Luxury cars fine-tuned for her

More women are buying high-powered luxury cars—tailored to their own style.

Dieter-Heinz Kijora, my Porsche driving coach, directs me to “launch control” one more time. At a full stop on the track, heart racing, my left foot jams the brake and my right presses the accelerator hard to the floor. We remain stationary as the engine slides from a growl to a roar, until I lift my left foot, suppressing every ounce of driving sensibility I have ever practiced as a driver—or a mum.

 My Porsche 718 Cayman GTS—yes, after an hour I am already thinking of the sleek leather and Alcantara interior, with a starting price of a £42,897, as mine—rockets down the track, reaching 174 km/h in about 10 seconds. A more practiced track driver could do more—I can’t help noticing the needle registers little more than halfway to the speedometer’s maximum 290 kmh. Keeping my eyes on the next turn—a curve, matched to the famous Nürburgring track in Germany, that tilts at an angle of 33 degrees—I press back into the firm leather bucket seat as Kijora, a professional racecar driver, urges, “Power, power, power, power!”

Here at the Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles, Kijora and I scheduled a 90-minute driving session where we will encounter the Kick Plate: a hydraulically activated plate that will spit us into the equivalent of a road covered in black ice, and where I will fly into a dizzying 360-degree spin before coming to rest with a shudder. On a deliciously curved stretch reminiscent of Mulholland Drive, I will learn to “kiss the rumble,” which means my tires should skim the road’s rough hemline.

If I were to try any of this on the roads I normally drive—the LA freeways and hills—I would be arrested and priced out of car insurance. No fear: My normal car is a chubby electric BMW i3, a cartoonish, adorable character that would bat its lashes at this Porsche. The i3 replaced a Honda Odyssey minivan that excelled at hauling kids.

And yet.

 

Aston Martin has created a female advisory panel to review new

car designs. The brand is seeing more women than ever before

buy Aston Martins for themselves, and a groundbreaking 50

percent of sales of its 12-cylinder DB11 coupe in China were to

women.

 

I, like Ellen DeGeneres and a growing number of women, am not immune to the attractions of high-performance cars. According to the car advisory and research service Edmunds, roughly 40 percent of luxury cars are sold to women—a number that is rising steadily, and fastest among millennial-age women. Women of all ages are such a promising growth market for these cars that brands such as Porsche, Rolls-Royce, and other luxury-car marques are fine-tuning more of their products and services to a feminine sensibility.

Aston Martin has created a female advisory panel to review new car designs. A company executive recently said the brand is seeing more women than ever before buy Aston Martins for themselves, and that a groundbreaking 50 percent of sales of its 12-cylinder DB11 coupe in China were to women.

Muse Autos

Options for the colour of headlight spray nozzles number in the hundreds in the Porsche Experience Center. Photography: Robb Rice

Luxury SUVs are particularly popular with women, and Bentley has added features to its Bentayga SUV such as biometric stowage to safely store jewellry and other valuables, and scent atomizers for perfume. “Female customers are a strong focus for us,” says Marc Mustard, Bentley’s news and product communications manager.

Women, in addition to appreciating a fine drive and the growl of a powerful engine, tend to take a broader interest than men in customising their cars in all the ways the law will allow, carmakers say. Federal regulations don’t give much leeway in brake lights, headlamps, and other core safety and mechanical features, but when it comes to design details, such as the colour of headlight spray nozzles for the Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet, the options number in the hundreds. Opportunities for custom paints, leathers, and even stitching abound, making a buyer’s design of her car an experience akin to decorating the guest house.

 

Roughly 20% of Rolls-Royces in the United States are owned by

women—nearly double the percentage globally.

And, when it comes to their cars, they like vivid color—green,

orange, yellow.

 

Are cars the new fashion? “As women, we often see them as accessories to how we view ourselves,” says Lee Bailey, a Dallas luxury-car aficionado. She isn’t talking just about the leather on her Bentley. “I like a biturbo V-12 engine better than a biturbo V-10,” says Bailey, noting that she often double- pumps the accelerator for a speedy takeoff. But she did decorate her Rolls-Royce Dawn convertible to match her newly acquired de Grisogono watch, which has a sapphire-orange bezel and orange sapphires and white diamonds around the face.

