By on August 7, 2015

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A few weeks ago, on this very collection of ones and zeroes, I asked the question, “Why Does The Public Accept Car Reviews From People Who Can’t Drive?” I got several responses from you, the B&B, that seemed to indicate that a car’s top-end performance abilities don’t really matter to you when buying a car and that you can determine everything that you need to know about a car’s performance on a test-drive loop. Therefore, many of you suggested that whether or not a person is a good driver should not be a qualifying characteristic of an automotive journalist, because you aren’t particularly interested in ever driving your car in a way that would test its limits.

Okay. Hey, it’s your opinion, and I respect you for it. I couldn’t agree with it less, but I still respect it.

However, if the public really believes that the pointy end of a car’s limits on track or a curvy road don’t matter, then why the heck do so many people buy the performance variants of cars?

Let’s be honest here — when you’re driving down the street, and you see a particularly beautiful Mercedes-Benz, what do your eyes immediately search for? Or if you see a lovely example of a 3-Series, what’s the first thing you look at?

Think about your answer for a second while I elaborate.

The V6 Mustang had (still has?) the reputation for being a “secretary’s car” for years. But, on the road, what’s the fundamental difference between a Cyclone and the Coyote? I asked myself that same question nearly two years ago. After all, the majority of us agreed — we can’t find the difference between the two cars on public roads. There may not even really be a difference on a public road. Are we really saying that the sound of the engine is worth the extra loot? Why does Ford even make a Mustang GT when the real-world performance difference is virtually nil? Why does BMW bother with a 335i when the 328i will do just fine on the daily commute to work?

The answer to my first question is: You look for the badge. The answer to the last one? Keep reading.

Allow me to introduce you to the concept of Perceived Value. The average American has been brainwashed over the last fifty years that increased price somehow means increased value. Companies have been pricing products based on this psychological fact for decades — and it works.

I once sat next to a gentleman who was a sales rep for Brooks on a flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles. He bemoaned the fact that his company’s running shoes were far superior to anything that Nike was selling, but that all of their focus groups told them that they didn’t think their shoes were any good because they didn’t cost as much as Nikes. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but the next time I bought a pair of running shoes, I decided to try out a couple of pairs of Brooks. They were so much better than the comparable Nikes that I bought two pairs — and for less than the price that Nike was selling their top-of-the-line shoe. If I had never sat next to that gentleman, I never would have even considered the Brooks. Why? Because I figured that they couldn’t be any good. They were too inexpensive! My perceived value of their shoes was extremely low.

My father paid for a good deal of my education by selling private-label health and beauty products to grocers and department stores. Often times, the formula of the private label products was identical to name brands, yet the name brands almost always outsold the private label products. Why? Because they cost more. The perceived value was greater.

So, if the EcoBoost Mustang is only around $23K, then the GT, which starts at $32K, must be better…right? Never mind that over 90 percent of the general public wouldn’t be able to tell the difference when sitting behind the wheel. The interiors are the same. The real world acceleration is the same. It costs more. It’s better. Therefore, I should buy it.

And you know what comes along with perceived value, don’t you? Perceived image. The GT will always have more cachet at Cars and Coffee than the V6. The GT3 will always draw more eyes than a regular ol’ 911. The price tag totally changes not only what the buyer thinks of a car, but also what potential buyers and casual admirers think, too. Ask the driver of any performance-variant of a car what the first two questions everybody asks them is, and you’ll get the same answer:

  1. How fast have you taken it up to?
  2. How much money did that thing cost you?

If you don’t give Joe Schmo an impressive answer to both questions, he’ll lose interest quickly. But if you say “145 and $171,000” as I heard a good friend of mine say recently when asked this question, then he’ll be enraptured. Your car just became cooler because of how much it costs.

As I’ve said before, a Corvette-owning friend of mine once said that the two most popular topics of conversation at any Corvette meet were:

  1. What types of cleaning products everyone uses
  2. How fast the magazines say their cars can go

These guys bought Corvettes not for their capabilities, but for the Corvette image. While some may laugh and dredge up the “gold chains and chest hair” stereotype of the Vette, in most of Middle America, a Corvette of C5 vintage or newer is still a pretty damned impressive car. And if the base Corvette is cool on the streets, then wouldn’t the Z06 be even cooler? Gee, I wonder if that’s why you can now buy an automatic, non-fixed roof C7 Z06. If you’re buying an automatic Z06, the chances of you ever tracking that car are incredibly close to nil. It’s not that you couldn’t, it’s just that 95 percent of you probably have no interest in doing so. But GM was losing out on customers who wanted that image, so they made a completely silly, irrelevant version of the Z06 that totally cheapened the enthusiast’s perception of the brand. They then sat back and counted their money as nearly all of them were sold before they even arrived at dealerships.

You know why? Because enthusiasts barely even matter to manufacturers. We don’t buy cars in numbers that are even mildly significant, and when we do, we buy them used. The miniscule number of us that will ever buy a Cayman GTS just to take it to an open lapping day and drive it right down the middle of the track for twenty minutes don’t matter. Those of us who will do it more than once matter even less. These cars are made for and sold to people who never come close to the edge of the performance limits of their vehicles.

So, why does anybody buy a car with a bigger engine? Or stiffer suspension? Or wider tires? Because they like the way it makes them feel — both about their buying decisions and their public image. And, by the way, there’s absolutely, positively, nothing wrong with that.

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114 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: The High Price of Value...”


  • avatar

    Of all the cars, performance cars and sports cars sold on the American market, I’d really love to know the percentage that actually get driven on a track.

    What’s it? Less than 5%?

    Life’s too short to drive boring cars.

    I live on the East coast and commute between NYC and NJ on average. Pennsylvania or Rhode Island on occasion.

    I have no idea what a “curve” looks like.

    But if I ever meet one, I’ll just slow down from 90 MPH and take it at 40.

