choosing the right car spec for your lifestyle

choosing the right car spec for your lifestyle

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When you're planning to buy a new car, the right specification is essential to your enjoyment of the vehicle.

When manufacturers talk about specification, they refer to the combination of engine choice along with differing trim levels and accessories for each model of car. Specification determines many aspects from the actual equipment fitted to the quality of the materials used. It even defines which of the external features are painted or left as bare plastic, such as door handles.

Specification not only has a bearing on outright purchase price but will have an impact on resale value when the time comes to sell the car. And cars with a desirable engine and useful equipment will often be much easier to sell than those without.

Remember too that while a low specification car will have a cheaper outright purchase price, when it comes to finance plans such as personal contract hire (PCH) or personal contract purchase (PCP), the increased value and desirability of a well-equipped vehicle at the end of the contract period means monthly payments can sometimes be cheaper for higher specification cars. So it is always worth comparing.

When new, most cars are available with three or four trim levels. These often start with quite a basic level which will miss out on a number of key items of equipment and often fitted with poorer quality materials on items such as seating. In general, the smaller the car, the lower the level equipment will be on this entry specification. Look too at the safety items. It is common for the entry model to miss out on important features such as city brake (automatic braking at low speeds to avoid hitting pedestrians or cars).

Engines also vary across the range. It is typical for some lower power output engines to be available only on the lowest specification cars. These aren’t always the most economical either as they have to work harder to propel the car along.

Usually, the mid-specifications offer the best compromise on value, with the desirable features making the ownership experience more pleasurable and delivering a good range of engine options.

Options and packs

With any new car, manufacturers often make a number of options available. They sometimes group options into packs which can be more effective than choosing the items individually. So a visibility pack may include a reversing camera, parking sensors front and rear, plus electronically folding door mirrors for example. Remember to check what is present on the next trim level up, as this may include the extras you desire for little more than the pack and of course will have added desirability when it comes to selling the car.


A car's specification can affect the cost of insurance so it is important to check this ahead of purchase. Just as a more powerful or efficient engine and all the extras is pleasing for the owner, so they will be to a potential thief. Additional equipment fitted may also add to any repair costs in the event of an accident so this too will be considered by an insurance company.

How to decide which car to buy according to your lifestyle and usage

While the PR departments of car companies would have us all believe we are all explorers or racing drivers, there are elements of our lifestyles which do need to be reflected in the cars we drive. And this extends beyond merely having enough seats and luggage space.

So while you may not wish to adventure across uncharted territory, you may live in a place which regularly receives snow in the winter and therefore an all-wheel-drive vehicle might make sense. And if you need to drive along a rough farm track, something with a little extra ground clearance could save your car from unnecessary damage.

If you plan to use your vehicle to tow, you will need to consider the weight of the car relative to trailer or caravan. And the vehicle’s design will also have a bearing on its towing characteristics so firmer suspension and a shorter rear overhang will aid stability. Again, all-wheel-drive might be an advantage for traction over wet grass for example on caravan sites.

Regular city drivers may opt for smaller cars to enable easier parking in tight spaces. For the environmentally conscious, a smaller engined or electric car will also emit fewer noxious pollutants while in town. Smaller-engined cars also warm-up properly on shorter journeys which means they become more efficient quicker and it is kinder on the car if it is running at full operating temperature.

Medium to large cars generally offer greater levels of comfort and refinement for longer drives. In general, the longer the wheelbase (the distance between the axles) the less choppy the ride. These days, with cars usually growing in size for each new generation, C-segment family cars - such as Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus sized - offer respectable levels of sophistication.

And of course the greatest consideration of all is who needs to use the car and what for. Is it just used by the driver to commute or is it regularly loaded-up with a large family and luggage for camping holidays. Most vehicles allow the rear row of seats to fold flat to increase storage, many with a one third/two thirds split to maximise flexibility. There is a number of seven seaters available too, with the rear-most seats folding flat to offer an extended boot if required.

With the increasing number of crossover genres of car, it isn’t necessary to compromise on style either. There are numerous four-door coupés on the market which both look elegant and allow rear passengers easy access. A growing number of sportier SUVs is available too, meaning drivers can still enjoy the open road along with the added capability of an elevated driving position.

Manufacturers have been aiming to plug almost every niche so whatever your requirements, there is almost certainly a model for you.

Crossover Crossover vehicles are typically based on a car but also incorporate features of a sports utility vehicle (SUV). Nissan's Qashqai is credited with creating this popular market sector.
SUV A Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) is a high-riding car, usually with off-road capabilities, with an emphasis on sporty handling characteristics.
Four-wheel drive (4x4) Four-wheel drive (4x4, four by four or 4WD) refers to a drivetrain capable of providing torque to all four wheels on a two-axled vehicle simultaneously.
Saloon Known as a sedan in America, saloon is a British term for a car body style featuring a three-box configuration for engine, passenger compartment and cargo.
Supermini Supermini is a popular car size between a family hatchback and a city car, usually with a hatchback body style.
Two-door Two-door (2 door) is a car bodystyle with only two side doors and an enclosed boot, as opposed to a hatchback which would be a three-door.
Hatchback A hatchback is a popular car bodystyle where the boot door hinges from the roofline to provide a practical, wide opening, often with a removable parcel shelf.
Hot hatch Hot hatch is an unofficial term for a fast hatchback model.
Coupe A coupe bodystyle that usually features a low, sloping roofline. Coupes are traditionally shorter than a saloon of the same model. Often two-seater, they are all about style so practicality can take a back seat to aesthetics.
CC (bodystyle) A car with a folding metal roof can be described as a coupe-convertible (cc) bodystyle, but cc is usually used in relation to engine size.
Estate An estate is the UK name for a car bodystyle with a large, often boxy, rear to increase bootspace. The equivalent US term is station wagon.
Station wagon Station wagon is an American term for a bodystyle with a large boxy rear. The equivalent European term would be an estate car.
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