Awhile back I wrote that I think the original Audi TT is one of the best looking cars ever, and one I'd love to own. Over at another automotive website a commenter had this to say about the TT:
I know this is a cult car, but to me it was always a chick mobile.
Ouch. Quite the insult there. I've owned my share of "chick" cars and I have to say they are some of the best vehicles I've driven. Let's start with the original "chick" car or "hairdresser's" car as they used to say, the Mazda Miata
Now to say it's image has been re-rehabilitated, especially on sites like these and autocross tracks everywhere would be an understatement. But when it came out most guys would not be caught dead in one of these. Yet we all know the specs now, front engine, rear wheel drive, a British-y roadster with Japanese reliability (in a time when Japanese reliability was ridiculously far ahead of American and European cars). Not only would most car guys not mind being seen it one, they are actively searching Craigslist RIGHT NOW for one. Preferably a '94 or later when the LSD became standard. Can any car with a limited slip differential really be a chick car?
After all it is the answer to everything ever.
The VW New Beetle
My first car was a Beetle. The air-cooled kind, with enough rust in the battery tray area (under the rear seat) you could see the asphalt below. I was really, really excited about the New Beetle when it came out. Yet it quickly established itself as only a car for girls due to a multitude of factors: the two point slow base engine, the fact that a Mk4 Jetta is the car that every girl in high school drove, the fact that it's a less functional Golf....but the one thing that really cemented its reputation: the flower vase.
I've never driven a base New Beetle, but my mother owned a Turbo S like the one pictured. It had a 180 hp engine and a six speed manual. Basically it was a slightly better than base TT. It was also a blast to drive (and my first introduction to the phenomenon known as "torque steer"). Did it have a flower vase? Yep, with a ridiculous plastic faux-titanium ring around it. You could get a replacement vase for a base New Beetle from VW for $3 for the standard version or $27(!) for the Turbo S version.
I also drove a standard turbo (150hp, 5 speed) and it was, well, not bad. This one was a neon green color that my girlfriend at the time had named "Cricket", stuck a spoiler on the back (ugh), and put the word "TURBO" on the trunk. It also smelled intensely of melted crayons.
So yeah, so far I bet you are thinking, two New Beetles, two women owner's. Clearly a chick car. But wait! My friend who works as a mechanic at a VW dealership owns a diesel New Beetle with a manual (he also owns a '94 Miata, remarkably). It gets at least 45 mpg and makes that distinctive clatter that only a diesel engine can manage. It's his daily driver. Let me repeat that: he owns a Miata and his daily driver is a New Beetle.
I'm clearly a fan of MINI (you can tell by the fact I capitalize all the letters in MINI). My avatar is taken from a MINI ad campaign promoting manual transmissions. I traded in an e90 BMW for a MINI Clubman and have no regrets. I will defend the center speedometer til you give up (you don't actually use that speedo, you use the digital one that's incorporated into the tach RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU). Yet when my fiancee tells people at her work that I drive a MINI they inevitably say 'Isn't that a girl's car?' Ok, maybe a Countryman is, I have no defense for that one. Except maybe like the delusional Porsche fans who believe that all that money they are racking in on SUVs will go towards building a sub-Boxster.
But the MINI Cooper hardtop and Clubman? I don't really feel I have to defend them. No, they are not as MINI as the original, they have safety features and brakes that work. They have a silly "sport" button that artificially tightens up the steering. And, according to Consumer Reports, they are the least reliable brand on the market today.
Yet they are great to drive. You hear the cliched phrase "drives like it's on rails"? That's a MINI. You want a car that's fun to drive and still gets 35 mpg? MINI. You want your child to have his own door but not be able to open it unless the passenger door is open first? MINI. Oh and hey, they even advertise the benefits of driving a manual!
What about you? Do you feel any car has been unfairly maligned as a chick car? Want to stick up for the Fiat 500? The aforementioned Mk4 Jetta? Mercedes SLK? Any Acura SUV?
This is the final post in my self-declared "Manual Week" You can find the others here: