride is still a little firm, so the manufacturer is obviously targeting the sportier customer with this particular model".

Really!? That's your conclusion!? Maybe the manufacturer sent you a car to review with tires so thin that you can't fit any air between the rim and the rubber. You know, just because it looks better for the cameras. Would it have been so difficult for you to fit proper tires on the car for the review? Seeing as you are the most watched car review program ever and your budget is so big that you can afford to destroy cars just for the entertainment value, maybe putting proper tires on the review model might just be within your budget.

I am not quoting the reviewer ipsis verbis, but I am pretty close. The particular car being reviewed ia a Volvo XC90. It's an all wheel drive SUV for crying out loud!

Thanks for allowing me to rant Mike :)

I began reading Car and Driver, Road & Track and Motor Trend in the late 1960s. By 1970, I was subscribing to them all. By the late 1970s, I dropped Motor Trend and added Automobile in the 1980's. Today, I don't subscribe to a single one - having dropped them all in the past five years.

The reason? New cars have become boring. They're very good and very competent. But the joy has been removed from almost all of them - certainly the ones most middle-class drivers can afford. The staffs at the magazines know this and that's why there's a lot of emphasis on supercars.

The Honda Insight that you're currently contemplating is a good example. Highly competent, extremely economical and likely very reliable. The Insight will no doubt do everything you want and ask for little in return. But it's almost invisible and, being a Honda, will no doubt be rather anodyne to drive. And it's packed with driver-assistance technology that's unnecessary for anyone paying even partial attention to their driving - but is exactly what someone who refuses to look up from their smartphone needs.

I recently received an offer to restart my Car and Driver and Road & Track subscriptions for seven dollars a year. That's for both magazines. I'm not even sure that would cover postage. The car magazine industry is in deep trouble and it's not their fault. It's just that there is nothing to read about anymore.

Thanks for the insight. Get the ivory interior!

For me, they lost interest when they morphed into the same literary style, that of some imaginary person with deep pockets and the brain of a child.

Words such as 'fettle' began to crop up all the time... a child with a country squire's background, perhaps?

All nonsense, with duration tests designed to get the editor a free ride for a few weeks, at a level above his own pocket. Then on to the next new best thing. Bah, humbug!


I miss when magazines had a lot of obtainable cars and one feature on something really stupid expensive, as well, we gotta dream:) But reviewing 2 or 3 car north of $100k...well, if you have to read a magazine to decide which one to get,you need a lot more help than an article is going to provide...

(And wow, did they change up the Insight - nice! I still love the previous gen Prius better, it's hatchback shape can swallow immense amounts of cargo and both of ours were amazingly reliable vehicles - and saved my life when rear ended by an F-150. But glad Honda's making their own car again instead of a weak Prius copy.)

I'm never going to buy a 100mpx medium format camera that costs as much as a German luxury car, or even a top range full-frame DSLR new, but it doesn't mean I don't like reading about them.

As for the radio thing: infotainment is an important car feature now, like it or not. I would not buy a new car today without Apple CarPlay, nor would I buy one with an infotainment system that generally sucks. We spend a lot of time in our cars, and the inside where we sit is as important as the outside (looks, performance, etc.)

I have to agree about car magazines. Motorcycle magazines are a little better, I think, but they still do the track testing for a lot of them.

The potential purchase looks nice too. I'm leaning towards a plug-in hybrid next time. A friend has a Chevy Volt that it much nicer that I thought it would be, and he goes for months between refills, even in cold, hilly Duluth. I'm partial to the new Prius Prime plug-in, a little cheaper, less electric range but I trust Toyota.


I approve your choice of future car. I just had my beloved camp/photo mobile (Toyota Highlander hybrid) destroyed in accident caused by uninsured driver. With limited resources available to me, I replaced it with a used Prius C which I have turned into a “baby” camp/photo mobile. Rear seats have been replaced by wood equipment cabinets out of Highlander and modified to fit smaller space and big cargo box is now atop new Yakima roof racks. All seems to have taken only about a 5mpg toll on performance. It is smaller, slower and can’t negotiate rough roads but, at 75, I drive more cautiously anyway. I’m happy with the results!

One pet peeve regarding car magazines concerns the horrible layouts. They're obviously meant for people with a split-second attention span. Road & Track used to have good articles, especially those by former driver Phil Hill (R.I.P.) who knew nearly everyone in the auto and racing worlds. Beautiful two-page-wide photos began most of the "Salon" articles about older automobiles. Now it's a lousy one-column length article and maybe an itty, bitty photo that may as well be a web thumbnail graphic. (The general lack of lengthy, well-written articles with decently-sized photos really irritates me.)

"Stick shifts and safety belts,
Bucket seats have all got to go.
When we're driving in the car,
It makes my baby seem so far."

--Cake - Stick Shifts and Safety Belts - Fashion Nugget (1996).

I love you Mike. :-)

I used to love car magazines. I subscribed to Road & Track for many years and devoured each issue. Sadly, I'm no longer a devotee for several reasons. I agree that they are dominated by supercars and race track stats. Ironically, I also object to the replacement of articles with photos, despite being a photographer. I like to read about cars and find that stories are getting shorter and shorter and photos are dominating the pages. I don't mind photos, but long for well-written prose.

On the subject of hybrids, I drive a Honda Accord Hybrid that gets around 50 mpg in the summer (a little less in the winter). It's comfy, quiet and goes like stink. Highly recommended!

But aren't you missing the point? Car mags are not about giving advice on which car a person might find useful (boring!) They are about reader entertainment. Much the same can be said about Hi-Fi mags that discuss the merits of $100,000 amplifiers. Perhaps the time is coming when photography web sites and mags (if any of the latter still exist) only review $200,000 cameras. I think that time will be here in about 2040 when my children and grand kids will be too busy working out how to survive the rest of the century to pay too much attention to cars, audio, or photography.

On cars: My next car will be electric only, with AWD and fully adjustable seats of a reasonable height. The only extra I would want – but won't be able to get just yet – would be full automatic driver capability. About the middle of this century people who want to drive themselves will be restricted by law to designated tracks or parcels of land. As for manual transmissions (and I do have considerable experience of owning such), I don't see the point ov 'em!

Couldn't agree more. No interest whatsoever in how fast a supercharged blingmobile can go round a track. But I love my new car... Mini Convertible which fits all 6'3" of me very comfortably, is a little more practical than the Mazda (I prefer the look of the basically the same Fiat 124) and was a blast driving around Normandy recently. Not had a car that put such a smile on my face since my.....2CV!

When I was a teenager the latest edition of a major car magazine was a big deal. My friends and I would pour over every page and enter into endless debates around the reviewers opinions, which of course were crap compared to our teenage bravado.

Now the only time I pick up a car magazine is when I get my hair cut. My truck has more horsepower than the Detroit super cars I drooled over in the 60's and early 70's. My how times change.

But if someone gave me an original GTO Judge in orange I wouldn't say no.

If that has eliminated the spare tire, as most of that kind seem to have done, think twice. I had an Accord Hybrid 2018, and a rear tire blew out on the highway 7 miles south of Santa Fe. The sidewall was ruined. Ferried to the Santa Fe Honda dealer, I was told it would be three days to get a new (fuel-efficient) replacement tire. I was told to get a motel room and wait, as the tire would come from Denver or beyond.
I went to the local tire dealer, bought a somewhat compatible tire and got back on the road in 5-6 hours.
Went back to the local Honda dealer and had a frank discussion of how this was ridiculous, and they bought it back and I bought a car with a spare tire.
One thing to deal with that in urban areas, quite another out West, where you can be a hundred miles from a service facility. Sounds like Finger Lakes region has a similar situation, so factor that in. I will never again buy a car without a spare tire. YMMV

1. I think démodé describes Mike best, with passé running a close second 8-)

2. Sick and tired of ... gear of any sort—audio, cameras, cars etc.

...this little blurt is completely pointless on a photography blog ... If TOP was actually a photography blog I wouldn't waste my time reading/commenting.

