One of the most important aspects of choosing the right car is test driving. There is a huge gap between looking at a car in a dazzling showroom and driving it. Just as we try an outfit on before we decide to buy, test-driving is a must.
But, driving a new, unfamiliar car for an hour or two along a predetermined route is not an ideal way to tell if the car would be right for you. This is why you need a checklist, and the four veteran automotive columnists - Yun-suk Na, Dong-hee Lee, Cheong-hee Ryu, Byung-gwon Min - did the job for you.
The list includes cargo room, cabin space, road performance, and ride quality. Subjective aspects that you can check anytime at a showroom, such as exterior/interior design or comfort/convenience features, were ruled out.
There are too many things - from cargo room to the cabin room - to consider to determine how practical a car is. So the question you should be asking first is how you are going to use the car.
Convenience features and storage for rear-seat passengers could be very important depending on what kind of person you are. "If you have a big family and travel every weekend, the number of cup holders or USB ports can be a big issue. Door pockets would also help a lot," said Byung-gwon Min.
Even the same cargo space can look different when seen from different perspectives. People usually measure cargo space by saying how many golf bags it can hold. A premium sedan would hold up to four golf bags in the trunk, but the story changes when you carry large suitcases or strollers instead of golf bags. And even if your car has huge cargo space, it should not have oddly angled walls to be actually practical.
So, Dong-hee Lee tells us that these numbers in a spec table could be useful only for some people, not for everyone. "The best way for each and every one of you is to bring something that you actually use, and try putting it in a trunk," he added.
Another thing Yun-suk Na mentioned is that how high the trunk is also matters. "For sedans, exterior trunk access is more important. But for SUVs, ground clearance would be a bigger issue for loading and unloading."
These columnists all agreed on one thing: getting in and out of a car should be easy for you. Your head should not touch the ceiling, and there should be enough legroom. But first of all, a proper sitting position is very important especially when you're driving.
If you have successfully adjusted seating to the proper position, now it's time to see if there's enough room in the rear passenger seats. "The first thing to do is to slide your tailbone as close to the seat back as possible, with the headrest set properly. Although we do not always sit straight and we all have different heights, one thing to remember is that there should be enough room in the rear passenger footwell", said Byung-gwon Min.
To see if there is enough legroom in the rear passenger seat, you must adjust the driver's seat first. Then check if you feel comfortable when you put your feet in the rear passenger footwell. Wear bigger, thicker shoes before you check, and straighten your legs.
If you have kids, bring them with their car seats. You must see if it is easy enough to install the child-safety seats. Cheong-hee Ryu tells you that it should feel comfortable enough for you to bring your kids in and out of the car. "That means there's a lot to consider - door opening angle, ceiling height, or distance between the rear seat and the front seat."
Now it's time to drive the car and see its performances. But technical specs like engine power, max torque, gear stage, or 0-60 MPH are hard to test as a non-professional, so "it is almost impossible to examine the car you are test-driving thoroughly. Better try to figure out how easy it is to accelerate, or how gracefully braking works," said Dong-hee Lee.
For safety reasons as well as practical reasons, you only get to drive along a predetermined route. "So, take a deep breath and relax. Accelerate the car slowly and smoothly at first, then try to override a bit to see how the car reacts to it. The goal here is to figure out how the vehicle will accelerate during an overtaking maneuver. The less the car hesitates to move when the gas pedal is pressed, the better the performance of the car will be. If you have time left, test for sudden braking/departure as well.
"Braking characteristics is another important factor. Just as you test for the car's overtaking ability through acceleration, you may be able to see its braking ability by deliberately braking very hard," said Yun-suk Na.
Accelerating and braking can tell you numerous things about the car. Check for any noises it makes while braking or accelerating, and try to remember how smooth it feels when you change gear. Speaking of braking, if you feel a pulsation in the brake pedal while braking, it usually means something is not right.
"Always stick to the basics," said Yun-suk Na. "To be simple, the car should run, stop, and turn when you need it to. And only you can tell how well it can do these," he added.
Performance is not everything. You need to check for ride comfort as well. Cheong-hee Ryu says, "you should test drive as if you're driving your own car. And speaking of ride comfort, the car must go smoothly on speed bumps".
If you usually have someone in the rear seats, it would be even better if you could bring that person to the test driving, too, and have him/her sit in the back. "There is a huge difference between sitting in the driver's seat and the rear seat. Your back-seat passenger needs to have a say in decision-making, then," added Dong-hee Lee.
"Many people overlook how much the wheel and tire size can affect ride quality and handling. Usually, the smallest wheels offer the best ride quality, because they have a higher flatness ratio. Choosing the right size of the wheel is very important for this reason," said Yun-suk Na.
Noise and vibration also should be on your checklist. Here's a tip Byung-gwon Min gives you: Turn off the whole climate control while you're test driving to see if there is noise genuinely coming from the car.
Last but not least, Cheong-hee Ryu adds, "a new, fancy car can look a lot cooler than it really is. So, take a deep breath, and drive the car as usual.”
If the checklist mentioned here looks too long, it would be smart to set your own priorities among these parameters. If you could concentrate on what you are sensing and feeling, you might have a better result this time.
Words. Jun-hyuk Kim
Advice. Automotive columnists: Yun-suk Na, Dong-hee Lee, Cheong-hee Ryu, Byung-gwon Min
HMG Journal Operation Team
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