The recent addition to my family has made it necessary to re-evaluate the way I think about most things in life, and one of them just happens to be road testing.
The process was quite easy in my pre-Leisure Wheels days, to be honest. Someone would bring the car around, I’d live with it for a week and then it would move on to the next media guy.
During the week I’d normally get stuck in traffic, drive the car on the highway a bit and end the test by driving around a few corners in a hasty fashion to see how well it handled. I’d spend no time looking at the boot, or the standard safety specification list, because they didn’t matter to me at that particular point in my life.
The model that arrived at the time I was going through my motoring existential crisis was the new Toyota Corolla. I test drive a regular sedan every now and then for a TV show, so I still spend a fair amount of time in vehicles without four-wheel drive and locking differentials.
At one time I didn’t like the Corolla. To me it was just a sedan for people who weren’t really into cars. To such people this Japanese sedan obviously makes a lot of sense. It’s big and it’s comfortable, but it has no character to speak of and that’s what really matters most to someone like me, who actually like cars.
But now I finally understand the appeal of the Corolla. After living with it for a week, I found it to be a brilliant sedan. This has left me with pangs of guilt, because had I not adjusted my scope of car testing recently, I would have dismissed it as yet another mind-numbing Corolla that would be on sale for seven years until the next one came along to bore us.
This time, however, I paid attention to what really matters.
First, I read the standard safety specification list, because all of a sudden I’ve become a safety freak, with good reason. Once you start ferrying your offspring around, safety matters.
Next, I checked out the boot. While my son may be just 50cm tall at the moment, he has a lot of luggage, even if we’re only travelling to the supermarket.
The ride in the Corolla is spot-on, as it’s totally biased towards comfort. I didn’t even bother driving around a corner enthusiastically, because who cares?
All round the Toyota is a very good car, but I couldn’t help noticing how small it looked, parked next to the usual suspects in the Leisure Wheels parking lot. Being the responsible, safety-loving person I am, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Corolla’s top-notch credentials would stand up to a crash into one of the leviathans we are used to testing for the magazine.
In tests carried out under controlled circumstances, such as those conducted by Euro NCAP, you always see them crashing the car into the same concrete obstacle. It’s the easiest and fairest way of testing a car’s safety systems, but your chances of hitting something of similar size and shape on the N1 are slim.
As it turns out, you would indeed be better off in a head-on crash in an SUV. The University of Buffalo in the US proved this late last year by studying crashes in which normal cars were involved in head-on collisions with SUVs.
The “brainiacs” at the university studied a total of 83 251 head-on crashes and found that the driver of a normal sized car was 7,6 times more likely to be killed than the driver of an SUV. In sedans with a high safety rating, the SUV still came out tops. Even in a five-star car, you are 4,5 times more likely to be killed than a person in an SUV.
Obviously, it’s not as black and white as that, because not all crashes are head on. It’s also fair to say that the SUV is at a disadvantage because of its higher centre of gravity, which makes it more likely to roll over in a hairy situation. Thanks to ESP (Electronic Stability Control) quickly becoming a standard feature on all new cars, this really isn’t such a big problem any more.
So, which should it be? I guess the standard safety tests are all we have to go on, and we should be thankful for them, but at the end of the day it’s best to drive carefully and not get in an accident in the first place. That’s easier said than done, of course, especially in a country where you not only have to think for yourself but for the other drivers around you as well.
If it were up to me, I’d go for the biggest, baddest car I could get my hands on. It’s a pity you can’t buy a second-hand Ratel or Rooikat.