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Manufacturer test drive comparison

A test drive is often your only chance to see how a car will fit with your life. Here's how to make the most of the opportunity.

You wouldn't buy a house without properly seeing inside, and you wouldn't agree to marry someone after a five-minute date. Why, then, is it considered normal to decide whether to buy a new car based on a sales pitch and a five-minute test drive around the block?

Car dealers often insist on joining you for a running sales pitch during the ride. Other dealers understand the importance of a test drive when preparing to make such a large financial investment and allow for a longer, more comprehensive experience.

Find out how different car manufacturers tackle test drives and everything you should ask or do during the experience.

How do car manufacturer's test drives compare?

Conduct your own manufacturer test drive comparison with this handy table.

ManufacturerLength of test driveSpecial featuresHow to book a test drive
AudiNormal test drives are as negotiated with the dealer. Audi Driving Experience is a full-day course in various locations.Audi Driving Experience is a set of specialised courses including advanced driving, sports driving, ice driving and driving courses solely for women. Located around the world, including Australia, Austria and Sweden, prices start at $500 for the women's course and up to $6,500 for the ice driving experience in Austria.You can request normal test drives by completing an online form. You can book and pay for Audi Driving Experiences online.
BMWNormal test drives are as negotiated with the dealer. BMW Driving Experience is a day-long course.BMW Driving Experience is an extended test drive and an all-day driving course. It costs more than $1,000 with prices varying between states.You can book a normal test drive or the BMW driving experience online or by phone.
FordAs negotiated with each dealership.Australian residents can request a test drive online. Non-Australian residents must phone for an appointment.
HoldenAll Holden models can be test driven for 24 hours or for a shorter period.Receive a $500 Visa card if you test drive a Holden and then purchase a similar car in the same price range within 30 days.You can book a test drive online or by phone.
HondaAs negotiated with your local dealer.You can select up to three Honda models when requesting a test drive online.After you fill in an online form, your closest dealer will contact you.
HyundaiAs negotiated with each dealership.Hyundai previously ran a promotion whereby you could earn 5,000 Velocity points by test driving a Tucson or Santa Fe. That promotion has expired, but similar promotions could occur in the future.The online form allows you to specify your preferred date and time of the test drive. A representative from Hyundai will then contact you to make firm arrangements.
IsuzuAs negotiated with your local dealer, depending on the Isuzu model you wish to test drive.Choose whether you wish to test drive a D-Max ute or MU-X when booking the test drive.You can book test drives with an online form.
JeepAs negotiated with each dealership.You can only select one Jeep model when booking a test drive.You can request contact with an online form.
KiaAs negotiated after making contact with your local dealership.You can select up to three Kia models when requesting a test drive.After choosing the model(s) you wish to test drive, a map will be displayed showing your closest dealerships that stock those models. Phone numbers and opening hours are displayed for each dealership.
MazdaAs negotiated with each dealership.You can request a test drive online.
Mercedes-BenzTest drive bookings made online fall within a one-hour slot. You could negotiate a longer test drive directly with your local dealer.After selecting your preferred Mercedes-Benz model, fuel type and transmission, you will be shown a map of all dealerships in Australia that offer that model. Select a dealer, then you can book the date and time of your test drive.
MitsubishiAs negotiated with each dealership.You can select one Mitsubishi model for a test drive.The online form allows you to indicate your preferred date and time, but a final booking will be made when a representative phones you after you submit the form.
NissanNissan Pathfinders can be test driven for up to 24 hours. Other Nissan cars are as negotiated with the dealership.You can negotiate test drive length and extent over the phone before the appointment.You can request an extended test drive for a Nissan Pathfinder online. You can request regular test drives online or request a call-back.
SubaruAs discussed with your local dealership.Subaru offers the "test drive at yours" service on VX and Impreza models in some areas, where a representative will bring the model to your home or workplace for you to test drive.You can request normal test drives with an online form. A separate online form for the "test drive at yours" service will advise you if the service is available in your area.
SuzukiAs negotiated with each dealership.You can select up to two models to test drive.The online form will prompt you to select your preferred dealer. A representative will then contact you to make a test drive booking.
ToyotaAs negotiated with each dealership.The manufacturer encourages extensive test drives and recommends test driving during the week.You can request a test drive by phone or online. The dealership will accept walk-ins depending on availability.
VolkswagenAs negotiated after making initial contact via an online form.Complete an online form and a representative will contact you.

