By on March 29, 2007

pussycat.jpgMost of the guys I know have 93 octane racing through their veins. But I’ve also met more than a few women who have a need for speed, who lust after the fast and the furious, who live from one clichéd car movie moment to the next. So is a pistonhead born or made? Is it nurture or nitrous? While there’s no doubt that high testosterone levels help create (if not prolong the lifespan of) an automotive enthusiast, there’s more to motor mania than what you’re packing in your genes.

Trust me: deep down, most women are car enthusiasts. Like any teenage boy, they start off excited about the intoxicating freedom of driving and scan their automotosphere for the chariot best suited to fleeing the nest and impressing the rest. They may not talk about horsepower and torque, but they “get it.”

And then they grow to dislike cars, if only because the cars they drive are so fundamentally unlikeable. The minivan, the family sedan, the average domestic transplant-– these are the daily drivers of the women I know. Is it any wonder they loathe all things automotive? And yet they buy these vehicles, time and time again.

I suppose nurture has a lot to do with it– if only because your parents’ car buying habits influence yours. My family progressed from one average family car to another, bequeathing unto me a series of slow, po-faced monstrosities. This parade of putrefaction repressed my natural auto-enthusiast tendencies.

As it would. Every minute you spend in a car you hate deepens your dislike for vehicles in general. And so, after years of grinding boredom, the heart and soul of the downtrodden enthusiast becomes bitter and cynical. Early pistonhead passion goes poof.

What the closet enthusiast needs is encouragement-– an excuse to let loose their inner hoon.

Encouragement best comes from the purchase of a new, dynamically superior vehicle. This prospect holds a particular dread for women. Being the practical side of the species, we would rather put up with a car we hate than shell out money for another one that could be just as bad or worse offers more driving pleasure. This is where you– the enthusiast — must intervene.

First, gauge your subject’s heart. Is there an enthusiast somewhere in there, or a true car hater? If you launch the car at a stoplight, is her squealing louder than the tires? Better yet, on a closed course (i.e. abandoned mall parking lot), encourage her to try mucking about with her vanillamobile.

Tell her you want to see what her “fabulous” car can “really do,” or pretend it has something to do with safety. Get her to accelerate, corner, panic stop. Set up tasks (“see if you can stop this barge from 60 in 7 seconds”) and give her lots of praise. If you catch a secret smile, thanks, you’re claiming a soul for

Next, teach her how to drive a manual. This needs to be done before she needs a new vehicle; if she’s in a hurry, she won’t consider it. And unless you’re hankering for a Jersey Divorce, let a third party provide spousal instruction.

Then, become her personal shopper. Women are usually interested in practical, reliable and fun (looking, not driving). Find the cars that add ‘fast’ to the mix and plant her behind the wheel. She’ll know what to do from there.

If she wants an automatic, pull out all the stops. “Oh, the manual gets better gas mileage.” “A clutch is cheaper to replace than a transmission.” “The automatic won’t let you get as much out of the engine as a manual will.” Don’t forget – money and practicality.

It’s entirely possible she’ll still fixate on a dud. She loves it because it’s “cute” or the right color or because it’s been her lifelong fantasy to drive a red Mustang. Try not to vomit in front of her or, worse, pull rank.

If possible, guide her to take a step up in the model range. The Mustang GT.  A Volkswagen GTI instead of a Rabbit. Alternatively, find something similar in a different make. That red Corolla is a great car, but how about a nice red Honda Civic Si instead? Don’t be afraid to pull out economy, reliability or safety data to try to sway her mind.

And don’t fret. She may not buy what you think is the best car, but at least you’ve raised the whole "fun" issue. Baby steps are better than none at all. Before you know it, you'll have a mutual interest that brings you closer together as a couple and, more importantly, another set a wheels to thrash. Viva la evolution!

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62 Comments on “Nurture or Nitrous?...”

  • avatar

    My step daughter never showed any signs of pistonheadedness. She didn’t even seem to care much about getting her license as 16 approached. I had to beg her to drive a manual for the first time, though she enjoyed it a little once she tried I think.

    Fast forward a few years and she meets a guy, total car nut. Now she has a older mustang 5.0 they are rebuilding. I just heard they took it the 1/8th mile track recently where she got her first few races under her belt. It certainly can be done. Nice article, and good advice above.

  • avatar

    All I know is that my three-year-old daughter looked at a Scion xB yesterday and pronounced "what an ugly car." And she constantly whines "I want to go in the fast car!" (Boxster S) whenever I strap her into the minivan. Oh, and every car should be pink.

  • avatar

    I believe my wife is a lost cause but one of my daughters has shown signs. A few weeks ago she (6 years old) caught me reading an article on a Caterham Seven and asked what car it was. When I mentioned it was a kit that could be built by whoever bought it, she said when can be get one and build it together. So not only do I have the honey-do list from the wife, I have one from my daughter too. But one I look forward to. Oh and she loves to go to Lime Rock for the ALMS and vintage races.

  • avatar
    Jeff in Canada

    Great article.
    I would have to side with the latter option in your “Nurture or Nitrous” inquiry.
    In my lifetime (26 yrs) I have memories of my Father having one boring car/van after another. The sacrifices a amn makes for his family of 5 kids!
    Being the only car nut in the family, naturally he lives vicariously through me. First it was my first car, 97 Maxima 5 spd. The first time he drove it, the grin was as wide as the Grinch! Now the notchback 5.0L I’ve been rebuilding is the summer toy, and I can see that little spark in his eye that’s remembering when the cars in his life were cool.
    This man used to have a 64ish VW Beetle. It stayed on the road due to him and his fathers blood, sweat, tears, and cursing.
    Somewhere theres a car guy in him.

