Labor Day has driven on by — and that means car dealerships around the country are chock-full of models to test-drive, haggle over, or maybe just dream about. On the newsstand this week, Car and Driver and Road & Track, two Hearst titles, take the $195,000 Mercedes AMG-GT out for a spin.
Road & Track is written for the gentleman driver. Sam Smith and Jack Baruth, both excellent and evocative journalists, seem to be trying to outdo each other in this month’s issue.
Baruth’s cover story pits the Benz against a Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet on a road in the Swiss Alps that has so many twists and coils it resembles a small intestine. He sticks to the thrill of the drive, recounts how he almost collided with a tourist bus, and doesn’t get bogged down by trivia or technical details. In the end, the Benz is a “deep-chested attention grabber that does nothing by half-measures,” outdoing the Porsche.
Elsewhere, Smith mounts a deliciously florid defense of stock car racing, which, though it doesn’t quite reach the zaniness of Tom Wolfe’s “Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby,” has moments of stream-of-consciousness abandon that are woefully lacking in American magazines these days.
“In that moment,” Smith writes of his communion with a car, “it almost hurts, loving this country — her capacity for the simultaneously great and ridiculous — so much.”
Where R&T gets wistful over the grain of the leather on the steering wheel, Car and Driver is content to tinker with the carburetor. That’s an understandable goal — and maybe even a laudable one for some gearheads — but to us it mostly makes for boring reading.
The editors rev up 19 cars, including the Benz AMG-GT, for its “Lightning Lap,” a 4.1-mile track on the Virginia International Raceway. The result, unfortunately, is like a collection of Amazon reviews about some of the fastest and most thrilling machines you could ever hope to drive. The AMG-GT wins by a few seconds, but by the time you’ve read about how the 18 other cars handled the loop, it’s hard to get excited about it. When C&D tries to get lyrical it can veer into corny.
(“The best laps usually happen in the early morning, when the air is cooler than Miles Davis” was a notable groaner.)
One pleasurably geeky interlude comes early in the issue, when it explains the physics of those flailing wind-tube guys that are propped up outside used-car dealerships.