By on July 24, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 8.13.35 AM

I recently had the opportunity to test drive an automobile, and I remembered why I hate it so much: because test drives are insanely short.

They’re not just a little short. They’re wildly, absurdly, ridiculously short. Some test drives last for eight minutes, even though you will likely own the vehicle you’re driving for several years, you will pay tens of thousands of dollars for it, and you will spend several hours in it every day of your life.

Obviously, we know why this is: dealers don’t want to waste time with test drives. They want these things to go by quickly, so the cars don’t accumulate very many miles, and then they want you to get back into the showroom and start arguing over the price. This is how they get ya. The more time you spend arguing over the price, the more you want the car. “I don’t really want this car,” you think to yourself. “But I’ve already devoted six hours to arguing about the price. So I’d better get it.” This is how Chevrolet sold so many Cobalts.

But is the car buying public really content with these test drives?

The last test drive I took when I was buying a car for myself was in the summer of 2013. I was at a Cadillac dealer, and I was buying a CTS-V station wagon, and the guy allowed me to take the car about seven miles. “Just go up to the light and turn around,” the salesperson said. “That’ll show you how it handles.”

Yes, a U-Turn on a busy street shows me everything I need to know about handling.

Now, I bought that car anyway, because the truth is I didn’t really care how it drove. I had read all the magazine reviews, and watched all the videos, and I knew that I would probably love the car based on the fact that I heard it was excellent from a wide range of trusted journalistic sources, and also Road & Track.

But how does a normal person make a decision based on something as short as a test drive?

Here’s what I mean: you go to the Honda dealer and you’re interested in a Pilot. This is a family car you’ll have for the next five to eight years, until the moldy Doritos smell between the seats gets so bad that you trade it in on an MDX.

Now, when you’re buying a Pilot, you have a LOT of needs. For instance: it has to carry car seats. You have to be able to communicate with your kids in the third row. You have to be able to get grandma in and out of the back seat. You have to be able to store all your children’s accessories back there, like your diaper bag, and your clothes change bag, and your childproofing bag, and your large selection of wet wipes. You have to be able to fit it in your driveway, to pair it with your phone, to go over the bump near your house without too much drama. How the hell are you supposed to figure out all this stuff… from a ten minute test drive?

The funny thing is, I’ve never really seen anyone ask about a longer test drive. I sold cars for a while, and nobody really pushed me very hard to let them take the car out for an extended test. Once, a guy came in and said he would buy a used Pontiac Vibe if we let him take it home so we could see if his tuba fit in the back. So we let him take it home, his tuba fit in the back, and he bought the car. For me, that was the extent of the extended test drive market.

So here’s my question: is today’s society actually OK with the state of modern test drives? Do we find it acceptable that you buy a brand new car without taking it for more of a spin than a quick jaunt around the block? And more importantly: if you’ve ever taken an extended test drive, exactly how did you negotiate it? And what was the dealer’s response when you asked?

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79 Comments on “QOTD: How Do People Make Decisions On a Test Drive?...”

  • avatar

    When I was looking at new cars last fall one of the dealers gave me a nice 35 mile test drive that was a mix of back roads/ country roads/ and some highway, which was fantastic. Didn’t even ask for it, apparently it’s the typical test drive loop they do. Explained why the new car had almost 300 miles on it already though (which is a reason not mentioned why many dealers don’t like long test drives).

  • avatar

    I bet there are people who make decisions on a house in less time. Recall those pre-2008 bidding wars?

    Good point about the test drive. I pay attention to noise, I’ll take it on the hwy and around town. And make sure I fit ok.

    Other than that it’s an emotional/preference thing. You could try renting – if your locals have models you’re interested in.

  • avatar

    The people I know, their minds are made up before the test drive; unless the cars drives like, and has the build quality of a 1986 Hyundai Excel they’re pulling the trigger.

  • avatar

    Funny you should ask. When I looked at an F-150 a few weeks ago and asked to think about it after being presented with the numbers, the salesman pulled out a paper and said, “If you sign this, you can take it home overnight and enjoy it while you’re deciding!”

    At which point I politely said, “Thanks, but I’m not turning that truck into the adult version of the puppy that ‘follows’ a kid home, so I can then ask my Mommy and Daddy, ‘Can I keep it?\'”

    • 0 avatar

      I have taken a prospective car home for the night and look at it as a win-win for the dealer and for me. The dealer knows that once I have spent time with the car, family/friends/co-workers see me driving it, and I enjoy the new car smell I will want to keep it. The benefit for me is that I actually get to drive the car the way I want for a few hours and see if I am still attracted to it in the morning.

      If I stay in love I buy the car; if not I send it back home with no regrets. No downside unless you don’t have the stones to tell the dealer you decided not to buy the car.

      • 0 avatar

        Perhaps there is no downside, and I apologize if I implied such.

        I was simply pointing out the humor, in how I instantly saw similarities to the age-old tactic used by kids who want to trick their parents into letting them adopt a dog.

        As others will attest, it IS a sales tactic, and in my case might have worked better had the salesman not assumed that I had to have the purchase approved by a (nonexistent) Mrs. BuzzDog.

    • 0 avatar
      Cole Trickle

      I believe they actually called that the puppy dog close in my 1 week sales training at the suburban chevy dealer I pretend to work at for a few months.

  • avatar

    I think the biggest value of a normal test drive is finding the instant negatives. Many times I’ve gone to drive a car that is appealing on paper and has good reviews only to instantly rule it out due to issues like an annoying transmission, bad sight lines, or something else ergonomic I can’t stand that isn’t obvious sitting in a showroom. So yes, there definitely is value.

