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February 15, 2013

Vent It Out Friday: Be Smart and Test Drive

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our newest section, “Vent It Out Friday” where we just have a commentary on just about everything. This highly opinionated, highly emotional section will appear (as much as possible) every Friday. Soon, we’ll also be opening “Vent It Out Friday” to our readers, but for now, you can respond to the topic at hand via the comments section below.

With all the car choices in the market today, it’s so easy to get carried away. You’ll see a special offer here or a low downpayment scheme there and before you know it, bam, you’re driving out with a brand-new car. But how many times do we actually know what we’re getting ourselves into? How many times can we say, we’re getting X instead of Y because X fits my needs better? How many times were we swayed more by free chattel mortgage and LTO registration rather than getting a car on its own merit? For car enthusiasts who frequently read newspapers, magazines and websites before going from dealership to dealership, it may rarely be the case; but what about for the rest of the car buying public? It certainly sounds like a tagline, but Honda Cars Philippines said it best: “be smart and test drive.”

With a slew of new sub-compact offerings in recent months, headlined by the arrival of the highly anticipated Ford Fiesta, I’m sure Honda found themselves in quite a pickle trying to pit their aging Jazz to the sleek, Born in Europe boldness of the Fiesta. And after raving like a lunatic about the Fiesta, I’ve managed to get myself reacquainted with the Jazz. This exercise was supposedly for an online photos contest, but I took this opportunity to compare the Jazz versus the competition. And you know what? After the initial ho-hum attitude, I have to say: don’t discount the Jazz; it’s still one great car.

It’s surely not grabbing headlines anymore, but it’s only now that I truly appreciate the Jazz. The moment I got onboard, it felt just right—comfortable in every sense of the word. Despite its age, the Jazz still felt it had best-in-class ergonomics. And despite running an odd 28,000 kilometers or so, it’s still pretty solid with no squeaks, rattles or other odd noises. And of course, you can’t talk about the Jazz without discussing the roominess of the thing which can fit almost anything and everything including my pet pug and two kids which I used as ‘props’ for the photo contest.

But like all reunions, old problems which soured the relationship can resurface like the Jazz’s rock-hard dashboard, lack of NVH isolation and crashy ride. Still, despite the shortcomings, it’s nice to see that the Jazz is standing up to the test of time. It’s still a great choice if you’re in the market for a sporty, spunky little hatchback with room for everything that life throws at you.

It doesn’t really matter that Honda’s doing this test drive campaign spin because they’ve got no new major products in the pipeline (in the next few months at the very least); the fact of the matter is, nothing beats spending quality time with a car to properly evaluate it for purchase. Be it a Honda, Hyundai, Subaru or whatever else, it’s actually nice to feel and drive your prospective car before forking over the check. Always keep in mind that it’s just as important to feel good driving your car as it is to look good doing it.

We’ve all spent time in showrooms, sitting in different cars while hounded by sales agents every step of the way. And while you’re being forced to sign on the dotted line, do a simple exercise: sit in the driver’s seat, find a comfortable position and fiddle with each and every little control. Look through the front, the mirrors and throughout the back—see if everything’s in order. Are you comfortable with the visibility? Can you opt not to get the P 15,000 back-up sensors that the agent’s pushing you to get? Do you feel amply supported by the seats or are they too flat or short? Feel the dash, the seats and everything in between; make sure you’re comfortable. And when in doubt, always ask the sales agent. Why guess if the audio unit’s compatible with your iPhone? Why be surprised to find out later that the service interval’s every 5,000 kilometers instead of every 10,000 kilometers? Remember, sales agents aren’t just there for show or for forcing you to sign on the dotted line. They’re hired to help you know more about and understand your choice.

And though I’m sure some dealers are more cautious now with the slew of carnappings, try talking to the agent to schedule a test drive after the showroom walk around. You’ll be surprised that most brands are now open to this arrangement. Who cares if it’s a predetermined route or if a sales agent rides with you? This isn’t a joy ride. This is supposed to be research. There are times where certain quirks manifest themselves only after a drive like the comfort of the pedals or if you’re opting for a manual transmission, the engagement of the clutch or the gears.

When there’s a smallest hint of doubt, don’t hesitate to walk away. Give it a thought, sleep over it. Consult Facebook, message boards, friends. Do you need the larger 2.0-liter engine when 1.6 liters is enough? Do you really want that turbocharged powerplant, when a normally aspirated one is all you need? Only come back when you’ve sorted everything out and you’re ready to make your decision. Any decision should be considered a success whether you end up buying the car, opting for something else or end up delaying your purchase entirely.

There’s absolutely no perfect car in the world, even if it’s got a prancing horse on the hood. There is, however, a perfect match for you. And just because your dad’s driving a Toyota Camry, doesn’t mean you should get one for yourself. It doesn’t mean that just because everyone’s got that SUV or that crossover that you should get one too. If an Ssangyong fits you very well, then you shouldn’t care.

In our culture, we consider our car choice somewhat as a reflection of our personality. To that end, we shouldn’t be easily swayed by promotions, freebies and special offers. With cars being the second biggest purchase we’re ever going to make next to a house, we shouldn’t just care about the bottom line, right? All the marketing flash and promotions do help, especially if you’re torn between two equally good choices. But we should always buy a car because it suits us—our needs, our tastes, our requirements.

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