/ Motoring

What does your car say about you?

A brand new convertible drives past. The driver has the top down, even though it’s quite chilly. They’re wearing sunglasses and the music’s blaring. What’s the first sentence you think of to describe the driver?

Actually, don’t answer that. But ‘car image’ is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. That’s because I’ve spent the last few days driving the new Toyota GT86.

It’s the Japanese brand’s latest sports car, developed in conjunction with Subaru, designed to offer all the thrills of a performance sports car at a fraction of the cost.

We’ll be doing a full review of the car’s performance soon, but for now, I’m interested in what it’ll say about its owner. To get things rolling, have a watch of our video where I asked my Which? colleagues to tell me what type of people they expected to buy the GT86.

So there’s clearly a mix of opinions. Some think it’s for flashy, young professional types. Others reckon the predominant buyer will be in the midst of a mid-life crisis. Personally, I think the GT86 is adequately designed to appeal to the wider age range, thanks to its modest styling and timid engine note.

Car personality preconceptions

Thus, my own preconceptions have urged me to open up the floor to hear what you think a car says about its driver. The fact is – a lot of us make assumptions about people according to the car they drive.

So I wonder – is this a factor we consciously consider when we buy cars? Do we look at a vehicle and ponder, ‘someone might think I’m a bit of a show-off if I drive that’ or ‘does this look like a boring person’s car’?

Let me start with my own car. I drive a Toyota Yaris. It might not be particularly desirable, but it’s affordable to run and fulfils all my motoring needs for now. It’s practical and, according to the 2012 Which? Car Survey, still fairly reliable. I’m probably younger than most people would expect for a Yaris driver, which may lead them to think I’m someone who buys with their head instead of their heart. And does this bother me? Absolutely not.

Now it’s your turn – have you ever bought a car with your image in mind? Do you have any preconceived ideas about the drivers of certain car brands and models?


They are t******?

Funny you should mention the Toyota Yaris, because I’ve noticed that they are almost always driven badly. It happens so often that I’ve noticed this trend for years. Every time I’m behind one, I expect to see some bad driving, usually involving holding up others unnecessarily or selfish or dangerous manoeuvres. I’ve concluded that bad drivers are attracted to the Yaris and Toyota’s marketing of it. On the rare occasions that I see them being driven well, I’m pleasantly surprised that some of their drivers are exceptions to the rule!

Phil says:
25 July 2012

“A brand new convertible drives past. The driver has the top down, even though it’s quite chilly. They’re wearing sunglasses and the music’s blaring. What’s the first sentence you think of to describe the driver?”


Jail sentence. The car’s bent.

Phil says:
25 July 2012

I have to agree that the Toyota Yaris has taken over from the Moggie Minor as the granny driver’s car of choice.

Sophie Gilbert says:
26 July 2012

The question should be, what would your car say about you if you could afford what you wanted. :0)

I have always bought cars with a budget in mind, not my image. If I had the money I would buy a car that pleased me, that I liked to drive, that was comfortable, (reasonably) practical, pleasing to the eye. I couldn’t care less what people think. So my car could say something about me that was completely untrue if I bought a best buy, bright red Porsche Boxter 2004-2012!

A few preconceived notions I’ve come across are the obvious ones – the ‘jerk in a Merc’ or inconsiderate BMW drivers per se. Of course there are exceptions – my mum drives a Mercedes A class. If you’ve ever seen one, you’ll know it’s not a car for high adrenaline driving!

Citroen Zsara Picasso – I normally leave about 2 miles gap, actually any people carrier driver (vauxhall zafira, renault espace etc) is the most culpable for lane hogging and generally poor driving standards.

Kia’s and Hyundais also usually have Sunday drivers in them.

You can be pretty sure that a Mercedes will be braking too much on the motorway, a BMW will be sitting in the middle lane and any little car from Japan or Korea will be panicking at every sight of another car.

Peugeots always pull out on me

I always used to buy old cars and therefore the only choice was audi (top build quality in their older cars) but now I buy them according to how good they are to drive. I now own a Mini Cooper S which pretty much means that I am an estate agent or hair-dresser. All details are black though (wheels, mirrors, roof, grill) and so it is different to most other ones on the road. I have to say that I don’t drive it like a hair-dresser either 🙂

Paul says:
31 August 2012

Have to say I absolutely agree with you – whenever I see a Picasso driven by a lone male driver, I hang well back from them. They almost always drive erratically & never use their mirrors ! Isn’t that weird ? The other comment on little cars is so right too, top speed is around 40 (meaning they hold EVERYONE up ! Usually driven by pensioners or newly passed the test early 20’s.

