I've discovered why many women, especially single women with children, love Honda and Acura, the Japanese automobile manufacturer's luxury division.
It's the Vicky Factor, something I've uncovered in researching my book in progress, "Women, Cars and Divorce."
The Vicky Factor is this: The vehicle chosen by a woman who has had trouble with her man must give her what she most wanted, but never received, from the man who interrupted her life -- commitment, reliability, and agape (pronounced "agapay"), a spiritual love that enhances the physical by going beyond the physical.
To men, this might sound far-fetched. I've never interviewed a man who cried because his car or truck broke down. But I've interviewed many single mothers who have done just that.
Those women did not cry because they were weak. Weak people cannot single-handedly work and take care of children, a house and all of the related obligations. They cried because they bought something they needed, that they thought would be there for them, but that betrayed them as surely as the men who've exited their lives.
I've lost track of the number of women who told me: "I want a car that I can trust more than my ex."
I am convinced that is why so many of them buy Honda and Acura vehicles, the motorized versions of the ever faithful, dutiful boyfriend, husband, and lover. Consider this week's test model, the 2008 Acura MDX Sport crossover utility vehicle with entertainment package.
I've never been a great fan of the MDX, which was introduced in the United States in late 2000. To me, it was little more than a gussied-up station wagon masquerading as a sport-utility vehicle, nothing that any man who intended to drive off-road would ever take seriously.
But I was amazed by my many women friends who loved the thing, who praised its reliability and who liked the idea that it did all of the work of a minivan or station wagon without looking or feeling like one. And that work, they pointed out, was far more arduous than driving off road. Ferrying children to and from school and to various events, taking elderly relatives to and from medical appointments, and somehow doing it all while driving themselves to and from work to pay for food, clothing, housing, education and medical care, is not easy.
For that kind of work, those women said they wanted a vehicle that would always be there for them and their families, something that would never let them down. They wanted and they bought the MDX or its Honda equivalent, the Pilot.
But car companies remain male-dominated. As a result, we have the latest versions of the MDX with a big, ugly aluminum "V-shaped" grille that is supposed to convey aggressiveness. We also have a technology, SH-AWD (super handling-all-wheel drive), that is meant to turn what essentially is a luxury family hauler into a high-performance vehicle that presumably is more appealing to men.
The women are not fooled.
I enlisted several of them -- my associate Ria Manglapus, my wife, Mary Anne, and the women who run the Northern Virginia elementary school where my wife teaches -- to put the 2008 Acura MDX Sport through its paces.
Ria, the single mother of two boys and the former owner of a Honda Odyssey minivan, immediately put the MDX to work doing what she always does -- playing taxi driver for her sons, her mother, her huge extended family, and friends.
What is notable is that Ria, a very savvy woman in automotive matters, paid little attention to the MDX's aggressive exterior styling cues. "We mostly liked the interior," she said. "We liked the ride and the comfort." And because she frequently carries the boys and their cousins, the MDX's rear-seat video entertainment package was a passenger pleaser.
If she would ditch one thing, it would be the MDX's high-intensity discharge headlights, which Ria said annoyed family members who were driving ahead of her in a separate vehicle on a family outing. "They complained about it during dinner," she said.
Mary Anne, ignoring other test vehicles in the driveway, snagged the MDX as soon as Ria gave up the keys. She's a teacher, and teachers carry lots of stuff. The MDX has multiple storage compartments and a huge cargo bay that can accommodate even more stuff when the rear seats are flipped down. That's important to elementary school teachers and administrators, two of whom at Mary Anne's school asked to take a spin in the MDX.
Again, what is notable is that all of those women ignored the MDX's aggressive exterior styling cues. They appreciated the get-up-and-go of the vehicle's 300-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 engine. They liked its sports sedan handling. But what they liked most was something that most men would fail to understand. "It has warmth," Mary Anne said. "It just feels good being in it."
Another friend, who recently separated from her husband, put it this way: "It's good-looking," she said, again referring to the interior. "It makes me feel good. I can trust it."