Whether it’s fresh out of the showroom or pre-owned, buying a new car is undeniably exciting. Comparing features and choosing which make and model you’ll get is half the fun.
But it can be confusing, too, with a bewildering array of accessories and add-ons to consider. The more features you choose, the higher the cost of your vehicle, so while it’s tempting to go for them all it makes sense to work out what’s really necessary.
While your specific needs will determine your final choice, we’ve rounded up some of the features you should consider when looking for your next new car.
Essential safety features
Keeping yourself safe while driving should be your primary concern when choosing a new car. These are must-haves as far as we’re concerned:
- Anti-lock brakes. If you need to stop suddenly, they’ll prevent your brakes from locking up and becoming unresponsive. If you can, look for a car with electronic stability control, which is an extension of the ABS system.
- Traction control. This ensures you don’t lose traction when road surfaces are affected by conditions such as snow, ice or heavy rain. While ABS stops the wheels from spinning under braking, traction control prevents them spinning during acceleration.
- Forward collision warning. This advanced safety feature monitors your speed, the speed of the vehicle in front, and the distance between you. It will give you a visual and/or audible warning of a potential collision.
- Blind spot warning system. Gives a visible or audible alert when a vehicle is in the driver’s blind spot.
- Side-impact curtain airbags. Protection for both your head and torso if you’re involved in a side-on collision.
- Adaptive front airbags. Better than standard front-facing airbags, adaptive versions take account of your seating position and seat belt when deciding how much force to use on deployment.
Essential convenience features
Some features make life easier, give you a better driving experience, and can help keep you safer too.
- Android Auto/Apple CarPlay. If you use a smartphone, these allow you to do things like navigate, play music or audiobooks and respond to messages in a far safer way.
- Physical switches and buttons. While touch-sensitive controls are all the rage, they can make it more difficult to get exactly the right setting while you’re driving – distracting you from what’s happening on the road. Old-style controls for functions such as climate control or audio systems are a better choice.
- Rear-view or 360° surround-view camera system. Using cameras located around the car – depending on which version, they could be in the grille, below the side mirrors and at the rear – this is great for giving you full visibility when reversing or parking.
A few nice-to-haves
While not essential to your safety or driving experience, these will make it more pleasant – so if you your budget is high enough, go for it.
- Auto-dimming mirrors. These automatically dim and clear according to light levels. For example, the glass will darken when a car is approaching from behind with its headlights on to prevent glare.
- Keyless entry. Depending on which system is fitted, the vehicle can sense when the key fob is nearby and open automatically. Some versions might require you to touch a button to a handle, while others can open the rear storage compartment too.
- Multizone climate control. There’s always someone who like to be warmer – or colder – than everyone else. As well as individual climate control for the driver and passenger seats, some models feature it for rear-seat passengers too. Great for family travel.
- Heated seats and steering wheel. Warming you directly – and more quickly than the main climate control system – these could be classed as an essential for those who dislike being cold.
A few don’t-really-needs
You’ll often see these touted as attractive extras, but they’re not essential. We’d recommend putting them at the bottom of your ‘want’ list.
- Built-in sat nav. These can be expensive, and many versions often require regular updates. It makes more sense to use Android Auto or Apple CarPlay – plug in your smartphone and navigate directly through a map app.
- Lane keep assist. Using a camera or infrared sensor, your car will warn you if you drift out of your lane and automatically steer or brake. It’s definitely useful for some motorists, but it’s expensive – so consider whether it’s really worth it for you.
- Low-profile tires. They can often make your ride less comfortable, as there’s less rubber to absorb bumps. They’re also more susceptible to damage caused by curbs and potholes. You might love how they look but weigh up the pros and cons first.
- Rear passenger entertainment systems. If you’ve got a family, they sound great. However, you might find there are fewer arguments if each child has their own tablet. As well as choosing what to watch, listen to or play, they can take them out of the vehicle for entertainment elsewhere.
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