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Woman at the wheel

CHICK cars. Babe magnets. What the little lady drives. For years we've been the butt of ho-ho scratch-that-hairy-chest indulgent male laughter. Women parking -- hilarious! Women speeding -- slap your thighs!

But now, honeys, we're buying our own cars and they're not what you might expect. Not little pink runarounds (except when we're seriously identity challenged) but big, comfy, adjustable cars with lots of handy features.

Not like a man at all.

He wants power, vrrooom, status, he wants to drive as if he's scattering the largesse of his gold to the envious peasants he passes.

(Hey, we're in generalisation land here. I don't mean your guy.)

She wants, well, what does she want? There are no (count 'em, no) figures on what Irish women buy to drive. Or if those figures exist, they've been hiding from me.


But according to industry insiders, what she wants is a coupe when she's young, a seven-seater that shifts and looks nifty when she's got a family, and something small and reliable when she's older.

And style. Always style. But not flashy. Discreet and sleekly gorgeous. Like us, dahling.

"Young women who've made their way in the world and done well for themselves buy coupes," says Ireland's greatest rallying champion, Rosemary Smith, who now runs a driving school where she teaches young drivers.

"But when they have children, they have to think of safety. That's why a lot of them are buying these big jeep-style cars. BMW brought out a lovely one, Ford have another lovely one."

SUVs have their disadvantages, though -- so big they're hard for other drivers to see around and, in some of the car parking buildings in town they can't even get around the corners inside without back-and-shift manoeuvres.

Rosemary's own Ford Fiesta hatchback is "absolutely adorable". It's a light silver; one of the best colours because it reflects light and makes you visible to oncoming drivers.

"Adorable", it's typical of how we feel about our cars. We love them nearly as much as our -- I nearly said men, but no, say our pets.

Rosemary, by the way, runs a driving school where teenagers can learn to drive on private grounds before going out on the real roads. Like 'driver's ed' in the US, a concept she has tried to sell to the Government without success.

Murphy & Gunn sales executive Darren Dunnion says the market has changed utterly in the last couple of years.

"Used cars are selling now," he says. "Especially newer, greener cars. One reason is the road tax. If you buy a low-CO2 2008 or 2009 car your tax will be slashed -- for the lifetime of the car."

That's a lifetime of savings. And where a 1.7 litre monster is taxed at €550 a year, a greener car is just €104. Insurance can be lower too.

Women want low running costs; that means road tax, insurance, mpg and servicing costs. We like in-car features: handy pockets for stowing your stuff, and kids' stuff, and his stuff; easily read controls; seats that lie down with a flick of a lever so you can stow half of Ikea in your boot.


So take a look outside: probably seven-tenths of the cars you see are hatchbacks. And, in the new, sober Ireland three-quarters of them come in three colours: glossy black, silver or grey.

An American friend raves about her six-year-old Prius, but with features we can't dream of in Ireland. "Basically, just spectacularly good user-oriented design."

Her favourite thing: "It senses my key when I stand two or three feet from it, so I just walk up to the locked door and pull on the door, and it unlocks itself -- but only the driver's door. It's wonderful.

"I love that it feels rather heavy, but small. So I have a tight turning radius, yet a car heavy enough to protect me a bit in case of an accident. I love that it's relatively small yet holds a surprising large amount of stuff for hauling."

Young women and mothers both like the Nissan Qashqai, Darren says: "It's a big car that doesn't look big. Older women adore the Toyota Yaris, a small car that's big inside, and great value."

The Toyota Verso and Ford 5 Max -- both seven-seaters -- are loved by mammies who need to haul kids and friends about.

Mary Patricia Gallagher, managing director of Gallagher Public Relations and Communications and former marketing manager with Nissan Ireland, says women want a car you don't have to lean into. "Women need to have boot space -- to fit all their baby stuff. It has to have style, and it has to have comfort."


Honda is one of her clients. Honda's Civic and the Jazz are both woman-friendly cars. However, whatever we drive, there will still be those sexist jokes about women and cars.

Why, just the other day, I was driving through town doing 50 and a garda stopped me. "Your licence photo shows you with glasses," he said.

"But I have contacts, Sergeant," I said.

And he said: "That speeding means two points on your licence and I don't care how many TDs you know . . ."