What do women want? Well, given that “gender war” tales have become such a fertile source of debate in recent years -- with whole books devoted to the topic -- the temptation to crack wise is a powerful one.

"If I knew the answer to that, I’d still be married."

"What do they want? Everything, near as I can tell."

Okay, I’ll stop the riffs now, before I dig myself in any deeper. But, the truth is, the two genders are different in many, profound ways. And, generally speaking, women do tend to value certain things much more than men do, in many different realms of life.

CNW Research has compiled some data, based on questions they posed to consumers about how much importance they placed on various features offered in cars, then sorted the replies by gender (as well as by age group). This data was collected first in 2006, and then again this year, to see how they've changed. So, we’re going to talk about that, in the context of that whole notion that Men Are From Texas, and Women Are From Neptune.

But before we get into the specific features, we asked for some general insight into the subject from Susan Avery, who is editor-in-chief of ParentDish.com, an AOL website about parenting news and trends, and who provides some interesting female perspectives.

Most Important Vehicle Attributes

Women:

1. Rear visibility
2. Low monthly payment
5. Front visibility (tie)
5. Remote outside mirrors (tie)
5. Side air bags (tie)

Men:

1. Styling
3. Horsepower (tie)
3. Engine design (tie)
4. Front visibility
5. Sound system

“I went on a massive car search in 2004, and I’m a single mom, and I’m an educated person, but I kept being drawn to the ‘pretty’ cars,” confesses Avery, who lives and works in New York City. “I was, like, ‘Oh, isn’t that one pretty,’ and ‘Oh, look at that pretty color.’ Color was a really big thing for me. I eventually got what I wanted, because I custom-ordered it -- a metallic-orange paint job.”

So, it’s true, then? Even an articulate, educated, New York professional woman is attracted to the archetypical “shiny object”?

“It’s true,” says Avery without pause. “If I could have bought a Laura Ashley car, I would have.”

On the flip side, Rick Scheidt, executive director for product marketing at Chevrolet, points to one fact that won’t surprise any of us: Sporty, brawny, high-revving road rockets are way, way more popular with men than with women.

“If you look at Corvette owners, it’s probably 90 percent men. But when we ask further about who influenced the decision to purchase that vehicle, about 20 percent say that the decision was made mutually between the man and his wife or girlfriend,” he notes.

For comparison purposes, Scheidt says he expects that Chevy Cruze buyers will be about 55 percent female, maybe more.

The clich?hat still abounds, of course, is that men who buy high-priced, high-performance, phallic-shaped sports cars are trying to make a statement of a different sort.

“Yeah, that’s a tough one to call,” says Avery. “If a guy picked me up in a Corvette, I might think, ‘What’s he trying to prove?’ But the other part of me would think that’s a sexy car -- for a man. I wouldn’t think it was a sexy car for me. Just like I would think leather seats in a man’s car were sexy, but I would never have them in my own car.

“Which, again, just gets at the difference between what each gender thinks is sexy in car -- what’s sexy in a man’s car isn’t necessarily sexy in a woman’s car. I love my car, with its orange paint job, which I think is very sexy for me. But if a man showed up in my car, I might start making assumptions about him, and his sexuality,” she cracks.

Then there’s that much-dissected notion that women are “more emotional” in general than men are, a stereotype that is not typically borne out when it comes to buying cars, says Scheidt

“We actually tend to find that it’s women who are more rational in their purchases, taking into account things like price, reliability, gas mileage, comfort, etc.,” says Scheidt. “But we often see men buying high-priced sports cars with engines that are much bigger, and much more powerful, than they will ever need out on the highway. Most of us really won’t have many opportunities to tap into the full capabilities of a 500-hp engine.

“But they get caught up in that whole sports car culture. Sometimes it’s that variation on the male psyche where the guy has to make sure that his engine is more powerful than his buddies’ engines, a masculine way of ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’”

Scheidt says that product designers do take into account the preferences of women, based on market research, when designing certain elements into their vehicles.

“Like, we design things to accommodate longer fingernails. We make sure that the shape of a button or control is such that what’s above the button doesn’t interfere with a longer fingernail. And we design brake pedals and gas pedals in such a way that wearing high heels is not an impediment to operating those pedals.”

But back to the CNW data. The biggest change, from ’06 to ’10, occurred in the importance that women, versus men, placed on a rather benign feature: Cloth seating surfaces. Women ranked cloth seating as 11 percent more important this year, compared to ’06, while men ranked cloth seating as five percent less important.

“Oh, I can see that,” says Avery. “Cloth seats are more comfy, and more homey, more like you’re sitting in your cozy living room.”

Scheidt offers a more pragmatic reason: Cloth seats are less pricey, and “female buyers do skew a bit more toward lower-priced vehicles and options,” he says. “And since the mother generally spends more time driving kids back and forth to soccer practice or dance class, she’s probably more conscious of something like a sharp object in the child’s pants pocket cutting into (an expensive) leather seat.”

The feature that showed the second biggest difference in terms of how it was rated in importance by women, compared to men, over the four-year-period, was bench seats, which were more popular with women in ’06, just as they are today.

“Oh, I think I know why that is,” says Avery. “Women, who spend more time in their cars with their children, want to keep their loved ones near and dear. Plus, women don’t have an issue with sitting close together. They don’t have that ‘terror’ of sitting close that men have.”

Scheidt added that, if a couple has a few small children, a bench seat in the rear “allows you to put three booster seats in, instead of just two.”

Here’s a weird one: This year, women ranked cast alloy wheels as 14 percent more important today than they did in ’06. Men only ranked them as five percent more important this year than four years ago.

“Now, why do you think that is?” says Avery, teasingly. “Come on, you can guess! It’s because it’s jewelry. It looks like jewelry on your car. It’s bling for your car!”

So, it’s settled, then. What women really want, after all, is indeed the shiny object. (That was a joke ... I think.)