What are peoples preconceptions about owners of the car you drive?

My preference is for very practical cars and therefore I have owned mainly estates, normally diesels. Currently the only car we have is a Porsche Cayman which is pretty impractical for going to the builders yard or the refuse dump. The logic for having one was that they last for ever, the style rarely changes, nice to drive, and it has some cachet. And not using a company car was tax efficient.

Not constantly replacing cars is ecologically sound. My wife needed a car for work and that involved say three days a week trips between cities over 100 miles apart. She also had many managers reporting to her who had decent company cars and having the poorest car in the car park was not good for her image or for the aspirational thoughts of her staff.

Whilst saying it looks nice and goes fast might be a superficial reason there is sound logic for the choice. My ideal would be to buy a Dacia Duster for equally logical reasons.

Sophie Gilbert says:
26 July 2012

I was told once that a Corsa was a woman’s car! Made my blood boil!! I challenged the statement and the poor guy couldn’t even explain what he meant by that! Another good sweeping generalisation for you, Rob!

I used to have a Mini Cooper S (bought from a older friend because they found it frightening to drive) I found it similarly frightening and sold it after going for around 100 yards sideways.. I also had an Aston Martin DB3 bought soon after the James Bond film was released – fantastic bird puller – but found I couldn’t afford decent insurance so sold it.. A friend at roughly the same time had a Lamborghini Myurha(sp?) S – Brilliant vehicle but after 3 severe crashes (I was in one) he decided to grow up and buy a proper 4 x 4 Land rover for the famiily.

Sounds like someone should go on a high performance driving training course 😉

Dean – Sadly not – you see it was on a very long and very wide oil slick at night on a black road – no warning- As I turned the corner at reasonable speed – the car went “away” sidewards – there was no traction but I managed to keep going sidewards as best I could until I reached the end of the slick where I stopped though initially on two wheels – but being so low – I was scared stiff! 🙂 but the two following cars crashed (one rolled – the other went into a ditch). – they never did find the culprit. Mind you no mobiles then.

We’ve just uploaded the full Which? video review of the Toyota GT86. If you want to check it out you can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UAkHwpoxFM

I would rather have a Toyota Yaris. I don’t need an expensive, uneconomical and impractical car.

Is the Toyota Yaris difficult to drive? I’m trying to understand why so many of them are driven badly. Maybe the problem is not the drivers who buy them but the car itself. Any ideas?

You have probably seen some incompetent/inconsiderate Yaris drivers, so each time you see another one it reinforces your hypothesis. I’m fed-up with BMW and Mercedes drivers tailgating and ‘undertaking’ on motorways. No doubt there are plenty of sensible drivers too but only the fools seem to register.

I cannot recall any problems with badly driven Toyota Yaris cars. I’m a frequent passenger in one, so I am more likely to recognise this model than the many other models on our roads.

“Undertaking” on motorways is the symptom, not the cause. The cause is the selfishly bad drivers who fail to keep to the left when not overtaking. Therefore rather than saying that BMW and Mercedes drivers should not “undertake”, we should be removing the opportunity to “undertake”.

This has been debated for years. Of course drivers should move to the left after overtaking, but is equally undesirable for drivers to be weaving across lanes if traffic in the nearside lane is travelling well below the speed limit. Obviously we should be specially considerate to HGV drivers that are not allowed in the outside lane of motorways but no-one should be pushing to get past vehicles travelling at the speed limit.

The Highway Code is quite clear about when overtaking on the left is permissible. Anyone who overtakes on the left at 70 mph deserves to lose their licence. I prefer to drive at quiet times when there are fewer inconsiderate and selfish idiots on the roads.

What I have noticed about undertaking at speed is the undertaking driver invariably weaves all over the road under and overtaking cars purely to go faster. It is against the law and should be punished. Never bother about make of car but they are often – not always – sports cars.

I agree, Richard. Sports cars often weave across motorways, sometimes causing drivers to brake when they squeeze through a gap.

