QOTD: Vibin'

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

I am a big believer that cars have a feel, based on their brand. Meaning that the way materials look, feel, and even smell vary from brand to brand.

In other words, I think if you blindfolded me and sat me in any Honda made within the past 20 years, for example, and then moved me into any Toyota from the last two decades, I'd probably guess which brand car I was in (not sure I'd get the model, though).

I don't think I'm special in this regard. I feel like anyone who has been in the industry long enough and is in different types of cars often enough could probably do this. So that would include salespeople, technicians, valets, and even people who frequently rent cars.

But maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am imagining this. So I ask you -- if you're often driving or riding in cars from various makes, do you think YOU could tell which was which if you were blindfolded? Could you tell by the material feel or how the cabin smells (assuming it still has the new-car smell)? If you weren't blindfolded, but all badging was removed, could you tell by sight?

Sound off below.

[Image: Mikbiz/Shutterstock.com]

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Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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5 of 17 comments
  • Mike-NB2 Mike-NB2 on Apr 21, 2023

    This isn't the case these days, but both the smell of the plastics and the sound of the doors closing in a VW up until the 1990s was distinctive and easily identified. I have to say that these are a fond memory of my childhood in the 1970s and may be part of the reason that I'm a VW customer to this day.

    • Parkave231 Parkave231 on Apr 21, 2023

      Same here -- growing up in the 80s, Cutlasses were everywhere, and I'll always recognize that smell. The fancy velour seat ones had a different smell from the regular vinyl ones. And the Cutlass smell was apparent in both the RWD G-bodies and the FWD Cutlass Cieras.

  • Bobbysirhan Bobbysirhan on Apr 21, 2023

    I've ridden and driven more brand-new cars in the past week than I probably did in the previous six months. I don't think they're as distinct as they once were. Many cars are such a mishmash of low-cost supplier garbage, internationally developed platforms shared by recently merged companies, awful automatic transmissions, characterless compliance engines, and anonymous touch screens; that I wouldn't be able to tell you the difference between riding in a low-end BMW, a high-end Nissan, a low-end Genesis, or a mid-sized VW with a blindfold on.

  • Keith Keith on Apr 21, 2023

    With modern cars, no. I kept thinking my Nissan Rouge rental was a Mitsubishi and i kept losing it in parking lots. Had several Acuras/Hondas in the 80s-90s. All had that distinct low seating positions and even the entry level engines had that glassy smooth sweet whine even near redline. They even had a distinct interior smell.

    Had several Lexus early 2000s LS 400 SC300 and LS 430. Great cars but steering and break pedal feel was like an old school Cadillac. Mushy mushy breaks but powerful for stopping. Bleed whole system on one and no improvement. I'd know both types blindfolded.

  • JMII JMII on Apr 21, 2023

    Like others I could do this for some vehicles but not all. Clutch feel and throttle tip in were good clues. Interior design since certain buttons and displays / gauges tend to be particular making brands easy to identify. For example Ford used blue and Nissan used orange, GM green, while VW used red. There is a general vibe and I bet I could guess a model based on its interior with greater then 50% accuracy. I've driven a decent number of rentals and while I couldn't tell by feel the look and layout tends to give it away. Driving feel (engine response, braking, suspension) is more difficult as that can vary widely between models from the same brand. I tend to buy used cars so the smell is all gone by the time I get them.

    What is intresting is how this whole system breaks down when one OEM rebrands another's. For example that silly Infiniti / Benz partnership that created a CUV that had ZERO in common with Infiniti's corporate look (both interior and exterior) since it was in fact a MB product. The new Supra has this problem too with way too much BMW vs Toyota inside.