A star (rating) is born.

Rating cars is a notoriously tricky business. Reviewers have opinions, and occasionally, those color the coverage of a new vehicle. The editorial staff of Motor1.com attempts to get around those subjective thoughts and personal preferences with our rating system. We subject each car we review to the same crucible, which sees the editorial staff judge vehicles based on seven different metrics to determine a final rating based on a 10-star system.

The Methodology

Each vehicle can earn between zero and ten stars with a baseline score of five in every category except fuel economy and price, which use a fixed scale starting at zero. The starting score is adjusted based on the vehicle's performance in each category. From there, we determine the Verdict by taking a simple average of the scores in each category and rounding it to the nearest tenth of a point.

The editorial staff judges vehicles against only its direct competitors, which are listed at the bottom of each review. So when we say a certain vehicle has earned 6.4 stars, that score is relative to the direct competition. Thus, two very different cars might earn the same score, even though they serve radically different markets. 

The Categories

  • Design: Our team studies a car's interior and exterior design, with an eye towards aesthetic beauty, functionality, and in the case of the cabin, material quality, fit, and durability.
  • Comfort: After sitting in each seat, our editors judge the comfort of each row based on head, leg, and shoulder room, as well as the availability of features like heating/ventilation and massage functions. Comfort also includes coverage of the cargo area and the amount of storage in the cabin, with an eye towards how it stacks up compared to the competition, as well as an assessment of a vehicle's noise, vibration, and harshness.
  • Tech and Connectivity: With automakers cramming more and more technology into vehicles, Tech and Connectivity is consistently one of the biggest, most in-depth elements of Motor1.com's reviews. Our team compares a vehicle's base content to its primary competition; the quality and quantity of available options; how customizable a vehicle is; the quality and sensibility of the infotainment system; and smart, cutting-edge technology like Audi's Matrix LED headlights or Mercedes-Benz's augmented reality navigation tech. Vehicles lose points for missing features like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, poor infotainment, and high subscription costs.
  • Performance and Handling: This section includes the bulk of a review's driving impressions. A vehicle's engine, transmission, ride and handling, and brakes are all covered, while vehicles that excel in one particular discipline – such as off-road ability or track times – also earn points for their single-minded perfection.
  • Safety: Vehicles with semi-autonomous driving assistants, a standard suite of active safety equipment (like Honda Sensing), standard automatic emergency braking, full-speed adaptive cruise control, and above average headlights earn points. Points are lost for not offering automatic emergency braking, having below average headlights and poor visibility, or only offering rudimentary active safety. Cars with no active safety equipment to speak of are heavily penalized.
  • Fuel Economy: Vehicles earn points based on their combined EPA fuel economy estimate. Vehicles that require Premium fuel lose points automatically, while electrified vehicles automatically receive full marks. Vehicles the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't rate – such as heavy-duty trucks – receive a single point by default.
  • Pricing: Put simply, Pricing is an analysis of a car's base and as-tested price. The most affordable car in the class is awarded points, while the car with the highest price in the class loses points. From there, vehicles gain and lose points based on the percentage difference between their as-tested and base price. Finally, editors are allowed a degree of discretion, adding or subtracting a single point if a vehicle is an especially good or bad value.

Additional Information

  • Vehicles are judged primarily against their direct competitors, not the broader market. This may cause a degree of confusion in regard to the Performance and Handling section. For example, a Porsche 911 will drive rings around a Mazda CX-5, but both cars earn very high marks in this category, based on their abilities relative to the direct competition.
  • While vehicles will be re-rated for each model year, substantive score changes will be reserved for mid-cycle updates and full-scale redesigns.
  • This rating scale was updated in October 2019. Changes were made to the Safety, Comfort, and Tech and Connectivity scales to better reflect the current market and how vehicles are equipped.