1) Don’t just do a quick lap of the block. Take the time to really get the feel for this car. Try to drive it in different conditions, in traffic, on a bumpy road and stretch its legs on a freeway too. On balance how was it? Smooth? Teeth chattering? Lazy?
2) Try to limit conversation with the sales rep during the test. Turn the radio off (you can check the audio system later) and listen to the road noise and the general sound of the car. Are there any annoying rattles? It should be relatively quiet not drowned out by tyre noise.
3) How comfortable are the seats? Try adjusting the driver’s seat and remember if you do long commutes every day you don’t want to feel cramped or compromised in your seating position from a safety point of view. Check the legroom and headroom.
4) Are there any blind spots. A good driver will look over their shoulder as well as indicating before they merge or change lanes. When you glance over your shoulder is the view obstructed in any way? How badly?
5) Without breaking the law or the company’s test drive policy make sure you turn into a few corners at speed. Not outside your comfort zone! By doing this you should be able to gauge steering response. Does it feel light or firm? Most importantly does it instill you with confidence? It should.
6) If more than one person is going to drive the car on a regular basis take them with you. Let them drive it too and get their impressions. Sometimes a second opinion is a good thing particularly if you’re enamored with the car!
7) Is the dash/instrumentation layout easy to read? You want to be able to check the vitals with a brief glance not a distracting search that takes your eyes off the road.
8) Put your foot down! Again within the speed limit and your own ability. How responsive was it? Keep your expectations realistic. Don’t go expecting Ferrari performance if you’re in a Hyundai i20.
9) How was the whole experience? For me this is the most important. I’m a practical person first and foremost but we’ve all got some ego in us. Could you see yourself driving this car every day? Would it make you happy? For the most part it should.
10) What does a professional driver look for? Craig Baird, the world’s most successful Porsche Cup racer, says safety is his first consideration. “I want to know that my wife and kids are going to be safe and that the features in the car will offer us the best protection. Then it’s about drivability. The low range torque found in many of the current European diesel engines makes them a pleasure to drive. I like my race car to have a precise front-end In a road car I want the same feel. The steering feedback from the front wheels to the driver should be very direct not light and airy. And remember tyres can make a big difference too. Paying a little extra for good rubber is worth every penny. Do your homework on the vehicle first but I still think a good test drive is vitally important when you buy a new car.”