Do you care what your car choice says about you?

Should we care what other people think about our choices? Let's use cars as an example.

On one hand, we should all choose the car/clothes/hobbies we want and not care what anyone thinks.

On the other, we need to accept that our choices will be judged and those judgements, warranted or not, can impact our relationships, careers and well-being.

It’s logic vs. emotion and he who fights with logic rarely wins. (He says, logically.)

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the past couple of weeks. Specifically, what will my choice of car say about me? And not just the choice itself, but what does how I make that choice say about me? Or does it matter?

I thought it’d be interesting to run through my shortlist using that lens. It could not only help me decide, but maybe give me a better glimpse into how I think about myself, and how I think about how others think of me. And it’s an excuse to talk about cars more.

Sounds like a worthwhile exercise, so here we go:

The safe / easy / obvious choice — Volkswagen Golf

2016-ish VW Golf. Everything a man needs to blend in.
2016-ish VW Golf. Everything a man needs to blend in.

Let’s not waste time here, a Golf is the car I should buy. It ticks every box. Manual transmission, hatchback, quality materials, city-sized with just enough cargo space, priced well in Canada, nearby dealers with excellent reviews. The list goes on and on. I even have the choice, if I want something a little more fun, to get the GTI version.

So many pros, no cons. Except one – it doesn’t grab me by my man bits.

It doesn’t excite me. I can’t picture myself saying, “Yes! I can’t wait to drive my Golf today!” Even the GTI, a car I would’ve killed a man to have in my early 20s, doesn’t do much for me these days.

And that might be not be a big deal if I needed a car for transportation. But I don’t really need one. I want one. And I want one that causes a little twitch in my trousers.

The brand loyalist choice — Volvo C30

2011 Volvo C30 - Has the best ass of the bunch for sure.
2011 Volvo C30 – Has the best ass of the bunch for sure.

Of the car marques I’ve owned: there’s one I’m indifferent towards — Toyota; there’s one that turned me off completely — Mazda; and two that have inspired some sort of loyalty — Mini and Volvo.

Brand loyalty is something I used to think was foolish. However I now think it’s a very useful tool in the push towards a less stressful life. Choices are stressful. Removing choice frees your mind. If you decided on a car brand 20 years ago, you just go get their latest offering. Easy. (Unless you picked Saab. Sorry ‘bout that.)

I kinda like the idea of being a Volvo guy. He’s kinda boring, obsessed with safety, somewhat-fancy without the pretentiousness of a BMW guy. Unfortunately, Volvo doesn’t sell manual transmissions or hatchbacks in Canada anymore.

The C30 of a few years back, then, is a nice mix of what I like in a car with what I like in a marque. It’s not a wheel-squealer; it’s a gentleman’s 2-door. (Or gentlewoman, as I believe their demo skewed a little.)

Solid choice, but maybe a little too impractical. It’s surprisingly small for a hatchback and has a small opening. I like the idea of loading up my car with bikes or chairs or boxes of antlers and the C30 is a little weak in that department. It’s also a little too familiar. Hard to explain, but I wanted this car a lot in my previous car-driving life and I don’t want to be stuck back there mentally. It hard to describe that feeling. I guess it lacks a “freshness” to me.

Still. Dat ass.

The old man choice — Volvo V50 or Golf Sportwagon

2010 Volvo V50 - The perfect car for my ... growing family?
2010 Volvo V50 – The perfect car for my … growing family?
2016 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon - There's no good reason for me to own one of these.
2016 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon – There’s no good reason for me to own one of these.

I love the idea of a wagon. It’s such a responsible old-man choice. Traditional wagons are far too big for me, though there are a couple small wagons, namely an extended Golf and the Volvo V50.

I definitely play the part of the old man sometimes, and I’d be all too ready to play into that role with a wagon. A wagon is practical and dull. Just like I want to be. A wagon is something you buy and run for 15 years until it falls apart because you’re too cheap to replace it. Something you drive wearing a really ugly sweater and boots that have seen a few too many seasons.

(It just occurs to me that that sorta describes my father in his purple Ford Escort wagon. I guess we all turn into our parents.)

I could be that guy in 10 years. For now, I could use a wagon for bike trips and road trips. I could even get 4 people in there with plenty of room for our luggage. I’d have to make 2 more friends, but that seems doable.

Everyone loves a man with ample storage space.

The Volvo V50 T5 AWD with a manual transmission would probably be outside my apartment right now if they didn’t stop making them 8 years ago. But they did. So I gave up on the Volvo wagon dream because I didn’t want an old Volvo again.