Roll-up windows make a Miata a convertiple coupé, a true roadster (MG-TC, Triumph TR-2, etc) has side curtains instead of roll-up glass. Check-out pedantic in your Funk & Wagnalls 8-)

I like your Car strategy, I tend to keep cars a long time because I get comfortable in them and attached to them , I kept a BMW M3 for ten years, and only sold it because someone made me a crazy offer.
You can use the absence of car payments to fund your building.

Re super cars & where to drive them, I have a house near the ocean in Montauk NY which when I bought the house was a commercial & sport fishing village at the tip of Long Island. To get there I have to drive the length of Long Island often in traffic and through the high rent Hamptons. The new phenomenon in summer is a parade of Plycar auto transport tractor trailers bringing cars out on Friday, and bringing them home to NYC on Monday. I do enjoy the car show though. I have a shot somewhere of a fellow cleaning bird poop off his McLaren with a bottle of Evian.

One thing you forgot about older drivers and tall vehicles - at night, you don't get as much headlight glare in the windshield. As for bigger vehicles, I drive a 14-year-old half ton pickup - three person cab and eight-foot bed. I use it at work - hauling my weekly newspapers to post offices and point of sale locations - and as a volunteer firefighter. I had a Miata for a while - in addition to the pickup - and once spent nearly 15 minutes trying to find a place to get it off the road at a barn fire. Not all of us drive bigger vehicles to blend in. Some of us use them for their originally-intended purposes. BTW, my other car is a Honda Civic sedan, complete with six-speed manual transmission, and I can park it along country roads a lot better than my Miata.

I am not a car enthusiast. But that Miata you linked to sure is pretty. ;)

We are actually searching for a new car. The _extremely_ dependable Subaru with 235,000K on it has announced to us that it needs a $3,600 set of catalytic converters to pass state inspection by the end of the month.

So we'll probably go electric with a Chevy Bolt, which we will lease for 3-4 years so as not to get caught with old tech in a changing car landscape.

My wife commutes 6 miles each way to work and we produce excess solar electrons from some panels behind the house, so it is a pretty good fit. Also, she's _really_ not a "car enthusiast." In fact, if there were a working rural bus system, that might make more sense. But if wishes were horses then car payments wouldn't make beggars of us all. Or something like that.

I'll get her 2003 VW Passat. See how that works? I'll do an intra-family trade of a car with 232,000 miles for one with 172,000 miles. And then I'll listen to the rattles, hums, and shakes. OTOH, I'll be able to get to NYC on a tank of gas. So there's that.

Huh. As it happens, there's a silver Insight sitting in the garage right now. Initial impressions are positive, but the reason it's in the garage is that it has a heater in it to encourage off-gassing. After thirty-odd years of smelling paint fumes, "new car smell" smells like a headache to me.

To address a couple other comments; we looked at the Clarity, but decided against it. It's more expensive even after the tax rebates, it's enough bigger that it wouldn't have easily fit in the garage, and while I'm not crazy about the styling of the Insight, I liked the Clarity significantly less. And as for the Ivory interior, only if you're the kind of person who never gets into your car with any dirt on your clothes, and never eats or drinks in the car. It's very pretty, but entirely impractical.

Here are my two cents: most, if not all, magazine and websites are about aspirational dreams. Cars, guns, tools, hobbies and cameras feature (and address) things most of us can not afford, and would not know how to use to full potential. Why? The same reason Playboy and other publications didn’t have an everyday housewife or “regular” woman as the centerfold. Same with Playgirl, I suppose.