It would be a good publicity stunt to take away offenders’ cars and give them Reliant 3-wheelers in exchange.

tony says:
27 July 2012

I currently run a VX220 and an Impreza, I wouldn’t be seen dead in a Yaris. For me it’s not about the cost of motoring, it depends if the car is your hobby, or just something to get you to the shops

dkn says:
27 July 2012

In answer to your first question; no I haven`t considered image when choosing a car mainly because I can`t afford to buy any car and partly because I don`t feel the need to bolster my image by buying certain makes. In answer to your second question there is no doubt certain cars do give you an impression about their drivers. When I used to drive high mileages I became aware of two makes of car that seemed to attract bad drivers: Rovers and Volvos. I decided that these two makes attracted people who didn`t know much about cars.They bought Rovers because they were British and Volvos because they were the safest! (Since disproved when they started crash testing).

Kirsten says:
27 July 2012

When I see someone in a sporty, low, 3-door car I tend to think they are a show-off who likes drawing attention to themselves and/or their money. The first word that comes to mind beings and ends in a ‘t’. Like many people I buy a car that suits my budget and not the image I’d like to portray. My ideal car would be an old-fashioned green landdrover covered in mud with a towbar as it suggests I might have a slightly more interesting and adventurous life than my automatic Hyndai i10 suggests. The mud would also indicate I’m not bothered by appearances.

Jatroa says:
29 July 2012

Oh dear..mid-life crisis.

DH says:
31 July 2012

Before retiring in ’99 i did huge, mostly trouble free, in Audi’s and Passats. Since then I have had several Yaris petrol and diesel_ all autos.
I have now had a month with an HSD T4. By far the nicest car I have ever driven and returning over 70 mpg even with my driving

Rosemary says:
5 August 2012

I drive a Yaris and I’m far from ‘granny age’. I’m not the sort of driver who wants ‘any old car’ to get from A to B, or to get me to the shops as suggested above by Tony. I am interested in cars, so I know what I want, I want something safe, reliable and that looks good. So that’s why I have the Yaris. When it was first introduced, the design was way ahead of its time. The current Yaris is very stylish too. I’m on my 3rd Yaris, by choice. Yes there are plenty of other models in the supermini category to choose from but none of them appeal to me. It has to be the Yaris.

As for a car that looks dated, I would have to pick most VWs. They really never seem to change much and look quite dated. Sorry any VW drivers 🙂 just my opinion.

As for cars driven by grannies, I would have to say that would be the Nissan Micra. Any time I see one there is always an old lady at the wheel. Even the Micras in my area are all driven by old ladies.

Oh, and as for the Toyota GT86, very impressive!

Mad Mo says:
10 September 2012

On Saturday I took the GT86 for a test drive, my opinion… it put a smile on my face. Its like a pussy cat and a tiger in the same place, the automatic versio allows you to soft foot in traffic and arrive at destination relaxed, pop to the motorway and foot down gives superb rumble and instant zoom zoom. chuck it into a few corners and it sticks like glue. All in all I shall be buying one but have decided to wait until spring so I get the chance to enjoy it and get used to it without worrying about icy roads. Two and a half years ago i was looking for a new car, visited Toyota and the service was superb, no one pushed me and they let me take a car out for a test drive of decent length. I bought the Auris cos I wanted economy but large enough to be able to fit a pyrenean mountain dog in the boot if I had to do a vet run. Like the car, it does everything I ask but does not have the excitement and pleasure in driving that I really want. So GT86 does. How old am i, well I am a grandmother, work full time and can afford one, its not a mid life crises but i never had the cash or circumstances when younger so now I have and its purely for selfish reasons. I love it

Number 1; light weight. That is what makes driving most fun. My car weighs less than one tonne and my previous car weighed kess than 700 kg. A good chassis and no weight can make for a car that is both taught and controlled and near limousine comfortable.

Number 2; no roof. I drive a convertible. Having no roof is, in my opinion, the best way to drive. I know many would not agree. You are much more aware of what is going on and it is just a much more pleasant experience. In my opinion open top driving is much safer.

A low, light car with no roof also means a very low centre of gravity and if it has a decent chassis that makes it safe and fun to drive. You just have to be aware about things like how quickly you can stop compared to other road users – who have to lose a lot more momentum.

I have driven much more powerful cars but they are no more rewarding. Nor are they comfortable.because the added weight means stiffer suspension and other tricks to keep them on the road that just intrude on the experience.

The GT86 is what I want from a car that would be used to carry one or two people. It is light(ish) with a low centre of gravity. It does not have enormous power and seems to offer reasonable economy. OK so it has got a roof – which is unfortunate. Still I would consider one. I have not test-driven one yet but when I do the one thing that I would like from it, that I have not got from Toyota sports cars of old, is an engine that talks to you or better still sings to you.