I moved on to the not-as-cool-to-me-but-still-a-small-wagon Golf Sportwagon.

The Sportwagon stayed at the top of the list for quite a while but then, while using a car-share to run some errands, I got stuck in a parking lot in a tiny Toyota Yaris. Suddenly the “small for the city” became really important and I’m not sure I should get anything long unless I reeeeeally want/need it.

A wagon guy? Maybe. I could be that guy. But maybe I’m not there yet.

Let the 20-year-old inside me decide — Honda Element

2008-ish Honda Element. Looks just like the cars I designed as a kindergartener.
2008-ish Honda Element. Looks just like the cars I designed as a kindergartener.

In 2003, Honda released a strange small SUV thing called the Element. It was weird looking, the sunroof was over the trunk, it was cheap-ish, and it came with a manual. I loved it.

Not being a particularly adventurous outdoors-y fellow, I was not the target for this thing with its easy-wash interior and flexible seat arrangement. Nor was I part of the group who actually bought it – parents who liked that they could hose their kids’ vomit off the floor. Yet for some reason, it stirred something inside me.

How did this slip past the Honda execs? It was like they were trying to make something for the youths, but being old men had no idea how, so they guessed and accidentally made something interesting. It’s basically a Pontiac Aztek done properly.

I have no issue with owning an SUV. I just like driving, I don’t necessarily like driving fast or aggressively.

That said, there’s only one compelling reason for me to get one of these right now — it’s the last chance I’ll ever have. They stopped making manual transmission Elements 8 years ago. Luckily, unlike Volvos, buying an 8-year-old Honda is completely reasonable.

I could get one of these and start doing all sorts of adventure sports. Why not? I mean, I don’t know how to swim so surfboard-transport is not exactly top of the list. But I can learn.

A modern-day WTF SUV — Jeep Renegade

2016 Jeep Renegade in Jungle Green. There aren't enough bright green cars in the world.
2016 Jeep Renegade in Jungle Green. There aren’t enough green cars these days.

When my brother first suggested I get a new Jeep, I scoffed. Anything American is a hard pass. But then he said it again and I was pretty open minded that night so I took a look.

This thing is … weird! Look at that color!

I’ve been saying for years that cars are far too boring. Apparently someone was listening because, well, whomever was green-lighting ideas for this thing had more than a few screws missing. And I love it.

Where else would you get mud splashes for a tachometer redline, or a yeti walking around your windows.

If nothing else, it’s fun. Maybe I could be a Jeep guy. I started researching off-road trails.

“Still driving that weird green box?” someone might say to me.

“Yep. Love the snot box,” I could reply.

I can see it. It really grabbed my imagination. A Chrysler-made serious contender. I couldn’t believe it, especially after my raging hate-on for the 300 a couple weeks back.

The drawbacks are price, quality and power. It’s too expensive when spec’ed properly ($23,000 doesn’t even get you A/C and the green one is closer to $35,000), it’s vastly under-powered with the least power of this entire list, and it will probably fall apart. Oh and the resale value will be horrid.

Still. It’s weird. It’s the colour of boogers. And I dig it.

A touch of class but only a touch — Audi A3 Hatch

2012 Audi A3 - Definitely not inspired by the Protege5.
2012 Audi A3 – Definitely not inspired by the Protege5.

The new A3 is a sedan. I have no love for a sedan. A 4-year-old A3 however is like a Golf plus a little extra everywhere. A little more space, a little more power, a few more features, a bigger sunroof. And also a little more interesting to me.

But who drives an A3? Used it almost makes sense, but new? Why would you pay so much more than a Golf for only a little extra? It’s one of those cars you want to drive around with a big sign on it that says, “I didn’t buy this new!!”

You’re certainly not paying more for the looks. It’s average looking for your average joe but to me it’s worse — it looks like my very first car, a Protege5. I loved the Protege5 at the time because it was my first new car but looking back? What an uninspiring hatebox of misery.

The Mazda Protege5. I could've done worse I suppose.
The Mazda Protege5. I could’ve done worse I suppose.

So I guess I’d be getting an A3 because of what it is in spite of what it says about me. That is, it has the right mix of power, comfort and cargo space. Who cares if it makes me look boring and financially foolish.

But is that how I want to make my decision? Based on what’s best for me? If I did that, I’d be eating broccoli everyday and be married and listen to classical music.