  • avatar
    Sid Vicious

    Unless something goes totally awry my 2.5 year old daughter will be a pistonhead. I’ve already snapped pictures of her helping me “work” on the VW and the Tacoma. When I show up to pick her up in my car she always asks “Daddy where’s your Big Red Truck?” She loves the truck.

    I’m thinking 50 cc dirt bike for her 4th birthday but I probably ought to clear that with her mother. And without a doubt, she’ll be driving around the back 40 (manual trans ’cause that’s all I own) when she’s ten. I can’t wait.

  • avatar

    I wonder why I never see women driving Miatas–you know, with it being a huge “chick car” and all.

    Then again, around here (redneck state) girls would go for a 5.0 fox body or a camaro before a Miata. Most of them are trapped in Corollas or Civics or Accents, though.

  • avatar

    Circa 1978– I greet a school-marm-type -lady on our car lot. She is only interested in the cheapest car we have {B210 Honey Bee}. She is dressed very plain and is driving a $100 car.
    We sit down to write up the Honey Bee and she starts to cooo and ahh about the champagne with white interior 280 Z in the showroom. She asks how much ,I tell her and she says I`ll take that instead!!! A very exciting and true story!

  • avatar

    Very nice op-ed.
    I totally believe in the “nurture” side. Even nowadays, young boys are encouraged to play with toy cars…
    As an interesting note, a majority of ambulance drivers are women. Some argue it is because they care more for patients and therefore will go to greater lengths to get them to hospitals on time, others argue it’s because women are naturally better drivers (in that case “driving” includes “pilot”) than men, and the only reason there aren’t more (any?) women in F1, WRC, NASCAR,… is because it’s a macho environment.

    This said, do you have data/studies showing that high testosterone levels are correlated with being a pistonhead?
    Also, parents’ car buying habits influencing their offspring has little or nothing to do with genetics. It is actually a perfect example of nurture (a.k.a. social environment affecting members of the group).

    I can’t wait to buy our next car. We now drive the Golf my wife bought. Nice car, but automatic, and the next one will definitely be more sporty (A3 DSG, impreza manual,…)

  • avatar

    What a great editorial, Megan.

    Thanks for a peek inside the practical side of women. A woman’s mind can be a mysterious, and dare I say, scary, place to for a husband (or boyfriend) to visit. ;-)

    This is interesting: “Being the practical side of the species, we would rather put up with a car we hate than shell out money for another one that…offers more driving pleasure.”

    Luckily, my spousal unit came to me pre-taught in the art of self-selecting her cars gears.

    As for her “inner hoon,” it’s a challenge to overcome her practical, all-too-logical, side.

    The trick is to find a way to occasionally let loose her “inner child” so she can come out and play in the automotive sand box.

    Sad thing is, for the general population, the car is declining as something fun or special.

    Pew Research: August 1, 2006
    (“95% confidence level”):

    “Have you gone driving just for the fun of it in the past week, or haven’t you done this?”
    Men: Yes = 30% No = 70%
    Women: Yes = 25% No = 75%

    Both Genders:
    “How do you think of your car?”
    Means of transportation:
    1991: 56% — 2006: 75%
    Something special:
    1991: 43% — 2006: 23%
    Don’t know:
    1991: 1% — 2006: 2%

    One bright spot:
    “Despite the dip in enthusiasm for driving, and even with gas prices hovering around $3 a gallon, more than a quarter (27%) of all drivers (24% of all Americans) say they have gone driving “just for the fun of it” in the past week. Younger adults are more likely than older ones to have done so. Also, there’s more joy riding in rural areas than in cities or suburbs. Men and women are about equally likely to have done some driving just for the fun of it.”


  • avatar

    My French Canadian wife graduated from the Jim Russell Racing School at Mt Tremblant and was at one time chief press registrar for the track. (Guys with fake press credentials and a brownie camera know how formidable she can be).

    She hates my driving, but goes just as fast when she gets behind the wheel. She has always loved VW Golf GTs, but this time around is happy with a Mazda3 Sport.

    She watches every Formula One race, but disappears when NASCAR is on screen.

    I don’t know where all this comes from, but I think a lot of it has to do with the Latin temperament. Call it the Gilles Villeneuve syndrome.

  • avatar

    I wonder why I never see women driving Miatas–you know, with it being a huge “chick car” and all.

    When my girlfriend was convertible shopping last year, I suggested a miata and she said it was too much of a chick car.

    The car she ended up with: MkI VW Cabriolet, triple white.

    And a Miata was too much of a chick car for her!?!?

  • avatar

    Great read, Megan. Good to see a woman’s perspective here; we could use more of it.

    Maybe we should stop using the term “chick car” as an insult. I mean, if someone called the E350 a “Jew car”, or the Impala a “Latino car”, it would be offensive, no?

  • avatar

    Great article – My wife had been driving a ’92 Camry for eleven years when I suggested that, with the kids gone from the house, she might enjoy something a little sportier. At the time, I had a 5-speed 325i wagon which she recognized as a far superior driving experience than her Camry. All that was necessary was one test drive in an S2000 and she was hooked. Four years later, I can occasionally get the keys to the S2000; I don’t think anyone will pry her away from this car.

