One of the sacrosanct car-buying rites — the test drive! Go down to the dealer and get behind the wheel of the car you like, check the seats and the mirrors, and then drive away. Feel the pick-up, check the cornering, try to parallel park, test the brakes.
SCREECH! Wait a minute, these are 2015 vehicles. Within a class, they’re ALL going to have reasonable pick-up, handle well, park well, and stop well. The doors will all close with a satisfying thud, they’ll all handle potholes decently.
So then, what is the point of the test drive? Not much, really. There’s not a lot you will learn by driving the car that you wouldn’t get by simply sitting in the car. That’s where you can see if the seat is comfortable, if there are blind spots, etc.
But there is one test area that is increasingly important to buyers, that can only be done in the vehicle, and can be very different from vehicle to vehicle — and that is the infotainment system. Today’s cars have very different approaches to navigation, cell-phone integration, music and music integration, Bluetooth, apps, and more.
Test Sync the Car to Your Smartphone
So when you “test drive” the vehicle, you should have the salesperson sync the system to your phone, and you should test the major parts of the information/entertainment system. This takes time and can get complicated, but that is why you want to do it before you buy the vehicle. (And since you only have a fixed amount of time, it’s also why it’s better to spend your test time testing voice dialing rather than testing the brakes — the brakes won’t vary too much car to car, but the voice dialing experience could be night vs. day).
You can, should, and probably will eliminate a car from contention because you just don’t like the navigation system, or the way it integrates (or doesn’t) with your phone. These are things that you will be using daily, and if you don’t like them the first time you use them, you’ll really hate it when you have to go through that experience each day. Do you like “pinch-to-zoom,” or swipe gestures? Do you want to say “ten twenty five” or “one zero two five” Main Street? Do you want your mobile phone apps to work, or are you okay not using them or learning a new set?
There are many awesome infotainment systems. The one you buy has to be right for you!
But you’ll want to make your own rating, since what one person finds appealing, easy to use, or comfortable may be awful for you and vice versa (for example, touching a button on an infotainment touchscreen may be simple and error-free for one person but frustrating and error-prone for another).
So please, for your long term car ownership pleasure, test your next new car before you buy it. Just don’t bother putting it into drive.