And of course, since you've lived in Chicago for a spell (as did I), you are no doubt familiar with the following little ditty:

Brake, accelerator, brake, accelerator, pound your fist against the dashboard, brake, accelerator, brake, accelerator, etc., etc., and so forth.

With best regards,


Started reading automotive journalism back with Mail for McCahill long, long ago in Mechanics Illustrated.
Graduated to Car and Driver when people like David E. Davis and Brock Yates were writing for it and that's what I miss in the current car buff mags, great writing. Back in the day C/D was a little subversive and I loved it for that.
Remember the Pontiac GTO vs Ferrari GTO test? Brilliant.
I kind of lost interest in car mags when they couldn't do an issue without spending half of it on the Porsche 959 (showing my age).
Getting close to retirement. We have a 1976 TR6 in the barn that needs about ten grand to bring it back to life. Can't decide if I should sell it and go buy a Miata or commit to a refurbishment. The TR6 has soul but the Miata is also wonderful and will not drip parts as it goes down the road.

The only car magazine I ever really liked was Autoweek, when it was on newsprint, and then only because I enjoyed reading Satch Carlson. I built and raced cars at the time (the Killer Corolla!) and found most magazines to be more theory than experience.

And that's not much different than photo magazines. That's why we like Roger Cicala so much--experience rather than theory.

Testing on tracks and not roads could to a degree reflect that these days magazines’ insurers might not want to hear of excessively fast driving on public roads.

I’ve still got a soft spot for the “PROVA” plates I saw on the back of big and bad Italian models previewed or tested in 60s sports car magazines.

But frankly, going quick these days isn’t what it used to be in my part of this country at least.

I got interested in sports cars and then sport bikes during the 60s. I could drive or ride on Sunday and see only a few other vehicles on the winding little back country roads. Now generally there are several times the number of cars on the road, the deer population has exploded, many people have 2 or three dogs over which they have no control, and too many farmers aren’t too careful about keeping livestock fences in good shape.

My own pet peeve, vaguely related to your dislike of "excess" in cars, also applies to cameras. I have very simple needs in a car. Very. I actually prefer a very basic car with a manual transmission, crank windows, manual seats, and a general lack of luxuries of any kind. I want a basic radio/CD player, heater, and A/C (because arriving sweaty does not make me appeal to my clients). My philosophy being that the more complicated the plumbing the more likely something will clog up the works. A simple, well engineered car that prioritizes practicality and solid engineering over needless luxury or conveniences. It's almost an impossible find these days.

Likewise, I prefer a very simple camera that focuses on the basics, is built to last, and doesn't over-complicate the plumbing. Also a hard thing to find (unless you can afford a Leica).

I doubt we're going to see either any time soon. A modern, typically younger, buying public simply prefers more convenience and seems willing to pay for it, so manufacturers will, of course, make it as it's more profitable. Maybe I'm just old.

If I may...turn back the car periodical clock to the 1960s and recall the WEEKLY mailed, original AutoWeek. High rag content newsprint, ROADtests, owner opinions, racing updates, and even down-to-earth classified ads where one could actually buy a true Sportscar, SCCA race car, or even a Formula V.

I am allowed to wax nostalgic as I have owned an untold number of now "Vintage" or "Antique" sporty automobiles from abroad as well as the USA (think Corvair Spyder, turbo)

Oh, for a leaky MG or Triumph to fuss with late into the night before that most satisfying TSD or Gimmick Rally!

I now only read Old* Car Magazines, or what my wife referred to generically as Restoring English Rustbuckets when I would point out an article where someone was restoring a car far more ephemeral than my TR-3.

When Road&Track was in Newport Beach, Car and Driver was in NYC, and Autoweeks was called Competition press and was on newsprint it was all good. Still like to read Peter Egan.

* pre 1975 cars and pre 1985 magazines

Miata? Insight? Hmmm... sounds hard to get into and out of.