    Raising her car awareness has another positive outcome. Three years ago, in what can only be described as a fit of tech-geekery, I traded the 325 on an Acura TL; while it was a fine car and an incredible value, every time we drove the S2000 we were reminded of how FWD just doesn’t provide the same enjoyment as a well balanced rear-drive car, even in a sedan. The TL was recently replaced by a 335i and auto-nirvana has settled on our home…

    Even if much of our driving is only for transportation, it is still far more satisfying in a car capable of real hoonery!

  • avatar

    Wanted to say: Thanks for the suggestions on how to approach the letting loose of “her” inner hoon. As you say: “Baby steps are better than none at all. Before you know it, you'll have a mutual interest that brings you closer together as a couple…” As philbailey mentioned, a driving school is an interesting concept. An added plus is, it would be someone else (not her high-horsed husband) who takes on the role of mentor. Would be a pitch worth trying: It’s something we can do *together* and if pitched in the light of “honey, it will make us both better (or safer) drivers,” it could just work. Luckily, we live in Connecticut, and have Lime Rock as a place to consider. The local BWM Car Club ( is sponsoring a 1-day Driving School at Lime Rock Park on April 6th, so we’ll see. One place to check for such driving schools is

  • avatar

    The whole Miata being a ‘chick car’ is complete bunk; far more men drive them than women. Perfect balance, zen-like handling, and no-frills motoring make for a great recipe for coming up on two decades now. I always roll my eyes whenever someone brings that up; I’ve met only 2 female Miata drivers to date versus dozens of males and still constantly check the gender behind the wheel of Miatas I spot while motoring about. Overwhelmingly male. :)

  • avatar

    i have been pushing my girlfriend trying to find the “gearhead” button. for the last 3 years she has driven a 2000 Ford Focus…it wasn’t a bad car. but she HATED to drive. it seemed every month or so there was something she had to fix (most of it was regular maintenance for a car with 78k on it) but needless to say she hated driving…yet when we were in my car (06 xB…laugh if you want but its a fun car) she loved when i pushed it a little down the back roads so I knew, somewhere, deep inside she liked cars…about 2 months ago she had enough of her focus and i talked her into an xA and she loves it! i have the basic bolt on mods for my car (wheels, suspension intake exhaust) and show my car regularly at local events. but this year she plans to show with me! her car is nearly stock but she gets so much enjoyment out of it that she wants to show it off and i love it!

    a few weeks ago we had the “what would you name a son/daughter” conversation and i instantly said Portia (Porsche) and Enzo….well she shot down Portia (said it sounded to stripper-ish) but, to my surprise she said i “i kinda like Enzo, i would name a girl Enza”. its not exactly the same but its small victories right!

  • avatar

    True Story, Just this morning my wife calls me on her drive and tells me about how satisfying it is when she takes her favorite corner well, especially while zooming around the requisite suv’s in her manual Legacy GT turbo wagon.

    Mission Accomplished.

  • avatar

    I taught my wife (girlfriend at the time) how to drive manual eight or nine years ago – should be a pre-requisite for getting married (insert lots of innuendo here)! She actually switched to an automatic last year, because she felt she was a bit too agressive driving stick (and we’re planning on starting a family), and wanted a “truck” – I do applaud her pick, though – an occasionally reliable but lots-o-fun Landrover Freelander, which she loves to drive in manu-matic mode (or whatever LR calls it). She still tries to grab the keys to my BMW every couple of weeks to keep in practice – and for those occasions when we are out with friends and I decide I’d like to indulge in a few extra drinks ;) – I love my wife!

    I’m currently debating over trying to get her into a manual X3 (she loved the auto that she test drove), or keeping her Freelander and buying a used Mini (one of her favorites in the corners – I can’t seem to keep up to her in my BMW!).

    We now have an 8 month old daughter – it’ll soon be time to pass on love of cars!

  • avatar
    Megan Benoit

    Higher levels of testosterone have been tied to higher levels of risk-taking (or to use double negatives, less risk-averseness). Faster cars == more risk. Women tend to be more risk averse (that whole self-preservation thing). It’s why insurance rates for men (especially young men) are so much higher than for women. My husband and I have talked about doing a driving school thing together… it would be more fun for us than the cruises and such our friends take. I really have him to thank for turning me away from the dark side… I followed one of my coworkers in this morning and he has a 98 mustang GT that he thinks is the shiznit. I have the legacy GT today and I’m just itching to take him to school. Enjoyment breeds enjoyment. I would never have thought of street racing anyone until I got my integra.

    As for the term ‘chick car,’ I love it. If your gal looks at anything and goes, “Oh, it’s soooo cute,” viola, chick car. Hence, the adorable little Miata becomes a chick car, even if relatively few drive it. The ultimate chick car is, of course, the VW New Beetle.

  • avatar

    Although I’m a car enthusiast (obviously I read TTAC) I always cringe when I read articles espousing the virtues of “hooning”. I was an “enthisiast” when I was 16, really enjoying my mothers Saab Turbo until my inevitable collision with a car driving an elderly couple. I lost it in a wet corner while being “enthusiastic”.
    Now, at 36 I have a new baby boy and although I hope he likes cars, I don’t want him pulling the $hit that I did when I was a kid. I used to pass people on double yellow all the time, now I never do it and I get pissed off when I see other people risking their life and mine by trying to get a better placement for the next traffic light.
    Isn’t it enough just to appreciate a fine car without letting loose your inner hoon? Book some track time if that is important.
    In fairness I think the editorial was mostly about not buying crap cars with no soul and I definitely agree with that.

