Like a Car Reviewer
I test drive
a new car every week and have developed a checklist I use
to help me do the subsequent write-up. This checklist might help
you buy the right car for you, too.
position/comfort and ride quality
buy a vehicle before youve spent at least an hour behind the
wheel and in the seat. Chairs that seem comfortable and supportive
for a couple of minutes in the showroom may feel like church pews
after an hour on the highway. Or, they might prove too soft
another problem. Either way, the key is to find out what theyre
like in real life, day-in, day-out actual driving. And the only
way to do that is to insist on an actual test drive. A real one,
not just a 10 minute toodle around the block.
If a dealer
wont let you take a car out for at least an hour ideally,
an afternoon walk away. It is better to spend another day
shopping than the next several years driving a car that kills your
Like the seats,
its hard to know whether a given cars ride quality is
too soft, too firm, or just right without a test drive that lasts
at least an hour and takes place on a variety of roads, including
not-so-great roads with potholes and uneven pavement.
If you havent
gone new car shopping recently, one thing youll discover is
that sporty (read: firmer) ride quality is now
the trendy thing. Aggressive, performance-type tires (short, stiff
sidewalls and tread patterns designed to provide maximum grip and
response to steering inputs) are being fitted to even family-minded
sedans and crossover SUVs and most luxury cars, which are
now marketed as luxury-sport cars. The high-speed handling
may be excellent as a result but the ride quality could be
harsher than you want to live with every day for hours on end.
Be sure to
try the vehicle out on not-so-great secondary roads as well as smooth
highways. If the vehicle offers different suspension levels
for example, a standard version and a sport upgrade
try both out. Never buy the sport suspension package just
because the (usually larger) wheels that come with it look better
than the ones fitted to the standard suspension model. Larger/wider
wheels and tires with shorter/stiffer sidewalls will
almost always give you a firmer even harsher ride.
How much of
the outside world can you see from inside the vehicle? Does the
car have physical obstructions (such as thick B or C
pillars) that obstruct your view to the side? A small rear window?
Or one thats shaped in such a way as to give you a distorted
or otherwise inaccurate view of whats behind you?
I have driven
some new cars that are in my opinion dangerous because
of egregious blind spots. This is something thats easy to
overlook when youre looking at the car in the showroom, from
the outside. Only by driving the car dealing with intersections,
merging and cross-traffic will you discover design flaws
that may make the car frightening, frustrating even dangerous
to drive home.
How easy is
it to change the radio station, adjust the climate control system
and operate other vehicle controls while the vehicle is
In their quest
to stand out, automakers sometimes graft what are arguably over-complex,
hard-to-use controls onto their cars that can be awkward
and distracting to use. Especially when the car is moving.
the use of scrolling menus and LCD displays to toggle through vs.
a simple knob or button to adjust fan speed. Some of these interfaces
can be very aggravating even after you figure out how they
simpler is better.
Make sure you
can work all the features of your next vehicle without having to
take your eyes off the road or fumble with complicated controls.
If the car stresses you out, its not the car for you.
the rest of the article
[send him mail] is an automotive
columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2012 Eric Peters
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