Muse Autos

The author takes to the track in Los Angeles. Photography: Robb Rice

Her Rolls is Arctic White with a mandarin pin- stripe; the bright-white seats have orange stitching, and the white leather interior doors have an orange inset. Federal regulations didn’t approve a white steering wheel, so she settled for blue and orange, “which I was not happy with,” says Bailey. After Rolls-Royce obtained federal approval for another client, she replaced her blue steering wheel with one wrapped in white leather. “It was pretty before, but it lacked that extra pizazz. The car sings now.”

Roughly 20 percent of Rolls-Royces in the United States are owned by women—nearly double the percentage globally, says head of communications Gerry Spahn. Women owners tend to be real enthusiasts, he says, and prefer to drive themselves rather than use chauffeurs. They are overwhelmingly entrepreneurs or business owners, often self-made, and, when it comes to their cars, they like vivid colour—green, orange, yellow.

Most of Porsche’s female buyers are professional women, and they range from learners, like me, to one enthusiast who added roll bars and drove her new car straight from delivery to a private track, says Jennifer Nicole Malacarne, manager of Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles. The center has a customisation room where clients can make an appointment to meet with Philip Mauney, who, as the exclusive personal design manager, is to Porsche what Jamie Bush is to home interior design. Clients can opt to design their cars through private consultations or to pick their new Porsche at the Los Angeles center and participate in a 90-minute track experience with Kijora or another driving coach.

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One luxury-car aficionado matched her steering wheel to the orange on her de Grisogono watch. Photography: Robb Rice

For my experience, Mauney walks me through a design process that on average takes an hour and a half. I am quickly overwhelmed with the options reflected on a 98-inch LED screen on the wall. Yet it’s still easy to want even more. I am vaguely miffed that I can’t have Lava Orange seat belts to match with Lava Orange seat stitching thanks to pesky federal regulations. But I can match the exterior paint to my threads, like the client who matched her car to her favourite Jimmy Choo shoes. One wall is covered with stars signed by owners of the 55 cars that have been picked up here since February. Give or take a few with illegible handwriting, about six are signed by women. Many of them purchased matching Rimowa luggage or Porsche Design handbags and sunglasses at the center’s store.

Buyers who enroll in the New Vehicle Delivery program are assigned a delivery specialist like Charles Turner, whose enthusiasm is infectious. We head upstairs to the center’s Restaurant 917, which features a wall of Champagnes and overlooks the track below. When a demonstration driver does the “launch control” move that Kijora just taught me in the Cayman GTS, the engine’s roar is palpable from 100 yards. Turner pumps his arm. “That sound never gets old!”

My driving experience this day also includes a fling in a Porsche Cayenne SUV on an off-road course where I have to turn my side mirrors down to watch the tires on the road. At 3 km/h, I crawl down a 78-degree slope where I can see only the horizon ahead, drive across a log seesaw, and crawl over moguls that leave wheels spinning freely in the air.

I’m told by the Porsche Experience Center team that women buyers often seek slightly different experiences than men. “Women want to know the safety features and to be comfortable driving the car,” Turner says. Men are more likely to say, “I want to go fast.” Perhaps similarly, studies have shown that as CFOs and CEOs women guide companies to make less risky decisions, often driving their businesses more steadily.

I once drove a Ferrari on Mulholland Drive, and the car salesman failed to offer the good advice that Kijora shared, which was much like what every ski instructor has ever hollered on the slopes: Look straight down the fall line to where you’re headed. It turns out that this kind of driving is not unlike hurtling down an icy slope, which I discover the second time the Kick Plate thrusts us onto simulated black ice (actually an epoxy surface sprayed with water). This time, I manage to right the car without the 360-degree spin.

“You were looking where you should, not at the ground,” Kijora says, explaining, “Your brain is gonna mess with you. Why do you see every skid mark into a telephone pole? What were they staring at? The pole. If you stare at danger, you’re gonna hit it every time.”

I must somehow share his advice with my teenagers without encouraging them to test it out.

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