- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

Dixie wrote asking which would be the better of their two family vehicles for her 15-year-old budding driver to use to learn to drive. The choice was between a long-wheelbase, V-8-powered German luxury car (BMW 740il) and a full-size, V-8-powered British sport utility vehicle (Land Rover Discovery).

My answer may have surprised her. My choice was the more powerful BMW. The reason is basic physics.

The BMW has a lower center of gravity and a much longer wheelbase, thus it presents much less opportunity for a learning driver to get into trouble. A driver needs advanced compensation skills to drive an SUV with a high roll center.

The 740il, which has a stretched wheelbase, is much less likely to spin than a vehicle with a short wheelbase. Physics dictate that the shorter the wheelbase the distance between the front and rear wheels of a vehicle the quicker the vehicle rotates. That makes it easier to spin out.

I also think a sedan has better braking and steering systems.

In fairness, my first choice for a learning driver would be a vehicle that is much less powerful than either of these two vehicles.

I know I'm going to break every 15-year-old's heart, but the simpler the vehicle, the better for a beginning driver, with one exception. It's important that all drivers be able to drive a manual gearbox, but initial instruction should be in an automatic.

Why? Learning to steer and brake properly is enough to put on the plate initially. If you find yourself in the situation of teaching a teen-ager to drive, I would suggest that you pick the most basic, moderately powered vehicle in your driveway. Think of it as learning to read. When we went to first grade, they didn't expect us to master the skill of reading by beginning with Shakespeare. Dick and Jane were just what the doctor ordered to get started.

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