Virtual Focus – Does a remote test drive work for you?


In August 2020, the world finds itself in strange times. Those in power ask us to stay apart, stay alert and be as safe as possible. We are asked to make compromises in how we live, such that life may return back to some normality. This to me is all very understandable. But how does this affect the car buying process? As we focus on the virtual, could a remote test drive be an option? Could it save us money, by saving us time on wasted journeys?

(Before we get into the details, don’t forget our 10% Referral Refund Scheme, for anyone who sends a customer to Motorkwirks Finder and Consultancy Services. Could you be the next to benefit?)

More convenient yes, but can it be as useful?
More convenient yes, but can it be as useful?

Part of the car buying process is the test drive. For a lot of potential customers, this can be the trigger as to whether to go for a purchase, or whether to walk away. There are arguments both ways though, as I didn’t test drive my Focus before I bought it. And it kept going for another 50,000 miles. Having said this, I had owned two of these before so I knew what to expect.

Every year in June, the motorsport calendar gets treated to one of it’s highlights: The Le Mans 24 Hour Race at the Circuit De La Sarthe. Except this this year, the virus prevented that from happening in reality. The solution was a (very entertaining) virtual race, and this made me wonder if a virtual test drive could ever replace a real one. Unfortunately (or fortunately, from a productivity viewpoint) I don’t have the sort of VR equipment that the racing drivers used at Le Mans. But I do have a PS3 and a game called Gran Turismo 6. Clearly, it was time to conduct some ‘research’. The Gran Turismo series has built a reputation upon providing realistic driving physics, but how do they stack up to actual reality?

To find out, I purchased the nearest equivalent Focus in the game. It was an ST170 which I don’t own, but have driven one recently enough to recognise where things are wildly different. The real ST170 doesn’t understeer much unless you’re really asking for trouble, and this is the same as the game. If one lifts off the accelerator during a fast turn in a Mk1 Focus, the back end can be coaxed into coming round. This has happened to me a couple of times in the Ghia, although the game version doesn’t seem quite as ‘playful’. The big difference seems to be the relative performance of the Focus vs other cars in the game. I can keep up with a well driven Ferrari 430 round corners virtually. In reality, I don’t think I would see which way the 430 went.

Spent a lot of time on this device. I take my 'research' very seriously
Spent a lot of time on this device. I take my ‘research’ very seriously

This is all well and good, and great excuse for me to fire up the PlayStation (strictly for research purposes). But what does this mean for the car buying process? The answer to this will depend on how much importance one places on the test drive itself. It also depends on how focused the buyer is on how the car drives. We can get an idea of how the car will respond in various circumstances, but to me it would be a complement to the full test drive, rather than a substitute. However, the parts of the test drive where we simply look at the interior, fold the seats down to view the space, and view the controls work almost as well virtually .

A large number of people buy a car as a functional investment, and thus the way it feels to drive is not important. We mostly get used to our cars over time, and as long as the car is inherently safe, it doesn’t always matter to them. For those of us that enjoy driving, there is slightly more importance on this. As a side note, changing tyres for better ones at a later date can really alter how a car drives.

The virtual option is not one that’s likely to go away in a hurry. Even after movement restrictions were lifted, not all dealers were inundated with customers. For some, being able to ‘test drive’ a car from the comfort of our sofa is a very attractive proposition. If we like it, we can even have the car delivered to us without having to move an inch!

What do you think? Would you go for a virtual test drive and save on the travel to the dealer? Would you visit the dealer and negotiate in person? Maybe you could use our exclusive services to help you make a decision, or to confirm your choice? Join the family and let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

What are your thoughts?