I stopped putting much effort into recommending cars to friends ages ago. Why? Well, when asked, I’d get all the right nods and noises back, but then I’d find out my guidance was disregarded. Most people who’d sought my counsel ended up buying or leasing the vehicle they’d wanted all along, regardless of the chinwag we’d had. Badge snobbery was behind most of my friends’ choice of car.
Yes, the need to get across how ‘successful’ you are via the badge on your vehicle, be it a Lexus, a Toyota, or whatever, is clearly still very much alive.
But, to those in the know, a badge doesn’t mean a lot. As a motoring journalist, I judge a car on its abilities, irrespective of the brand. And while some models are more notable than others, most cars are okay these days. Yes, you’re right, ‘okay’ isn’t the same as ‘awesome’, but you’ll get from A to B without issue – and the days of rides rusting within months of trundling off the production line (my dad’s new Marina c.1978 comes to mind) have long gone.
I find badge snobbery is most noticeable in the executive car market. This segment is characterised by cars such as the Lexus ES, the BMW 5 Series, the Mercedes-Benz E Class, and the Audi A6. These are all sizeable saloons made to carry people around in style and with more kit than you can shake a stick at.
As well as head-turning appeal, drivers of these vehicles demand comfort and power. A recent test of the Lexus ES 300h I conducted for GQ illustrated for me just how satisfying saloons in this category have become. I did a 200-mile journey in the ES and got out of the car as though I’d only driven around the corner.
Regardless of the class of car, if a request for my automotive opinion comes along, I’m prepared. My first recommendation is to be honest with yourself and define what “right for you” is. If “right for you” is triggering your neighbours’ avarice, and you know the badge you want, then stop asking for advice. If “right for you” is practicality and budgetary fulfilment, then list your “must-haves” and “nice to haves”. Finally, test drive a few motors with your family in tow – and bung the buggy or your golf clubs in the boot.
If we are being truthful with ourselves, what is the overriding factor in the process of selecting your car then? Could badge snobbery play a more significant part in it than any of us are willing to admit?
Ian Donaldson, chairman of the Midland Group of Motoring Writers, certainly seems to think so. He imparted these words of wisdom to me some time ago: “Thank goodness, for the manufacturers, that we purchase the car we want, not the one we need. That would have us all driving something simple and cheap.
“Instead, most of us go for a car that makes us feel good. And don’t the car producers know it. It’s the same with everything, from the label on your jeans to the brand of beer you drink.”
Follow motoring journalist Tim Barnes-Clay on Instagram @tbarnesclay