Cars are like clothing. They make you feel a certain way when you are in them and convey an image to the world. To many, they are an extension of who you are—whether it’s fashionable or not. Driving a big truck or beat-up old car could be the equivalent to wearing sweat pants and T-shirt, whereas driving a fancy luxury vehicle feels like you should be wearing a tux or evening gown. Of course, people buy cars with function in mind, but we all like to look good while doing our chores.
Recently, I started the conscious exercise of considering how I feel when I’m driving each Consumer Reports test car. In my Walter Mitty psychological experiment, I take on a different personality, whether it’s confidence, a feeling of importance, or a bit of shame or embarrassment if I’m driving a gas-guzzling machine.
We recently tested luxury vehicles costing upwards of $50,000, plus two ultra-luxury vehicles that topped out at just over $90,000. As I got into this premium sedan, a feeling of confidence came over me. The ride was quite smooth, like I was gliding over the road. The seats cradled me in comfort. I felt very fancy—like a wealthy executive. This car definitely attracts attention. I noticed other drivers checking me out, probably to see who was driving such an expensive car. After a while I felt uneasy with my newfound status, interrupting my mobile method acting. No surprise the S-Class could call me out, since my normal commuting car is a low-profile, 10-year-old sedan.
When we tested pickup trucks, I received different stares from drivers. While driving the Toyota Tundra, other motorists weren’t checking me out the same way as when I drove the Mercedes. The curious looks revealed more confusion or possibly amusement. Perhaps I looked a little out of my element in the pickup. Drivers probably noticed my uneasiness maneuvering the monstrous truck. I felt like the towering Wizard of Oz looking over his subjects (only to find out in the end I wasn’t so big and powerful after all). I got a good laugh when I not-so gracefully had to get in and out in a skirt. In a time when there is so much talk about fuel efficiency, I was a bit uncomfortable commuting in a vehicle that wastes so much gas (especially since I clearly wasn’t using it for what it was made to do—haul stuff).
When I drove the Chrysler minivans recently, I felt an uncontrollable urge to yell “quiet down back there” even though there were no passengers with me. The “soccer mom” persona was overwhelming.
Whatever the model you drive, it conveys your personality and perhaps even shapes it. Cars also convey status, suggesting wealth, importance, or a practical nature. I’ll explore automotive status symbols in a future post, once I shake the budget-minded, active-lifestyle persona from the December-issue small SUVs test.