Two seat roadsters driven fast: business as usual then. California burning, hurricane Michael battering, the orange buffoon putting deniers in place everywhere. These are head in the sand posts almost as bad as the rationalisation you once made of taking iPhone pics whilst driving.



If you'd been weird enough to save all the car mags read through your or my similar lifetime, you'd see the long, sad decline in literary, entertainment and technical quality. The best car writers wrote about life, likeGordon Baxter. We're far from the masters like Tom McCahill and LJK Setright and David E. Davis, who could entertain and inform at the same time.

Among the current autojournos, Jack Baruth (Road & Track) is worth reading, even if the cars aren't worth reading about. If I need reviews of something I might actually buy, Edmunds is a first stop, and the only easy reference for tech stats through the years. And look at good old Consumer Reports-- its reviews have become subjective and opinionated, adjectives included. That's much changed from the formulaic, boilerplate copy they used for decades.

When I was growing up the British car magazine Autocar had reviews which included graphs of fuel consumption vs speed. I miss them.

Hi Mike, here's someone to match your rantings about cars. He's from down under:)

What about their 'long-term' tests? 3 months 'ownership' and barely over 10000 miles!

I would assume that there are now more cars than ever on the roads and that road testing is now a risky endeavor. And what's the different between a road test and a track test anyway?

I'll have to take your word, Mike. When I was a teen I couldn't take a dump without poring over at least two car rags. But I don't think I've seen one since!

Try autoweek.com, much more balanced.

Agree about the car mags. Nothing today rivals the excitement with which I waited for delivery of 'Autocar' and 'Motor' in the 50s and 60s. More emphasis on approachable motoring.

I blame Top Gear.

I’ve resisted clicking on the Insight links because my CR-V is now paid off and still running well, and facing retirement income soon, I do not want to shell out. But a hybrid CR-V? I might be scrounging the cushions for spare change.

Agreed on all the car magazines - I haven’t picked one up in what? Over 30 yeas? Besides, a passel full of camera gear (is passel still a word?) slips into the CR-V cargo compartment SO easily as I head to the Southern Tier or near North Ontario.

Orrrrr.....there's this: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-45786690

Sole purpose of magasines is to arouse cupidity.

In my day I read Autocar and Motor every week. THen came 'Car' magasine with the late Great LJK.Setright for imtelligent analysis.

As for TV shows? What on eath is the point of doughnuts/ donuts ?

I absolutely agree about those "rubber band" (I think that is a quote from an earlier Mike rant) tires Mike.
I recently changed my car from an older Golf to a newer one. The wheels look great but more road noise, bumpier ride, more expensive tires etc. Also they are useless in snow and ice. Otherwise great car, but an automatic hand brake! What is that about other than something else waiting to go wrong?

Kirk Tuck reckons that, if we don't like his traditional photographic priorities as expressed in his blog, we "could just quit photography and start reading Michael Johnston's quirky new car review blog site".


The closest thing to the old Car and Driver or Road and Track I have seen is a TV show called "Top Gear". I guess I like things with TOP in the name.

Mike I'v found the perfect, and I mean perfect summer car for you. Your perfect kind of car:
2 seats side by side.....check
rear wheel drive.........check
up front NA engine.......check
driving the rear wheels..check
convertible top..........check
manual trans(only way)...check
Answer: Corvette!!!!
You will love it!!!

All news is bigger, better and more full of BS. That's because the magazine and newspaper businesses are competing with bloggers. They have to review stuff that regular Joes' Blogs can't get access to.

After having started my subscriptions to car magazines more than fifty years ago I presently still subscribe to several. Presently, most are quickly skimmed and forgotten. I agree that the quality of writing in no way compares to David E. Davis Jr., Phil Hill, Peter Egan and others who helped shape my appreciation of compelling cars, a few of which I was fortunate enough to own years ago. They also helped me to know and appreciate the difference between mere driving and motoring as well as some remarkably talented and brave men who raced them. Perhaps the golden age of motoring couldn't be sustained for many good reasons, but it was an enriching element of my life that I'm grateful to have had.