  • avatar
    Megan Benoit

    I recently traded my stick in for a new GTI DSG… all the fun of a stick without the ‘fun’ of riding my clutch in stop and go traffic. It’s the closest i could come to a manual tranny and I’m still loving it. I drive the LGT to work 2x a week so it gets highway miles, and I keep in practice. :)

    It’s entirely possible to drive in a fun manner without endangering others (though ‘hooning’ implies a certain degree of recklessness). I try to squeeze some maximum enjoyment out of my car every day, but certainly not when it’s raining, or traffic is heavy, or where i put others at risk. However, it’s hard to even *want* to push your car to the limit when you’re driving a vanillamobile. I’m not encouraging recklessness — far from it, i’m telling people to take control of their automotive destiny and have some fun while they’re at it. You can’t do that in your average minivan, that’s for sure.

    I nearly cried when my old church’s pastor traded in his saleen mustang for a fecking DODGE DURANGO. Yeah, his kids will be begging for a ride in that, i’m sure.

  • avatar

    It’s funny… I often make my gf scream when driving, but when she’s driving she makes me scream in terror! she’s a regular pit-bull behind the wheel. I’ve actually asked her to slow down before I have a heart attack. but she is a good driver though. I’ll give her that.

  • avatar

    jbyrne – I think there’s a fine line between pushing the limit and putting people in real danger. unfortunately knowing that line comes from years of experience and at 16 or even 21 you just don’t have it. if your kid turns out to have a need for speed probably best to get him/her some track time and advanced driving lessons… because we all know when you’re not around they will be pushing the limit and their luck.

  • avatar

    Not to highjack the thread, but adding to the whole “hoonage” and “driving dangerously” topic, what is more dangerous: drive 80mph in traffic with 2 hands on the wheel and highly concentrated in a well-maintained car, or clogging the left lane at 60mph, talking on the cell phone, fiddling with GPS systems, or driving cars that have not been serviced correctly (leaking brake fluid?!).

    As for testosterone, I hear your arguments. This said, I know many quiet, almost meek men (including, to a certain extent, myself), who can be speed demons behind the wheel…. a release for all those repressed testosterone molecules?

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Growing up, my big brother’s return at the end of a summer employment term was usually heralded by the rumble of a big block motor and leaky exhaust … generally in some need of repair.
    Such unabashedly rude muscle showed up in front of our door!
    A brash Mach II Mustang in faded British racing green — with black racing stripes and swoopy louvered fastback. Equal parts bondo and bravado, a Camaro RS with blacked-out grill, backfired and belched its way briefly into our lives, a battered – yet still cocky street-fighter.

    All were painstakingly disassembled, parts were cleaned and scrubbed and if need be, replaced.
    To my adoring pre-adolescent eyes, understanding the mystery of how it all went together, trying to help and desperate not to be a pain in the ass and risk banishment, those cars represented everything that I wasn’t and desperately wanted to be.
    They were part of my brother’s world, they were strength and speed, they were unapologetically unrefined and unsophisticated yet beautiful… and above all, to a pudgy introverted kid, they were the epitome of cool.

    My father raced MGs back in Britain.
    So I think that like most passions, the likelihood of following suit is greater with a mixture of nature plus nurture. Funny, but my other siblings (of both genders) couldn’t care less about cars.

    Me – I played hooky from work yesterday. Spring arrived in Ontario this week, and I just couldn’t wait any longer to bust my truck out of hibernation. Spent a couple of hours washing and waxing, assessed my parts pile, addressed some fuel synch issues, ordered a custom exhaust and made plans to meet friends at the drag strip in April.
    Dragged my track/autocross toy out of the backyard where it’s been resting under its cover since October – it’s sorely in need of rubber and it has some mechanical issues that need addressing. I’m fortunate to belong to a motorsports club with a core group of die-hard enthusiasts who often gather to swap stories and lend a hand wrenching on each others cars. So the wee MX-3’s crank sensor and fuel pump will provide a great excuse for an evening get together.
    It’s been a long time since I’ve encountered anyone surprised that I’m a female pistonhead, but then again, maybe they’re just used to me.

  • avatar

    My girlfriend told me last week about a scene at work. She was having lunch with her colleagues (all male…) They were talking about cars they’d like to own. She said, hey, I really like the Cayman, maybe I’ll get one in a few years.

    All the others there had never even heard of the Cayman.

    Does that count?

  • avatar


    Yep that definitely counts!

  • avatar

    As I was reading Megan’s piece I kept thinking of all the women I’ve known pretty well throughout my life and how we related on an automotive level, this included friends, wives, lovers, sisters and daughters but definitely not my mother. For most it was driver/passenger relationship but in a couple it was a kind’ve shared driving auto mania. It probably has to do with my cars, a 04 STi and a 92 Caterham Seven.

    During her early adolescence, my daughter learned tractor handling (is that a term?) around the barn and it was great for dealing with machine protocol – clutch, forward/backward, steering and hydraulic manipulation. When she graduated to road cars, the issues were road rules and street behaviour, and not car-related mysteries such as throttle and clutch timing and foot-use and their coordination with engine speed. This was a relief.

    As she was learning the ropes of navigating our country roads in my STi, I found she had acquired, probably due to constant exposure to my driving style, a tendency for late-braking and somewhat hard acceleration. For the record, I didn’t teach her this driving style; she had absorbed it from her booster seat and later as an actively engaged teenage learner. If it is a debate about nature or nurture and considering she is my daughter, I would say it is a case of both – a little gene mixed with a little edgy assertive driving style both provided by dad.

