How to Decide What Car is Right for You

by Dave Humphreys | 5 min read

February 21st, 2019

On the one hand, car buyers today have never had it so easy, thanks to a variety of ways in which to purchase both new and used vehicles. But on the other hand, these choices can make it more confusing. Then there’s the consideration towards what type of engine to choose? Petrol is making a comeback, but diesel remains hugely popular. Is going electric the right thing to do? Or is choosing a hybrid the best halfway solution?

Do Your Homework First

After a home, a car purchase is often the second largest purchase they will make, so getting it right is essential. My advice to anyone buying a car is first to take a look at how they will actually use the car. Consider everything from who will be using the car, to the number of passengers or type of things that it will typically need to transport, and also average distances it will travel. Knowing you average mileage can help significantly when choosing an engine.

Body Style

If you spend your time in a city where traffic is heavy, and parking is limited, you may want to choose a compact car or supermini. If you spend a high proportion of your time driving in heavy traffic, opting for an automatic transmission might be worthwhile.

Having a large SUV could prove less convenient if you’re often parking in tight spaces, and their size also makes them less fuel efficient, but they do offer a lot of space. Estate cars strike a better balance on both of these fronts.

Which Type of Engine is Right?

Diesel was hugely popular following the move to emissions-based vehicular taxation in 2008. More recently, improvements in engine and emissions technology mean that newer petrol-only cars now come close to matching diesel on CO2 emissions and in some cases fuel economy too.

Newer petrol engines are downsizing and making better use of turbocharging technology. This translates to smaller capacity engines that offer more power. So if you see a family-sized car with a 1.0-litre petrol engine, don’t assume that it’s going to be massively underpowered. In many instances, these match or even exceed the power output from the diesel equivalent.

Diesel does still have a place in the market, mainly if you’re frequently covering long distances or do a lot of motorway driving.

What Are the Other Alternatives?

An increasing number of car manufacturers are introducing hybrid technology to reduce emissions and fuel consumption, and these now come in three forms.

  1. Traditional Hybrid: These cars typically combine a larger capacity petrol engine with an electric motor that is powered by an onboard battery. At slow speeds the battery powers the motor, enabling the car to travel short distances without using the engine.
  2. PHEV (Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle): These do need to be plugged in to recharge the battery, but they can currently travel distances up 50 kilometres without using the engine. If you face a short commute and have access to an EV charging point, there is potential for significant fuel savings.
  3. Mild Hybrid Tech: These never power the vehicle solely by battery power. Instead, the smaller battery allows the engine to shut off for longer periods when stationary in traffic and can allow limited engine-off running while coasting along.

Should I Go Electric?

Electric vehicles (EVs) are indeed growing in popularity and the choice of models available increases each year. Now, some of the latest models offer upwards of 400 kilometres between charges. However, charging remains the most important consideration. While there are an increasing number of public charge points being introduced, it can be frustrating to rely solely on these.

If you have a garage or driveway in which you can have your own charge point installed, you are in a far better position to consider an EV. The significantly lower running costs and reduced maintenance requirements are very appealing for those who don’t usually travel longer distances.

Futureproofing Your New Car

The majority of new cars nowadays come standard with some form of mobile phone connectivity, such as Bluetooth. With the increasing adoption of touchscreen infotainment systems in cars, it is now possible to fully connect your mobile device with software like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. In time, these types of systems will likely be seen as essential equipment and should prove a worthwhile investment.

Is All-Wheel Drive Necessary?

The difference between all-wheel and four-wheel drive is subtle. Four-wheel drive continuously sends power (drive) to all four wheels all of the time, which is why it is typically found in more rugged off-road vehicles. An all-wheel drive transmission can transmit drive to all wheels, but in many instances only does so when grip or traction is lost at one or more wheels. Many newer all-wheel drive systems typically send drive to just the front wheels, and only when needed does it split the drive to other wheels.

Having all-wheel drive offers higher levels of grip and therefore an added sense of security, especially if you’re driving in more challenging conditions. However, just because your vehicle is equipped with it doesn’t mean that it will be able to conquer any terrain or road conditions. Equally, a car that is equipped with front-wheel drive, but is fitted with winter tyres, can be just as, if not more effective than an all-wheel drive car with poor tyres.

Four-wheel drive cars typically see higher fuel consumption, due partly to the additional weight of the transmission. The same can ring true for some all-wheel drive cars, although the latest systems don’t incur as much of a penalty as previous systems did. The latest versions aren’t as expensive but do expect to have to pay a price premium over two-wheel drive versions, and remember that with the additional hardware can come increased service and maintenance costs.

Take a Proper Test Drive

Once you’ve narrowed down your choice of car, it’s essential to try before you buy. If you can, try to arrange a test drive on a route that you would typically take. Not only will this give you a means of comparing it to a car you already have, but you will also be familiar with the roads even if the vehicle is unfamiliar to you.

Spend time sitting in it, checking that there is sufficient seat adjustment and your visibility around the car is good. If you have a young family, see that getting children in and out of the car is hassle-free. Make sure the boot is suitable for your needs (e.g. family life, sports equipment, work needs, etc.) These steps will help give you confidence in choosing the right car for you.

*This guidance is for general information purposes only. Allianz accepts no responsibility or liability for any losses that may arise from any reliance upon the information contained in this guidance.

About the author

bio image for Dave Humphreys
Dave Humphreys

Motoring journalist on 2 & 4 wheels. Road Test Editor @CompleteCar, Editor @50to70 & @EngineRoomShow. Writer for @CE_editorial & more. AUTOBEST Jury member