What Do Women Want in a Car? The (Automotive) People's Choice Awards: Women vs. The General Public


Do women prefer cars different from the general population?

In January, Good Housekeeping and J.D. Power and Associates published their 2004 "What Women Want" Automotive Satisfaction Study (called "WASS"). More than 40,000 women who had bought or leased a new vehicle responded to the survey, conducted for the sixth consecutive year. Respondents rated eight categories of vehicles based on size (midsize, full-size, etc.) according to their interior and exterior condition, durability, quietness, and safety, with one "winner" in each category.

Does this mean that some cars are "women's cars" and some are "men's cars"? Not necessarily, though occasionally you'll come across a car like the Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible, which is bought predominantly by women. But women and men do have different values when they shop for a car. The Good Housekeeping/J.D. Power study gathered enough information to make some across-the-board generalizations. Here are some highlights:

  • Safety is still the primary determinant of women's satisfaction across almost all vehicle categories. The only two car categories in which safety wasn't ranked number one were minivans ("quietness" topped the list) and entry-level SUVs (exterior appearance came in first). Women value safety more than men do (77.8 percent of women vs. 65.3 percent of men ranked safety ahead of styling).
  • If you thought that acceleration and handling weren't that important to women, you'd be mistaken. Believe it or not, vehicle performance was slightly more important to women than to men (92.6 percent of women vs. 91.3 percent of men).
  • Less surprisingly, women feel strongly about how their cars affect the environment. According to the survey, 82 percent of women think that environmentally friendly vehicles are "extremely important" or "somewhat important" compared to 72.3 percent of men.
  • Finally, the survey found that 59 percent of all car purchases are made or influenced by women. We tend to think that estimate is pretty low, as most other studies quote a much higher figure, some as high as 80 percent. When women do buy a car, truck or SUV, they are more likely to purchase an Asian-brand vehicle than men are.

After reading these results, we decided to compare the WASS category winners with the winners of our own 2004 Consumers' Most Wanted (CMW) survey, which had almost 89,000 responses. (Our general readership is 33-percent female.) We break down our categories by style, size and price (midsize SUV under $35,000 etc.). This makes direct comparison a bit tricky: We took the WAAS winner, found the CMW category that includes it, then put the winners side by side. All of these cars would make great used car choices. The real question is, what would your choice be?

Which Would You Pick?
WASS Edmunds CMW
Entry Midsize Car Sedan Under $25,000
Hyundai Sonata Honda Accord
Hyundai Sonata Honda Accord
The WASS choice, Hyundai Sonata, was bested by the Honda Accord in our CMW. The Accord won this category in 2003 as well, so it has proven itself as a crowd-pleaser. Ten other cars, including the runner-up Mazda 6, followed with fewer votes, and the Hyundai – well, the Hyundai didn't even make it into the running. It got fewer than 2 percent of the votes. Makes you wonder how the Hyundai got WASS' top honors.
WASS Edmunds CMW
Premium Midsize Sedan Under $35,000
Toyota Avalon Acura TL
Toyota Avalon Acura TL
The Toyota Avalon or the Acura TL…hmm… The Acura's improved styling for 2004 helped push it into Edmunds' top spot, closely followed by the Infiniti G35. No sign of the 2004 Avalon in our CMW, but the huge improvements Toyota made in its redesigned 2005 Avalon could easily change that.
WASS Edmunds CMW
Entry Luxury Midsize SUV Under $35,000
Lexus RX330 Infiniti FX35
Lexus RX 330 Infiniti FX35
We've seen a lot of Lexus RX 330s in carpool lanes, so we were not surprised that the women chose it for "Entry Luxury" vehicle. The RX 330 took third place in our CMW "Midsize SUV under $35,000" category. First place went to the sportier, more "in-your-face" Infiniti FX35. The Honda Pilot, which also got Honorable Mention in our Editors' Most Wanted, was second.
WASS Edmunds CMW
Premium Compact Wagon Under $25,000
Chrysler PT Cruiser Mazda 3
Chrysler PT Cruiser Mazda 3
OK, so the Chrysler PT Cruiser and the Mazda 3 hardly look like competitors; perhaps that's because Edmunds calls the Cruiser a wagon. In our CMW, the Cruiser came in sixth; we're betting women are somewhat more comfortable with its offbeat look than men are. A close second behind the Mazda 3 was the perennial Editors' Most Wanted, the Volkswagen Passat wagon.
WASS Edmunds CMW
SUV - Entry Compact SUV Under $25,000
Subaru Forester Honda CR-V
Subaru Forester Honda CR-V
The Subaru Forester versus the Honda CR-V...that's a tough one, which explains why the Forester came in second in Consumers' Most Wanted. This CMW category is populated with great vehicles like the Toyota RAV-4 and the Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute twins.
WASS Edmunds CMW
SUV Midsize Midsize SUV Under $35,000
Nissan Murano Infiniti FX 35
Nissan Murano Infiniti FX 35
The Nissan Murano and the Infiniti FX35 come from the same mothership, and have similar proportions. The Murano costs less, and has more subtle styling; whereas the Infiniti has sharper styling and edgier performance. The Murano came in sixth in CMW.
WASS Edmunds CMW
SUV - Full-Size Large SUV Under $45,000
Toyota Sequoia Cadillac SRX
Toyota Sequoia Cadillac SRX
The Toyota Sequoia took the women's top honors, and tied for second with the Nissan Armada in our CMW. Our first-place winner, the newly designed Cadillac SRX, came in with a whopping 31 percent of the consumer vote.
WASS Edmunds CMW
Compact Van Van
Toyota Sienna
Toyota Sienna
Along with the Honda Odyssey, the Toyota Sienna is a perennial favorite of consumers and editors alike. In 2004, the redesigned Sienna was the only car that came in first in both surveys, just beating out the aging Ody. We expect the redesigned 2005 Odyssey to give the Sienna run for its money, as both minivans now have split-folding, fold-flat third-row seats and eight-passenger capacity.

As manufacturers increasingly realize the power that women have over automotive decisions, we expect to see more studies like WASS. We also believe manufacturers will incorporate the results into the way they market to women and perhaps even into the way they design their cars.So we hope we've piqued your curiosity. Explore our CMW and Editors' Most Wanted, then make up your own mind. No matter how many consumers, journalists or other so-called experts contribute to surveys and automotive awards, in the end, it's all about what you want in a car.

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