Taking a new car for a test drive can elicit a range of emotions from excitement, to nervousness, and overwhelm.

    You want to be on the positive side of that spectrum, as purchasing a car is a big decision that requires a clear mind.

    By now you probably know the basics, but there are a few details that make a huge difference in getting the most out of a test drive.

    Test out the tech

    More and more technology is being incorporated into new cars, and it can be hard to keep up.

    Even if you’ve had your current car for just a few years, any new car is likely to have features you’ve never seen, let alone used before.

    For that reason, it pays to trial tech while on a test drive.

    Key features worth playing around with include the infotainment system, smartphone mirroring, digital mirrors, climate controls and the head-up display.

    If these systems are faulty, poorly calibrated, or overly difficult to use, it’s a sign that the car isn’t for you.

    Treat it like you own it

    How often would you jump in your car, drive around the block a few times, and then head home again? I can’t say I’ve done it often, myself.

    In order to get a complete picture of how a car integrates into your life, it’s worth exposing each contender to some of the demands of your daily life.

    Fill the boot with shopping bags, or tools, or a pram, or golf clubs. The chances are that you need the space down back for something on a regular basis.

    If the boot fits your needs, move on to the cabin. Does the car need to haul around a family on the weekend?

    If so, find out if the kids can get comfortable in the back; likewise your significant other in the front passenger seat. That means a group trip to the dealership… which may have its drawbacks, but you’ll be thankful in the long run.

    Next, is there enough storage space inside? After all, those cups wont hold themselves. The same can be said for your keys, snacks, and knick-knacks.

    Finally, try to experience the car in familiar driving situations, whether that’s a freeway commute to work, picking up the kids from school, or parking at a busy shopping centre.

    In those scenarios, determine whether the car is comfortable, practical, and easy to drive. Some dealers have a mix of roads nearby, others necessitate a longer trip. Make sure you make clear what you want to your dealer so they can plan accordingly, and so you’re not hustled back to the showroom in too much of a hurry.

    “We’re very lucky being a city dealer in the spot that we’re in. We’ve got quite a few options including freeways and quieter roads around the back,” Melbourne City Hyundai general manager Ashley Berick told CarExpert.

    On the other hand, if you plan to use your new toy sparingly for Sunday afternoon backroad blasts, then see if you can incorporate some time on the open road into a test drive. It’s also fair to assume that cupholders and boot space aren’t as important here.

    It may take some negotiating with the sales staff to secure the time and space to complete these checks, but they will grant your wishes if they really want your business.

    Keep your ears open

    Noises, or the lack thereof, can tell you a lot about a car.

    Considering we’re talking about new cars, you’re unlikely to hear anything untoward from the engine bay, but the interior is a different story.

    Let’s start with the sound system. Unless you travel in silence, the sound system will be a part of your driving experience at all times, so play your favourite tunes with the volume up to see if the speakers are up to scratch.

    When you’re on the road, listen out for the presence of road and wind noise. Anything that is an annoyance over a short test drive is likely to become unbearable after a month of ownership or a cross-country road trip.

    Speaking of things that drive you mad, we need to talk about beeps… and chimes… and alarms.

    Modern safety systems are saving lives, but an incessant beep every time you drift over the speed limit by 1km/h is not.

    In isolation an annoying alert isn’t a deal-breaker, but if one of your shortlisted cars makes several noises of this nature, it’s definitely off-putting.

    Don’t rush

    A few extra minutes invested in the buying process could save you from years of regret.

    Make sure you head to the dealership with a plan of attack and don’t leave until that plan has been executed, with all boxes ticked.

    Buying a new car is a huge decision, and not one that you want to make lightly, so be prepared to take your time.

    Insist on more time behind the wheel if required, or even return for a second test drive to answer any burning questions.

    “You can’t just drive around the block for five minutes, you really have to experience the car,” said Mr Berick.

    During your time in the car, make sure to adjust the seat and steering wheel to your preference – don’t neglect the basics to save a few awkward moments with the salesperson.

    Take notes

    We’ve all done it before. You attend an important event and pay extremely close attention, but by the next day you’ve forgotten half of what you experienced.

    Avoid that happening on your test drive by taking some notes afterwards. You don’t have to produce a 500-page journal, but just make sure to include some dot points against your key criteria.

    After all, a specification sheet can only tell you so much, especially when it comes to subjective measures such as comfort.

    Sales staff are also a useful resource during the test drive itself.

    “We always make sure we’re there with the customer to answer any questions because questions will pop up in your head as you’re driving that you might not remember by the time you get back,” explained Mr Berick.

    “Then we’ll give them the option to have a drive by themselves if they want to, and even spend more time with the car if they want to.”

    This will help you to make comparisons between the cars you’ve driven, and will jog your memory if the whole process gets a bit overwhelming.

    Obviously, CarExpert has you covered when it comes to in-depth reviews, so you can compare notes with our team to develop a rounded understanding of each car.

    Josh Nevett

    Josh Nevett is an automotive journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Josh studied journalism at The University of Melbourne and has a passion for performance cars, especially those of the 2000s. Away from the office you will either find him on the cricket field or at the MCG cheering on his beloved Melbourne Demons.

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