SPOTLIGHT 

Spotlight - Motoring Mags

Haven't got £250,000 to splash out on the latest Aston Martin Vantage? Never fear, for less than a fiver, you can get the lowdown from any one of these motoring magazines. And lots about cars you can afford too. Alan Geere has been peering under the bonnet in this competitive magazine sector.

By Alan Geere

BBC TOP GEAR MAGAZINE

What’s it about: Where have you been? If you don't know by now…

Vital statistics: August 2015 issue: 186 pages of 284mm x 223mm. Quality gloss paper, heavyweight cover, perfect bound. £4.45 cover price. Published by Immediate Media from the Wood Lane 'Media Village'. Combined ABC of 144,596* with an impressive 14,000 from digital.

Cover: One man (Chris Evans), five cars, four coverlines and a rather old-fashioned, distinctly unhip masthead in a clunky italic.

Content: Slinky ads through to page 11 (cars and watches), contents and flannel panel take up three pages, then into six-page interview with man of the moment Mr E, sadly a Q&A with editor-in-chief Charlie Turner so no journalism has been harmed in the making of this piece. ‘News’ is quick and neat, ‘Ask Uncle’ not very funny, 'Drives', featuring test drives and verdicts is well put together. Porsche, Lamborghini and Ferrari features for window shoppers and easy to navigate data section.

Digital: A serviceable BBC Worldwide website, relaunched just in July, backed up by an astonishing 14.5 million Facebook likes and 1.9 million Twitter followers.

What they say: "Just me, or does the Ferrari California T have a smiley arse?" - editor at large Jason Barlow on Twitter.

Verdict: Tricky times for both Top Gear the TV show and Top Gear the magazine. A gentle outing for new presenter Chris Evans before he's even been near the TV screen and a thorough expunging of disgraced former presenter Jeremy Clarkson. Only mention of the C word was in a retrospective on the TV show, by the former producer, and the editor's welcome had no, er, goodbye. A decent, enjoyable, attractive magazine but fans of the out-thereness of the TV show may be disappointed.

WHAT CAR?

What’s it about: 'Britain's biggest and best car buyer's guide' - tagline under masthead.

Vital statistics: September 2015 issue: 164 pages of 298mm x 227mm. Thinnish gloss paper, heavier cover, stitched. £4.99 cover price. Combined ABC of 59,406, digital less than four per cent. Published by Haymarket in Teddington.

Cover: Six cars, four simplistic coverlines and white background make it feel either clean or antiseptic depending on your view.

Content: Uncomplicated contents page listing the cars under scrutiny and then straight into the reviews, all well written and neatly displayed. ‘Triple Test’ and ‘Twin Test’ have some serious graphics and 'Our cars' is a welcome feature involving real people and real cars. But the main event is the ‘Buyers Guide’, which takes up half of the magazine featuring data and verdicts on every available car.

Digital:whatcar.com is on every folio line, leading to simple drop-downs to find 'Reviews, specs and prices for every car…' No obvious click-throughs to Twitter (36,000 followers) or Facebook (16,000 likes).

What they say: "These moves are part of a five-year investment plan to keep us at the top," - Patrick Fuller, Haymarket group director announcing a new editor in March 2014. "Start saving - Aston Martin Lagonda Taraf saloon to cost £696,000," - tweet from @autocar.

Verdict: Has the look and feel of a school text book, imparting lots of information in a way that is easy to understand and quick to follow. Probably your best buddy if you want to buy a new car, but not sure how that friendship would develop on a more regular basis.

AUTO EXPRESS

What’s it about: ‘Auto Express is the UK's best-selling weekly car magazine,’ - Twitter blurb.

Vital statistics: September 2015 'Special Issue': 132 pages of 300mm x 228mm. Gloss paper, heavier cover, stitched. At £3.40 cover price, the cheapest of the bunch looked at. Recorded ABC of 46,060, down 7.9% year-on-year, with no digital. Published by Dennis from their Soho den.

Cover: Seven cars, with natty coverlines, plus a big headline gives the mag a newsy feel.

Content: Quoting from the colour coded contents page: "Newsweek, Features, New cars, Reader poll, Buying guide, Road tests, Products, Buying Cars, Regulars." Some neat touches among the predictable, but necessary, fare: Watchdog - "We get behind the stories that affect you"; Take part in the online vote and win a sat-nav; and a newsy story about L-drivers taking lessons from family as instruction costs spiral.

Digital: Serviceable website, distractingly dominated by a big, moving ad at the top of the page. On social media with 79,000 Twitter followers and 35,000 Facebook likes. Dinky picture bylines also include the writers email address and Twitter names.

What they say: "Our 7 year-old Apple Macbook is now described as vintage and not supported by Apple. Good job the car industry doesn't think like that," - tweet from editor-in-chief (and BBC 5 live talking head) Steve Fowler. "Just saved about £300 on my car insurance, but I won't be twerking down the high street with a meerkat and an obnoxious little robot," - news reporter Lawrence 'Lob' Allan on Twitter.