I'm with you on the car magazines. I recently picked up a few with the hope that they'd discuss some sporty, sub-$30k cars that might actually be fun to drive. What I got were six figure super cars, and a comparison of cars driven around a track. Rather pointless.

Two other somewhat related points:

1. The death of the manual transmission is really tough to take. I drove a few automatics and cvt's with the paddle shifters thinking maybe that'd cut the mustard, but it's not the same. A manual can turn just about anything into a fun to drive car, and I'm afraid they'll be gone soon. A local Honda dealer had over 1,100 accords in stock and ONE was available with the six speed.

2. Check out "Everyday Driver" on YouTube. They have a really good video comparing the Mustang, WRX, Fiesta RS(ST?) and BRZ/86. And a really fun video of what a German driver thinks of the Mustang GT that's a must watch. No race tracks to be found.

The reality is that the automobile is finished as an aspirational object. Who is going to get excited about the performance of an autonomous vehicle? The fact that Ford is to give up all manufacturing of cars in the US is just a symptom. It's amazing that this decision hasn't received more publicity.

I think the perfect car for you might be the upcoming 2019:
Subaru crosstrek hybrid

Contrast Mikes observations about car mags with the Nov/Dec 2018 issue of Motorcyclist.

Tattoos, Bonneville 1969, Ear Protection, Riding Jeans, Automatic Clutch, Air vs. Liquid Cooling, Alcohol fuel from a Vodka distiller, Two wheel drive motorcycle, National Parks, Sturgis, Headphones, Making a 360 degree video of Road America, Seat Makers, Weather, Boots, Tire gage, Rebuilding a KX450F, Four non-HD American Bikes, Flat trackers at Goodwood, and my favorite -- Riding the Wall of Death.

More lifestyle than tire shredding.

Can't help it: as a view camera and film dinosaur, my dream car would be an older Range Rover Defender 90 with a ladder up the back and a platform on the roof, so I could do the "Ansel Adams thing." Just a slight update to his "Woody" station wagon. As for the supercars in the auto magazines, I have noticed the same thing, as well as a tilt towards $60K and up models. Part of the problem is that unless you age like Paul Newman, who raced sports cars at an advanced age, by the time you could afford one, you no longer have the reflexes (or opportunity) to push any car near its limits, let alone one of these "almost race cars." I guess if you like older cameras, and are of their age, you also like older cars!

I don’t have much interest in those super cars either, but I understand the rationale for covering them. They are the pinnacle of automotive design and achievement.
Would you read a stereo magazine that never tested the high end stuff, instead only covering what is sold in Best Buy?
I still subscribe to Autoweek, and after a long hiatus began subscribing to R&T again a few years ago when I noticed their content had resumed being interesting. It had been moribund in my view for many years, but when Larry Webster took it over, there was a resurgence and I find that they often feature stories which as an auto enthusiast are interesting to me, and are well written. Larry has since moved on, but the folks who are running it have continued to feature great content.
Here are 2 examples from the past few years:
1-about taking on the local Tail of the Dragon record holder in North Carolina. https://www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/a6344/ferrari-458-speciale-dragon/
2-about a secret tunnel in Pennsylvania owned by Chip Ganassi racing. https://www.roadandtrack.com/motorsports/a24696/racings-secret-hideout-ganassi-tunnel/

Writing in general has become a very difficult profession in which to make a living, and it seems it will only get worse. Against that backdrop, for a car magazine to only cover cars that working class people can afford, and only test them at normal speeds on public roads seems a sure fire formula for going out of business to me.
I find several articles in each issue that I like, and the super car stuff I usually page through.

I'd never buy a Honda only a Toyota or if I could afford one a Tesla Model 3

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