Engaging all our senses is what makes shopping, whether for cars or handbags, so pleasurable.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Engaging all our senses is what makes shopping, whether for cars or handbags, so pleasurable.

My Reading Room

One of the joys of shopping for a handbag is the multi-sensory experience that it entails. 

You scrutinise the stitching and the shiny hardware, feel the suppleness of the leather and run your fingers against the textured grain, even give it a whiff to inhale the scent of its properly tanned hide. Some handbags come in such candylicious colours that you would be forgiven for wanting to taste them. 

We actually go through a similar process when test-driving a car, whether as a journalist reviewing it or as a buyer considering it. 

When we first set eyes on the car, we take in the exterior and interior designs, the infotainment interface, and then we perform a visual inspection of the car’s quality and refinement. 

Thereafter, we find ourselves behind the wheel, eagerly anticipating the drive. 

The very first vroom we hear (or don’t hear) when the engine roars to life can make or break that first impression. While driving, the sounds of the engine, exhaust, suspension and transmission when the car accelerates are important criteria. To some drivers, the audio system is important, too. 

Our sense of smell also exerts a powerful influence on our subconscious mind. 

Malls use scents to entice shoppers into spending, so perhaps automakers should think about increasing sales through the olfactory channel. 

I associate particular interior scents with certain car makes. Blindfolded, I’m confident that I would be able to identify these brands of cars just by smelling their cabins. 

Then, there is the sense of touch. I love to run my fingers across the various interior surfaces, from the seats to the trim materials (unfinished wood, smooth chrome, brushed aluminium or carbon fibre weave). 

Caressing the inside of a car somehow forges a connection that’s second to actually driving it. 

As motoring writers, we get to test cars without having a salesperson in the passenger seat. Therefore, we can indulge any of our sensory fetishes without worrying about the dirty looks it’ll elicit should we start sniffing the cabin, and maybe licking the dashboard. 

But at the end of the day, all five senses cannot outweigh that elusive sixth sense – the heart. 

In our annual Car of the Year exercise, we call it the X factor because it’s something we cannot explicitly put into words. A car may check all the right boxes for performance, handling and styling, but it can also leave us unmoved. The reverse is also true.