    • 0 avatar


      I test drove a Flex for all of five minutes before I realized I didn’t want to spend five years in that bench of a driver’s seat. I was sliding around on u-turns.

      • 0 avatar

        And they’ve kept those seats for 8 years…

        I think the MkT and Explorer have much better seats. Sad Flex has no money for new seats :(.

        • 0 avatar

          I really wanted that Flex too. My wife loves it and I love the styling, but those seats are like being in my 78 Aspen again.

          Wonder if Volvo seats would fit in a Flex?

          • 0 avatar

            I don’t know. I do know that the Explorer/MkT seats will fit in there. They aren’t Volvo good, but I find them comfortable on the weekly 400+ mile round trip from Detroit to Northern Michigan.

        • 0 avatar
          Cole Trickle

          Never been in the flex but rented an Explorer for a road trip and I never once got comfortable in the driver’s seat. It was a limited with leather too. Also the whole nav/stereo setup was disgustingly cheap feeling. Shame because I really wanted it to work out as I was going to be in the market for a 3 row vehicle and it was the perfect size and not too girly and thought I might even be able to sneak the sport one by my wife as long as consumer reports didn’t slay it but I couldn’t give that thing back fast enough.

    • 0 avatar

      This exactly. While the test drive never helped me decide on cars that were OK, it instantly helped me rule out other cars that–despite looking great on the outside–drove like a bucket of bolts.

      • 0 avatar

        Instant Negatives– Right on the money.

        I test drove a new Toyota Sequoia a year or two ago. I loved the car on paper, but driving it was another story. Even the lightest touch of the brakes would make the car violently jerk. I didn’t want to deal with that. Also I thought the interior was rather plasticky for the $50k price tag.

    • 0 avatar

      Mrs. LGT has climbed onto a test drive car, practically bounced off the seat, and emerged with a hearty “hell no!” Usual suspect is a too narrow foot well, but oddly shaped or poorly padded seats can get an insta-no too. Short test drives are ok for a no, I think not enough for a yes.

  • avatar

    What do people think is a good amount of time, and what do you look for during the drive? Do you generally have a pretty good idea in mind of what car you want before you drive it? Have you ever bought a car without having driven one previously?

    I bought a Z4 without having driven it before. Big mistake.

    For me, after having driven several 986s, my first 987 drive resulted in me buying it on the spot. I barely got to the first stop sign outside of the dealer lot. Love at first sight.

    After having been car-less in New York for the past 5 years, I’m going to buy something this Fall. I’ll insist on an extended drive, at least an hour, mainly for my wife.

    Just for the sake of comparison, I’ve had dealers allow me to take out a 3 and a 5 without the sales guy on board. I didn’t even have to ask.

    At a Porsche store, I spent 3 hours driving a 911 and a Boxster, but the sales guy was with me. No pressure or time limit though, with highway driving too.

    A while back the local Lotus dealer offered to let me take out an Elise for an afternoon, but I didn’t take him up on it.

    • 0 avatar

      What did you dislike about the Z4?

      My brother-in-law sold their Z4 a couple years ago and the buyers didn’t want to test drive it. He encouraged them but they declined. I could see skipping the test drive on a new vehicle that you’re already familiar with, but it doesn’t seem like a good idea on any used vehicle.

  • avatar

    My test driving days are behind me. I know what brand to buy, all I do is toy with a different model or two.

  • avatar

    I have no idea what you are talking about. Never had a problem driving the car as much as I want to. At a minimum I drive over rough city streets and take it out on the freeway to gauge acceleration and higher speed behavior. Usually the salesman hands me the keys and my wife and I are free to drive the car as long as we wish. (They usually take a Xerox copy of my driver’s license.) Only once have I ever had a test drive of a car limited by the salesman, and that was in 1986 at a Honda dealer, and I told them I would not buy the car if all I could do was drive around a long block.

    This has been the case both in Texas and Massachusetts, in big cities where one would think trustfulness would be a minimum.

    Maybe it’s because I don’t ask for “an extended test drive”. I am behind the wheel, I drive the car where I want to drive it. I might say something like “OK, let’s take it up on the freeway and see what kind of pickup it has.” Except for that one incident almost 30 years ago I have never been told I can’t drive a car somewhere.

    • 0 avatar

      same here. i have driven several cars for long rides at either my suggestion or the sales person’s. i have driven by myself and ‘accompanied’. i have been allowed to keep the car overnight but have always brought it back early.

      i have had 2 instances where the salesman told me he had to drive it first, with me in it, either off the lot or about half a mile, then we could swap. don’t know why but i suspect it had to do with rough idle, cold engine response or something that needed to warm up first. needless to say the test drive was perfunctory.

      • 0 avatar

        I have test driven 6-7 new cars in the past year, and 3-4 two years ago (when I bought my Abarth), all pretty sporty fairly expensive models. I have not had a single salesperson go with me. Ultimately, I think it is a profiling thing. If you LOOK like a serious buyer who is not going to steal the car, they toss you the keys. If they have doubts, they go with you. My roommate did not get solo test drives when he was shopping last year, even at some of the same dealerships! He rolled up in an old beatup Volvo (and he doesn’t dress particularly well), I rolled up in a late model BMW dressed business casual…

        I usually go for 15-20 minutes on a test drive. The Porsche dealer offered me a demo Cayman for a weekend, but I declined.

