Best cars of September 2017

Top 10 cars

How to choose the best car

Whether you are a first-time car buyer, or adept to the matter already, there’s no denying that sometimes it’s pretty easy to deviate away from the idea of practicality. Depending on your needs, there are various factors you should take into consideration when buying a new or used car. For example, if plan on using your car for your daily communite, fuel-economy might be a decisive factor. If you are a city driver, a compact sedan or a hatchback might make parking less of a hassle. However, it's easy to forget about functionality and a lot of people often end-up buying a new car which they thought they are fond of, only to be disappointed afterwards. Discussing with with pushy salesmen in a car dealership can be an excruciating task. You get presented with a lot of options, and get even more confused than you were when you were just researching on your own. To help you go through that hardship, here’s a guide that might be of big help in ending your endless search for your new car.

Engine

Contrary to what most consumers think, a powerful engine isn’t just for racing, mountain driving, or just plain bragging rights. While a powerful engine would certainly excel in those areas, a moderately powerful engine still has its place in the hearts of regular consumers. An overpowered engine is always a safer bet than an underpowered one for numerous reasons:

  • Safety: It might not make much sense to equate driving an underpowered car with a less safer trip at first thought, but if you come to think of it, engine power would directly determine the maximum speed your car can attain. No, it’s not about ridiculously high speeds, it’s about how crucial it is to be able to keep up with all the other cars on the highways, where everyone’s driving like there’s no tomorrow. When the road’s level and straight, there’s really not much of a problem unless you hate the experience of being zoomed past by all the other vehicles, while they angrily honk at your sluggish driving. The real issue would show itself whenever there is a need for you to climb up a steep slope or merge into a fast moving traffic. Drivers of underpowered vehicles always find themselves flooring the gas pedal whenever in either of these situations and still find it hard to go through the hurdle. This not only causes confusion to the driver, but may also be a danger since the vehicle won’t be able to accelerate fast enough so as not to disrupt the flow of the traffic.
  • Fuel Economy: Remember about “flooring the gas pedal”? In some cars (mostly compact sedans and hatchbacks) doing just that for the whole trip is a necessity in order to get from point A to point B without being ticketed for underspeeding. While the whole point of the manufacturer in putting a small engine in the car is to avoid a gas guzzler, that ends up going the opposite direction by requiring the driver to rev the engine at insanely high RPMs when driving at moderately high speeds on the highway.
  • Maintenance: While a car with the smallest and least powerful engine is the cheapest to procure upfront, an underpowered engine would be stressed much more even in everyday trips and therefore degrade much faster, requiring an engine overhaul more times than you would want to do it over the course of its lifetime.
  • Fun: As an added bonus, a car with enough engine power is more fun to drive, and that really doesn’t need any more explanation. Every driver knows how great it feels to drive a moderately powerful car and how confusing it is to drive an underpowered one.

But how can one determine if the engine is powerful enough? The power of a car's engine is given by its horsepower. To see if the engine's horsepower is enough, another figure available in the specsheet has to be taken into account: the car’s curb weight. The rule of thumb is to take the horsepower and divide that by the weight in kilograms. The resulting number is the power-to-weight ratio. For example, Nissan Versa has 109hp and its weight is 1072kg. The power-to-weight ratio then is 0.10. A higher ratio would mean that there’s more power to spare for the car with its weight.

Torque is another value you should look for when inspecting the specs of an engine. It is also used in determining the power of the engine and is actually directly related to horsepower. Generally speaking, the higher the horsepower, there is also a higher probability of a higher torque. As opposed to horsepower though, torque is not concerned about the speed of the car at all in relation to engine power, and only talks about the pulling strength of the engine. A car with high amount of torque excels particularly in climbing slopes and hauling heavy cargo. Torque is measured in newton metres (N⋅m).

When it comes to acceleration, there is no better way to check it out besides actually stepping on the gas pedal and checking how long it takes to get to the target speed. But you don't necessarily have to do it during a test drive session, as most manufacturers include those figures in their specsheets. The most common test is to accelerate the car from complete stop to a hundred kilometers per hour of speed, and time the test in seconds. Be on the lookout for the value of 0-100 kph benchmarks.

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy is measured in liters/100 kilometers or the liters of fuel used for every 100km of distance travelled. A smaller number therefore is the target. Each car performs differently in terms of fuel economy depending on driving conditions. Most would have higher Highway Fuel Economy because there’s much less braking involved, as well as less acceleration from total stop. Exempted from this trend are hybrids and fully electric cars. These vehicles tend to fare better in City Fuel Economy since they are designed to be more economical at low speeds and are equipped with regenerative braking which harnesses the energy generated from using the brakes. The most important figure is the Combined Fuel Economy, since everyday trips would mostly be composed of a portion of city driving and a portion of highway driving. Electric cars are the gold standard in efficiency since electricity is much cheaper than fuel, but if you don’t want the idea of having to plug-in your car every night, then a hybrid might be better for you. A hybrid car still uses fuel for its engine, but also has electric motors which help in propelling the car using the supposedly wasted energy from braking and engine exhaust. Hybrids and electric cars tend to be much more expensive though, and for those who can’t afford one, there’s the option to go for a car with diesel engine. Cars with diesel engines can produce slightly more power with the same amount of fuel and have therefore better fuel economy.

