Leah loves her ORA, but wouldn't make the order final until she had a test drive. Photo courtesy of Leah Heynes.

In An Age Of EVs, Is The Test Drive Still Relevant?

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Before I bought my Tesla Model 3, I checked out the available battery electric vehicles in my area and took some for a test drive. Majella and I drove the Tesla Model S and Model X a few times while we waited for the Model 3 to come to Australia. To satisfy the clamours of reservation holders, Tesla brought out a left-hand drive version and we queued for 90 minutes with hundreds of others to sit in it for 90 seconds. At the time of pick-up of our Model 3, we had read reviews, seen a lot of YouTube clips, driven its siblings, and sat in one. Our first drive was the 18 km from the Tesla showroom to our house. It was enough.

Test drive
Restricted test drive in the Ford Mustang Mach-E. Photo courtesy of Majella Waterworth.

We recently drove the Ford Mustang Mach-E and found it a disappointing experience because of the restrictions placed on the drive. See here for more detail. Other disappointing test drives have been the Polestar 2 and the Jaguar iPace. Nothing wrong with these beautiful cars, just too restrictive, either because of dealer rules or poor location or too short a time. The Jaguar salesman told me I could spend more time with the car when I came back with a reasonable deposit. The Polestar dealership was surrounded by roadworks and we were restricted to 40 km/hour.

Driving the Renault Zoe and the BMW i3 demonstrated that they just did not meet our needs — not enough power, range, or future proofing in these two. A short test drive was enough to convince us not to come back for a longer one.

At present, people are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the BYD Dolphin and many have bought one without driving it. We found the same with the Mustang — lots of orders placed, sight unseen, driving undone. And it made me wonder if, in this age of information overload, whether a test drive was even necessary. Obviously, for many people, it is not. An ad hoc survey of my Facebook research team showed that for just as many, it is still an integral part of the car purchase experience.

Test Drive
We were unable to take the BYD Dolphin for a test drive. Photo courtesy of Majella Waterworth.

“Test drives are critical. I’m not buying a car purely based on other people’s opinions, although I do take them into consideration. Also, has to be a REAL test drive. Not some round the block 2min demo crap where the dealer just shows me all the cool toys. Needs to include a bit of highway, some tight manoeuvre back streets, and also if possible, an emergency stop. Anything less is just leading you to make a very expensive uniformed decision.”

One respondent said: “If I can’t do a Highway, and hilly test drive, I don’t usually buy.” But then bought the car anyway. It was a Tesla. Are Teslas the exception for many? Seems like it, as one brave driver admitted: “I had never driven a Tesla before I bought my car online. Driving it off the transport company lot was the first time. I was totally OK with that.”

I wouldn’t want to tangle with this customer: “If I’m test driving a car I’ll chose where I drive it and how long, not letting any sales person dictate where I can or can’t drive it I’d like to see them try stop me once I was behind the wheel. I’m not afraid to say straight up to them while I’m driving, if you won’t let me drive it on a highway or motorway or how or where I choose, I’ll find someone who will let me and I’ll buy the car from them. Haven’t found a sales person that doesn’t agree yet. People need to realise that as a prospective buyer you’re the one with the power not the other way around.

“As for their knowledge about EV’s it doesn’t take much research to know more than them. Back in 2019 one dealer wouldn’t even contact me back to test drive it, even once I got there they tried talk me out of it, and I just rocked up and said I will be taking it for a drive. Then they wouldn’t give me a price, or tell me what was available, or how long it would take approximately to order one. I went to another dealer and bought one without test driving there.

“Test drives are important especially if you’re a 6 footer like me. Do you fit the car? How’s the headroom/legroom? Not to mention ease of entry/exit especially for older people.

“1. The restrictions Ford, Polestar and others place on where you can go and what not is silly. The restriction should be around time and availability, not where you can go or whatever. People really need to get a feel for it and you’re not going to get that in a 10 minute drive down Gympie road in Brisbane.

“2. Different people have different bodies. I had back surgery a few years ago so seating position and placement of controls is super important to me. I want to go on a long drive and confirm if I can get out and move after the trip… or if the seats suck and are going to ruin me after sitting there for an hour.

“3. I’ve got twins, how do I know their seats and all their crap is going to fit in? For me, that’s part of a test drive or going to the dealer. I’d actually (and did) invest in hiring a car that I’m interested in from somewhere like evee.com.au so I can have the car for a day and really get to know it. It’s not for everyone, but $300-400 for that seems like a good investment before I blow 60k or more on a car. [Good advice methinks].

“4. Touchscreens, interior, how it feels, what’s the ride like — All that stuff is subjective. What a reviewer thinks is not what some others might think. Tesla and their minimalist interior, BYD and their … interesting … interior, etc., are examples.”

Test Drive
Leah loves her ORA but wouldn’t make the order final until she had a test drive. Photo courtesy of Leah Heynes.

“Anyone interested in something remotely fun isn’t going to buy it after a 2 minute drive on the local streets. I want to know how it goes on the highway at 120 km/ hr + when overtaking a road train, or how it compares around a fun road, like taking it up a local hill like Mt Gravatt or Mt Coot-tha.” Mt Coot-tha is 942 feet or 287 meters.

“I didn’t really care how it drove, I wanted to not pay for petrol and wanted the range that came with a Tesla. That might not be the motivation for others but for me how it drove wasn’t particularly relevant.”

Some would use online research to “narrow the field” but still see a test drive as essential. “We’ve test driven quite a few EVs and disliked a few due to things I wouldn’t have figured out from watching a video or reading a review.” Perhaps there are things that can’t be adjusted and would become annoying?

“We bought the new MG ZS EV without a test drive, the best we did was sit in the petrol version at the car yard to get a feel for it before it arrived.”

Another respondent disagrees with that approach again. “Information from online is one thing. Driving and experience it yourself is another altogether. The reviewers may not pay attention to specific areas you are interested in and you may have a different background / experience. You are buying a car, not an appliance. It’s the second biggest purchase after a house. Would you buy a house without at least one good snoop around?”

It all boils down to how much you need to know. Better to do the research and do the test drive where you can. I am still learning what my Model 3 can do. It would be great if carmakers could offer extended test drives, like Hyundai once did when it lent us a Genesis for a weekend. Until then, do your research and take as many test drives as you need. The customer is always right.

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David Waterworth

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

David Waterworth has 719 posts and counting. See all posts by David Waterworth