        Technically, I am buying my M235i without a test drive, as the dealer has not had a single stickshift car for me to drive (no surprise). I am not concerned. I have a few weeks in rented 228is, and a spin in an AWD automatic M235i. I’m assuming BMW has not forgotten how to make a stickshift.

  • avatar

    When my wife and I were researching Crossovers… our Hyundai dealer promised us an extended test drive whenever we were closer to purchasing. We scheduled the test drive of a base 2015 Santa Fe sport and had the car from 5pm Friday night until 4pm the next day. We put over 200 KM’s on the car (paid about $10 in gas as they did not leave much fuel in the tank), and was able to really get a feel for it.

    The extended test drive was enough for us to decide on purchasing the Santa Fe Sport. Honestly, being a different class of vehicle then that of what we were used to, this extended test drive was a terrific idea and I was floored that we were not given a demo to use – but a brand new vehicle that still has some wrap on it.

    Oh and the new car we bought was not the one to which we put 200 KM on. I am assuming this other car was to become a demo or something? Not sure.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    The trick is that you have to know what’s important to you before taking the test drive. My priorities are seating position, steering feel, damping, highway power reserve. Obviously I wouldn’t consider the car if it didn’t meet other needs in terms of space, budget, etc.

    You have to take a known route. Half the dealers in my city are in one general area, so I have a route that combines some highway, some city, and a beat-up industrial road (hope they never repave it!). I know how I expect a car to behave on these roads. For instance, there’s one bend with a huge rut in the middle, and I know a badly damped car will end-up in the opposite lane (lots of visibility), and a great car will hug the inside line. I’m sure I’ve scared a few salespeople over the years, but you can learn a lot in a short time if you know what to look for.

    • 0 avatar

      Thats about what I do. One location has decent access to a short road with some ‘twists’ (for my location) and it happens to have a few nice rough spots. And its also close to the freeway.

      I do get turned off by dealers that make me follow their path. Theres one ford dealer thats a total PIA about it. And it seems like honda dealers can be depending on the car.

      I was looking at a civic SI, and was told I could only go around the block. Not enough time at all to get a feel for something.

      But I dont really need hours of driving to see if I like a car. I make a list of cars before hand. Go on my quick drive drives, usually eliminate almost all of them right off the back. Then re-drive the ones I’m interested in.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    The CARMAX store by my house is the worst offender. They have a 4 mile loop which consists of a 45 mph mostly straight road for 2 miles, then an on ramp to the highway with a speed limit of 55 for 2 miles, and finally an off ramp that takes you back on the first road again, back to the lot. It is utterly useless. I once commented that it was too short and the only option I had was to take it around the same loop again.

    If I am serious about buying a car, I always ask if I can take it over the weekend or overnight. I’ve never had a dealer say no, but I’ve also never actually taken anything home. Usually I get too wrapped up in talking price and eventually talk myself out of the car and leave.

  • avatar

    Every car I’ve test driven has been about 20 minutes and included highway. It’s essential cuz 90% of reviews are garbage dribble written by journalists who want everyone to drive a BMW 3 series (car and driver). Best example, the mazda6. Loud, clunky, rough riding, slow, the anthesis of the “sports midsize sedan” that all the journalists write about in their reviews. The 2014 fusion 2.5 on the other hand was a blast to drive and the 2.5 i4 felt faster than the Mazda skyaxtiv 2.5.

    Test drive cars for yourself. Don’t buy cars based on reviews.

    • 0 avatar

      Sadly your Mazda experience roughly mirrors my own (except with the Mazda3, not 6).

      Auto journalists praise how light the car is…and barely mention how it is incredibly evident that most of the weight savings is from decreased sound deafening/insulation (and we are talking about a 4 cylinder economy car, not say a Jag F-Type V8. You don’t want to hear the car).

      Auto journalists praise how good the suspension is and how well it handles…and barely mention how that same suspension makes the car uncomfortable on any road less than perfectly smooth. (and that the car is slow, but I don’t really have a problem with that)

      Auto journalists praise the styling…and barely mention how the swoopy styling means interior visibility is about equivalent to wearing a cardboard box with eyeholes over your head.

      Enthusiasts lament how nobody buys the Mazda3, but it really isn’t much of a mystery in my mind. Don’t get me wrong I still like the car, and it was my #2 choice, but I totally understand why 90% of the general public would choose a Civic or Corolla over it.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a 2.5 fusion rental for a week and was doing some curves at a “this is a bad idea” high speed in it. I was shocked at what it could handle, never once felt near the limit. It blew my previous sports cars, an 89 camaro, and 97 t-bird out of the water. I’m amazed at how far FWD has come, but the steering feel on RWD is still superior.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree with you regarding Mazda6 test drive. I would add outdated and dark and claustrophobic interior and light steering (but not numb).
      I test drove Mazda GT (it is joke to call it “GT”) back to back to Fusion Titanium and Fusion simply killed Mazda6 in my eyes in every category and felt premium compared to Mazda6 GT
      even though both were priced almost the same. There is too much hype around Mazda6 and not many people who would walk the talk and actually buy one
      even in CA.

  • avatar

    You’d be surprised how many people buy new cars off the lot without test driving. Some later regret to find out they should have becaus there’s something they don’t like about the car. Many people aer so unfamiliar with the buying process they may not even ask. A good salesperson will offer, though. They know that someone stepping out of their clapped out 2001 Impala and into a 2015 LTZ will likely get hooked.