When picking a new car, you have the option of taking a test drive. Here are a few pointers to remember to make sure you don't buy a lemon.

Read reviews and create a hit list

First off, you should try narrowing things down. There are literally hundreds of different car models and specifications to choose from. If you go to a car dealership without an idea of even the type of car you're interested in, you'll be utterly bamboozled.

The best place to start is by jotting down a few ideas about how you expect to use your new car. Will it be for short commutes? Is this your second car? Are you looking for a motorway cruiser? This will help narrow down possible cars to investigate.

You should also check out our comparison car reviews. Our reviews help you save time by combining the findings of several automotive journalists into one easy-to-browse article. We also give each vehicle an aggregate Finder score to help you decide.

Check around local car dealerships

After creating your hit list of cars, it's time to pick up the phone. Ring around your local dealerships to see

  1. If they have any demo cars that match your preferred trim and specifications.
  2. To book a time to head out on a test drive.

If salespeople know you're interested in seriously buying a car, they should jump at the chance to offer you a test drive.

How to book a test drive

Dealerships have different requirements when it comes to booking a test drive. Some dealerships will allow walk-ins to organise a test drive there and then, while other dealerships will only allow test drives that have been scheduled in advance.

Dealerships are increasingly allowing online bookings to keep up-to-date with modern consumer practices. See the table above to compare manufacturer test drive requirements and find out how each manufacturer schedules test drive bookings.

Ask for a loan for 24 hours

It's pretty hard to gauge how good (or bad) a car is after driving it less than a few kilometres. Having a car sales representative as a co-driver also means you'll be engaged in a quasi-trivial-conversation-come-marketing pitch. As a result, you'll be a little distracted.

To avoid this problem, see if you can secure a longer test drive. You may even be able to borrow a car for the weekend.

With no salesperson in the passenger seat, you can spend time feeling out all the little nuances of the vehicle without pressure or disturbance.

You'll also get the chance to see how well the car fits into your normal daily travels.

For example, does the steering lock make navigating your workplace underground car park a hassle? Does the engine have to work hard to maintain speed on motorways? Having a loan car for longer lets you discover all these foibles.

What to do on your test drive

Taking a new car for a test drive can be a daunting experience. The excitement of potentially purchasing a new car combined with the pressure of the time-sensitive situation is usually worsened by being under the salesperson's watchful eye. When taking a car on a test drive, it is important to not panic and to not feel rushed or under pressure.

Consider the following tips when taking a car for a test drive:

