5 cars you really ought to test drive

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    From comparing competing models to finding the best deal, nowadays you can easily do your car shopping online. But you still need to do an old-fashioned test drive to be sure what car you want to buy.

    With even less expensive new cars sporting complicated technology, a test drive is more important than ever. Are the functions on the touch screen intuitive and easy to use? Most of all, does it seem safe to make selections from the screen while driving?

    Automotive website Autotrader has come out with its picks for 2017 cars that deserve a test drive. In a survey along with this project, Autotrader found that 48 percent of respondents would like to have an extended test drive of up to 24 hours.

    That's not as fanciful as it sounds. Autotrader Executive Editor Brian Moody noted that some brands have begun promoting such overnight tryouts -- especially Buick. Such an extended test would let you make sure a vehicle could handle any luggage, sports equipment or baby strollers you need to pack either for everyday driving or a road trip.

    We'll take a closer look at five of the Autotrader test-drive models. But first, keep in mind these points about getting the right test drive.

    • Set it up carefully in advance. If a 24-hour test drive appeals to you, call several dealerships to see if they offer that. If you would like to take a test drive with someone to explain the technology, try to arrange that. Most dealerships now have specialists who go over all the features of the cars with new owners. That usually happens after the purchase, but the dealership might be willing to send that expert along on a test drive.
    • If you can drive only when accompanied by a salesperson, make clear you don't want to talk deals while you're driving. Explain firmly that you only want to review features of the car.
    • Make sure you take a route with varied driving conditions, including both driving at highway speed and in slower traffic with stop lights. Test the acceleration and the brakes. See how well the car merges into freeway traffic. Make sure the sound system satisfies you by trying various radio stations or satellite services.

    Now let's look at five vehicles that Autotrader's experts believe are most worthy of a test drive by new car shoppers.

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.