    As far as extended test drives go, I’ve never really felt the need. If there’s something I want to check, I can usually do it at the dealer, like fitting a car seat.

    • 0 avatar
      Cole Trickle

      In my brief stint in sales I had several people not bother with the test drive. A few were buying for business purposes for someone else to drive but most were bad credit cases where I pointed to 3 cars after we ran the credit and told them how much down for each and they just picked one. The manager required we never ever let anyone buy without the test drive so they would take it around the block dutifully then come in and sign usually.

  • avatar

    I have a few recent experiences to share.

    Acura dealer: rep handed me the keys to a new mdx/said have fun. We really enjoyed alone time w the car and being able to alternate drivers and actually talk without a stranger in the car.

    VW Dealer: sales rep jumped in the back and never shut the f up. asked my wife to speed through a turn, she said no,..talked trash on other brands. I eventually contacted the sales mgr and complained about our experience.

    Jeep: When i called to arrange the test drive, i requested no sales rep ride along. They let me take the car home overnight,..wife determined it wasnt for her.

    As we get older, night vision is improtant to us, so we like to at least drive the car at dusk/night. How we figured out the nissan pathfinder headlamps were inadequate for us.

    Best advice, polite and ask for what you want,..schedule ahead of time, if they decline,.walk away. your in charge

  • avatar

    I find it interesting that some of the new marketing for buying cars online, i.e. Carvana, seem to be targeted for younger buyers. It seems incredible to me that ANYONE would spend large $$$ on such a purchase WITHOUT some sort of test drive, extended or not, but then, I’m not the target demographic…”Get off my Lawn!” :-)

  • avatar

    I don’t need much. It only takes a few minutes for me to determine whether I actually enjoy driving the vehicle. It takes a lot longer to discover all the details, but I find the most important things, such as seat comfort, ergonomics, visibility, steering and suspension feel, basic transmission operation and behavior, and certain engine qualities are all immediately obvious enough. Best to drive a familiar and uncrowded road so you can concentrate on the vehicle instead of having to focus on traffic and new surroundings.

  • avatar

    I disagree with Doug here. I typically have a small number of cars in mind when I’m buying, and I drive each of them for the usual short test drive. In ten minutes, you _can_ tell a lot about a car.

    I test drove an 09 Saab 9-5 a few years ago and could tell a half mile out from the dealer that the engine sounded like garbage and the dash plastic that looked so nice from outside the car felt like Fisher Price from inside it. I could tell after a couple of minutes that the 08 Acura TL handled better, with a ton more steering feel, than I’d anticipated, and that the engine sound had exactly the sort of clean Swiss-watch wind I liked. The CTS felt big and rough. The Infiniti G felt like the nice girl on a date that just doesn’t click.

    A couple of years later, a Ford Escape felt like a cheap truck, and the CRV was hideous. We couldn’t tell on the initial drives whether we liked the CX-5 enough over the Rav-4 to spend the couple thousand extra for it, so we went back and drove them both again. When we drove the CX-5 the second time, a few minutes after we’d been in the Toyota, we knew instantly.

    How long does it take on a first date before you know whether you want a second date? Sometimes you just know.

  • avatar

    The last time we looked at cars we were given the keys and 1/4 tank of gas so we took it on the local back roads and interstate. We still spent more time with the sales person than anything. :(

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I have bought and/or leased about 40 vehicles over the years and only test drove 2 of them.

    Once bought a vehicle with a stick, when I had never even driven a manual. My buddy drove it home for me and then I learned how to drive it in a parking lot.

    Why, because as De Muro wrote, when I get a car I have already completed my research. “Now, I bought that car anyway, because the truth is I didn’t really care how it drove. I had read all the magazine reviews.”

    And also because I am normally not going to be the only driver. The major concern currently is sightlines and we will not purchase a vehicle with an extremely high beltline. That is why we did not get a Vibe/Matrix even though they checked off all the other necessary boxes.

    Sitting in it and adjusting the seat is normally enough for that. Then test the back seat for legroom. Then fit some athletic equipment in the back; hockey bag, hockey stick, skis or golf bag depending upon the season and what I am carrying in my current ride.

  • avatar

    I will often drive a car two or three times before buying. Without fail I discover something, good or ill, I missed on the last one. Last weekend I drove a CX-5 and determined that the 2.5L is sufficient, but also discovered that the headrests were annoying and the lack of left armrest area for the passenger would be a problem. Little things matter.

    Longer test drives would help. In fact, the best sales model would be entirely online, with only demos for test drives at the dealership. Auto sales is one of the most absurd, antiquated business models still operating in this country. The best dealerships hand you the keys and don’t come with you.

    • 0 avatar

      I completely agree. The current car sales model sucks.

      I, too, drive a car more than once, just to make sure. I think it is the little things that make or break the deal actually. I was absolutely sold on the new Mazda 6. Looked great, reviews were favorable, “best of mid size”, blah, blah. But when open the driver’s door and get in, I was constantly rubbing against the door post (I’m 5″9″, 200 lbs). I liked the way it drove, but felt the door facing (? B-pillar), was too close to my head. I just couldn’t get past rubbing against the opening every time I would get in and out of the car. So that nixed the deal for me.

  • avatar

    My test drive for my Mazda 3 was snagging a codrive in one for a SCCA Solo National Tour. 6 run, 6 minutes total over two days. Came in second so that was good enough for me.

  • avatar

    RESEARCH. I started out with over 2 dozen cars. Spent about a year reading and watching reviews. I finally had it down to 4 cars and one of those was a long shot. Test drives pretty much were done to confirm what I had researched. Of course people say I do too much thinking. On the other had it’s pretty rare that I’m disappointed with a purchase.