    • 0 avatar
      Daniel J

      5% is 4% too generous.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      I have to think it’s well below 1%, and probably below .1%.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      If we factor in stuff like Chumpcar and Lemons, we can say that the average beater Dodge Neon will get more track time than any new SRT Hellcat.

      Same with other carmakers too, you’re more likely to catch a Chevette on the circuit than a Corvette

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      “Of all the cars, performance cars and sports cars sold on the American market, I’d really love to know the percentage that actually get driven on a track.

      What’s it? Less than 5%?”

      To answer this accurately, what you really need to ask is how many sports/performance cars are driven on a track. let’s face it, Despite what Nissan wants to you to think, an Altima ain’t nowhere near a track car.

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      “I have no idea what a “curve” looks like. But if I ever meet one, I’ll just slow down from 90 MPH and take it at 40.”

      That is one of the saddest statements I have ever read on this site. No wonder you keep talking hellcat. btw, big bonus points for having a post without a hellcat reference.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      The performance aspect of a vehicle matters to buyers because it is part of the bragging rights that go along with the purchase price. It does not matter on our highways that a car has a top speed of 180 mph or can go around the Burgerkingring in under 10 minutes but it matters at in the parking lot.
      To me it matters that a journalist actually knows how to drive the product they are evaluating. There is nothing I hate more than reading a vehicle test by someone clueless about a product classification.

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    Funny you mention Brooks shoes. Now they are as expensive as Nike’s for the most part. Its also marketing. Who spends more getting their product out there. Nike is in everything. I rarely see brooks logos. Getting to the enthusiasts, I find it entertaining. “It has to have manual”. “It a can’t be CVT”. “The Miata needs more power.” Guess who’s laughing all the way to the bank?

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      You are right. Brooks doesn’t have a running shoe that retails for under $100. Their top of the line shoe goes for $170. I will say that it is easier for me to find discounted Brooks shoes than Nikes. I tend to buy 3-4 pair of running shoes at a time, so that’s important.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed that the MSRP on Brooks might be equal to Nike, but they don’t actually SELL for anything like those prices. I bought two pairs of Brooks Ghosts for less than $100.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          Right. You are able to find them for good prices online or at local running stores. I can typically find a pair from my local running store for under $75. Even cheaper, like at the prices you bought at, when a new model roles out.

          Like you said, they are certainly made better than Nikes.

          (typed while wearing a pair of Brooks Glycerin 12s)

      • 0 avatar
        duffman13

        Brooks is an enthusiast running shoe as far as thing are concerned however. If you look at your average runner cross section you’re going to see far more Nikes and Adidas than anything else, but if you look at a cross section of serious runners you’ll start to see a much larger portion of Brooks, Saucony, and Asics.

        I’ve been running since doing XC in high school and have been wearing Saucony almost exclusively for 15 years. There’s no better shoe on the market for my feet as far as I’m concerned.

        • 0 avatar
          Jason

          Man, no love for Mizuno at all.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I dig the Wave. It’s my short distance and cross training shoe right now.

          • 0 avatar
            dolorean

            Big fan! Right here! Loved my Mizuno’s for four years now after switching from Asics. Much, much more support to my foot. However, a running shoe to a serious runner is as important as a proper knife to a serious Chief. It may not matter to the layman, but it does to him/her. Its their passion.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I tried a pair of Brooks after hearing lots of raves like this, but (just like Nikes) they don’t fit my totally square bear paws. The only shoes that have allowed me to run in comfort and without exacerbating my injuries are the much-mocked Vibram toe shoes. (Suck it, haters.)

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        I’m in the camp that the best shoe isn’t Brooks, Nike, Asics, etc, but whatever shoe fits your foot. My issue with Nike is that every time I found a shoe I liked, they would complete change it.

        With Brooks, I know the shoe I buy will be similar to the generation before. They update, not completely redesign. I’ve been wearing the same shoe line as my primary running shoe since Army Basic Training 12 years ago.

        Have you tried other minimalist shoes?

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          I’ve tried some others, none of them as comfortable for my abused shins as the FiveFingers.

        • 0 avatar
          duffman13

          >My issue with Nike is that every time I found a shoe I liked, they would complete change it.

          Agreed on that 100%. The last time I had a pair of Nikes was when they made a set of Shox specifically designed for runners that pronate. It was one of the best shoes I ever used, so naturally they discontinued it after one model cycle without replacement.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I loved the Bowerman Series shoes. I really liked the Pegasus during that time frame. Then they went all Nike+ crazy and ruined everything.

      • 0 avatar
        sproc

        Brooks makes some outstanding running shoes (my “B” pair of Ravenna 5s sitting under my desk now for the trip home), but the best pair of shoes is always the one you’re most comfortable in. Tried and hated minimalist, but one important thing a professional fitting a couple years ago taught me is that looser is generally better, and especially as middle age sets in, your foot is often a size or more bigger than it was at 20.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          Truth (whether minimalist or not). The closest I’ve gotten to a non-minimalist shoe that worked was a pair of old-school New Balance that look ludicrously big on my feet. I still wear those as schlubbing-around shoes, not for running, and they’re super comfortable.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I have size 15 shoes and old school NBs make them look even more like clown feet. They are the Ford Taurus of shoes; gigantic exterior, not enough room on the inside.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        Dude, my Five Fingers have been such a joy that I’ve actually super-glued them back together twice.

        I don’t care if they don’t “work”.

      • 0 avatar
        bludragon

        Totally off topic now, but have you tried vivobarefoot? They are quite pricey for what you get (perceived value?) but are pretty much the only shoe I wear now.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          Thanks for the tip. And I don’t think this is offtopic — perceived value/Veblen effect are HUGE in athletic shoes… just think about retro Jordans that are useless for basketball but that everyone knows cost close to $200.

