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What makes a car nice to drive?


barefoot
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If you could combine the handling and steering  of a Peugeot 405, with the ride comfort of a Peugeot 405, throw in the seats of another 405 and maybe include the torquey 8v 2.0 engine of a Peugeot 405, you'd have quite a car.  It would have to be reliable though, so you'd need to throw in a 405's bullet-proof nature. 

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Very subjective, but for me I have to split it in to my fun cars and a daily/family wagon...

Fun car - tight handling, torquey motor with a decent power band (I hate diesel's and their narrow power band), communicative steering and brakes, like it to be (or at least feel) lightweight. My GR Yaris is pretty much perfect for this.

Daily/family wagon - torquey motor, comfortable, refined, good visibility, auto. Big BMW and Merc engine'd cars do this well. 

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I reckon nice to drive is a car which inspires confidence in the journey you’re making. So that would be different in different circumstances. 

For me an all round nice to drive car though has to have: comfortable seats, enough power, solid feeling and smooth. So basically my Saab 9000.

Now that is different to fun to drive. The 2CV is fun… but not necessarily “nice” to drive, and the Saab is nice to drive but not necessarily fun. 

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This morning I drove my perfectly acceptably driving Mercedes E Class to rural Worcestershire to look at a BMW 330i ( e90) with my daughter. I’d only driven it 20 yards across the farmyard when I noticed that lovely BMW steering feel , another 1/2 mile on country roads and not only had we decided to buy the 3 Series , but I’ve also decided to change my E Class for a 5 or 7 Series. I’ve had loads of BMWs over the years and they have their faults and problems, but there really is something in that old “ ultimate driving machine” bollocks.

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As an aside, sometimes identical model cars can drive quite differently. I tend to repeat myself with cars and have had successions of similar ones at varying stages in their and my life.

I've had quite a few Volvo 240 estates, they were all, bar one, ok. The nicest to drive, it just felt right, was a well looked after 240DL, second was a high mileage 240GLT. The one 240GLT was awful, just never felt right.

The Morgans were the same, ok as hand built bound to have some differences, but my second one was the nicest to drive of the lot, other people who had them said the same about it. Again don't know why, but it felt right. (Certainly wouldn't describe them as generally nice to drive, if you value things like comfort, space, watertightness, warmth, etc.)

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The ability to perform the task at hand, within design parameters, without having to strain.

As has been previously mentioned, the ability to get up and go without having to be concerned if the car will manage is one key factor- torque and the ability to translate that to the ground in a convincing fashion.

I also no longer need the cruising gear to have the car wound up like a dog about to pounce at motorway speeds. I'm perfectly fine having to change down a gear if I want to get up and go.

Seats that are comfortable but not to the point of being an armchair you want to fall asleep in.

 

Basically a car that does what you need it to, without having that doubt in the back of your mind that it'll need to be hassled to make it go, turn or stop. 

Phil

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Most have captured the elements in their comments and it can be a very personal list. For me its a culmination of things, all contained within one package, that make the vehicle work for you. As soon as one particular, repetitive, thing takes effort to overcome or work around the whole package is compromised and that vehicle becomes less nice to drive.

Nice to drive does not always mean boring, some have split personalities but remain nice to drive when the character kicks-in. 

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3 hours ago, NorfolkNWeigh said:

This morning I drove my perfectly acceptably driving Mercedes E Class to rural Worcestershire to look at a BMW 330i ( e90) with my daughter. I’d only driven it 20 yards across the farmyard when I noticed that lovely BMW steering feel , another 1/2 mile on country roads and not only had we decided to buy the 3 Series , but I’ve also decided to change my E Class for a 5 or 7 Series. I’ve had loads of BMWs over the years and they have their faults and problems, but there really is something in that old “ ultimate driving machine” bollocks.

Oh how lovely. The steering feel and cup holders on my E91 are lovely, wish it had a more special engine than the 2.0 pez though.