    Of course, her mother (a lawyer and farm girl at heart – learned tractor at 8 years old and her first car was a very used 71 Olds 442) is opposed to our daughter’s driving style; she says, ‘She drives like you – dangerously’. Even though this may sound profoundly like a kill-joy attitude, believe me when I say she is an example of what Megan describes as someone who ‘gets it’.

    Here’s the evidence. She and I take the Seven out several times in a season (we’re in Canada) and briskly make our way to the closest café for some of the good stuff. The deal is: I drive there and she has to drive back. She is always reluctant to take the wheel as she usually explains that she would rather do the Grace Kelly bandana and sunglasses thing in the passenger seat and coyly demurs about how the man does the driving. I always insist and she takes the wheel.

    This pattern (or game) continues as we make our way back from the café. She begins the drive slowly, being very cautious, like the way she drives her Mazda3. But within 10 minutes, she escalates her style to a level where she is driving closer to the car’s capabilities. It’s definitely not a white-knuckle affair but more like the way a Caterham should be driven. In other words, she feels confident in pushing herself by pushing the car.

    Which leads to the question: Does emotional attitude transcend gender (i.e. confidence eventually begets passion)? Give someone (an average driver, male or female) a car that is fun to drive and you will probably end up with stats like that Pew Research report. Megan is right – mediocre cars equal boring driving experiences, where’s the passion in that?

  • avatar

    My wife and I had been together for 8 years before we got married. She owned a Civic; I owned a pedal-driven 1-speed bike. She was hardly a petrohead.

    After we got married and purchased our home, I suggested to her that it was time for us to upgrade. She was reluctant. It took me 2 months to do research, punch the numbers, and show her all the pics of the car I wanted until she agreed to a test drive.

    It didn’t take long for her to jump into a test car and nail the gas pedal down on 3rd gear all the way to 85mph while getting on an onramp in Concord, CA. It scared the sheeeet out of the salesman in the backseat (the tester was a convertible, with the top down). Afterwards, we immediately put down a deposit for a new E46 M3 coupe, to be built to our liking.

    Now, she always wants to drive everytime we go out. She has the bad habit of believing that a 30mph ramp really means 70, and that the speed limit is triple digit. And that’s after 2 speeding tixs, with the last one 2 shy of 100mph.

    Yet, she doesn’t like it when I take the car around Marin and Oakland hills in 2nd & 3rd gears near the redline. Go figures.

    Since we are starting a family, she has a hard time shopping for an SUV that can accelerate and HANDLE like what she’s used to.

    I say it’s “NURTURE.”

  • avatar
    Megan Benoit

    Why do you have to get an SUV if you’re starting a family? That is utterly ridiculous. Unless you have 3 or more, your children will not suffer from having to sit in the backseat of a car. Need room for luggage? Get a CUV or wagon/hatch. Go test drive a Legacy GT wagon or Impreza WRX wagon, and put thoughts of gas-guzzling, landscape-blighting SUVs out of your head.

    I was working on writing a rant about this very thing. The notion that one must purchase a larger vehicle ‘for the children’ is ludicrous unless you plan on having more than 2.

  • avatar

    Apparently I’m the only one in my family that cares about cars. My wife only drives when she has to. Anytime we take the family anywhere it’s in her Odyssey. Now she likes the van a great deal but the reasons have nothing to do with performance in any way. It’s all practicality and comfort.

    Anytime I lay into it or kick the back end out in my car she hates it so needless to say I only do any amount of hooning when I’m by myself. Even my 4 year old son thinks it’s too loud (factory exhaust). I’m hoping my 16 month old daughter will be a pistonhead but it’s too early to tell.

  • avatar

    Hey – don’t go hating on *all* minivans. I’ve got a Grand Caravan, and while it’s no Boxter S, it does just fine in the hills & curves, thank you very much. I’ve made quite a number of trips to the Carolinas from Indiana, and that involves trips through the mountains (hills – I’m originally from Idaho) of WV or eastern TN, and I am usually passing everything else out there. I get the occasional request to slow down as the folks in the way-back can get a little nautious, but I’m having fun holding the wheel!

    Well, as much fun as you can have driving a minivan…

  • avatar
    Megan Benoit

    Minivans serve a purpose as sprog-haulers, but let’s be real — unless you plan on birthing a volleyball team, you do not need one. A wagon or CUV will hold all your stuff, look nice, handle well, and get better gas mileage (or at least do more of those better than a minivan). Comfort and convenience be damned. I don’t want to hear any excuses for driving a minivan that don’t include the phrases “Our three teenagers…” or “I’m the drummer.”

  • avatar


    You read my mind. I hate SUVs and have been advocating the wagon idea forever. The missus would not hear about wagons. Her reasons are “what if we need to transport so and so, etc.” and she would not have it any other way. It must be something that can transport 6 or 7 people, PERIOD.

    For the sake of domestic harmony, I capitulated. We looked at the Acura MDX, probably one of the most sporty and least “SUV-esque” 7-people haulers around.

    Still, I hear ya. The idea of driving around in an big SUV is repulsive. It’s wasteful excess.

  • avatar

    Most young families are soo much better off with a wagon of even a hatchback (mazda3, Golf/GTI, impreza,…) than a big honking SUV. Let’s not go into the whole “safer” debate here, but suffice to say that most small cars (at least from good premium brands) get great ratings, and that most accidents do NOT involve being run over by another car…).
    For that matter, most hatchbacks are better than equivalent sedans (golf/jetta) as they have the same driving dynamics but more utility, losing only in extra cabin noise.

    Oh, and the 1-series 3-door is coming stateside! Now THAT’s interesting.