    • 0 avatar
      bubbajet

      I’m a fan of Merrel’s minimalist shoes, myself, for casual dress. I’ve got some Vivo Ra shoes in black leather for dress…but they aren’t the best looking. Waiting on some Primal Professionals to ship for my dress shoes; it’s a one-man show trying to get some decent shoes made and he’s having difficulty getting it done right. Assuming he gets them shipped, I’ll have a pair of shoes that will be triple the cost of any I’ve had but they will be American made, beautiful and by all accounts supremely comfortable and long-lasting. At the end of the day, however, it’s like so many have said: it’s about what fits your feet and works for you.

      I’ll post on-topic further down.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      “I once sat next to a gentleman who was a sales rep for Brooks on a flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles. He bemoaned the fact that his company’s running shoes were far superior to anything that Nike was selling, but that all of their focus groups told them that they didn’t think their shoes were any good because they didn’t cost as much as Nikes.”

      I have an occupation that puts me in close proximity to some wealthy business people, and I also travel quite a bit, and yet I am astounded at the frequency by which both Jack & Mark find themselves sitting/standing next to major corporate employees bemoaning or boasting about their respective companies’ misfortunes/fortunes in such public ways.

      Next time, Mark will tell us he sat next to the Senior VP of Hustler on a flight from San Antonio to Kalamazoo, who was bemoaning the state of print copy due to the surge of digital smut, and begging for advice from Mark once he noticed his two button blazer, in an appropriate grey or blue color.

  • avatar

    Many of the Corvette’s in my area have surely never seen anything higher than 4000 RPM. When we located a C6 for my brother it came from an older gentleman in Georgia who could no longer press the clutch due to a bad hip. I ran the VIN for history as well as the build sheet and RPO codes from GM and found out that it had the Z51 package. The Z51 package adds a small amount of value but I noticed the seller never mentioned it. Once the deal was done I was curious as to why he didn’t mention it and he stated that he did not know that the car even had the package or what it was. He stated that he purchased it initially because it looked nice with the black paint and upgraded chrome wheels. However he did mention what type of cleaning products he used for the wheels and tires.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      Jeez, that sound’s like my neighbor Ralph’s car.

      • 0 avatar

        I am sure it’s not isolated. We have met some of the local Corvette owners and the majority were similar to the seller. They spent lots of time and money on shining the car up for the occasional show or meet but other than that they stayed in the garage for the most part.

        • 0 avatar
          j3studio

          … and then there’s my wife, who daily drives her 2012 coupe with a certain degree of alacrity. We also took it back and forth across the the continent earlier this year:

          https://www.flickr.com/photos/j3studio/sets/72157651710377599

    • 0 avatar
      SomeGuy

      It really is crazy the average Corvette owner mindset. All that I’ve met with the exception of one (bought a Z06 C7 with the Z07 package that is tracked) is concerned about rain, cleaning it, miles (oh god the miles), etc. Vette browsing is fun because the prices some of these people have their C5 or base C6 at is just hilarious. Yet I can go to a dealership a lot of times and find better deals, because to them, its another car.

      My house will be paid for in about 3 years and then I’ll be car shopping. A C7 is very, very high on my list. However, this car will be beaten by city traffic (commuted often), driven in all weather conditions, and probably have rock chips.

      I don’t care, I cannot take the car with me when I die, and these cars aren’t Ferrari 250 GTOs. My G37S doesn’t look as good as it should (some wheel scuffs), but it has seen some AutoX time and will seem some full track days before I sell it.

      • 0 avatar
        cimarron typeR

        My old neighbor fit the Vette mold, 60s, hard parker , big into the Club shows i.e. ,detail contests. Pristine last year c4, followed by c5 Z06, rarely driven, never driven hard.
        I am starting to see 40ish guys my age driving c7s though, those cars will likely driven hard.So the General might have broken trough. Pity though, I’d like a pampered c7 from someone who didn’t know what the z51 package was on the cheap in a few years.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          ….I am starting to see 40ish guys my age driving c7s though, those cars will likely driven hard.So the General might have broken trough. Pity though, I’d like a pampered c7 from someone who didn’t know what the z51 package was on the cheap in a few years….

          Times are a-changing…I pamper mine by keeping it in a heated garage, don’t commute in it, and are fussy about where I park. That’s how you keep a car looking great for years. I bought the Z51 and manual and when I do drive it, I get on it and have a great time. That’s what I bought if for. I have no interest in commuting in it. The C7 was a pivotal point for the Vette. I never had any interest in them, but the new model was so impressive I was bitten. If you are a g-force junkie like me, this is your ride!

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Probably eight years ago I saw an old couple pull up and park at a McDonald’s on a sunny warm day in Indiana. It was a purple C4 convertible with tan leather. They were in their 60’s easily.

          And when they got out after parking very carefully, they both used their shirts to wipe the prints off the doors they’d just closed.

          To me, that summarizes the average Corvette owner. I will always remember that moment.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        I believe Jeremy Clarkson summed up the C7 rather well versus a Ferrari. The Vette is for the blue collar supercar types. Guys usually who want some speed, style and ability to take a corner and yet, have a comfortable seat, AirCon, SatNav, and the simple joy of it could be a daily driver. “Well done, man from Kentucky!”

        Ten years ago returning from my second deployment to Iraq, I faced a similar dilemna. I had approx. $20k to spend on a car of my dreams (remember, MY dreams) and found two that fit nicely. One was a 1992 Lotus Esprit Turbo which was epically beautiful, near exact to the Pretty Woman car that Richard Gere couldnt drive, presumably because the hamsters were giving him trouble, and was exactly like the poster I had in my room. But it’s an exotic. A one off. Not something I’m likely to drive to work everyday. And I was at Fort Riley, Kansas; two and half hours from the nearest mechanic who had a clue of what a Lotus was, not to mention the weather would not be condusive to such a lovely body. Add to it miles of droning, straight line highways and you get my point.