  • Longer test drive. Taking a car for a five-minute trip around the block does not constitute a sufficient test drive. However, this is what many car dealers will encourage you to do. A minimum of a 30-minute drive is a more realistic expectation for a test drive. So, don't allow yourself to be limited to a quick trip around the block. Drive to a nearby shopping centre or parking facility and try your hand at parking. Choose a relatively tight spot and ease your way in. Can you see all four corners of the car when parking? Notice how much visibility you have when backing out of the same parking spot.
  • You control the test drive. Remember that you are the one spending the money, and you are the one who will be spending a significant proportion of your life driving the car. Try not to let the salesperson control the transaction or the test drive.
  • Test drive more than one car. Aim to test drive several cars in one day, even models that you are not keen on purchasing. Comparing the test drive experience of one car to another will give you much better idea of the real car experience than evaluating one car on its own.
  • Try every feature. Reading a car manufacturer's brochure may make your chosen car sound like the best vehicle ever made. In reality, some things on the car may be extremely well designed and excel expectations. On the other hand, certain features like the in-car infotainment system might be cumbersome and tricky to work while driving. Consequently, it's important to try and use each feature on the car during your test drive. Operate the lights and wipers and if there's one installed – play with the voice control system. Note how easy it is to use the features and whether you like their layout. This way, you can make an objective decision on whether the car is to your liking.
  • Listen. One of the most important things to do on a test drive is to listen, especially if you're trying out a used car. Listen for any rattles, squeaks, metallic pings and clunks. These noises can be a sign that something is wrong, about to fail or even hanging off. Even on brand new cars, there could be an irritating squeak from the interior plastics rubbing against each other. Also, listen to the general noise level in the cabin. At high speeds, is there an irritating drone from a lack of soundproofing during the build process? Can you no longer hear a front seat passenger talking at a sensible volume, even at relatively low speeds?
  • Get your family. If you will regularly be carrying other people in the car with you, such as your partner or children, bring them along during the test drive. Load your family into the car just as you would on any other day and gauge their reactions to the comfort of the car and the ease of getting in and out. It can be difficult to assess backseat comfort from the driver's seat, so have other people sit in the back seat and give you their opinion on comfort, airflow and legroom.
  • Ease of getting in and out. If you will be carrying elderly people, people with disabilities or anyone who has problems moving around, either bring them to the test drive with you or take the time to assess the car from their point of view, particularly regarding the ease of getting in and out of the car.
  • Test a baby seat or booster seat. If you'll be installing a baby seat or booster seat, bring the seat with you. Take the time to fit the seat into the car to see how easily they can be installed and how well they fit. Assess the height of the seat once it's installed and imagine lifting a baby or toddler in and out several times. Is this a good height for you?
  • Check storage. Think about how much storage you'll need. Don't rely on your eyes to judge the size of a boot or passenger cabin. Subtle things like the roofline can make the rear of a car appear huge when in actual fact it's a small and cramped space. If you regularly carry large items like bulky sports equipment, bring it with you to make sure everything will fit. If purchasing a small car, think about your weekly shopping needs and ensure you'll have plenty of storage room in the boot. Also, it isn't a bad idea to take some luggage or a travel case with you on a test drive, so you can load up the boot and get a sense of how much you'll be able to carry in this new car. You might discover the car sits higher than your existing one and this may prove an issue for those with joint or back problems.
  • Check brakes. Safety is of the utmost importance when choosing a car, and one of the most important elements of safety is the brakes. The dealer may not like this, but it's vitally important to test the brakes before committing to purchasing the vehicle. Navigate to a quiet street or the back area of a parking facility, drive at regular speed, then imagine a cyclist or child has just appeared in front of your car and quickly apply the brakes. Did the car stop swiftly and securely, making you feel safe?
  • Get on a freeway. Finally, experience how the car handles at freeway speed. Drive to your nearest freeway or motorway on-ramp and enter the roadway. Notice how quickly the car can get up to the speed limit. Did the car feel like it was struggling or was the acceleration process effortless?

A test drive can be a high-pressure experience, run by experienced salespeople who know how to make buyers feel a certain way. It may not be easy, but it is important to take back control of the situation and insist on performing a full inspection and road test of the car before committing to purchasing it.

Frequently asked questions

How can I test how the car handles at night?

Most dealerships are only open during daytime working hours, but you'll likely spend a significant amount of time in your car at night. You have the right to ask to revisit the dealership at night to see how the car handles in the dark and to experience the interior and lights. If the dealer won't allow this, choose another dealership that will.

Do I have to pay to take a test drive?

Generally, you will not have to pay in order to test drive a vehicle. However some manufacturers may charge a fee or offer specialised experiences that you will have to pay for. These are detailed in the table above. If possible, it's always a good idea to contact the manufacturer or dealer directly to see if there will be any costs associated with the test drive.

Do I need to use the dealership's finance provider?

No, you do not. The car salesperson may whisk you into their finance office as part of the sales process, but you are under no obligation to use their preferred finance provider. Take the time to compare car loans to make sure you get the best deal.

Picture: Shutterstock

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