The earliest version of's system for rating new vehicles with a score of 1 to 10 stars appeared several years ago. At the beginning of 2021, we made the biggest change to our rating system yet, introducing a new way to quantitatively judge vehicles against direct competitors and rating new vehicles during a first drive instead of waiting for a one-week loan on our home roads. This multi-year effort to improve how we rate new vehicles has given rise to the first annual Star Awards.

The auto industry is no stranger to these competitions. But the Star Awards are something different because they rely on our star ratings to determine which cars, trucks, and SUVs deserve a shot at an award in one of eight categories.

The Categories And Contenders

Those categories cover a broad swath of the market but focus on specific attributes from our Star Ratings system as well as broader elements of the market and intangibles we can't numerically rate (yet).

Best Value

2021 Star Award for Best Value

Price, fuel economy, and equipment were the most important elements to determine a value winner.


Best Luxury Vehicle

2021 Star Award for Best Luxury

Important factors for luxury award were comfort, including ride quality and noise/vibration/harshness levels, material fit and finish, interior/exterior design, and in-car technology.



Best EV

2021 Star Award for Best EV

In the realm of electric vehicles, we looked at range, price, performance, charging capabilities, and overall technology, including powertrain innovations.


Best Performance Vehicle

2021 Star Award for Best Performance Vehicle

In addition to on-site track testing, our target here was performance, including all facets of our Performance category. A vehicle being fun to drive in all conditions, rather than just on a track or twisty road, also played a significant role.



Best Adventure Vehicle

2021 Star Award for Best Adventure Vehicle

For this award, we focused on off-road ability and technology while also considering how easily a vehicle can get you out into the wilderness and the kind of support automakers and the aftermarket provide for accessories.



Best Truck

2021 Star Award for Best Truck

We targeted overall performance of the truck’s powertrain, platform, and features, including towing/payload, technology, and unique features that make the life of a truck owner easier.


Best Family Vehicle: Jeep Grand Cherokee L, Kia Sorento, Nissan Pathfinder, Nissan Rogue

2021 Star Award for Best Family Vehicle

For broods, our focus included overall comfort, space, versatility, utility, active safety equipment, fuel economy, and price.


Editors' Choice Award

2021 Star Awards

In addition to those seven categories, our team will also name an Editors' Choice award. Only vehicles available for in-person testing were eligible, and importantly, we did not limit it to our other seven award winners.

Our Methodology

After sussing out our eight categories, we set about looking at how qualifying vehicles scored throughout this past year of testing. As our team drives literally hundreds of vehicles each year, we only considered those eligible that we'd published a First Drive Review for between September 1, 2020 and July 31, 2021. We selected those dates because vehicles we've driven since July 31 would not have been available to attend our week of Star Awards testing. Vehicles for our 2022 Star Awards will require a First Drive Review published on between August 1, 2021 and July 31, 2022.

We selected finalists to invite to our week of in-person testing based primarily on the star rating they earned on their First Drive Review. Unfortunately, some vehicles were ineligible for a variety of reasons like they were European-market models or all the information we needed to rate them (particularly their US-market pricing and EPA-estimated fuel economy) weren't available at the time. Also, some automakers declined or were unable to make their vehicles available to us despite being invited as finalists, such as the Land Rover Defender 90.

2021 Star Awards
2021 Star Awards
2021 Star Awards

With our list of 17 vehicles selected and scheduled, our team descended on Green Valley, California, for a week of testing. We drove every vehicle on the road, climbed in and out of them, and put their various abilities to the test. The Best Performance Vehicle contestants also took to Willow Springs International Raceway for track testing, while our Best Adventure Vehicle entries got dusty on the fire roads sprinkled across the hills surrounding the Santa Clarita Valley.

While we used metrics and formulas to determine which cars we'd invite, the actual naming of winners came down to our expert editors. We tested these vehicles for one week in a variety of circumstances and then relied on the democratic process to name our winners.

What's Next?

Over the next three weeks, we'll name the eight winners of the first annual Star Awards. Here are the dates for those announcements, which will include feature articles and original videos about each award and its winner.

Stay tuned for much more on the first annual Star Awards. As always, we welcome your feedback at

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