The Times Australia

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The Times


The ultimate guide to test driving a new car

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There’s something uniquely exciting about being in the market for a new car and getting to go out on test drives. The new gadgets you’ve never had before, that feeling of getting to grips with the handling of a new machine and, of course, the new car smell. But whether you’re buying a brand new car or a used car, it is important to treat the experience with the diligence that it deserves. A test drive is the one chance you get to make sure that every feature of the car is to your liking, so don’t treat it as just a fun little drive around the block. Remember, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the car you ultimately choose to buy, and that’s without having even mentioned the financial significance of your investment.

So if you’ve got some cars to go look at, it’s worth taking a checklist along to help perform the most thorough test you can. It’s recommended that you pay special attention to the following.


It’s not frivolous; your eyeballs are going to spend plenty of time on this car. And others are going to see you in it, so you want a car that reflects you and your sensibilities. Even the colour of the car should be taken into consideration as you don’t want any visual features slowly start to grate on you.

Comfort and Ergonomics

Spend a few quite minutes inside the car, ideally on your own. Is the seat comfortable to sit in? Make sure you can adjust it to suit your preferred driving posture. Can you place your left foot comfortably on the foot rest without raising your right knee too high for comfort when using the brake and accelerator? Something like this can easily go unnoticed until it’s too late.

The next thing to do is assess the layout of all the controls. This should include the headlights, indicators, windscreen wipers, stereo controls, cruise control and climate control, just to name a few. Are they easily accessible and easy to operate while concentrating on the road?


If the car is used, you’re going to want to check that everything functions properly. This means taking a minute to test out the features already mentioned above. In addition to them, try out the power windows, hazard lights, check the centre console hinge and latch are OK as well as the glove box. Also, crank up the stereo to make sure none of the speakers begin to crackle or cut out, and test out the head unit to make sure the navigation and smartphone connectivity is all working.

Even if you’re testing a new car, it’s still worth making these checks just to ensure everything feels, looks and sounds good.


You probably already know how you want your next car to perform, but it’s still worth making sure the car can handle what you need it to. Is there enough cargo space for your leisure activities? Is there enough room in the back for the kids?

It’s Time to Hit the Road

Now that you’ve spent a good few minutes doing your initial checks, and assuming you’re happy with how the car has performed, it’s time to take to the roads and put it through its paces.

If possible, it’s a good idea to try to recreate the most common driving scenarios that you encounter. If most of your road time is spent in dense traffic, then make sure you put the car in this situation during the test drive. You want to know how the car performs in the kinds of conditions that you’re most likely to encounter.

Once you’ve got going, these are the important things to pay attention to.

1. Ride quality

How comfortable is it to drive? Is it a bit stiff, especially on bumpy surfaces? Or is it nice and soft? Drive on as many roads as you can—hills, windy roads, fast roads etc—and don’t be afraid to test how the car handles the occasional pothole.

Also check for excessive engine, interior, tyre and wind noise. Test with windows up as well as down. Excessive noise may become irritating.

2. Power

You want the car to be able to respond quickly when you put your foot down. Decent acceleration is important for many overtaking situations as well as for avoiding potential accidents. It’s not just about fun for petrol heads, it’s about safety too, so give it the beans.

3. Handling

How does the car deal with windy roads? How does it respond to a sudden change in direction? Test this out by performing a variety of steering manoeuvres at different speeds—short fast turns, long fast turns, slow changes in direction etc.

4. Braking

Make sure the brakes slow the car in a straight and controlled manner. Brake softly and then aggressively to test the car’s reaction to sudden braking input. If you have any passengers with you, be sure to give them a heads up.

5. Transmission

For a manual, check for smooth gearshift and clutch action, making sure they’re both precise and easy to use. You don’t want gear changes to be loose and sloppy.

If testing an automatic, notice whether the gear changes are smooth and seamless or if they’re harsh and jolty. Also check that the transmission behaves in a way that is conducive to your style of driving. Some auto transmissions may shift gears when you don’t want them to or vice versa, so test it out in a variety of conditions to make sure it suits your driving.

If you’re looking at a 4WD, test that it engages and disengages 4WD easily and intuitively. Many brand new 4WDs like the Skoda Kodiaq, for example, have quite clever systems that are easier to operate than others.

6. Parking

Be sure to test how the car performs all parking manoeuvres. Check for blind spots, test the rear camera if it has one, and take note of the car’s turning circle.

Ready to go?

The better prepared you are for a test drive, the more capable you are of making the best possible decision. It’s easy to get a little excited and end up focussing only on the superficial things, so take this guide along with you to help you perform a more thorough test drive. If you can, have a companion with this checklist along for the ride, too. That way they can help make sure you don’t overlook anything and can also give you a second opinion.

Happy testing!


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