  • avatar

    We are fortunate that our city (Naperville, IL) installed a “test track” about 10 years ago, in a large section of land directly behind the car dealer row of about 15 dealerships. When you want to go on a test drive, from any dealership, instead of the usual short trip through neighborhood streets, you get to try the car/truck out on a variety of surfaces and conditions. It really helped us make the decision between a few different brands and models the last time.

  • avatar

    Since the average consumer does his due diligence online and visits less than 2 dealers to finalize his decision. Manufacturers and dealers encourage “test drives” to assist in closing a deal.

    The reality is that most dealers do not have a vast choice of demos to test drive, and if a new vehicle is used obvious the drive is short not to accumulate mileage.

    Back in the day when sales consultants had a “demo” the choice of vehicles available to test drive, even for longer periods was better than today.

    Everyone wants a new vehicle fresh out of the factory door, while everyone wants to test drive any and every model for a longer than shorter period of time without a sales consultant.

    As mentioned most folks within a few minutes arrive at a decision if that vehicle is right for them.

    “Really interested in a Hellcat, want to feel the acceleration can I have one for an extended test drive?”

    • 0 avatar

      Well, our own Mister DeMuro is quoted as saying, “Chrysler would finance a stray dog as long as it doesn’t pee in the showroom floor.” So the dealerships do jump through hoops for customers—the ones that aren’t sleazy—and will often let customers take cars on extended test drives or home for the weekend. However, given the Hellcat’s rarity, I could see them saying no to a longer test drive…because either you want it or you don’t, and if you don’t, someone else does.

      I could also see you getting up and leaving at that point, because that’s still a lot of money to fork over for a car and not know if you really want it. And it’s not a Lotus; it still needs to be a competent daily-driver.

  • avatar

    I’ve had several dealers suggest I take a vehicle home for the night. I’ve had a couple not even join me on the test drive. Maybe they read me as “qualified buyer, but kind of a jerk, so just let him make up his own mind”?

  • avatar

    I can think of another reason why a dealer wouldn’t want you to extensively test a vehicle.

    The car in my driveway wasn’t the first of its kind I test drove. The first one had issues ranging from hidden body damage to burning oil. It is unlikely I would have discovered the last problem with a five minute drive.

  • avatar

    Also, 80% of the “test drive” is static. Climbing around, getting comfortable (or not), testing the features. 5-10 minutes really is long enough in motion to find out how something compares to the other cars I’m considering.

  • avatar

    I have specific some criteria:

    -Will the ignition fail when I use my keyring that includes 47 keys, bottle opener, corkscrew, Swiss Army knife and picture of my mother?

    -Does the airbag contain enough shrapnel to injure those in adjoining cars?

    -Are there enough cupholders and cubby holes to hold three Super Big Gulps’ worth of Mountain Dew, a canister of beef jerky, three large bags of potato chips, several Hershey bars and a grande non-fat latte?

    -Does it have a 1,000-watt 7.1 theater set-up with Dolby THX and dual 37 inch monitors for the comfort of my rear passengers?

    -Is it large enough so that I can intimidate compact car drivers and show them who’s boss?

    Sure, I can figure that out in ten minutes.

  • avatar

    Ordinary buyers, I’m not sure. But myself, as someone who enjoys driving, I can tell pretty quickly if the car “feels right” to me. Steering feel, NVH, acceleration, and of course seat comfort. Unfortunately, with pretty much all mfrs adopting electric power steering, not many cars feel right anymore :-(

  • avatar
    Dr. Remulac

    I’m not sure I can add anything new, I saw a lot of different posts here that summarize my experience and viewpoint on this.

    When trying to purchase my last commuter car 7 years ago, I did want to spend a lot of time for the test drive to mimic my commute experience. Knowing a typical test drive that was offered wouldn’t cut it for me, I asked local Mazda and Honda dealers for a one day rental, which I guess was no longer allowed because they both answered the same. However, the Mazda dealership followed up within a week and mentioned they’d offer me to just take the car for a day. I never heard from Honda again. But within a day or two, ridiculously new and good shape Civic being sold on Craiglist for what I thought was a dumb reason by the owner, had the car vetted by a mechanic and bought it far less than dealer price for equivalent used cars on the lot, and 150k miles later, still running great. (Side note, local Honda dealer advertises they will give loaner vehicle on larger $ service trips, well the one time I qualified, I couldn’t get one. Not impressed)

  • avatar
    Waftable Torque aka Daniel Ho

    I treat test drives like a research project, and it’s mostly to see if the car is worthy of its hype.

    It seems like the driving experience is converging on either a 3-series, Lexus ES, or S-Class. Even the Model S P85D I test drove last week felt like a 2002-2005 ES330 in terms of ride quality, noise isolation, cornering, steering and brake feel, etc. There’s nothing new under the sun here.

    So it boils down to interior design (materials, infotainment, seat comfort), features, and drivetrain. You can do the former two in the showroom, and the latter in just 10 minutes.

    btw, I think once you’ve tried Tesla’s EV drivetrain, you no longer think of the time delay of the ICE/turbocharger/tranny/induction roar as you step on it as a luxury experience.

  • avatar

    After reading all your comments here I’ve not come across any mention of what I believe is the most fundamental reason for extended test drives… seat comfort!