        The other was a rare ’95 Mustang Cobra 5.0L Hardtop Convertible only offered for one year and had 15k miles on it. Not only was it cheaper to buy by nearly $5k, it was much more attuned to the environment I was in. It loved running on 87 octane and could deliver nearly 25 mpg on the highway, which in the middle of Kansas is pretty much the norm. It was easy to maintain. Any Ford mechanic worth his/her salt could fix it. Parts are a treat and modifying the Cobra, a dream. In short, a much better purchase.

        Did I take the Cobra through it’s gears between miles of empty Kansas farmland? You bet. It loved it. Would do it all day. It was not something I did everyday and even when I did, I was careful not to be grossly stupid about it. Speeding tickets were not uncommon, but the policeman would almost always smile and ask me about her and what I was running under the hood. That would have never happened in the Lotus.

        Oh my. I did kinda ramble there. Must be getting to that age where stories continue on without much attachment to the actual conversation. :)

    • 0 avatar
      hgrunt

      I know two grandmothers who bought AMG Benzes because they were the most expensive versions of those models.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    So, if I get this right, your original question was why is is that people who buy performance cars tend to by the higher performance trim level of said performance car. The answer seems self evident.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Most people are badge whores simple as that, you want the status, the newest so you can show it off, I get wanting a nice car, I do not get having a top of the line 911 and living in NYC, but hey I drive a diesel wagon so what do I know. My car does what I need it to do in the best way for me, a 911 would not work for me so there fore I do not own one.

  • avatar
    pbr

    I don’t care why anyone would buy a performance spec car, bicycle or motorcycle they have no intention of driving or riding anywhere near its limits, but my business model depends upon them doing it (so i can buy later, used, and wring within an inch of its life).

  • avatar
    dal20402

    “Are we really saying that the sound of the engine is worth the extra loot?”

    In some cases, yes, and that’s one of them, because the Coyote is one of the most magnificent-sounding engines on sale today at any price. Another one is the 335i vs. 328i example you mentioned. I will pay extra not to hear a four-cylinder sound, especially in a premium car.

    You also don’t need to be a 10/10ths track driver to appreciate the performance difference in many cases, particularly when the performance variant is under 400 hp or so. Both this article and the last one set up a false dichotomy of extremes: either you track your car, or you are a 65-year-old Corvette owner who putters around neighborhood streets at 25 mph. There is a lot of fun to be had driving cars at 6/10 or 7/10 on the type of public roadways where it is safe to do so. At that level, you absolutely will notice the acceleration difference between a Mustang V6 and a Mustang GT, and you will notice the handling difference between a Mustang with Performance Package and one without.

    • 0 avatar

      As somebody who daily drives a Boss 302, I have to disagree. The V6 has just as much usable speed and acceleration on the street as the Boss does. If I didn’t track my Boss, it would have been a waste of money.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Maybe it’s different with a stick, but I’ve rented lots of V6 Mustang automatics and, on rural hilly roads, found myself wanting more power.

        I agree the difference between your Boss and a GT would have been a waste if you didn’t track it. I’m not so sure about the difference between a GT and a V6.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Well, it wouldn’t have been a waste of money because the values are crazy high right now. They are going for more than a 2015+ V6 Mustang.

        I get what you are saying though. You would have never been able to use the extra money you spent just driving around the suburbs.

      • 0 avatar
        bludragon

        OK, I get your point. There is a psychological effect due to the known (or perceived potential), but this is reinforced when you put your foot down in a GT compared to a V6. The noise and the tq at lower rpm give you more in the V8.

        A GT driven at the same low skill level as the V6 will feel faster, and be a little faster than the V6 on the street. Now a skilled driver could drive that V6 much quicker than most folks will ever drive their GT, but then you are no longer comparing like experience for like.

    • 0 avatar
      ctg

      I have to agree with Dal; there’s a big difference between a Mustang V6 and a GT on the street. In-gear acceleration, in particular. Floor each of them in 3rd gear and the difference is dramatic.

      Dal’s also right that for most cars, once you get above ~400hp, any marginal increase in HP is pretty meaningless on the street (unless you’re a dedicated street racer). So Bark’s Corvette example is spot on. I’ve driven a lot of miles in a friend’s C6 (non-Z06), and even that is a little much on the street.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      If anyone wants better engine sounds all it takes is an MP3 “sound enhancer”.

  • avatar
    suspekt

    “So, why does anybody buy a car with a bigger engine? Or stiffer suspension? Or wider tires? Because they like the way it makes them feel — both about their buying decisions and their public image. And, by the way, there’s absolutely, positively, nothing wrong with that”

    I will answer sincerely.

    I believe most buy the up-level model out of ego. I really believe this. They need to know they have the “best” version of whatever product it is. Regardless of functional practical benefit.

    For me however,
    I will always pay more for incremental pleasure. Incremental pleasure.
    So, when it comes to the Mustang debate.
    I WILL PAY MORE for the V8 soundtrack. It might be the only reason I would even consider that car. Knowing I can uncork it and revel in the hypnotic siren that is the V8.

    I would also add that I deeply value true body modifications. For example, the new Mustang GT350 has a truly bespoke body. To me, that alone is worth $15,000. The same is true of the Z06. In the C6 and C7, you get genuine wide-body bodywork. I love it. I would pay for it…. used :-)

    • 0 avatar
      suspekt

      About the bespoke body thing:

      The Germans get this right. They widen the AMG/M cars. They give you something more than just the engine. I think this is huge.

      The new CTS-V and ATS-V do not give this to you as far as I can tell in pictures. The rear fenders on both seem to be stock width. Compare a new M3 to a 335i and the difference in width is mesmerizing. The body changes on the M3/M4 are 50% of the reason I would want those cars because they genuinely LOOK BETTER. The artform is more pleasing to the eye.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      There is something to be said for the best or flagship model and/or trim. A psychological pleasure of asking yourself, “Is there a model above this one?” and then hearing a NO.

  • avatar
    LS1Fan

    “…then why the heck do so many people buy the performance variants of cars?”

    Because we Americans are a status based culture when it comes to cars. When I visited my working class friend in Hollywood last year, I looked at his parking lot to find brand new BMWs and Benzes .The car/lease payments had to be at least 80% of the rent if not more.

    In that area,traffic is so bad you aren’t driving more then 10 MPH if the suns up.
    What’s the point of piloting an LP640 in gridlock unless ,like the avian peacock, it is to send a social signal?

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      “Because we Americans are a status based culture when it comes to cars.”

      Again…Bad Americans?
      Look…from the earliest of our monkey days we have been primping ourselves and trying to be the big cat and get the most of the opposite gender to admire/desire us.
      Every culture has this attitude. It ain’t good and it ain’t bad.
      It simply is.
      Unless you are some anti social, unwashed mountain man or some meditating mountain guru…you care about status and how you are perceived by your fellow monkeys.
      Please.
      This is why God invented the reflecting mirror.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      And its why Mercedes is putting that three pointed star right on the grille anymore, obnoxiously, rather than the little subtle hood ornament of years gone past.

      Especially on the ‘cheap’ models. The ones that are marketed to the badge-whores who’s bank account really says “Chevrolet”.

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      “What’s the point of piloting an LP640 in gridlock unless ,like the avian peacock, it is to send a social signal?”

      But plenty of people are not commuting at 10mph. I’d still rather drive that LP640 and occasionally hit gridlock any day of the week, which for me would be never on my daily commute.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Wow.
    I am having a hard time today following what is going on. Maybe I ate to much to late into the night.

    But, Mr. M., are you trying to say expert drivers should be the say in cars or thay should not?
    I get different directions from you.
    At first you gently say “many of you suggested that whether or not a person is a good driver should not be a qualifying characteristic of an automotive journalist, because you aren’t particularly interested in ever driving your car in a way that would test its limits.

    Okay. Hey, it’s your opinion, and I respect you for it. I couldn’t agree with it less, but I still respect it.”

    So you are agin it.

    Then you end up with “So, why does anybody buy a car with a bigger engine? Or stiffer suspension? Or wider tires? Because they like the way it makes them feel — both about their buying decisions and their public image. And, by the way, there’s absolutely, positively, nothing wrong with that.”

    So now maybe you are OK with it….

    IS it OK if I buy something even though the experts suggest it is not the car for me?
    Or shouldn’t I?

  • avatar
    FractureCritical

    my previous car was an A4. My current car is an S4 from the same (current) generation. Yes it costs more, yes it is far more useful around town and on the highway to have power pretty much everywhere the tach needle points. No it is not needed. My wife actually refers to the car as “irresponsibly powerful”.

    As far as need vs. want is concerned, anyone here daily driving more than a Kia Rio or Honda fit (used, of course) is a brand whore and stupid, as based on the values presented.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick_515

      With the exeption of 2009, no A4 of the current generation ever had v6. your s4 has a supercharged v6. the difference between that and a turbo 4 should be fairly dramatic. it would be much more interesting if you felt you needed the supercharger if you had the regular v6. I have the previous 3.1 v6 and it’s great. not superb… the DI nature of power, unlike turbo torque, does not push you to the seat, and you do need to wind it up a bit. but if you plan for it just about 3 seconds and manage your shifts, you pass cars three at a time. fifty to triple digits just like that.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    To hell with the “experts”.

    I have to face my “hording” middle class personality.
    I got my 2010 Ecoboosted MKS because I wanted quantity and price.
    I wanted the MOST for the LEAST.

    OK. I get it. The “experts” here and everywhere stand on their soapboxes and call me an idiot because I could have spent 20K more and gotten better performance and status…maybe.

    I am scolded by the “experts” because the TRUE value of my car was horrible…then again this so called true value ONLY means anything IF I get rid of my car within 3 to 4 years. IF you like to keep your cars a long, long time like I do…the so called true value measure used by “the experts” is absolutely meaningless.

    Experts…Bah! Humbug!

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      There are very few better ways to make time in a hurry, particularly on a long freeway, than an MKS Ecoboost.

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      Memorably test drove a Taurus SHO, which as we all know is the same car with a lesser interior, and while I found the packaging suspect (cramped interior for a huge car, and the sides are too dang high – not enough glass), the thing ran like a son-of-a-bitch. Clawed the road like no car I’ve ever driven, and the first where I was absolutely certain I couldn’t find anyplace to safely take it to it’s limits. I know why you enjoy your MKS.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        Ya..I keep hearing about the narrowness interior.
        I don’t get it since most of the cars I test drove never seemed as large to me. I test drove em all…and have often since. I like to rest drive cars even if I am never gonna buy. Test drove again the T6 CX60. Love that supercharge/turbo.

        Anyway…as to the Ford…what car today isn’t taking away vision!!!? I test drove the latest Nissan Murano. JeeeesuHChrist! They had better come out with their super digital cameras that they promise will soon take the place of mirrors. And that all around camera system is almost a must get. It should be standard.

        Very few cars allow for great vision these days. They are all just door wedges. Gotta thank the Gov regs for this.

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    Veblen goods:

    In economics, Veblen goods are types of material commodities for which the demand is proportional to its high price, which is an apparent contradiction of the law of demand; Veblen goods also are commodities that function as positional goods. Veblen goods are types of luxury goods, such as expensive wines, jewelry, fashion-designer handbags, and luxury cars, which are in demand because of the high prices asked for them. The high price makes the goods desirable as symbols of the buyer’s high social-status, by way of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure; conversely, a decrease of the prices of Veblen goods would decrease demand for the products.[1]

    In an economy, the consumption of Veblen goods is a function of the Veblen effect (goods desired for being over-priced) that is named after the American economist Thorstein Veblen, who first identified conspicuous consumption as a mode of status-seeking in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) in the late 19th century.[2]

  • avatar
    David Walton

    It is always relative…

    To me a GT3 seems “worth” the outlay, hence my decision to buy one to replace the one I lost in May.