Best part of the A3: traditional door handles. Call me old school, but I don’t like the grab-handles that have become the standard. I like the feel and look of the flat pull-up ones. That feature alone is enough to keep it in serious contention. Seriously.

Getting back together with the ex — Mini Cooper S

2013-2016 Mini Cooper S. Even more fun and sexy than I remember.
2016 Mini Cooper S. Even more fun and sexy than I remember.

When I got my Mini 10 years ago, I wanted a very specific one: an S in dark blue with white accents, a multicolour interior, upgraded sound system and a panoramic sunroof.

With Mini’s mass-customization manufacturing, you can actually order whatever you want. There are tons and tons of options. Problem was – I couldn’t afford any of them.

The best I could do at the time was a base model. No S power, no sunroof, no white accents. I still liked the one I got, but often I wished I was able to get one built just-for-me, and not one that was a good-deal-because-it-was-on-the-lot.

So maybe I want to go back-in-time and take a mulligan.

There’s a new Mini version out and this time I could get exactly the car I want. I went to the Mini dealer and sat in the closest they had. I tried to feel it. I was hit with nostalgic waves. It was somewhat strangely emotional. I was impressed that a car could make me feel that. 

Then I remembered why, after I broke things off with my first Mini, I said I wouldn’t get one again. It’s too stiff and too upright. It’s too much the driver’s car. I want more daily comfort.

I may be a small guy, but I’m not a Mini guy. Especially not an S guy. The first car to make me feel a real emotion also reminded me why I don’t want to feel that again … or maybe I do. Maybe it’ll be okay this time around.

Very much the ex.

The unexpected choice — Volkswagen Beetle

2016 Volkswagen Beetle - Who invited you to the party?
2016 Volkswagen Beetle – Who invited you to the party?

Last on this list, because it was the last one for me to even consider, is the Beetle.

The New Beetle that came out in 2000-ish had a flower vase on the dash. It was, even moreso than the Mini, a chick car.

Worse, it was, according to every review, a terrible car to drive. Everything I read said to keep on walking. I think I considered one briefly but only in the way I once considered a Mustang. “Oh, that’d be cool. Wait, no, no it wouldn’t be.”

But that was 16 years ago. And there is a new Beetle, no longer called the New Beetle and just called the Beetle. Because marketing.

By happenstance, I came across one of these lowercase-n new Beetles. They have been completely redesigned to be … better and I was stunned. Still funky, but less girly, better to drive, nicer inside and out, and with more cargo space.

You wouldn’t think it, but it has more cargo space than the Volvo C30. In a Beetle??

I sat in one and I expected it to feel like a van, as I had always heard the last gen Beetles did. Well, it wasn’t that. It felt more like I was in an Audi TT’s fun younger sibling.

It’s in no way a performance car though so perhaps a better way to think of it is like a weird Golf. A Golf who quit his job as an accountant and spent a year backpacking across Asia before opening a noodle shop in Perth. He may be a little less useful to you now, sure, but he’s a hell of a lot more interesting to talk to.

But could I really be a guy who drives a Beetle? Can I really say, “I drive a Beetle” with a straight face? Will any woman ever date me again?

Choosing the Beetle is then, like the A3, picking the car because of what it is and not what it says about me. Yet unlike the A3, choosing the Beetle is because of how it makes me feel, not how the numbers stack up. If I only looked at the numbers then I’d get the Golf anyway.

But as I said, the Golf doesn’t get me excited. The list of things about the Beetle that excite me? It’s a mile and a half long. And there’s only one thing I don’t like about it – it’s a Beetle.

And with a back seat so small, at least I wouldn’t have to make more friends.

What will I choose and does it matter?

Perhaps the most interesting point of all of this is that I could pick any of these and be happy. There are reasons to pick any of them and I know my best bet would be to choose by dice roll and move on to the important business of getting to know whatever number comes up.

And whichever I get, I’m sure I’ll justify my “choice” with the points listed above. But in reality, it’ll be a matter of circumstance. Either I find a good deal or I was getting tired of thinking about it and there was a car in front of me and, well, what the hell.

Or, if I get very very lucky, I’ll see one of these (or something else perhaps) in a lot somewhere, be overcome with emotion, and not leave until she comes home with me, probably over-paying in the process.

We should all be so lucky.

But if all of this sounds crazy to you because you just want a car — get a Golf. (And if you just want a CUV — make it a Golf Sportwagon instead.)


Banner photo — Honda, Volvo, Audi, Jeep and Volkswagen press photos + Photoshop. I forgot to cram the Mini in there.