Which Car is Best for You?
By Philip Powell
Aaron Gold, About.com s Cars Expert, has been an automotive journalist for a decade and a half and has been writing for About.com since 2004. He contributes to several automotive publications and is a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury.
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But there are three simple tests you can administer yourself which, if answered properly, will make the task easier.
Test # 1 Lifestyle:
This is about your status in life; single, married, children. It s about where you live; in the city or suburbs, or a decidedly rural area. It s about your activities, your hobbies, your work. And of course, it s about your income. We suggest you sit down, and with pen and paper in hand, analyse your personal lifestyle. Be honest, painful though that may be. When you ve finished, write down your needs.
And don t get hung up on design or performance or whatever your wise uncle recommends. The objective here is to define your new vehicle solely in terms of function. In simple terms: What should this new vehicle do for me? What will be its mission?
Test # 2 Driving style:
Okay, those who regard a car as an appliance and consider driving as exciting as lawn bowling, may want to tune out. Please don t. Everyone who sits behind the wheel of a moving vehicle has a personal driving style, whether they realise it or not.
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For example, do you enjoy driving, or is it a painful necessity? Like the slam-in-the-back feel of power? If the road twists and turns, rises and falls, is that a challenge, or merely something to endure until the next arrow-straight highway appears? How important is performance? Or economy? Answer those questions honestly and you ve established your style and from that, your needs as a driver.
Test #3 Choosing the Options:
Wise buyers will already know how much engine is enough. Modern 4-cylinder engines, for example, are remarkably powerful, with smoothness to match. And they can cut fuel and maintenance bills substantially over the life of the vehicle. Some of the newest V-6 engines are capable of outperforming yesterday s V-8 s. Our motto: Never buy more horses than you really need. With most people opting for automatics, the choice of transmission may appear irrelevant. But if you enjoy operating clutch and gears with precision, a manual will be more fun and save cash in fuel expenses. It should be pointed out though, that today s automatics are far more efficient than they once were and as 5-speed automatics or gearless CVTs filter down to the lower end of the market, a manual is redundant except for hard-core enthusiasts.
What about design as a factor in decision-making? Fashion can be fleeting, my friend. Manufacturers design their cars to attract buyers, then initiate changes that make yesterday s beauty appear outdated. Our advice: unless you can afford to replace your car every three or four years the safest route is to avoid vehicles with exaggerated lines or trendy shapes.
Selecting features and options is not made easier by the vast number of technological advances in today s automobiles. Some, such as ABS brakes and traction and stability control, are major contributors to safety. Others qualify as luxuries that are nice if you can afford them, but not essential to everyday driving. Our advice is to research this aspect of car shopping very thoroughly before visiting a dealer (test drive reviews are good sources of information; so is the manufacturer s catalog if you ignore the hype). Salespeople are understandably eager to sell profit-making options so before you buy, be absolutely certain you know what features you want, then refuse to budge.
Once you ve done your homework, it s simply a matter of deciding which body type or vehicle category best suits your lifestyle (by which we mean coupe or sedan, hatchback or station wagon, SUV, or perhaps a crossover vehicle), then making a few decisions about performance, price, and options. Consider advice from friends or relatives if you must, but don t be dissuaded. It s your lifestyle, your life, and your new car.