    Since my family has been Honda loyalists for decades when the 2nd gen Ody came out in 1999 I decided it would be a slam dunk decision. I had previously rented Toyota Siennas that we drove for our 800+ mile drives and we very comfortable with them. Logic would dictate that the Honda Odyssey would be little different.

    Back then minivans were a hot commodity and since the Ody was all new dealers had one or two to look at but not drive. Undaunted and believing Honda would be equally competitive I put my deposit down and waited 3 months for our top of the line EX.

    After it arrived and driving it locally it was great. But once we headed out to LA from Phoenix things began to change. About 2 hours into the trip my wife and I both began to feel uncomfortable in our lower backs. The next 6 hours went from discomfort to pure torture.

    Long story short I spent numerous hours and dollars “modifying” the seats. First with sheepskin seat covers and eventually with OEM inflatable bladders that required completely dismantling the seats and took an entire weekend for me to install.

    What I learned from this experience is you can’t fix a bad seat design and short test drives can never reveal potential hidden design or personal compatibility issues. In retrospect, the seat design from that 2nd gen Ody were horrible, as flat as a park bench and lumpy at the lower back section. Another example of cost cutting that proved disastrous.

    Ultimately we kept the vehicle for less than 4 years and rarely drove it during that time. Typically we keep vehicles for at at 12 years of more but not this time…

    • 0 avatar
      Waftable Torque aka Daniel Ho

      I have an simple algorithm I follow to determine seat comfort, and it’s very similar to what I use for evaluating loudspeakers. I even wrote about it once on an audio forum:

      Essentially, I look for a car with exceptionally comfortable seats, like any Volvo or a flagship luxury sedan. Use that as your baseline. Now compare with your chosen vehicle. Can you qualify the difference in less than a couple minutes? If it’s obvious, the seat will NOT be comfortable over long distance drives.

      For audio, I now use my Apple EarPods run through the $3 Dirac HD Player app with their proprietary DSP/active equalization. No $1000+ headphones I’ve tried even equals that combination of alchemy and science. I still have my Nuance 330’s, their deficits revealed by the superiority of the Dirac setup and my Lexus Mark Levinson system, but still firmly hi-fi.

    • 0 avatar

      I had this same problem with a 2010 Honda Accord EX-L. The lower lumbar sticks out too far, even in its most retracted position, and it’s extremely uncomfortable. That said, it was someone else’s car and I drove it most of the way on a five-hour trip with that person, but my back did not hurt until four hours in, and I realized it was not something I would have caught on a regular test drive.

  • avatar

    Step one: do the short test drives to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Step two: boil the list down to a few final contenders, and ask the dealer to take them out for longer drives. As long as you have insurance and don’t look like you’re going to hoon around (being a 50 year old guy helps here), then they’ll let you. And if they don’t let you, then tell them you’re going to take your business elsewhere.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed – by the time I’m ready to buy, I’m test driving the dealer more than the car itself, all of my research is already done.

      I’ll spend many months choosing a new car, using a wide variety of methods to decide, not just individual test drives from dealerships.

      When on travel assignments, the National “pick whatever you want” option is helpful to broaden horizons on what competing manufacturers offer, especially for vehicles you might not normally look at – it can help us challenge our own prejudices.

      Handy tip: National has never asked me to confirm that I’m in their super duper frequent renter program for the slightly nicer selection. Worst thing that could happen to you is you say “oops, sorry”.

  • avatar

    I guess it depends, but before I buy a car I do a ton of research so the test drive comes down to “Is there anything about this car I hate enough to make me look at something else?” That’s usually a pretty quick process. Our Mini test drive was a 10 minute jaunt down some curvy roads, with the sales guy pointing out a few features I wasn’t aware of. No surprises, easy sell. It helps that I tend to be drawn to unique vehicles so there isn’t a lot to cross-shop. If I were hunting a 3-row SUV to haul a passel of kids around, I’d probably do a lot more test driving.

  • avatar

    When I bought my Mazda2, I was already fairly sure it was what I wanted. I’d read plenty of reviews that pretty much confirmed it was pretty much what I wanted, and had gone to a Mazda-sponsored event with a cone course. From there, my only concern was confirming it felt less weedy with the stick I wanted than the automatic I had tried at the corporate event. In the interest of diversity, I also tried out a 2.0 Jetta (dealer let me take it out solo, liked it, but slightly more expensive and bigger than I need) and a Nissan Micra (felt a little too unrefined, and the poor interest rates made it not worthwhile). I was hoping to try out an Ecoboost Fiesta, but at the time I was shopping, they were pretty much non-existent.

    After almost a year and 32k kms, I’m still happy with my decision. A longer test drive might have revealed the powerband to be rather uneven (so thrash the thing constantly), the seats intermittently uncomfortable (haven’t noticed that in months though), and it’s not exactly quiet (but then most of my driving’s shorter trips, so not a priority).

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I concur with the above posts. I have always known what I was going to be looking at, ie never showed up at a dealership and said sell me a car today, any car….

    The Jeep Wrangler I purchased recently was interesting. Our intent was the heart and a key version with 6 mil and 6 MT. After the first test drive I realized that the jeep drove exactly like I figured it would, each was fine, but with manual windows my left knee rested on the window crank. Odd that has never happened before and I would not have thought about it honestly as something to look for. Anyway, I advanced us in option package to requiring power windows very quickly. I have not regretted that decision.