    Others are willing to pay $50k+ more for a GT3 RS that has a bigger wing and a few vents and 25 more bhp.

    Others are willing to pay $200k+ more for a 458 Speciale that embodies the same type of ethos. Admittedly it’s a lot quicker – 598 bhp – but still.

    One day I hope to climb the ladder to the point that a 458 Speciale (or equivalently positioned marketplace competitor) looks like a good value next to a LaFerrari, or similar.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Your utilitarian vision of car ownership isn’t how this works. If all consumers wanted was capacity to go from A to B, or haul X amount of people or cargo or even go fast then no one in their right mind would pay more than $20K for a vehicle.

    But that’s not how cars work. When people buy expensive cars its about the way they make them feel. Sometimes those feelings are derived from how the car looks, drives, sounds or sometimes just its performance potential. That’s why buyers pay for towing, off-roading or track performance they don’t actually need but it feels good to have them.

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      This holds for nearly *all* car purchases. I have a friend who maintained that the ability to haul 4×8 sheets of plywood or drywall was an absolute must for his next vehicle. He admitted that he *might* need that capability once a year and that he could borrow or rent a vehicle to accomplish it. I hounded him into admitting that this criteria was a “want”.

      People want irrational things from their cars. That is the way it is – it has never been any other way.

      • 0 avatar
        MeJ

        The reason we spend extra for more performance, better packages etc., is because cars to some people, (like readers here I assume)are emotional purchases. It’s like being in love, you’re bound to do stupid irrational things to get that feeling that comes from buying a car you really want.
        If I’m sitting in my garage drinking a beer and staring at the monster tires and massive wicker-bill spoiler of a new Zo6 (in white with black trim and tires, of course) and smiling, then I don’t regret the money spent at all.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    This editorial was a real mess.

    I agree that there is a point of diminishing returns but there is a clear distinction, even just commuting, between something like a 328i and a 335i. Easier, more confident merging and passing? Better performance with passengers? Much better engine note? Never mind the enthusiast angles… better base to build on with mods, etc. etc.

    Editorial seems to be based on the premise that the only place a car can be enjoyed, and where anyone can gain any legitimacy in discussing cars, is from extensive time on the track… and that’s not only not true, but also highly ridiculous.

    • 0 avatar
      Dingleberrypiez_Returns

      Completely agree. So many holes; the whole article is a thinly veiled excuse to judge people on their car buying choices. Honestly, these types of articles on TTAC are really tiresome. But they get many views and comments, so I guess it’s what people want.

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        I’m not that aggravated by the article. However, there’s a hugedifference between someone not knowing how to drive and someone not being a track rat. Of course it all depends on the car. A track special car should be reviewed by a track driver, but I simply don’t care about randy pobsts’ opinion on even a hot version of a commuter like the focus st. That car should be reviewed by a rhythm driver who practices expert rev matching techniques. At least until the article is specifically about turning an st into a track car.

        A good driver can be both of the things mentioned above, but people get so arrogant about their chosen driving methods that I find it to be rarely the case. Some of the worst drivers I know have logged lots of track time.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    “you see a particularly beautiful Mercedes-Benz, what do your eyes immediately search for? Or if you see a lovely example of a 3-Series, what’s the first thing you look at?”

    The driver then the badge, the bigger the badge the worse the driver. Most BimBenz’s I encounter are driven by granny or people with no attention spans.

  • avatar
    nels0300

    Well, count me as one who paid extra for a V6 over an I4 because of the way it sounds. The V6 is just more refined. 14 second 1/4 @ 100 mph is icing on the cake.

    Nothing to do with a badge or prestige because it’s a freaking Camry and there is no “V6” badge to be found anywhere on the car.

    Nobody knows it’s a V6 and nobody knows that it hauls ass.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      “Nobody knows it’s a V6”

      Except for those few obsessives, probably all represented on this or other similar sites, who know what those dual tips mean.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      There is a V6 badge on the SE’s

      But you are right…. Camrys are basically the opposite of prestige; the only reason to get a V6 Camry is purely for the added performance.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        The last couple generations haven’t had any V6 badge, just twin exhaust tips.

        • 0 avatar
          nels0300

          Yup, I have an SE V6 and there’s no badge and I’ve owned it since new. The only indicator is the exhaust tips.

          My car guy friend didn’t even know because nowadays, even 4 cylinder Altima, Accord, Fusion, etc. have twin exhaust tips.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I don’t like that the dual tips are now available on 4-cyl Accord Sport trims.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            That’s consistent with Honda practice all the way back to 1985 (with the first Accord SEi). Most generations of the Accord have had one or more trim levels where the four got a bit of extra oomph through better breathing, and those trim levels usually had bigger or more exhaust tips.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Ahh, did not know this! Thanks. I guess just the only ones I was noticing were the V6 duals.

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        Not to dispute the added performance (and there’s no denying it is a rather nice engine), but I’d be interested to see how many people who buy V6 Camrys actually use the added performance (they’re probably all represented here), and how many just won’t accept that a four cylinder is perfectly adequate for their purpose of accelerating slower than a smart trying to haul a horse trailer.

        • 0 avatar
          Dan

          I’ve always bought the big engine and then driven at 3/10 with it 99% of the time.

          Getting the 150ish horsepower that I want quietly and effortlessly without stepping on it hard is using the performance to me. Nothing says cheap in my book like a shift-happy buzzing four cylinder.

    • 0 avatar
      Maxb49

      “Nobody knows it’s a V6 and nobody knows that it hauls ass.”

      Your car doesn’t haul ass.

