The new Ford Fiesta 1.0-litre EcoBoost has just been named Women’s World Car of the Year. Judges praised its “high-end look and feel” and fuel efficiency, giving it the award ahead of the Porsche Boxster S, the Audi Allroad and the Range Rover. But that got me thinking about the whole car and gender issue. And what exactly is a “woman’s car”?
Invariably, the idiom is used disparagingly to describe a small, practical runabout with neither oomph nor pizzazz. This is not to be confused with a “hairdresser’s car”, which is also small but is painted a vibrant colour and has a convertible roof through which a tanned, sunglassed face swivels around proudly at the lights. Occasionally, giant eyelashes are affixed to the headlights.
A “man’s car” is an entirely different kettle of fish. It has lots of add-ons, a cluster of little chrome letters like “i” and “x” on the boot and, trumpets please, alloys. Eyes gleam and saliva glands give up their spit when men stroke their leather trim and caress their seven-setting gear levers.
But it’s more in the discussion of their cars that men differ so radically from the silent majority. Who else could sustain long conversations on “torque” and the speed with which a particular model goes from 0-60mph? Then there’s a good hour to be had out of dashboard display and function adjustment. The actual workings under the bonnet are rarely discussed, but exceptions are made for cylinders and turbos.
But it isn’t only men who appreciate the advances in car technology. I like a car that goes like stink from a standing start but can still squeeze into a tiny space on a yellow line. And satnavs are so, so handy but, like Wikipedia, they’re to be consulted with caution. At least Wikipedia takes you onto sidetracks only metaphorically. Once you’ve adjusted to the, usually, female voice (cue male jokes about women telling them what to do), satnavs have the added advantage of doing away with that other Mars/Venus cliché concerning the reading of maps, although bickering is still possible over the interpretation of which turning to take.
Some women, granted, might want a car to be compact – because they’re easier to park quickly, women doing the majority of short journeys into supermarket and high street carparks. But we also like four-wheel-drives, giving us height and a feeling of security on the road especially when we have little ’uns in the back. Since most cars look the same these days, we appreciate an identifiable shape and a touch of style, hence the popularity among women of Minis, Fiat 500s, Audi TTs, Range Rovers and VW Beetles.
If manufacturers took the term “woman’s car” seriously, they would bear all this in mind. And I’ve a few other modifications to suggest. Make sure the air vents adjust to suit a shorter-legged driver who’s nearer the windscreen than a 6ft-tall man. Give us a switch to turn off the seatbelt warning bleeper to allow heavy shopping to be placed on the front passenger seat. While we’re at it, create a compartment to stash a handbag and build in a rubbish holder. Design more storage and surfaces for children to use in the rear. And make the red seatbelt receptacles easier to find when children are being clicked into their booster seats.
Now, at this point, I was going to admonish car manufacturers for employing only male car designers but there’s a problem with that. They don’t. In fact, as long ago as 1888, Herr Benz made crucial design changes to his prototype vehicle when Frau Benz put it through the very first automobile road test. Her list of modifications was adopted and the vehicle’s reliability was increased.
While automotive design remains dominated by men, Honda, Hyundai and Cadillac, among many others, apparently employ women in their design departments. Vive la revolution!