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On 8/18/2021 at 11:40 AM, barefoot said:

Friend who without hesitation told me that it was torque...

 

Id say i agree with your friend.  Nice to drive doesnt mean its fun tho.

But low effort or least hassle, 

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This is an interesting one and has really got me thinking 🤔

For me, I think good ergonomics and a large glass area definitely make for a much more relaxing driving experience - more relaxed = less stressed and angry driving. Less stress is a lot better for other people on the road as well, as it means I'm less likely to get out the car in a rage and drop a log on the  windscreen of some oik in a Juke after they've cut me up. If I can get my legs under the steering wheel, the pedals aren't offset and the steering wheel is directly in front of me that's a great start. Im always surprised when getting into cars such as the W204 and W205 C-Class how terrible the driving positions are, (offset pedals and steering wheel) which isn't immediately obvious and isn't always realised until you've been on a long journey and its too late and you hobble out the car like you've been hit by a mobility scooter. 

I'm also surprised how confined the two mentioned above feel - sitting in a car that feels like a coffin without great outward visibility subconsciously stresses me out - I did read once ages ago that as the wild animals we have developed from, we don't realise how much light actually can affect our mood. For me - lots of light and visibility makes for a much more pleasant driving experience - I'm a real fan of the Zenith windscreen on the Mk2 C3 and it makes driving it a bit more pleasant than it might be otherwise. I Also gives a much larger surface area to do a bit of gulling on a Friday night in the local nature reserve car park. (Google that at your own risk you have been warned 😂).

Pedal weighting and control response - I know someone previously wrote about cable slack and how it can make a car a proper pain to drive smoothly when driving slowly and I wholeheartedly agree. This pedal slack combined with the supercharged power delivery of a W202 I've driven recently made it a proper pain in the arse to drive slowly. Having to press the pedal just before you anticipate you will need a bit of throttle, combined with a not entirely smooth gear change and not much power until the supercharger kicks in made it a pain to drive around town. It's like trying to walk a dog using a spring as a lead, it all seems sedate and then out of nowhere BANG you are being dragged along like a toddlers soggy teddy. A well weighted clutch with a progressive bite and a slick gearshift mated to progressive brakes and throttle make for a nice harmonious drive. 

Seats and body roll - A comfortable seat is worth its weight in gold. The seats in my Mk2 focus aren't very soft, the squab isn't very long and side support is minimal but actually I've found them very comfortable over long distances. Being the lean mean pulling machine that I am I quite like a seat with massive bolsters to make me feel like I'm being gently cradled by Rik Waller - all cuddled up and nicely padded; but I know many people with hips and torsos more substantial than my curtain pole frame find them a pain. 

I saw a video on the Mk1 focus development the other day, and a lot of what they said in it rings true about a car that's nice to drive. I think it's on youtube, if you are into that kind of stuff its worth a watch. 

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For me it’s a nice sounding engine , supportive seats and a light progressive clutch .

The Astra H 1.7 I had had to be sold simply because the engine sounded awful . Now I happen to like ag diesels and 2.5di’s etc but this thing was harsh and grating.

The civic 1.8 I have now is just smooth and sweet . 
It’s prob because I’m a mechanic I like engines that don’t sound like death . 
 

 

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Funny you mention glasshouse.

My parents had a Fiat Cinquecento, which was replaced by a Peugeot 107 (Toyo Yari).

The Pug was a capable little car. The 1.0 3-pot was, for what it was very torquey and enjoyed being thrashed occasionally. It was easy to see out of, the power assistance was acceptable. The clutch was feather-light and it felt well assembled.

Compared to the Fiat? It felt like sitting on an office chair, scooting across a tile floor. What it had in competence it lacked in character. You told it to turn, it felt like the controls were like cardboard copies of the real thing. There was no dynamic feedback. The Fiat was the opposite. It was noisy, had comical body roll, wooden brakes and power nothing (including the engine). 