  • avatar

    It’s not just girls. I didn’t care about cars until three years ago, when I was already 22. In high school I couldn’t afford a car so I stayed out of all the car hype as everyone turned 16. Eventually I learned on an old automatic Celica (base, with a roly poly suspension) that never got me excited.

    Then I learned to drive stick. My family’s only freeway-capable car at the time was a 4-spd ’91 Tercel, and I needed it for a summer job. Not a great car but with manual steering and transmission, it changed me. I suppose it was bound to happen – my parents are secret driving enthusiasts so it was a matter of time and money before I was an open one. They claim to buy stick because when all you can afford are 10-yr old econoboxes you get a lot more longevity from them, but they have fun even when they wish they had nicer cars (we’re getting there). But seriously, three years ago I couldn’t tell a Corolla from an Altima nor understand why cars with the same name could look different (body styles and generations… didn’t understand the concepts).

    My girlfriend was looking at Camries and Accords as we finished up college. She wanted something practical (girls always think that means four doors, even though they intend to carry stuff and not passengers, and tend to think hatches are ugly), but when I showed her that the RSX was a liftback which good space, she took the bait! Hers is automatic, but I didn’t want to push it – at the time I had an old Sentra with the worst manual transmission in the world, so any attempt to teach her just made her hate stickshift. Now I have a 6-spd Miata and she finds it MUCH easier to learn on… so maybe next time.

    (About the Miata: I agree the styling is effeminate, but with an 80% manual transmission take rate there must be something to it!)

  • avatar
    Megan Benoit

    You can haul 7 in an MDX, but they won’t be happy people, trust me on that one. I’m fortunate in being tall and leggy, so i usually get to ride shotgun when I’m not driving, but those tiny backseats are nothing more than geneva convention violations. But then, you’re looking at the person that specifically got a 3-door integra because i was sick of being the person that had to haul everyone around in my sedan when we decided to go out with friends (damn cheap friends). Ask her this — do you *want* to be the person that has to haul all those people around? Will you actually *enjoy* being the one pegged with this duty because you’re the one with the big vehicle? Or will you gradually grow to loathe the prospect, more so because you’re stuck driving a big, dumb vehicle even when you don’t have to haul people around?

  • avatar

    i agree there’s something to the miata. i could really give a hoot that it looks “cute” and thus becomes a chick car. if i could be guaranteed sunny weather, i’d own one. as it is, even in the newest gen MX-5, my head pushes into the cloth top. i was hopeful for the retractable hardtop, but i hear it has .4″ *less* headroom. the mx-5 is top down only for me, and even then, the top of the windshield wrecks my sightlines.

    the good news is that i can fit into an RX-8 as long as it doesn’t have a sunroof. now i just need to getout of the rust belt.

  • avatar

    It seems to me that creation of a pistonhead requires three elements in a personality. The first is a desire to experience risk. The second is an enjoyment of competition in some way, either watching or experiencing. The third is a desire to take things apart and know how they work. Take note that many women don’t have all three. Also take note that all three things can be learned. So that’s my theory. I just don’t know many females who are competitive, like taking risks, and like taking things apart all at the same time.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    I love taking them apart… putting them back together, not so much.

  • avatar

    I love taking other cars apart in the Subaru Legacy GT I bought my wife. Smokem if you got one. Fast is good and that car is FAAAST! Changed her quick she loves the triple digits almost as much as I do.

  • avatar

    I actually love the Odyssey, not for its driving dynamics it’s pretty much a big boat but it is immensely functional and a nice place to spend time in.

    I’d have to disagree with you Megan on the need for a minivan unless you have 3+ kids. For your average daily schlepping? No a wagon or sedan or hatch will work just fine. But what happens if you want to take a grandma along for a day trip or go on vacation? Or if you want you sister-in-law to come with her 1 or more children? If you occasionally need to haul more than 5 in any combination of under 10 or over 50 years old the minivan is the way to go. My wife’s Odyssey gets better mileage than her previous Subaru Outback while entertaining the kiddies with Dora the Explorer. Before I even get to the van the doors are open waiting for kids to be plopped into car seats.

    I fought tooth and nail against the minivan but have come to love it. When you want to hit a nail you use a hammer not a screwdriver and the mini van is the right tool for the job.

    You want to have a reasonable kid schlepper and fun too? Get a Subaru Legacy GT wagon or an Audi S4 Avant. You are still not going to fit two kids under 5 and everything you need for a beach vacation without leaving something behind or putting a carrier on the top.

  • avatar

    I’m lucky…my girlfriend drives a WRX, manual of course. The next big step is to get her to participate in a lapping day, or at least autox. I’m still trying after 2yrs. At least we can watch F1 together.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    The miata is a lot more than a “chick car”. It’s one of the most sought-after, kick-ass auto x cars going. Even ten-year-old, high-mileage models bring good prices.

  • avatar

    I like minivans. Especially the Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna. Until they start making station wagons again, minivans are the only alternatives to SUVs.

    Has anyone else noticed all of the really big SUVs (Excursions, Suburbans, Navigators, Escalades, being driven very AGGRESSIVELY by women? Tail-gating, weaving in and out of traffic, cell-phone clapped to ear, rear seat occupied by a baby in a child safety seat. I hope they know what they’re doing?

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    I just really love Russ Meyers.

  • avatar
    Megan Benoit

    My parents hauled me and my sister cross-country in a Camry wagon just fine. The upgraded to an explorer, but only after we found out we were moving to BFE Nebraska and 4WD was something to be desired.

