Car Practicality - A Guide to Real World Usability

David Foo
23 Aug 2021

Car Practicality - A Guide to Real World Useability

Shocker, right? It’s not like we’ll all be chucking an ES around the Marina Bay Street Circuit anytime soon.

Single car setups among Singaporean families are pretty common, with high ownership costs, lack of parking spaces, and a good public transport infrastructure working against the desire for a multi-car setup. As such, we Singaporeans tend to be a little more choosy about the car we eventually end up with. Being the only car in the family, it has to be capable of everything our lifestyles throw at it -  a jack of all trades of you will. Seeing as the car is a tool that many of us use to facilitate our day to day lives, practicality remains high amongst our priorities. However, one must be wary that on-paper practicality does not always translate to real world practicality, and can sometimes fool the buyer into thinking that the car makes more sense than it really does. We look at a few areas where we can all be a little more attentive while in search of this real-world usability.

Boot Practicality

Hardly anybody talks about practicality without talking about the boot of a car - or rather how big the boot of the car is. While it is easy to rattle off spec sheet numbers about which car has 20 more litres of boot space than its competitors, that argument barely scratches the surface, and should be considered with a little more detail in mind. 

When assessing boot practicality, a boot that can hold the most volume is important, but boot aperture is just as, if not more important. The reality is that even if you have a boot that is cavernous on paper, if you can’t fit an item in through the opening (take for instance, the previous generation Mercedes-Benz CLA Shootingbrake), you can’t carry it - Yes, surprise, the largest item you can carry in your boot is determined by the boot aperture, not the volume of the boot. As a general rule of thumb, squarish shaped boots are generally the most practical in nature (a good example is the Skoda Superb), while cars with particularly curvy boot panels can sometimes pose a problem when trying to fit boxes into the boot. If shopping for a car with a liftback, such as a hatchback or SUV, you’ll want to consider the height of the load lip, which will equate to how easily you can lift heavy items into the car. Generally speaking, having no load lip is desirable, as it offers you the ability to slide your heavy items straight into the boot. 

Lastly, if you often have to carry oversized items like bicycles, longish items, or…IKEA furniture, you’ll want to ensure that you have knock down rear seats. It’s easy to take for granted that every car has this feature - but no, some cars like the Lexus ES do not allow for this on account of an additional X-brace across the backseats for additional rigidity. Shocker, right? It’s not like we’ll all be chucking an ES around the Marina Bay Street Circuit anytime soon. 

Backseat Practicality

Traditionally, the amount of cabin space and rear legroom was usually deduced by the wheelbase of the car, or which direction the engine is mounted. While this still remains true to some extent, not all cars are built equally, and some manufacturers make better use of the space than others. There are certain tactics that manufacturers utilise to maximise legroom, some of which work, and some don’t. Apart from legroom, you might also want to consider why you are paying so much attention to legroom. Is it just about space in the footwells, or are you thinking about this to accommodate a rear-facing child seat in the rear. If so, you will also want to consider loading height and the shape and size of the rear door aperture. 

With legroom, there are two key ways that a car manufacturer can maximise rear legroom. Some manufacturers utilise a slightly shorter rear seat bench that is “bucketed” a little more deeply than regular seats, while other manufacturers “carve” out the extra legroom from the backing of the front seats, creating an extra bit of curvature that provides for some extra space. A good example of this is in the W205 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which utilises both methods to help increase rear legroom and knee room in a car that would otherwise feel quite cramped in the back. There are some drawbacks to this design though - Because the seats are bucketed further down than usual, elderly passengers will find it a little difficult getting in and out of. Also, loading a child into their child seat in the rear might also be a little difficult if you are tall. As such cars do not truly possess extra legroom from a longer wheelbase, you might also notice that it can be quite difficult to place a rear-facing child seat without compromising front seat legroom - This is because the upper part of the front seat will still get in the way of your child carrier. 

Engine Practicality

There is a common misconception that naturally aspirated engines are more economical than turbocharged engines, and that turbocharged engines are meant for fast, performance oriented cars. This is simply not true. In the good ol’ days, this might have been true, during a time when turbocharged engines were used almost exclusively on high-performance cars (that had heaps of lag when they took off). Today however, turbocharged engines (now inceasingly paired with mild-hybrid systems) are used to promote urban driving efficiency rather than for performance objectives.

While light-pressure turbocharged engines may feel like they provide plenty of torque at lower speeds, the objective is actually to quickly bring your car up to speed, allowing for earlier upshifts and ultimately, a more economical drive. In contrast, less torque-y naturally aspirated engines, dragging out the revs before each gearchange can actually result in poorer economy in urban driving conditions. Most of us in Singapore undergo a good mix of street and expressway driving - but it should be noted that our version of expressway driving isn’t the same as highway driving in other parts of the world.

To a great extent then, I feel that small turbocharged engines with quick shifting transmissions work excellently in our driving environment and when used properly, can provide us plenty of real world practicality and fuel economy.


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