    Best part of the drive on the initial one was the salesman. Telling me how great this jeep was, and it was a roach in all respects and all th work they done to it. Used car store, I am fairly certain they may have washed it. Regardless, on the test drive while he was babbling about great the store is I was doing 50 mph or so and released my grip on the steering wheel and the jeep changed lanes for me in quite an abrupt fashion. Test drive over,

  • avatar

    Every car purchase that I ever made “same day” has been a regretful purchase. I’m not sure what emotions have compelled me to buy without an overnight sleepover with the potential new ride. My Ranger, Celica, Civic Si, and ATS were fast, emotional purchases. Fail. Of the last six new cars I’ve purchased, five have been kept overnight. The new Impala I just bought in January was TWO consecutive nights of staying up late, telling ghost stories in the garage, making sure that we could be friends.

  • avatar

    “…trusted journalistic sources, and also Road & Track.”

    Ouch. That smarts.

    As far as test drives go, I drove two different flavors of several different cars before I ended up with my Sonata – and the test drives were definitely useful. Fusions were really high on my list, but Ecoboost variants were thin on the ground (and expensive) and it turned out that the base 2.5’s 175hp wasn’t enough to yank the somewhat-heavy Fusion up a hill without the autobox zinging up and down through the gears constantly. The Sonata, with 10 more hp and 200 fewer pounds to lug around, wasn’t exactly snappy but it could at least just drop one gear and keep on truckin’, making driving it on the abundant local hills a much more tolerable prospect.

    The dealers that I talked to had no problem with my driving the cars for as long as I wanted. Heck, a few times they damn near threw the keys at me and told me to go have fun and come back whenever. As much as people complain about the process, I have to say it didn’t at all live down to expectations.

  • avatar

    In Canada, I get test drive for 30 minutes.
    Some car makers (BMW, Mercedes) allow me to drive the car without
    sale person, so I can focus on the car and I don’t have to listen
    to sale person, who doesn’t understand the advantages of RWD over AWD.
    (no sale person in Canada does)
    I can take the car on highway and get to know the car.

  • avatar

    I went to visit our local BMW dealer, and they told me that the M3 had the dubious distinction of being the only car where someone died in it during a test drive by missing a turn and rolling the car. No salesman in the car at the time.

  • avatar

    I think generally Buick is doing a good thing here with the 24 hour test drive. But I remember some dealers in the past making it difficult to say no. Reading the asterisk Buick will keep your car and if they make it difficult to get it back, they may loose any good will they thought they would of earned.

  • avatar

    There’s another option, at least for some brands.

    Current-gen Priuses are getting dirt cheap, as in $20k. I test-drove one a few months ago (short dealer test loop) and found it pretty awful.

    However, certain Toyota dealers also rent cars, and you can choose the model.

    I think I’ll rent a Prius for a week and see if it’s livable. $200 for a week rental is a cheap way to find out if I can live with a car for 10 years.

  • avatar

    Going on a test drive should be one of the last steps one takes to buying a vehicle. Research should fill in many(most) of the blanks.

    DeMuro mentioned finding out how everyone fits in the vehicle. One doesn’t need to be driving to find out about access, egress, space and comfort. I bring my sons and wife with me when we look at something new. We have an annual “mega-sale” at our fairgrounds. Every dealer is there. It is a great place to go to sort out fit and feel. I go every year.

    Test drives are great for layout, seat comfort and ride quality. I hated the seats in the Odyssey we test drove almost immediately. My kids hated the back seats on the previous gen Escape right off the bat. Same with the GM crewcab trucks.

    As previously stated by many others; you have to know what you are looking for before you go in.

  • avatar

    i have taken 3 or 4 cars home over night. new and used. one was even around 30 miles from our house; it was used so i don’t think they were as concerned with the miles. i ended up dropping it off the next day after the wife didn’t like it.

    the three others i drove home i eventually bought. one was new, the other two were used.

    it’s the only way to “test” drive a car! they have never had a problem when i have asked to do it, either.

  • avatar

    I’ve never bought a brand new car, but, when we bought our first CR-V (first time ever I bought something off a dealer)we went around measuring back seat width (armrest to armrest) until we found a couple of cars that were wide enough. (the other car was a totally nasty Toyta minivan) The short test drive told me it had the usual Honda gearshifts, nice sightline over the reasonably low hood, and it felt incredibly light and agile compared to the awful 525ix I had at the time. The short test drive did not exactly show me how awful the seats would be after sitting more than an hour in them though (I’m exactly 6 ft tall) I do my research before buying anything though, sometimes too much of it, and a couple of times too little of it. Like when after my ’03 CRV was totalled I went and bought an ’07 thinking it would be as good, but I ended up selling that, and will have a ‘new’ 2nd gen CR-V after the weekend is over :)

  • avatar
    Cole Trickle

    The puppy dog take it home for the night close is an excellent sales technique. That’s how I ended up with my 2002 Audi A4. I knew knew knew Audis were bad news, but it was CPO and my Hemi Ram was costing me more in gas than the note. I was about dead even on it but it was about to hit 70k, where value generally drops significantly on a trade-in. There were rumors the transmissions were weak and mine was already slipping. I paid that $50 deductible a dozen times in 2 years of ownership, but every time I drove it I loved it as much as I did the first time I took it home. It wasn’t even a hot one. 1.8t, no quattro, but it was red with the sport wheels and it looked like a million bucks to me.

    When I was in the market again, I made sure to get an MDX loaner when I took my wife’s TSX in for some niggling issue and I kept it all day. I was in love by the end of the day, and when I drove one back to back with my wife’s preferred highlander the difference was very clear. They drove so completely different from each other and the MDX felt so much nicer and more refined even with the 20k it already had on the clock vs. the brand new highlander.