Aside from regenerative braking, there are other technologies out today which, among other things, improve the fuel economy of a vehicle. One such technology is a turbocharger. A turbocharged engine harnesses the energy from the rushing air of the exhaust to run a turbine that forces compressed air into the intake of the engine. More air means more a powerful combustion, therefore more power produced. This improves fuel economy by requiring less fuel for the engine to produce the same power as a non-turbocharged engine.

Drive Wheel

Rear-wheel drive (RWD): It is the least famous in the commercial world, but is highly used in performance vehicles and sports cars for various reasons. For skilled drivers, more control is made available. During a slide, pivot, or drift, while making a turn in a racetrack, the rear wheel can be used to break traction with its power from the transmission. A rear-wheel drive car can also accelerate much faster: while accelerating, the wheels at the rear gain more friction due to the tendency of the nose of the vehicle to go up, providing less downward force on the front wheels and therefore more force at the rear wheels. A vehicle with a rear-wheel drive also tends to have its whole weight equally distributed all throughout its body. This provides a more neutral handling. The chassis of a rear-wheel drive vehicle is also more rugged and less susceptible to damages from major road bumps. A major disadvantage of rear-wheel drive cars is that they tend to be more expensive since they require much more parts, and are also much more difficult to master.

Front-wheel drive (FWD): It is by far the most used drive wheel in the commercial market for one major reason - it is the cheapest. It also uses the least number of parts and is therefore also the lightest, which leads to better fuel economy. Front-wheel drive is also much better in snowy and rainy conditions than rear-wheel drive (but not against four-wheel drive), since most of the weight of the vehicle is at the location of the wheels where power is applied, providing more traction at low speeds. A FWD also has its drawbacks of course. For one, a FWD is more susceptible to damages from bumpy roads, so precautions should be taken when going through one. A FWD is also susceptible to torque steering, which occurs when the vehicle understeers or oversteers due to the torque overwhelming the front wheels. It is also worse in hard acceleration since the front wheels lose their grip on the road as the vehicle accelerates forward.

Four-wheel drive (FWD): This drive wheel is the best for off-road driving and for driving on snowy roads. The maximum power is split to all four wheels, thereby providing all of the traction that can possibly be harnessed from each wheel. Consequently, it also has much more moving parts involved, leading to poorer fuel efficiency.

Safety

However careful you are when you are driving, accidents are always bound to happen if something else aside from your driving goes wrong, like say, when one of your tires suddenly bursts while going at a hundred kilometers per hour. Needless to say, it is worth shelling out a little bit more from your savings in order to get top notch safety systems in your vehicle. The most basic safety feature in any car is the seat belt. Every passenger in a front or rear-facing seat of any car would have one as the first line of defense. Some cars would also have adjustable seatbelts in order to accommodate children more properly. Just in case the seatbelt won’t be enough, airbags would be deployed if the car detects crumpling of its outer shell, or during an intense vibration. Different cars would have different numbers of airbags installed so be sure to check how many airbags the car you are eyeing has.

A rear-view camera is another safety feature, unlikely to be thought of as such by consumers, since it seems like it does nothing else but provide a better view of the rear when backing up, which sounds to be solely for convenience. But in today’s car designs, where blind spots are all around the car, a lot of accidents occur while backing up. This is part of the reason why some governments either require or advise manufacturers to include backup cameras in their vehicles.

Even without the abovementioned features, the body of the car itself is already a protection for the passengers when a collision occurs. The hood of the car acts as a spring in the case of a head-on collision and can soften the impact. Car body designs perform differently in collisions. The European New Car Assessment Programme or Euro NCAP tests new cars’ safety features and body designs and rates them depending on how safe they are for passengers of the car and for pedestrians.

Convenience, Entertainment, Cargo

Now that we’ve covered the essentials, let’s go to the things that may not be that important, but are still great to have. The very first thing that you may want to look at is the cargo space. It's good to make sure that you won’t run out of space if ever you would need to load-up your car with more things than usual. This is particularly important if you go on trips and need to transport large amounts of luggage. Some cars, especially SUVs and hatchbacks, would also let you fold down the rear seats to increase the cargo capacity. 

When it comes to security, the traditional key and remote combination still works very well. But if you like to add a little bit more of convenience to your everyday rides, a smart key might be the right one for you. A smart key is a wireless key fob. It contains a radio transmitter which allows you to automatically unlock the car when you nearby (usually in a range of 5 to 20 meters). In addition to this, if the car detects that the key is inside, it lets you start the engine with the push of a button.

Warranty

Buying a car is one huge investment and car repairs tend to be very expensive. All manufacturers would give you protection from factory defects in the form of a warranty, but the timeframe differs from manufacturer to manufacturer and also depends on the vehicle you are purchasing. Make sure to check out the length of the warranty in terms of years and kilometers travelled. It is also worth taking note that the warranty for the drivetrain differs from the warranty for the rest of the vehicle. The drivetrain warranty covers the engine, transmission, driveshaft, etc., and is usually longer than the warranty for the rest of components. This makes sense, since those are the integral parts of the car and the most expensive to replace and or repair.

By Xhander Franco

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