The Faster Sex

Newsweek International, October 5, 2009 | Go to article overview

The Faster Sex


By Tara Weingarten

As a female automotive reviewer, I'm an oddity among my professional peers, the vast majority of whom are men. And though it may seem strange to a few antiquated minds that a woman would actually like cars, I have learned over the years that I am far from alone. To the Luddites, I say welcome to the 21st century, where many women love the give of the gas pedal beneath their foot, the feel of the leather-wrapped steering wheel in their hands, and the infinite promise of the open road. We thrill to a car's design. We even relish the sound of a deep, throaty, resonant exhaust note.

Sports-car makers know this. But that doesn't mean they're willing to cater expressly to women speedsters. They've adopted a slightly subtler approach. Consider Ferrari's new two-seat convertible, the California (ferrariusa.com). It's muscular without being muscle-bound, seductively curvy but not raunchy, a touch mean looking but short of menacing. It rockets from 0 to 100kph in a skin-tightening 3.7 seconds thanks to its V-8, 510hp engine. If Malibu Barbie bought a new car, it'd be the California. But tell that to Ferrari execs and they go nuts. It's not that Ferrari doesn't want to sell cars to women; of course it does. It's just that labeling any sports car a "chick ride" completely contradicts its raison d'etre.

I should be insulted, but I get it. "Sports cars are rough analogs to masculinity and virility," says Dan Neil, the Pulitzer Prize-winning automotive writer for the Los Angeles Times. "The whole point of a sports car is that it's overcompensating for the male equipment. So since the California is less masculine--meaning it's softer and prettier than other Ferraris--then the Ferrari folks have to consider that more women will spark to it."

Hard data shows that men and women are not so far apart in their car-coveting habits after all. Ed Kim, of the Los Angeles-based automotive-industry consulting group Auto Pacific, says that 41 percent of women who will buy a car this year will consider buying a sports or luxury car, versus 47 percent of men. To that end, Ferrari's Matteo Sardi acknowledges the California's feminine side: "Ferraris in general are still very much a male purchase, but the California, because of its easier ride and its gentler looks, may appeal more to women. …

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