    Along the way, I drove an outback. I really, really wanted the outback to work for us, but the passenger seat doesnt raise and lower and it was truly awful to sit in for more than 20 minutes. The stereo was also the worst I’ve heard in a modern vehicle that I could remember despite being the top of the line model. That passenger seat would have relegated me to doing all the driving on every road trip for the next 10 years and I just couldn’t deal. I handed the keys back the next day, hoping that I could put off the purchase a few more years until they got it together on the seats at least (the tunes can easily be fixed for a grand) but the next month my car was totalled. I can’t imagine a test drive of less than an hour for any car I plan to take on road trips. Who would have thought that for 40k you might not be able to get comfortable in the seats.

  • avatar

    Some things you know immediately – like visibility, seat comfort, seat belt position (immediately bothered us in our Volvo… and to this day still does), acceleration, general noise level, overall suspension feel, gauge layout, easy of loading, etc. Other things about a car take long time to figure out. For example when I got my Eclipse I did a quick test drive and didn’t really like it, felt too small and tight. However I loved the power, so the next day I came back and took an extended drive in a different model that had a lighter interior, plus sunroof which made it feel way more airy. I drove the same route between my job and home since I was very familiar with it. I drove the car for nearly 4 hours and actually started liking it more and more as I got comfortable and confident in its handling.

    So in my case a quick drive would have results in no sale. My Z was the opposite, I drove it for about 2 miles and knew I wanted it. Even my wife was amazed at how it drove and told me to get it. Ironically over time she has learned to hate the Z because its loud and stiff.

  • avatar

    With used vehicles I must have it long enough to have my mechanic look it over.

  • avatar

    I think a related issue is that a lot of people wait to car shop until a new car is a fairly immediate need/want, so they don’t spend time comparing/evaluating over more than a day or two. Another is that many are more concerned with the price and image than if the car is really the best choice. My parents, for example, spend far more time evaluating the “deals” than the vehicles themselves. My asking stuff like, “but which will you like being in everyday for the next few years” seemed odd to them. I also learned to not agree to buy anything that expensive without at least going home for the night and considering it.

    But I went into a very long, super research mode about three years ago. I knew my 2000 Accord Coupe with nearly 250K miles would need to be replaced soon, especially as I commuted over 80 miles a day. I was in no hurry, however, and spent time researching and test driving everything I could find that fit what I needed/wanted (manual transmission, engaging to drive, but efficient, comfortable and reliable enough to enjoy spending 90 minutes a day in). So I visited a lot of dealers, was clear about the buying process, and evaluated both the car and seeing if the dealer was one I wanted to help keep in business. During this time, my Honda kept going, so my extensive car search and test drives became kind of a joke amongst my friends.

    The test drives were varied. One for a used Acura TSX at a Ford dealer was a simple around a few city blocks, in traffic, never over 45MPH and no room to accelerate (although I did get to test the brakes a bit when avoiding a deer). The salesman said they weren’t allowed to take people further out. On the opposite was a BMW salesman who figured me for an enthusiast and directed me towards winding, undulating roads around a nearby state park at dusk. That was the most fun test drive, and nearly sold me the car right then. There was also a Subaru dealer (now out of business) that let me take a Legacy GT out by myself, but it was almost out of gas. And others I remember mostly because of the sales people, like a guy spending most of the time talking about how much his job sucked while I drove an Infiniti G35 (he also knew nothing about the car as he sold Chevys), and a Nissan salesman who tried to give me the “buy today or the deal’s gone” hard sell and, when that didn’t work, insulted my old but well cared for Honda (“I can’t believe you’re leaving here in that old piece of crap.”)

    And while some cars stood out, one local dealer chain stood out as well, for both allowing longer, varied road test drives and sales people who paid attention to what I was asking and were fairly straight forward (the same chain where I test drove the BMW, a VW, a Ford and Mazdas). So one morning when my Accord didn’t start for the first time ever, I decided it was time to pick one, and I knew at that point that it would be a Mazda 3, which was also the least expensive car I tested. It’s now nearing 60K miles.

  • avatar

    I never had a dealer say how long I could test drive it, as if I was seriously considering it, one of the first three sentences that left my mouth was “Mind if I take it to my mechanic?” Worked like a charm. If I really, really liked the car by the time I reached that point, I would actually take it to the mechanic.

    This is for used cars, though. And in a smaller town, they didn’t even care to ride with you most of the time (it helped that I knew or my parents new at least one salesman or manager at every car dealer). I’ve had them simply toss me keys to something I was looking at (even new). Ahh, I miss being in a little town sometimes. For a new car? You damn well bet I want more than 10 minutes and a U-turn. And I will ask if I’m intending to buy if all goes well enough and the car is what I want it to be.

  • avatar

    I feel like there’s a difference too between whether I’m shopping new or used, too.

    With a used car I pay a lot more attention to things like front-end alignment, transmission noise, or other weirdness that would tell me the car has some not-well-hidden issues and I need to keep looking. I’m not really worried about that with a new car.

    I agree with what others have said, research first, then sitting in the car for sight lines and basic ergonomics, etc. By the time I’m on the street, it’s mostly about ride feel and can I live with the engine/tranny combo.

    I had one Hyundai dealer who actually wanted me to take the car overnight and would not take no for an answer. They were seriously out of my way and I only went there to validate the local dealer’s price so it was a big inconvenience and it overrode the small savings they were offering over the local dealer.

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