    Amen to that. I love our LGT, problem-prone as it had been. Not sure what to get in 2 years when the lease is up… maybe the Evo X…

  • avatar

    Megan: What kinds of problems have you had, ours has been perfect but we only have 20K miles on it so far and I drive it HARD thats why I gave it to her to keep me out of jail. Mitsubishi’s are junk I would be weary of jumping into any of there cars, think American quility from a Japanese company.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Jonny – you can have Russ Meyers, I’ll take Russ Crowe. :P

  • avatar

    >>I wonder why I never see women driving Miatas–you know, with it being a huge “chick car” and all.

    >>Then again, around here (redneck state) girls would go for a 5.0 fox body or a camaro before a Miata. Most of them are trapped in Corollas or Civics or Accents, though.

    Three women I know have Miatas, one a cartoonist, one a college professor, and one is my seventy-something neighbor two houses up.

  • avatar

    Megan Benoit: Higher levels of testosterone have been tied to higher levels of risk-taking (or to use double negatives, less risk-averseness). Faster cars == more risk. Women tend to be more risk averse (that whole self-preservation thing).

    I’m definitely risk-averse and come from a risk averse family. My parents put seatbelts in the ’57 Chevy in ’61; we had the first Peugeot stationwagon in France with rear shoulder harnesses (my father showed the people in the factory how to install–it was a simple topology problem) and I was one of the first bicyclists with a hard shelled helmet (I bought Bell serial # 7022 in ’75.) Nonetheless, I’m over 50 and my testosterone is through the roof (had it checked a couple of years ago). I have loved cars since I can remember, all the way back to age 2. My brother on the other hand never had any interest in cars whatsoever. He liked baseball, which never interested me. He still doesn’t get excited about cars.

    My best friend was the practical type until he bought a used Nissan SEX 240 in the mid-90s, an impulse, as he had been looking at Camrys. He loved the thing to his complete surprise. But the SEX had more than its share of troubles, and it seemed to attract bad driveres, who crashed into it. Someone finally totalled it when it was parked. Now he’s lost interest in cars and puts his energy into astronomy

  • avatar

    Megan Benoit:
    Why do you have to get an SUV if you’re starting a family? That is utterly ridiculous. Unless you have 3 or more, your children will not suffer from having to sit in the backseat of a car

    Yeah, TeeKay. My family of origin–3 kids– spent two months driving around Europe in a ’65 Peugeot 404 wagon, a car that was probably a bit narrower than a Subaru Legacy, similar size also to Volvo S70. We also drove across the country once in a ’50 Studebaker two door coupe (before my sister was born, and my brother and I were 4 and 6, but we had a BIG airedale who sometimes hogged the seat), and twice in a ’57 Chevy wagon (again before my sister). You don’t need an SUV, but if it’s really a lot of room you want, you should be shopping for a ninivan, not a stupid urban vehicle.

  • avatar

    One of my mother’s thrills early in life (b. 1923) was going for a ride in her 10 years older cousin Victor’s (can’t remember what the car was, but probably hot for the time) at 45 mph. Toward the end of her life, I was taking her for a ride on a beautiful twisty road on Cape Cod, near where we have asummer place. I’d been looking for two weeks for Pacers–I wanted to photograph one. All the sudden, there it was, coming in the opposite direction. I turned around as quickly as I could on this narrow road, and went tearing after it, feeling guilty that I was scaring my poor mother to death. I finally caught up with it (it had stopped by the side of the road), and I stopped, and looked at my mother, and she was grinning ear to ear.

  • avatar

    I consider it my duty to teach kids to use clutches. I’ve taught at least 10, maybe 15. The best was a girl, my cousin once removed. The worst–couldn’t really do it at all–was my nephew.

  • avatar

    I think a good tradition to start is the annual trip to your local car show. New or classic, it doesn’t really matter. If you can get your girlfriend/ wife/ daughter/ whomever to start recognizing the model changes over time, you’re well on your way to pistonhead.

    Not to brag, but my girlfriend can recognize most cars on the road at night just by their taillights or headlights, well before I can. Damn my night vision.

  • avatar
    Megan Benoit

    David Holzman:
    The plural of anecdote is not data. Risk-aversity is learned, as well. The study shows a correlation, not that every testosterone-infused guy is going to be a risk-taker.

    But the new Evo X is sooooo sexy. I know it’ll fall apart around me, that’s what leases and extended warranties are for. As for our LGT… well, I have a laundry list there. Dangerous tires, dash rattle, stinky clutch (though adjusting the way you drive helps), ECM burned out (there’s a recall now to fix a relay but ours was probably one of the first to go), bad fuel injectors… and each time it’s needed fixing it takes forever b/c Subaru always has parts on backorder. I love the car, don’t get me wrong, but man, it’s spent more time in the shop than the ford focus we owned.

  • avatar

    My daughters quickly caught the bug – having owned lots of cars across the performance spectrum, although they don’t know much about the details, they prefer 400+ HP V8s over the more comfortable Honda every time.

    They’re kind of split over the muscle car versus Lexus choice, though…hmmmm…funny that Mercedes doesn’t register as a premium brand with them, though.

  • avatar

    Very good article Megan. My sister got a kick out of it, being that it describes her oh so well.

  • avatar

    MB >>The plural of anecdote is not data. Risk-aversity is learned, as well. The study shows a correlation, not that every testosterone-infused guy is going to be a risk-taker.