Verdict: Auto Express seems like the new kid on the block, but is surprisingly just coming up to 27 years of publication. Has always employed good journalists, exemplified by its tight headlines and clear display. Winning the weekly sales battle with Autocar (see below) and working hard to stay there.

EVO

What’s it about: 'The thrill of driving' - tagline under masthead.

Vital statistics: October 2015 issue: 180 pages of 284mm x 223mm. Quality gloss paper, heavyweight cover, perfect bound, with helpful at-a-glance info on spine. £4.50 cover price. ABC of 47,469, no digital recorded. Published by Dennis from London, although letters go to Wellingborough…

Cover: Two cars - "McLaren v Porsche" coverline - and some beautifully constructed words for Inside and First Drives.

Content: Among the 'Features' and 'Regulars', some innovative touches like 'Inbox' (letters) 'Talking Point' (online discussion) and 'Thread of the Month' (from the community forum). Tyre test useful and more interesting than it sounds and a page of dashboard cameras - dashcams to the pros - a good way to spend five minutes and £366.99. Proper features, with proper writing to read.

Digital:evo.co.uk on folio lines where the website claims 'On YouTube, evo is one of the fastest growing-motoring channels'. And they're not wrong: 433,818 subscribers and 86 million views shows how this business is embracing multi-channel delivery. 95,000 Facebook likes and 60,000 followers on Twitter. Also available as an interactive app for iOS and Android, we are told.

What they say: 'Projectile vomit' - headline on reader's letter. 'Does Twitter have an out of office setting?' - tweet from managing editor Stuart Gallagher.

Verdict: Feels a lot more grown up, modern and forward-thinking than some of the other titles. Lovingly constructed with words, pictures and design working like a well-oiled machine.

CAR

What’s it about: ‘CAR magazine brings you definitive car news and information, exclusive scoops and road tests, car reviews and first drives,’ - blurb on Twitter page.

Vital statistics: August 2015 issue: 164 pages of 285mm x 220mm. Quality gloss paper, heavyweight cover, perfect bound. £4.50 cover price, or £5.99 bagged up with Classic Cars, saving £3. Combined ABC of 44,883. Published by Bauer in Peterborough.

Cover: Two cars, one an Aston Martin with two men sitting in it, seven coverlines and that lovely, over-sized, lower case masthead.

Content: Somehow manages to be newsy and sporty at the same time. An enterprising rummage into driverless cars is contrasted with a delightful 'I was there' piece inside the Porsche garage at the Le Mans 24 hour race. Lots of detail and info for the enthusiast to feast upon.

Digital: Folio line come-ons get you to the picture-led website, complete with cheeky ads that 'complement' (generous word) the layout. A monumental one million likes on Facebook and 106,000 Twitter followers.

What they say: "I don't think that Car Magazine and it's reporters should review Any Cars from Porsche, from my long time experience i have noticed that these reviews almost always tend to be very positive and favorable (it's like you folks are advertising their cars!)," - post on Facebook page. "We look at the best car merchandise and gadgets: #Ferrari pencil cases and more!" - tweet from @CARmagazine.

Verdict: Good journalism, great photography and a magazine that feels like a modern, multi-national, multi-media business - that's because it is just that.

AUTOCAR

What’s it about: 'First for car news and reviews' - tagline under masthead.

Vital statistics: August 12 2015 issue: 100 pages of 300mm x 230mm. Thin matt paper, heavier gloss cover, stitched. £3.80 cover price. Combined ABC of 35,627. Published by Haymarket, in Teddington, like stablemate What Car?

Cover: Two pictures (Aston Martin and Jaguar) with coverlines plus three pix of a Land Rover in various states of disrepair. Blocky caps masthead gets a bit lost in the maelstrom of headlines.

Content: Goes head-to-head with Auto Express in the weekly market and packs in a pile of news in 'This Week' section. ‘First Drive’ is just that, but six pages on a £250,000 Aston Martin Vantage seems more like motoring porn. A delightful homage to the Land Rover Defender starts with driving one into the sea, a stunt worthy of Top Gear, the TV show not the magazine. Big, clean design; not afraid to use pictures well.

Digital: Signpost to autocar.co.uk from page one and on folio lines. 75,000 Facebook likes and 58,000 Twitter followers, who get a good mix of tweets and re-tweets rather than just puffery links to the website.

What they say: "After previous tweet, realised I shouldn't be using mobile in RAC club. So belatedly, here's another #Ford GT pic," - tweet from head of content, Matt Burt.

Verdict: Established 1895, so they should know what they're doing by now. A good read with the comfortable, confident feel of people who know what they're talking about and are having fun doing it.

* All ABC figures are from the July-December 2014 period.