John Cadogan has driven thousands of different new cars - here’s what he says you need to know about vehicle evaluation next time you go for a test drive at a dealership
1. Drive on Roads You Know
This gives you some feeling for noise, vibration and harshness levels. You want to assess the car, right? So, it’s not ideal if you’re also assessing the road. If you drive on roads you are used to, you’ll know how the car performs relative to those surfaces. Think about ride quality, road and wind noise.
2. Compare New With New
There’s no point in comparing your old car with a new one. Let’s face it, a seven-year-old (or whatever) car with 100,000km on the clock will make just about any new car feel beyond excellent. The point is: compare new cars against other new cars, not against the one you’re getting rid of. The aim is to buy the best one available - so take a day out of your busy schedule and drive your top three or four contenders back to back.
3. Drive for at Least 30 Minutes
If you’re not used to driving dozens of different cars, it takes a while to get used to them. It also takes a while to play with all the gizmos. And then you need to assess it for comfort. You cannot do all that in five minutes around the block at the dealership. Tell the dealer you’re a serious buyer - but you need to know the car is right, so you’ll need to drive it for at least half an hour.
4. Size Matters
You need to ensure the car fits your domestic arrangements. It’s not going to be fun if it’s just too big for the garage, or if it scrapes every day on your driveway from hell. Take it home if there’s any doubt, and make sure it fits.
5. Space Invaders
Make sure your car fits your lifestyle - not fun if you’re a pair of dead-keen golfers and it only accommodates one golf bag. Whatever you’re into - pushbikes, dogs, kids, kayaks, golf, DIY or towing - make sure the gear fits in the new car. Physically put the stuff in the car if there’s any doubt. And, in the case of towing, make sure the new car can accommodate the total weight of what you normally tow.
6. Use the Widgets
Connect your phone to the car’s Bluetooth; make a couple of calls. Confirm the voice quality is OK. Stream some music. Use the cruise control. Play with the nav system. Reverse-park the car. Use the reversing camera (if fitted). Make sure you like all this stuff - and identify anything you hate.
Take a ride in the passenger’s seat, and sit in the back as well. See how comfortable or otherwise all the seating positions are (especially important for parents of strapping young teenagers).
8. Re-set the trip-meter
If you re-set the trip meter you’ll get an indication of the likely fuel consumption in the real world. Guaranteed it will be worse than the official label. So, drive like you normally drive, and at the end of the test-drive the trip computer will tell you what the actual fuel consumption was.
9. Don’t Fall in Love
You think the test drive is about evaluation; the salesman knows it’s about you falling in love with the car and signing on the dotted line because you’ve become infatuated. Stick to your plan. Drive all three (or four) shortlisted cars. Sleep on it. Then decide.
Make sure the car you test drive is as close to the car you intend buying as possible. Don’t fall into the trap of going for a test drive in the fully loaded model variant - the leather, the grunty engine, the low-profile tyres, all the bells and whistles - and then sign off on the base model. The difference between the top of the range and the base model is often chalk and cheese, so drive the one you intend to buy - otherwise you could find yourself hating it.