However, enjoyability? Hell, Toyota know how to put cars together but it was like driving a robot. Fiat still know how to put a car together that feels like you're in control of it, rather than just making polite progress. So, even though it was unrefined with a horribly underpowered engine and evil rubbery gearshift, it was the better of the two cars in terms of pleasure to drive. 

The Fiat always made me feel better. The Pug just was like an appliance.

 

Phil

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On 19/08/2021 at 14:24, anonymous user said:

As an aside, sometimes identical model cars can drive quite differently. I tend to repeat myself with cars and have had successions of similar ones at varying stages in their and my life.

I've had quite a few Volvo 240 estates, they were all, bar one, ok. The nicest to drive, it just felt right, was a well looked after 240DL, second was a high mileage 240GLT. The one 240GLT was awful, just never felt right.

The Morgans were the same, ok as hand built bound to have some differences, but my second one was the nicest to drive of the lot, other people who had them said the same about it. Again don't know why, but it felt right. (Certainly wouldn't describe them as generally nice to drive, if you value things like comfort, space, watertightness, warmth, etc.)

2nd the 240s , the estate could shift as well , i had the 2.3 with twin choke carb , could just put it in 3rd and treat it like an auto . The load space !! , comfy seat , handled better with the wider glt wheels .  

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Quiet torquey engine, long travel comfy suspension, fat seats, decent stereo.  Basically a Granada Scorpio driving around a new build Essex estate in 1988 blaring out “The Raw and the Cooked” by the Fine Young Cannibals.

Don’t tell Daves dad, he didn’t know we’d taken it.....

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Mid-range shove, comfy seats, nicely weighted steering and feedback through the corners.  My MKIV Golf has all of those except for the steering feedback (although it's not terrible) and it cruises at 70 at 2.5K revs on the motorway.  Between 20-50 it has loads of grunt which makes real-World driving good fun and there's still plenty of torque up at 65 in 6th gear, so if I need to overtake anything at motorway speeds it's easy.  It's a surprisingly good long-distance cruiser.

Driving the Xsara 1.4 back 200 miles last week , it had a lot more feedback and handled better but the smaller engine got a little tiresome trying to get up to speed.  Mind you, it had enough torque at the low end and was surprisingly good fun around the lanes.  It was decent to drive although more tiring on the long journey.

Most fun I've had was in my MK1 Ka when I was 18 or so.  Throw it into a corner however you like and with almost no power you could drive with your foot down the whole time.  Just about killed me on the longer journeys though.  Gravesend to Lancaster several times a year was awful.

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15 hours ago, PhilA said:

Funny you mention glasshouse.

My parents had a Fiat Cinquecento, which was replaced by a Peugeot 107 (Toyo Yari).

The Pug was a capable little car. The 1.0 3-pot was, for what it was very torquey and enjoyed being thrashed occasionally. It was easy to see out of, the power assistance was acceptable. The clutch was feather-light and it felt well assembled.

Compared to the Fiat? It felt like sitting on an office chair, scooting across a tile floor. What it had in competence it lacked in character. You told it to turn, it felt like the controls were like cardboard copies of the real thing. There was no dynamic feedback. The Fiat was the opposite. It was noisy, had comical body roll, wooden brakes and power nothing (including the engine). 

However, enjoyability? Hell, Toyota know how to put cars together but it was like driving a robot. Fiat still know how to put a car together that feels like you're in control of it, rather than just making polite progress. So, even though it was unrefined with a horribly underpowered engine and evil rubbery gearshift, it was the better of the two cars in terms of pleasure to drive. 

The Fiat always made me feel better. The Pug just was like an appliance.

 

Phil

My other half's sister had a Seicento for years.  It's still around but SORN'd and failed its MOT on structural rust (it was welded up a couple of years ago but it was inevitable).  I think this is exactly it.  She absolutely loves that car although in all manner of ways it's pretty awful.  It's also bright yellow, which helps.