  • avatar
    tbp0701

    I think the answers here are probably more obvious than we really want them to be. It is much about image and status as perceived value, and it is likely more about those than any more enigmatic reasons. I also think the perceived value is helped as many people don’t want to do much research and are very susceptible to marketing, as Nike proves very well (and marketers have become very good at figuring out what works, especially for the mass populace).

    For instance, I was shopping for a new car three years ago to replace my aging, quarter million mile Accord Coupe I test drove many cars, particularly sports sedans and luxury/near luxury vehicles, as now being a “middle-aged professional” (gack) I felt that was expected of me. But when I cross shopped BMWs with Mazdas, I was told I was doing it wrong, that I didn’t know what I wanted, etc. (I thought I was clear in what I wanted: a fun, reasonably practical, reliable car with a manual transmission for long daily commutes in a place with potholes and a lot of snow/rain).

    I wound up buying the least expensive car I tested, a Mazda 3. I like the car, but I get the sense that people think I must not be doing as well as I am, that I’m not properly attempting to display wealth, or something. I’m fine with that, although I do think of getting something like a Boxster or S2000 as a weekend car.

    And I can easily find my car amidst the mass of silverblack BMWAudis.
    And even the Ohio State Highway Patrol doesn’t often come after a middle-aged dude in a compact car. (Well, one did).
    And I wear SAS shoes.
    And I don’t have a Les Paul but own a ’95 Hamer Artist.

  • avatar
    Baldpeak

    Don’t quite agree with this. There is that wonderful quality that pneumatic tires have, where the cornering force increases with slip ratio, right up until you’re driving at 10/10ths. You can feel that slip ratio increase when you’re at maybe 7 or 8 tenths. So there’s something to be said for having a performance car even if you’re not absolutely flogging it. People like to push the car just a little bit and feel confident. Although granted, these car reviewers who only drive at 7 or 8 tenths really don’t have a valid opinion about how a car handles.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      “Although granted, these car reviewers who only drive at 7 or 8 tenths really don’t have a valid opinion about how a car handles.”

      You missed a few words — “at the limit.” A reviewer who drives a car at 8/10 can have a perfectly valid opinion about how the car handles at 8/10.

      Bark’s mistake, which I went on at length about in a comment to his previous post, is thinking that the only part of “handling” that matters is the car’s behavior at and over the limit of grip. There’s more to it.

  • avatar
    Chan

    Using this philosophy, there would only be 1 base trim and 1 top trim of each car model, since there would only be two types of buyers.

    Why does Ford even offer a Mustang GT when status seekers will automatically buy a Shelby GT500 with two loans?

    Why does Mercedes-Benz offer an S500/550 or even an S600, when status seekers can easily afford the AMG models?

    There are plenty of able buyers in each segment who are not interested in the top model (not the “status seeker” described here). I, for one, would choose a base Mustang GT just to get the requisite muscle car V8, and an S600 for the effortless V12.

  • avatar
    bubbajet

    You know, I was going to get all long-winded about the points made in the article but after a bit of cogitation (didn’t hurt myself!) I think I’ll just say that I agree with Mr. Bark. Mr. M?

    I’ve never tracked my car, but I think it would be fun to do so after some instruction and it’d make me a better driver to boot. I’ve never come close to the limits of my car, at least not intentionally. I have participated in a couple of desert traces on a motorcycle – not “competed” because I’m just not that good although I’m OK for the “over 40 never been a pro” group. But even there, I didn’t push the limits of the bike. High end (or even moderate-level) vehicles today are so capable I think it would be ludicrous to ever approach the limits on the street, and pretty foolish to make an attempt at pushing the limits on a track without some serious supervision and training. I’m happy tooling around in my 4-door Accord with an I-4 6MT, it’s fun to drive and feels like I’m hauling the mail…as long as I don’t look at the speedo.

    I had a Harley for a few years. It took me that long to figure out they’re selling the appearance of a lifestyle, not quality, modern engineering or speed. I just wanted a bike. But that lifestyle is what sells to the people that have spendin’ money. That’s what the upsell in cars is all about.

    I get a chuckle at the new Corvette owners; what was once a sports car for the common man is now a high dollar ride for the gray-haired guy headed to the boat/Harley/RV shop for more bling. As mentioned in the article it’s all about “what do you clean it with” and “how fast is it supposed to go?” And that’s fine. It’s their money and as long as they’re not being stupid on the road, it’s fine with me.

    Jeez. I got long-winded anyway.

  • avatar
    energetik9

    Look marketing is everything. No arguement at all.

    However, being a 911 driver, I will say that even though my daily commute does not exceed 40mph, there is a vast amount of pleasure from even the simplest drives in a high performance sports car. The way the car feels, working the engine (6MT), the way the car brakes, even cornering at 20mph feels special in the 911 versus my wife’s BMW or in our Honda SUV. I’m certainly not racing my car every day or jumping off every stop light, but even at 40mph, it’s still a blast to drive and even better when I take it out on a spirited weekend drive. In simple terms, it’s just fun, engaging and highly rewarding even at the speed limit and that’s the value to me.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    People buy cars like sailors deployed in the Western Pacific bought cameras and stereo equipment years ago. The comments back then were similar; “Yeah, man, 750 watts through a 16″ woofer and a butt-ton of mid-range with horn tweeters!” (they never used ’em at that level back in the 2-bedroom apartment in San Diego, if ever). Or, “It’s a Canon F-1 with a 250 frame back, motor drive and 6 lenses from 35mm to 250mm! It’s damn cool!” (used exclusively with a 55mm lens and never unpacking all the extras). Similar dynamic of “size-comparing” between guys discussing their fantastic purchases. Because, “‘Mericans!”.

  • avatar
    SomeGuy

    Some cars do force you to buy the higher trim levels to get the manual though. My G37S is an example. Only way to get the manual is to get the S with all the extra hardware (big brakes, LSD, etc.).