    I’m well aware of the dif betw data and anecdote. But since I wasn’t reviewing an RCT… The various twin studies have established a strong genetic component to risk aversity or lack thereof. I don’t know how that genetic component correlates with testosterone, but it would be very interesting to find out. If you know of anything, stick it here or email me at [email protected]

  • avatar

    Megan, PS, the risk aversion comes from my father’s, not my mother’s side.

  • avatar

    Speaking as a man I completely disagree that auto enthusiast leanings are the result of “nurturing”. My father is a motorhead and my childhood was filled with nothing but NASCAR and drag driving (I refuse to call it racing) both of which I absolutely despised considering them activities for unfit, pinguid, functionally illiterate hillbillies. I truly hated cars and driving.

    When I was 26 I saw a video of Walther Rohrl in Group B rally – it was a revelation!!! Driving that equally reqired mental and physical agility coupled with fantastic nerve! Worlds were opened to me in that moment. My enduring passion for felonious speeds and high speed agressive maneuvering on serpentine country roads was formed instantaneously. There was no “nurturing” or instruction involved.

    My point is simply that owning a quasi-sports car means nothing. The level of enthusiam is determined by how far one will go to cultivate their ability to maneuver at speed. I have come across many people with fast cars and very, very, very few with the nerve to drive them. Those people are posers.

  • avatar

    Don’t let the stereotypes blind you: I am a 37 yr old big guy (usually with a beard) and drive a ’97 white VW Cabrio (camel interior/black cloth top that I installed myself). Great little car that is a hoot to drive. Not the fastest car nor the best handling (though damn good) but plenty of all the right stuff and frugal to drive. My wife likes it too but it is my daily driver. She drives a ’99 CR-V only b/c it has four doors. We’re moving towards two smallish hatchback cars with something larger for the weekend trips. Think GTI and Mini with a Eurovan on standby.

    Isn’t it funny how most of the enthusiast commentors on this website are driving imports? Not as many domestic driver’s cars or not as many noticed by TTAC readers.

    My wife is frugal and practical first because our budget requires it. She isn’t a hard driver but her enthusiasm is there. Her vision is poor-ish so she won’t take chances but she is patient when I do (sans children in the backseat). We’ve got a ’65 Beetle (2.0L Type IV motor) and a ’78 VW camper (2.7L Corvair implant) and she’s eager to help work on them when we can. When we were first married I had a nasty hand injury and she rebuilt the van’s engine for us… I knew I got a good one!

    As for the SUV vs Minivan for a growing family: you NEED neither. Our CR-V has been great for 147K miles and a good fit. We also put two kids in car seats in the back of the Cabrio and make 2 hour trips on the interstate comfortably with plenty of overnight bags. Leave the full sized stroller at home please! Umbrella stroller only need apply.

    The only hit against the Cabrio is putting the youngest in his seat. With the top up it is an awkward manuver but consider that on a trip you do this manuver only occasionally. Maybe 4 times a day. A sightseeing trip would not be comfortable with all of the in and out to see stuff unless the top was down… Once the kids are able to climb into their seat (our older child) its not a problem. The CR-V has been wonderful allowing us to carry the four of us plus some luggage and our dog in the wayback on her bed. Once a year or so we’ll have enough stuff (holidays) that I wish we had a larger vehicle (kids, dog, luggage, and gifts). During the summer we just load the bicycles on our open 5×8 ft utility trailer (instant pickup truck).

    I want to build a small wooden closed top trailer for distance/wet weather travelling which will keep everything dry and safe.

    I could buy such a thing but I want to build one…
    We DON’T want to drive a thirsty monster 365 days a year and need the extra space 5 times a year.

    A reader commented about aggresive female drivers in the largest SUVs. I more often notice the empty and largest SUVs – that is Excursions carrying one small female. She likely dropped off a couple of kids but even in the school pickup line I seldom see more than two kids getting out of these behemoths.

    Ideally we would have a 30 mpg Eurovan turbo diesel but our ^&*#% government and it’s &*#^@ lobbyists want to keep us in monster domestic SUVs. I’ve considered buying a gas Eurovan and putting an imported Canadian sourced VW diesel into it.

    We’re done with SUVs. I grew up riding in them (S-10 Blazer/70’s Landcruiser) and owned one now and we really want sporty wagons or hatchbacks or convertibles. Interestingly all of the best candidates for us are used imports. I won’t give the domestics any of my money until the mangement and the UAW stop mismanaging their companies b/c I feel we’ll get a substandard vehicle after the beancounters strip out quality to meet a lower build cost/average price point b/c of their higher management/labor/legacy costs.

    Lastly most of the women I know are normal drivers who never took the opportunity to drive at the limits of their cars. The ones I know can drive fast but with little understanding of what to do if something goes wrong. Driver’s Ed would help. Parking lot/backroad hoonery would help… Drifting through curves, near limit braking, understeer/oversteer, etc.

    What has been typical of former girlfriends (not my wife) has been girls with very poor driving habits b/c no one tried (or maybe they wouldn’t listen) to teach them how to drive well. One girlfriend would accelerate to 5mph above the speedlimit in her 80’s Civic and then coast to 5 mph under the speed limit. Then repeat a thousand times. Note that these were not smooth transitions either. I had visions of new CV joints and transmissions. Would NOT take any suggestions or criticisms positively. It was junk at 130K miles. Not a girl I could afford to keep for long. Another just let her vehicle fall apart around her. Dirty. Rusty. Noises. The truck I mean… Another would just go from gear to gear with zero finese. Went through clutches and U-joints often. Never avoided holes in the road either. Junk in 80K miles. In every case I saw traits about the car ownership that also showed through to their personal life as a whole – or I wanted to…

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