The Car Connection Ratings and Reviews Explained

 

Car research isn’t as easy as it should be. Reading reviews, sorting through them, and deciding on the best vehicle to buy can be complex, frustrating and time consuming.

Our goal is to make your car research experience easier. The Car Connection provides car ratings, reviews, and shopping tools that simplify the car buying process. We empower you to make car buying decisions more quickly and with more confidence—from any device.

For 2019, we’ve changed how we rate new models here at The Car Connection. We constantly update our methodology to better equip readers and buyers with information about more than 300 new cars and SUVs. This year, it means an even stronger emphasis on fuel economy and safety.

Our approach

Our reviews are the product of decades of experience from some of the most experienced automotive writers working today.

Our automotive experts have over 50 years of collective automotive journalism experience writing for outlets such as Automobile, Car and Driver, Edmunds, and more than 75 newspapers across the country including The Chicago Tribune.

Our team of experts drives nearly 200 new vehicles each year between them, including advance drives of new vehicles not yet available to the general public. The Car Connection’s experts also travel to the world’s auto shows to learn firsthand about vehicles as they near production.

Here’s a brief look at our methodology and what’s changed.

How we test cars

The Car Connection’s experts test-drive completely new models as well as cars that have been substantially updated with new styling, new safety gear, and new engines and transmissions. The team also drives some models that haven’t seen major changes as needed to refresh their opinions of the car. In nearly all cases, our experts have driven the vehicle in question in its current form, for the hands-on experience needed to bring you the best advice.

What is the rating system?

We rate cars based on Style, Performance, Comfort and Quality, Safety, Features, and Green. Each category starts at a baseline score of 5, and goes up or down from there.

  • Style: Points can be earned or lost based on above- or below-average interior and exterior style; excellent or poor interior or exterior style; and exceptional (or very poor) style.
  • Performance: Points can be earned or lost based on powertrain performance; braking and handling performance; ride quality; and transmission. An additional point can be awarded (or lost) for exceptional circumstances, i.e. off-road prowess, or supercar credentials.
  • Comfort: Points can be earned or lost based on comfort in the front seats, back seats, or third-row seats (where applicable); good or bad interior storage and cargo capacity; and good fit and finish.
  • Safety: Cars with official crash data gain points for a five-star overall rating by the NHTSA, or Top Safety Pick/Top Safety Pick+ status by the IIHS. An additional point is awarded for cars that come standard with full-speed automatic emergency braking. We award points for excellent outward vision and for abundant safety features and options such as parking assistance, surround-view camera systems, or autonomous-driving features. Cars with official crash data lose points for a four-star overall rating by NHTSA, any “Marginal” IIHS or three-star NHTSA ratings, for poor outward vision, and when they lack forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking.
  • Cars without crash data aren’t given a rating at all. Cars with only partial ratings may be scored, generally when it improves their score.
  • Features: Cars with excellent base equipment earn a point above average. Extra points can be added for exceptional available features, good value, good infotainment systems with screens larger than 7.0 inches, and good warranty or service programs. Cars may lose points for substandard or expensive features; bad feature packages; poor relative value; or bad warranty or service availability.
  • Green: Cars are assigned a rating based on their EPA-estimated highway and combined mileage ratings. Plug-in and battery-electric vehicles start at 9. Electric-only cars with a range of more than 200 miles earn a score of 10. All other vehicles are sorted on a sliding scale based on EPA fuel economy.

What’s new?

  • Our rating system better reflects how people look at their cars. We start in the middle, and add or take away points based on features, usability and driveability. It’s pretty simple!
  • A clearer path to 10—and 0. Our system is designed to better identify what’s exceptional in new cars.
  • Our ratings are reviewed by experts, every week. Editors constantly evaluate every new car rating to make sure we’re giving readers the best information.
  • We’re asking for discussion. We want to be as transparent as possible, so we’re inviting readers to discuss our ratings with the experts.
  • It’s not like grade school. Our ratings go from 1-10 with 5 being an average score. Prior to 2016, most of our ratings fell between 6 and 8. Since then, our new ratings tend to have lower scores, but it doesn’t mean we like the car any less. An overall score of 5 is average—anything above is better than average.

How do we get there?

  • For most ratings, we start at 5 and work our way up—or down. Cars gain and lose points based on feature availability, affordability, comfort, and quality relative to their competition.
  • Some of our ratings are based on specific criteria. Safety ratings, for example, are based on official crash data from both of the major U.S. safety organizations. Green scores are calculated on mileage estimates from the EPA.
  • All of our ratings are open to the public. Wherever possible, we’ll tell you how we’ve rated a car and why we arrived at the score we did.
  • We’ve added an “N/A” rating. For cars without official crash safety ratings or other data by authorities, we’ve removed those numbers from the overall score to give readers a better measure for that car’s actual performance. We’ll tell you why we’re withholding a score, and we’ll add those in as those become available.
  • We’ve factored “Green” into the overall average. We know many readers and shoppers prioritize fuel economy and we’re rewarding efficient cars.

How does this affect old ratings?

The new rating system won’t change the old scores. Ratings from model years prior will remain intact, under the former rating system.

For most cars, our overall rating this year from last year may drop by 1-2 points, even though our opinion hasn’t changed. We’re using the whole range of ratings available to us to give you a more accurate measure for how we feel about a car.

How often are ratings changed?

We re-evaluate our ratings for new cars at least once a month—if not more.

How does this affect “Best Car to Buy” awards and nominees?

It doesn’t affect it much! We’re still looking for the best new cars to buy based on value, comfort, quality, and style.

We’ll explain those awards and our selection criteria when voting season begins.

How can I tell if you recommend a car?

We’ll tell you! For most models, we’ll identify our picks for powertrain and popular combinations we think are important to buy.

We’re changing our rating system to better serve our readers and start a conversation about new cars on the road today. We take seriously our responsibility to you and we want to be open and transparent.

Odds and ends

We’re rating cars based on the whole automotive spectrum—from Acura to Volvo, and every automaker in between.

Predictably, a more expensive car may have a higher rating compared to a less expensive car, but our compare tool easily lets readers know what’s a better value in each segment.

We’re also constantly updating our comparisons to keep readers informed.

As always, we’re excited to hear from you! Leave a note in the comments below or email us to tell us how we can better serve you.