    I mean, I wanted all that anyways, but just as an example.

    Why did I want it though? I think it speaks to your article well. Ego stroking. I love looking at the multi-piston calipers when I walk to the car, I know I can out brake nearly every average car on the street, the top of 2nd gear will have me breaking nearly every speed limit there is in the US. Just knowing I have that capability is nice.

    • 0 avatar
      turf3

      There’s a model of car that comes with LSD?????

      Wow, I’ll really try to avoid driving anywhere near one of those!

      I cannot imagine driving under the influence of acid. Gives “road trip” a new meaning.

  • avatar
    Dan

    “Or if you see a lovely example of a 3-Series, what’s the first thing you look at? … You look for the badge.”

    No, you look at the badge first because you’re a literal badge whore. Outside of self absorbed BMW fandom, redundancy duly noted, nobody even knows what those badges mean which is to say that they mean nothing at all. I’m enough of a car enthusiast to read a website like this one and I can’t keep track of which BMW I’m supposed to be most envious of. You think the little blonde chick in the Daewoo Cruze parked next to you knows a 325 from a 328? Knows a clean ’05 from a ’15 for that matter?

    • 0 avatar
      Preludacris

      Agreed… ever since the badges stopped representing actual displacement it’s hard to know. If I wanted to take a stab at whether it’s a higher-end or cheaper BMW, I could just look at the wheels.

  • avatar
    Acd

    My 4 cylinder Z3 and 6 cylinder 1996 Mercedes SL320 both agree that smaller engine versions of a car can still be enjoyable to drive and can represent a good value.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I seem to be isolated from the vehicular posers you speak of. Performance variants get driven hard in my circle of friends. The C6 Z06 has been used more on the track than the street in the last couple years, but once broke an oil cooler line catching air off a set of railroad tracks. One B8 S4 has put up some impressive lap times for a stock sedan and done its fair share of barely-sane mountain road driving, while the other once spent ten minutes straight at its 158 mph rev limiter during a cop outrun. The G35S eats rear tires driving sideways and has scars on the passenger side wheels from a high speed spin off the track.

    No loud exhausts or suspension modifications necessary. These cars work great as is. I actually like to think they’re subtle compared to so many of the flashy and noisy vehicles out there. The last thing the owners want is any attention from the police.

  • avatar
    SayHiToYourMom

    “Why Does The Public Accept Car Reviews From People Who Can’t Drive?”

    Why does the public accept car reviews from people who can’t afford the cars they’re reviewing? I’m currently cross shopping an Audi S8 and a Porsche 911 Turbo. What percentage of reviewers can afford those cars? .001% even that?

    Why would I listen to reviewers who have no concept of the kind of money I’m trying to spend? It’s like listening to children talk about spending monopoly money. Furthermore, how many reviewers have the driving skill of your brother? None? The old men who work for the glossy mags certainly don’t.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    “Let’s be honest here — when you’re driving down the street, and you see a particularly beautiful Mercedes-Benz, what do your eyes immediately search for? Or if you see a lovely example of a 3-Series, what’s the first thing you look at?

    Think about your answer for a second while I elaborate.

    The V6 Mustang had (still has?) the reputation for being a “secretary’s car” for years.”

    1. To your point of what my eyes immediately look for? If it’s a Merc, Bimmer or Mustang, I look for visual ques of an AMG, M series, or SVT/ST/GT. You may not notice the subtle differences between a 5.0L GT and the V6 because these differences are academic or not important to you. To the enthusiast, they are quintescential. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the V-6, it just wouldnt be my choice if I had the means.

    2. The reputation of the Mustang as a Secretary car was the deliberate marketing campaign of Ford in the ’60s. At the time, women were flooding the job market and many were buying up VW Beetles and Chevy Corvairs. Ford recognized the niche and created a car to “premium” up their choice. It wasn’t until Dr. Shelby took over that the Mustang as we understand was born out.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    why the heck do so many people buy the performance variants of cars?

    Excuse me but isn’t the top selling car in Canada for the past 17 years the Honda Civic sedan. And in the USA the Toyota Camry.

    So what performance variant are these people buying???????

    And isn’t the top selling vehicle in North America the F-150? And not the Raptor edition.

    Sorry but then isn’t the entire premise is built of this posting is based on a fallacy?

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      Dupsies

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      Heh.. I just now watched an episode of Wolf Hall wherein Cromwell was yet again upbraided for being of humble origin and incapable of understanding the needs and motives of Princes.

      I think we’re guilty of the same ’cause I agree with you. So I don’t walk up to kids at play and announce “You’re not really Ironman”.

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    The reason that I bought a 2011 Lincoln MK Zephyr Hybrid over a Fusion is that it was in a better shape cosmetically (read no rust) for the same mileage and year and was only $1,500 more. But had features not available on Fusion at any price point (A/C seats, Xenon lights, better sound system). The only missing feature available as standard on a Ford Hybrid is power outlet.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “heck do so many people buy the performance variants of cars?”

    Appearances – they look good and offer bragging rights.

    “Why does BMW bother with a 335i when the 328i will do just fine on the daily commute to work?”

    Profits – they make more off the fancy pants versions.

    Perceived individuality matters. It worked on a Cartier-equipped Town Car versus a Signature. The little things like a flat hood ornament and different seat materials sold the buyer on the Ultra over the regular Park Avenue. The special wheel design and front clip got you into the Bravada over the Jimmy, even though it wasn’t worth it.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Also, the stupidity and looks-oriented nature of the casual consumer was demonstrated perfectly in the Altima Racecar Experience ad. I’m surprised you didn’t link it in your article!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCgibrhQvSw

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Hey look, almost the exact same article appeared on Jalopnik on 8/10.

    http://jalopnik.com/horsepower-as-a-status-symbol-and-why-slow-people-buy-1723079245

    Maybe Mark B. also goes by Raphael.

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