Deciding on the right car for you requires a cohesive balance of what you want, what you need and what you can afford.
Figuring that out may seem overwhelming at first, but making smaller decisions based on these three components can help you pinpoint the car you should buy. Here are some questions to consider as you shorten your list of options:
What Body Style?
Think about how many passengers you’ll be transporting and the amount of cargo room you’ll need. Small cars, like two-door coupes or four-door sedans, are good options for somebody who won’t have many passengers and doesn’t need much transporting space.
If those smaller options don’t cut it, you can size up to an SUV or a minivan. SUVs have become increasingly popular in the automotive industry and come in two-row and three-row variants, depending on the size and number of seats you need. Minivans still offer superior flexibility in passenger and interior cargo space despite some still believing that they’re lacking in style.
If your cargo load is too heavy or not fit for the interior, you can also consider a pickup truck. Pickup trucks come in different payload capacity classifications and cab styles to satisfy the amount of cargo and number of passengers you’ll be carrying.
Once you’ve picked a body style, you need to choose the right size. If you're set on a sedan but need to maximize cargo space, you’ll probably want to choose a full-size sedan over a mid-size sedan. Similarly, if you want an SUV but must account for seven passengers, you’ll need a mid-size or full-size SUV.
Additionally, be mindful about how certain variables may affect longevity. For example, if your children are on the cusp of adolescence or your German shepherd that’ll be accompanying you on road trips is still only a puppy, you should plan your options around their impending growth.
What’s Your Price Range?
A car affordability calculator will help you determine the maximum amount of money you can afford to spend, and you can formulate a minimum based on the choices you’ve made to this point. Figuring out a price range will also help you decide whether you should gear your search toward new or used cars.
As you calculate these numbers, remember to include additional associated costs, such as sales tax, insurance, registration, fuel and maintenance.
Power or Fuel Economy?
Historically, the four-cylinder engines found in smaller cars and SUVs have typically delivered the best miles per gallon among gasoline engines but haven’t packed as much punch as V-6 and V-8 engines. But a lot has changed with the proliferation of turbocharging and direct fuel injection – enough that a small turbo four-cylinder can easily produce more power than a V-6 that’s tuned for efficiency. Now more than ever it’s important to look beyond the engine size and design to the horsepower and torque specifications, and EPA-estimated mpg, along with a third bottom-line item: how it accelerates in the real world if you take a test drive.
It also makes sense to consider hybrid vehicle options if your only concern here involves fuel economy, but be sure to scrutinize the mpg ratings here, too; the hybrid designation doesn’t always guarantee efficiency. And don’t forget to find out definitively what grade of gasoline the engine requires. In this age of turbocharging, expensive premium gas may be preferred to achieve the rated power, or required outright, by the manufacturer.
Living in a climate with heavy annual snowfall, needing to carry heavy cargo on a regular basis or needing a larger vehicle in general might require you to choose a model with a stronger engine and/or four-wheel drive. Unfortunately, these beefier options usually require you to sacrifice some fuel economy.
What Options and Features?
Compile a list of technological features you’re interested in and group them as necessities or luxuries based on how important they are to you. Then, compare this list to the remaining models you’re considering and evaluate which vehicles check the most boxes.
Additionally, think about some features that you can eliminate due to redundancy, such as built-in GPS navigation if you already have a smartphone, or built-in Wi-Fi if you have an unlimited data package. Add-ons and innovations will increase the vehicle’s price, so it’s important to keep your budget in mind throughout this analysis.
How Does It Ride?
Once you’ve cut down your list to just a few models, schedule time to check them out and test-drive them. Take mental notes about how the vehicles handle, how smooth they ride and how comfortable you are behind the wheel in each. This hands-on experience will help guide you when making a final decision and choosing the best car for you.