What do women look for in a car?

Are automotive desires really gender specific? And can a male-dominated motor industry satisfy them? Angie Voluti examines car culture from a feminine perspective.

“The stop-start system won’t work when the steering wheel is angled at more than 45 degrees, so I can turn out of junctions without the engine switching off.”


  “Yes, and listen to this: one of the two banks of my V12 engine will shut down if power isn’t needed, so I can save money and still enjoy the car.”
  Imagine women lunching together and discussing their cars in these terms. It’s as improbable as them eating Ryvitas covered in fat-free spreadable cheese.
  Do women talk about cars at all? We certainly drive them and even buy our own, nowadays. But have car manufacturers incorporated the female half of the population in their marketing and PR strategies?
  It’s not so long ago that we were ignored and patronised by dealers all over the country.
  Marketing does create the fabric of new trends, but only by weaving existing threads: 10 years ago, before sexy, beautiful and easy-to-drive Alfa Romeos were launched to squeals of female approval, the male/female car-buying split was 80/20.
  In the case of the flagship Alfa Romeo 164/166 model (I was Alfa’s marketing analyst at the time) it could go as far as 99/1.

Her husband drives one of those black executive cars
with shiny alloy wheels and although they both work
hard, another BMW is just out of the question, for now.
She made a decision a long time ago that he was never
going to tell her what to wear (hence the mini-skirt
and fashionable boots – so Mary Quant) and secretly
longs for a 1 Series Coupe, in red.

Yet women have always driven cars: we simply avoided big, brutish engines (executive BMWs) and impractical, extremely expensive sports cars (quite apart from playing havoc with family values, they are hairy in the wet and impossible to park without sticking your head out of the prison-like window and standing your firstborn on the pavement to measure how far your alloys are from the kerb).

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When the Alfa 147, a so-called C-segment (i.e. middle class, middle size and middle fun) model was launched in 1998, the engineer in charge said they had set up the car to understeer – in other words, behave safely when cornering – because the company had female buyers in its sights.

A trend was born: the current Alfa MiTo is a cute and cheeky-looking B-segment (i.e. smaller) car, and almost half its buyers are women.

Fiat, which has always had the city-car idea well sussed, is similarly popular among women buyers: its retro-styled 500 is petite enough to fit the meanest car parking space, deeply fashionable, cheap to run and comfortable: it ticks all the ‘female’ boxes, and 60 per cent of its drivers are women.

What are those female boxes, though?

Men beat their panting Neanderthal chests and look for their next chick-magnet, which, marketed as such, makes us the ultimate recipients anyway.

In truth, despite women’s usually idealistic nature, we are driven (pun intended) by practical issues as well as style. We just don’t converse with the front suspension.

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Steve DaviesSteve Davies

Tuesday 21 December 2010, 11:30 GMT


Car makers still target their advertising and sales efforts towards the gender of the buyer signing the sales invoice – but this can often be a mistake. You see, whilst men may be the predominant buyers, particularly with regard to sports and luxury models, women are often the key influencers of such a decision, the silent partner whose acquiescence is essential to the continued harmony of their relationship.

This represents a significant marketing challenge – how to reach an audience who lack a strong affiliation with a particular brand and yet who will most likely influence the final buying decision? Women are far less likely to read car magazines, visit traditional automotive websites or participate in enthusiast forums (< 2%), and yet they're the commercial equivalent of a swing vote in an election.

During recent years we’ve found video to be the most effective medium for connecting with female buyers, something that will only increase as we move towards more hybrid models.


BMW-owned MINI strongly believes that a ‘post-modern’ car manufacturer doesn’t cater specifically for men or women, but for ‘family’ needs, as couples generally buy a car together. Yet if that were the case, MINI would surely have called its Countryman and Clubman models ‘HealthFarm and ‘DiscoTeen’. They know we girls prefer fun, entry-level Coopers.

