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.
The recently introduced Bolt changes the game among affordable all-electric cars. Its range of 230 miles on a single charge makes it practical to use for even lengthy commutes or short road trips.
Test drivers called it fun to drive and noted that it has a full range of up-to-date tech features. The EPA gives the Bolt an MPGe rating -- equivalent to gas mileage for electric cars -- of 128 in city driving and 110 on the highway.
Bolt list prices run from $36,620 to $40,906, before a federal tax credit of $7,500.
An all new minivan last year, the Pacifica is praised for its car-like ride and luxurious interior. It can seat seven, and its stow-and-go rear seating system makes it easy to open up the rear for that trip to Home Depot.
Test drivers liked its strong acceleration and crisp handling. EPA rates the Pacifica at 18 MPG in city driving and 28 on the highway. List prices run from $28,995 to $42,895.
Redesigned for 2017, the CR-V not only is an Autotrader pick but also is top-rated among small SUVs by the test drivers sampled by U.S. News. Autotrader praises the new exterior styling and upscale interior.
The turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the CR-V is rated for 28 MPG in city driving and 34 on the highway. List prices run from $24,046 to $33,696.
Lincoln has brought back the Continental nameplate as its most luxurious model. At prices ranging from $44,720 to $66,076, the Continental gets lauded as "a more affordable Bentley" by one Autotrader test driver.
And the Continental does follow that paradigm of superbly comfortable seats and excellent handling. The turbocharged six-cylinder engine provides quick acceleration and is rated at 18 MPG in city driving, 27 on the highway.
Porsche 718 Cayman
If the Continental is all about luxury, the Cayman is all about performance. From superb handling through curving, mountainous roads to strong acceleration from turbocharged four-cylinder engines, the Cayman delivers what Porsche owners expect.
And the sleek styling is another Porsche hallmark. Among luxury sports cars, the Cayman's list prices of $53,900 to $66,300 are relatively reasonable. The redesigned Cayman does not yet have an MPG rating.