Battle of the Sexes: Automobiles
While a new study shows that men and women tend to agree on what they look for in a vehicle, sales show that we're still far apart on the metal packaging.
2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport
For millennia, men and women have tried to understand each other's likes and dislikes. Diligent researchers, both male and female, have discovered a few reliable gender-specific preferences (flowers, beer, etc.) that will warm the heart of the opposite sex. But for the most part, the sexes remain a mystery to each other. When it comes to cars, however, it is easy to quantify who buys what and why. Market research firm Strategic Vision tracks exactly this sort of demographic data in its New Vehicle Experience Study, which surveyed 130,000 new-vehicle buyers.
So are men and women totally different automotive shoppers? Company spokesman Alexander Edwards says that when it comes to the core qualities an automobile should have, men and women tend to have similar expectations. "It's a misconception that men and women are looking for something dramatically different," he says. In the study, the top three desirable traits in a vehicle were "functional," "capable" and "accommodating" for men and women alike. But since most modern vehicles possess these basic traits, men and women start differentiating on a vehicle's personality. Men are looking for vehicles that are "aggressive" and "powerful" (muck and muscle) whereas women are more interested in "smart," "protective" and "cute" autos (sugar and spice) — and those personality traits are what make a vehicle more masculine or more feminine.
It's worth mentioning that there are two ways to track buying patterns for men versus women — by volume (i.e., of the total number of cars sold, which ones were bought by the most men or women) or by index (i.e., regardless of volume, which vehicles were bought disproportionately by men or women, as expressed by a deviation from the mean). From that data, we've picked out our choices for the top five men's cars versus the top five vehicles women can't live without.
1. Volkswagen New Beetle
Hardly "new" anymore, this 1998 reimagining of the classic VW Beetle is still as cute as a button. The Beetle (starting at $18,290), and its drop-top convertible sibling (starting at $25,990) take the top two honors in the chick car index. With its 2.5-liter 5-cylinder 150-horsepower engine, the Beetle's performance is ho-hum, but who cares? The primary purpose of this vehicle is to spread smiles and sunshine all over the landscape. And there is no mistaking that the Beetle just wants its owner and everyone associated with her to be happy. If that owner just happens to be a man who is reading this right now — don't worry, no one's going to question your masculinity because of your car . . . are they?
2. Honda Civic
It is a testament to the market appeal of this compact car that it is not only the No. 1 top seller by volume for women, but it is the No. 4 top seller by volume for men as well. But since women buy them in higher numbers than men, we're going to give this vehicle to the gals. The Civic appeals to the practical side of the female mind. It is affordable (base trims start at $15,655), efficient (the base sedan gets 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway; the $23,800 hybrid version gets 40/45 mpg) and has a legendary reputation for reliability.
3. Toyota Prius
Toyota's poster vehicle for environmental responsibility is the fifth most popular vehicle by volume for women — but it shows up nowhere in the list by volume or index on the male side of the equation, which is dominated by trucks and sports cars. What gives? Are guys that shallow? Are women the only ones who appreciate 51 mpg fuel efficiency? Is cruising around town in battery-powered silence too feminine for guys? The Prius (starting at $22,000) sells too well and too broadly to be totally pigeonholed as a chick car, but its funny-looking exterior and highly functional interior may not be macho enough to skew the stats toward the demographic mean.
4. Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder
Wait a second! The Eclipse was in the high-octane-fueled blockbuster "Fast and the Furious," right? Isn't that a guy's car? According to the numbers, no! The Eclipse indexes high on the estrogen meter, specifically the convertible Spyder (starting at $28,494). Maybe it's the wind-in-your-hair joy of convertible driving at a relatively affordable price. Maybe it's the modestly zippy 162-horse 2.4-liter engine, or the optional and seriously zippy 265-horsepower 3.8-liter engine. Maybe it's the appeal of choosing one of Mitsubishi's blinding neon-colored paint jobs such as Rave Red Pearl or Solar Yellow to catch the eye. And maybe "Fast and the Furious" was a chick flick after all.
5. Chrysler PT Cruiser
This one totally throws us. If women are practical creatures who can be won over with a cute and stylish design, how can we explain the high index score of the PT Cruiser (starting at $18,720), which is neither practical nor stylish? The retro-wagon design of the PT Cruiser was dated within two years of its 2000 release, yet it mystifies those of us in the auto press by continuing to sell well. The Cruiser exists in a world of performance mediocrity, with two engine options (both 2.4-liter four cylinders, one with a turbocharger and one without) that are not impressively powerful (180 horses for the turbo, 150 without) or efficient (don't expect over 26 mpg on the highway). True, the interior is spacious for the vehicle's size and the ride is smooth, but it's hard to escape the feeling that you're piloting a rolling anachronism. What do women know about this vehicle that auto writers don't?