How We Rank Cars: MotorTrend Ultimate Car Rankings Explained

How We Rank Cars: MotorTrend Ultimate Car Rankings Explained

With the help of MotorTrend, finding a new car no longer has to be overwhelming. In fact, as we reveal the top-ranked cars in more than two dozen classes, the process of buying new cars could just go from dread to a little fun.

Building on 70 years of experience in testing and evaluating the latest new vehicles, MotorTrend Ultimate Car Rankings are the most sophisticated, comprehensive and cutting-edge car rating system in the industry. market. Your money is important, so when it comes to finding a new car, let the experts at MotorTrend help you get the most out of it.

Check the ranking for yourself here.

Here’s what you need to know.

An intelligent system

MotorTrend Ultimate Car Rankings recognizes that one-size-fits-all ranking systems don’t make sense – buyers of small sedans and luxury three-row SUVs don’t have the same priorities. Our proprietary algorithm weighs the classification criteria based on the varying needs of what buyers like you want in different vehicle categories.

It is also crucial that our grading system focuses on the performance of versions and powertrains with larger sales volumes. So let’s say that a high performance variant of a car is incredibly good but does not sell anywhere near the more affordable and less powerful version that most people buy – a model that our testers consider to be mediocre. The overall ranking of this model will better reflect the latter. It also works the other way around: we can appreciate the attractiveness of a model at a specific price, but evaluating the whole range can reveal different strengths and weaknesses.

Our rating criteria

MotorTrend’s process for Cars, Trucks and SUVs of the Year has been evolving for decades, and our ranking is inspired by these highly respected awards. Our classification system takes into account the performance of the intended function, fuel economy and autonomy, technological innovation and design, value and safety. On a 10-point scale, scores around 7 represent average performance. Any vehicle with scores approaching or exceeding 8 offers above average or excellent performance. Scores around 6 or less for part of our criteria do not correspond to the standard of the segment. Note: A subcompact SUV that scores a 7 is not necessarily as good (or bad) as a sports car that has the same score – we keep the relevant scores only in their own segment, compared to their peers. .

Performance of the planned function

Is the suspension of this luxury sedan comfortable enough? Can this family SUV suit everyone and their business while giving you confidence behind the wheel? Does this hybrid offer the fuel efficiency desired by buyers of green cars? These are the types of questions we ask ourselves, always keeping in mind the segment in which each car competes. The performance of the intended function is extremely important, which is why it is the heaviest criterion in almost all of the vehicle subclasses that we classify.

Driving performance lives at the heart of the performance of the function provided in our classification system. By testing cars on a track, we can assess them at their limits as well as what they are in town, because nobody plans an emergency brake stop. Our tests also provide data points for acceleration, which not everyone will care about until, for example, your underpowered car needs to perform a pass. Obviously, driving performance counts even with sensible family cars. A well-designed car gives you confidence in any driving situation, with all the mechanical bits meeting the standards for the vehicle category.

MotorTrend test personnel assess each vehicle in a number of key areas, including steering, handling, ride comfort, transmission, braking feel (different from actual braking performance) and engine. But we also capture data on the space a vehicle has for people and their business.

Efficiency and autonomy

Fuel economy is always important for the family portfolio, we recognize the importance of maximizing your mpgs. But it’s more than that. Even if you are not considering a hybrid or electric car, driving range means more time to shop between refills or recharging. It could be the difference between refueling after a long day at work and having the freedom to do it over a weekend. With regard to electricity, we also consider the recharge time.

Technological innovation and design

It is not enough that new cars offer Technology for their respective segments: the functionalities must work well, otherwise the drivers will not use them. MotorTrend also recognizes that it is not always the size of an infotainment screen, but its intuitive operation in various situations.

Design innovation captures much more than designing a car will turn heads. Beyond that, we’re talking about rear doors on family SUVs that conveniently open close to 90 degrees, smart storage bins where you don’t expect them, smartly located USB ports or a set of SUV roof rack bars that are remarkably easy to use.


The editors of MotorTrend fully appreciate that you make payments for years after the odor of the new car is gone. This is why our value component is widely informed by the knowledgeable people of IntelliChoice (part of the MotorTrend group). With decades of experience, IntelliChoice analyzes important five-year cost of ownership data, including depreciation, repair costs, insurance, maintenance, financing and fuel. There is much more to value than choosing the cheapest car in your price range, and with the help of IntelliChoice, we’re here for you.


In terms of safety, not all cars are created equal. In MotorTrend Ultimate Car Rankings, safety works as a minor bonus for vehicles that get top marks in IIHS or NHTSA tests.

TL; DR – How to use MotorTrend rankings

We’re here to help you navigate the complicated world of new car purchases. If you shop in all segments – you may like the style of mid-size sedans but appreciate the convenience of similarly priced SUVs – keep in mind that the scores are only comparable in each segment. Consider embarking on cross-sector research by selecting the top-ranked cars in a few segments, and check out our full model-making pages on each car to find out the pros and cons.

Our system is focused on higher volume models because we are looking to help as many consumers as possible. Automobile qualities are not always evenly distributed over the range of a model. You can trust MotorTrend’s ranking due to the unique combination of subjective and objective data from our system, and because our algorithm takes into account the needs of buyers in different segments.

See our rankings here.

Do you believe in the love of the car at first sight?

If so, it’s great! Take advantage of the car you’ve been on. But if you don’t know which SUV, car, truck or van to choose, we’re here to help. Everyone’s automotive needs change over time, but with MotorTrend’s ultimate automotive rankings, you’ll be a little closer to making the smart choice.

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