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There is something nice yet very naughty about the driver of a people-carrier, a mobile classroom in which she sings nursery rhymes and practises times tables with her four children. But once she has dropped them off at their private school, she races home to slip into something more comfy. A Mazda MX-5 perhaps. Or a black lace nightie. FAVOURITE CAR: FORD S-MAX

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She sponsors a tree in the Amazon, but never checks the price of petrol. The car will transport the kids, their organic juice and sweets, plus a 10-person tent with lounge, four bedrooms, kitchenette and WC. She always thought it would be handy at Glastonbury, but she always ends up watching it on TV with a glass of red wine. FAVOURITE CAR: RANGE ROVER


We don’t want butch looks and four-wheel drive, although there is one exception to that rule. Say hello to one of our favourite means of transport: the Range Rover.

Whether new or second-hand, within a month or so it will bear more battle scars than a 4×4 driven up and down the Alps: city traffic and children attack the vehicle from both the outside and the inside. Yet there is something so eternally appealing about the rogue looks, comfortable space and robust nature that the Range Rover competes with Peter Andre for rough charm and cuddly power.

It’s to add a certain je ne sais quoi that Land Rover is launching next year’s Evoque coupe: smaller yet smarter, linear yet curvier, it will appeal to women like Louboutin wellies. If that’s not a car designed for size-five boots, I’ll eat my Burberry trench coat.

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Oh, she knows the way men look at her when she drives: that mixture of admiration and envy. What did she do to deserve it? She wears dead-smart suits, her hair has the latest cut and she feathers the throttle with aplomb, despite the heels. She looks like a captain of industry, and secretly attends pole-dancing classes.FAVOURITE CAR: JAGUAR XK

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Went to Sicily once with her parents and signs off her emails with a “ciao”. Trendy on a budget, always hoping to bag the little vintage Versace dress that nobody else has spotted at the posh charity shop. Whether in town or country, she makes a statement by driving to an Italian delicatessen and parking on double yellow lines, like they do in Naples.FAVOURITE CAR: FIAT 500


How does one attract women’s attention, if one cannot talk about carbon brakes, sequential shifts and electromagnetic dampers?

Even more than Land Rover, Jaguar cultivates a glossy-lifestyle-magazine image, targeting and catering for the beauty lover: she who may never put her sports car through its paces at the Nürburgring race circuit but who drives an XK because it’s got an evocative, emotional badge on it and, frankly, it looks dead cool.

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Late husband bought classic cars as an investment, Daddy had them as toys. Now she has the time and money to add to the collection. Restorers think they will bleed her budget dry, but she won’t let them: she has done her homework, just as she has always done with her precious porcelain figurines and pure-breed racehorses.FAVOURITE CAR: ASTON MARTIN DB4

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She just loves driving around town in the latest model from the Italian sports brand, drawing deeply envious looks from her girlfriends and winning the absolute (if unspoken) respect of their husbands. Her dad used to drive an Alfasud, which her first boyfriend considered very cool, if a touch eccentric. Now her little Alfa revives the charisma she thought she’d lost when she had children.FAVOURITE CAR: ALFA ROMEO MiTo


Marketing both feeds and creates desires: with so much to choose from and a wealth of information, women no longer ask the dealer for “a pretty car in pink, please”. In fact, when I ordered my new Alfa MiTo, the dealer and I discussed the merits of the latest Multiair engine for half an hour and were just about to end the conversation when he said, “Ah … almost forgot … What colour do you want?”

“You choose,” I said. “Make it funky.” I may be an enthusiast, but I still want a trendy colour for my Alfa. I’d like to see it in ‘Luci del Bosco Metallizzato’ (Lights of the Metallic Forest). That was one of the colours available for the Alfa Montreal some 40 years ago, and I reckon it sounds just perfect for a romantic girl.

Illustrations by LUCY TRUMAN. Contact Lucy lucy@lucytruman.com to find out more about buying copies from her catalogue of images.

Credit: Reproduced courtesy of The AA Magazine. Visit www.theAA.com for information, advice, offers and iPhone apps