Review: Automotive Websites

In December I posted a review of the Automotive websites. As far as I know, no one has ever ranked these websites based on their content, layout, and ease of use. Auto websites are important because they inform the consumer of the best, and worst, cars on the market. But these sites do not always make it easy for the consumer.

No doubt you have seen them all. Car & Driver, Motor Trend, Top Gear, Consumers Reports, Autoblog, Auto Week, and Road & Track. They review cars and rank them, but no one ranks them. That is about to change.

I follow the auto industry closely and peruse the websites of all the major auto magazines. The rankings listed here are my opinion and do not take into account their print magazines, but only to the accessibility of their websites. The magazines are largely similar as they typically review the same new cars in any give month. The rankings are instead based on how their websites are organized and the accessibility of their content. This is how I rank them:

7. Consumer Reports

I decided to add Consumer Reports to the lineup because it is an important publication. Its car issue is always popular, but its website is a disappointment. I had not tested their website before adding it to this list, so it would be a true test. I assumed it would not give in depth coverage, but I would have access to the rankings and overall scores for the cars. I was wrong. I was surprised when looking up the 2012 Ford Focus that I had to be a subscriber to get their actual rankings and score. That is a shame because all the other websites on this list provide their major reviews in print and online. While this may not be the greatest business strategy, it is great for consumers, something I would have expected from a publication called Consumer Reports.

6. Car & Driver

The only reason Car & Driver is not last is because I added Consumer Reports to the article. Sadly, my original criticisms still ring true: If you are looking for a clean layout, rich with images and easy to navigate, avoid Car & Driver. Their website was much easier to navigate before the recent refresh. The layout is bland and lacks images. Even their image galleries are bland and are not large enough. Readers like to be guided by images, but Car & Driver fails to deliver on that front. It is a shame because they have very good articles, but they are buried in the wordy layout.

5. Auto Week

Still in fifth place is Auto Week. As before, I enjoy looking at the images and the headlines, but I wish there was more content on the home page.  Where Car & Driver is too wordy, Auto Week is not wordy enough. There home page is full of images and links, but it does not feature a great number of articles, just the headlines. For more articles, the reader left with the navigation bar to take you places. Again, Auto Week has good articles, but they are buried within the website.

4. Motor Trend

Still in fourth is Motor Trend. It is probrably the most popular auto magazine and there is good reason for this. Their articles are usually well written and their beginning of the year rankings, “Car of Year,” and “Truck of the Year” segments are always touted by automakers. Their website is not bad. Their headlines scroll across the front page, but it is surrounded by ads. The image above, for example, has three different ads which bury the content on the page. The navigation menu is not the greatest either. Auto Week‘s is better, but you do not get a nice streamlined place to read the news offered by Motor Trend.

3. Top Gear

Perhaps the most surprising change in the ranking is the drop of Top Gear from second to third. This was not an easy decision for me, but I decided to really dig deeper into all the websites this time, and Top Gear begins to disappoint. First, I want to apologize to Lord Stig for saying this, but after really digging through the website, I have have been generous only dropping it to third. The most striking thing to me was the fact the website had not been changed since December. It has the same layout and the cover picture of Richard, James and Jeremy is the same as before (go ahead, check!). But the most annoying part of the website is how they publish their articles. Many of them are spread out across on a series of pages (more than 10) with a few paragraphs of text and ONE photograph per page. It is a real pain. The other reason that I downgraded the site is that many American cars are not covered on the site.

Although it has dropped in the rankings, my previous comments still stand: Top Gear is a great TV show from the United Kingdom (the History Channel’s version SUCKS), and it is a great auto magazine. In the US a subscription to Top Gear costs $90 or you can pay $9.95 at the newsstand. Their magazine would be largely unfamiliar to Americans because it is very different from our auto magazines. While a typical issue of Car & Driver is somewhere around 100 pages, an issue of Top Gear is closer to 300. The articles are more extensive and there are more articles on historic cars as well. Top Gear‘s website is like that as well. You do not only get new car reviews, but commentary on car culture as well. If you have watched Top Gear on the BBC, you know that the hosts are all about fun, but there is a large staff in addition to the three hosts that put together Top Gear, the website and magazine. The only reason the Top Gear is not number one on my ranking is because it focuses on European cars and does not cover a number of cars only available o the American Market. Nevertheless, Top Gear is a great place to read about great cars and learn about cars that we only wish we could get in the US.

2. Road & Track

I really like Road & Track and is has moved up to second in the rankings. The website has a great feature section at the top and an easy to read list of headlines in the section below. They have updated the website nicely and feature full articles and reviews. Although the magazine Road & Track is not the most popular, their website is pretty easy to navigate. You can find most everything you need on the home page. The headlines scroll across the top and there is a listing of the most recent articles below the headlines area. Their articles are well written and enjoyable.

1. Autoblog

Even after six months, I have no new comments to offer on Autoblog. They are still the best!

THE WINNER: I chose Autoblog as the best auto website because it is unlike any other website on this list. They do not publish a magazine and only deliver their news on via the Internet. Autoblog reviews cars, has the latest news, covers car culture, and even incorporates news from the other magazines (such as Motor Trend and Top Gear). This makes the website the best place to gain quick access to the latest automotive news. The website is organized much like a blog, so you can read the posts in the reverse order they were released. It is, therefore, easy to stay caught up with the latest news.

OVERALL

All the websites presented in my rankings produce quality content, this was a way to rate how easy it is for the readers to access this content. While Car & Driver and Motor Trend are the top two magazines, their websites are not as accessible as Autoblog. All the websites in this listing have received minor updates since December with the exception of Top Gear. Although none of the websites are perfect, there is a clear hierarchy. If I could offer a few suggestions to these websites, I would ask them all to create better menus. They all have similar menus, but they could be better. I will admit that choosing ranks 1 – 5 was difficult as they all offer similar content. In fact, I would recommend any of the top five sites to anyone looking to purchase a new car. I could not recommend the websites of Car & Driver and Consumer Reports, however. In print, they are exceptional publications, but on the web, they need work. Overall, the automotive industry has a vibrant media, and I believe that is well represented in this article.

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