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It's 100% subjective.  What I like wouldn't suit some of the posters on this thread, and what they like wouldn't suit me.  What I like: big comfy seats, soft suspension, old-fashioned relatively simple automatic gearbox, good view out of the windows, zero rain ingress, plenty of torque (and then some more), a solid certainty that when you want it to do anything, it'll just do it, immediately.

Something that really impressed me was the 2013 Transit I drove at the bakery.  I would very happily use one like that as my daily, even though it drank the devil's fuel and had more pedals than I have feet.

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On 8/18/2021 at 8:15 PM, sutty2006 said:

Anyone mentioned conveniently placed cup holders yet? 

I remember once reading a group test in a US car magazine (could‘ve been Car and Driver) where they compared a then new BMW E60 530i with an Infiniti something or other. The Infiniti won because it had better cup holders. This was a revelation to me as I had an E60 company car at the time and didn‘t even realise it had cup holders, I was too preoccupied with enjoying the driving experience.

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On 8/18/2021 at 8:15 PM, sutty2006 said:

Anyone mentioned conveniently placed cup holders yet? 

I remember once reading a group test in a US car magazine (could‘ve been Car and Driver) where they compared a then new BMW E60 530i with an Infiniti something or other. The Infiniti won because it had better cup holders. This was a revelation to me as I had an E60 company car at the time and didn‘t even realise it had cup holders, I was too preoccupied with enjoying the driving experience.

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The feeling of sitting in it as opposed to ‘on’ it like you felt when you got in a Zafira. 

Got to have an armrest on the centre console.

Needs to be ragingly powerful or very economical, a while back I had a Mondeo 1.8 petrol, it was none of these, thirsty and slow as fuck. Probably good in its day compared to an old carb fed Sierra but now it just annoys the shit out of me if I’d used it daily. Combined with it constantly wearing the suspension components out every 5 minutes, I can feel quite content knowing it’s dead now after a round of 20 minutes of crashing into other Mondeos on an oval.

Im quite easily irritated by the absence of something minor like that. As you can tell. 

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Depends. For family car I’d like:

A comfortable but supportive seat and Ergonomically placed controls which adjust for the driver. A smooth but sure-footed ride but not soft and wallowing with loads of body roll, but then again not so hard it jolts you as you go along. Torquey engine which doesn’t sound like it’s about to explode at 70mph top; slick, positive gearchange; feedback through the steering and pedals. Good sound deadening, good audio system, instrument panel with a plethora of dials instead of idiot lights. 

plaything/shopping trolley/pootler? Go-kart handling, enough space for weekly shop. Not so noisy or revvy that any motorway journeys are unbearable, but must be able to hold 70mph without running out of puff. Stepdaughter’s Bini fits this bill nicely.

Either way manual gearboxes for me. Autos can get in the sea.

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Driving position- I’m pretty adaptable and for my height generally like to be quite close to the pedals and controls. I had a Alfa GTV (the 90s one) and I could never get comfy for some reason. It’s just about the only car can think of where I was constantly adjusting the seat; fore and aft and backrest angle. Maybe there was some issue with the seat itself? No idea. Couldn’t ever pin it down but it spoilt my enjoyment of the car. 

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The LS400 I had. Lovely supple ride, great V8 and auto gearbox, comfy seats, great wafting around, and could go if you needed it too. Plus Toyota reliability plus a bit more. Miss it a lot.

My Saab 9-5 too, one that had many modifications. Suspension, turbo and intercooler, lightweight wheels, big discs and calipers to name some. Just great on the back roads, but just OK on longer drives (road and exhaust tone). Brilliant cup holder.

Now I drive a 1.3 Doblo. Only thing that makes it nice to drive is knowing that it is highly practical.

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My hilux ranks as one of the nicest drives I have owned. Big 3.0 diesel, smooth auto box, high driving position, comfy seat, the ride is a lot smoother than it should be, surprising turn of speed when overtaking is called for, well equipped, not even that noisy. The only poor thing is its physical size makes parking a bit awkward.

Sent from my SM-T585 using Tapatalk

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