And the Winner Is...

Each year, the editors at Consumer Guide review all of the car models to hit the market and choose a select few to receive their coveted "Recommended" and "Best Buy" stamps of approval. Only a few vehicles in each class receive these accolades, which reflect a car's ability to outshine the competition across a wide range of attributes. While earning either award is a great accomplishment, cars that receive the "Best Buy" award come with Consumer Guide's highest recommendation. For instance, out of the nearly 250 car models released over the course of 2009, fewer than 30 received Consumer Guide's highest honor [source: Consumer Guide Automotive].

How Consumer Guide Auto Ratings Are Determined

A lot goes into making a car, so it makes perfect sense that Consumer Guide considers many different aspects when coming up with a car's rating. The reviews start with an overview page. On the overview page, you can see a car's overall rating, vehicle highlights and a quick summary of the vehicle's competition.

In the past, Consumer Guide evaluated cars on 10 different categories like acceleration, ride quality, quietness and cargo room. More recently, the editors have added an 11th category -- details -- into the mix. They use a 110-point scale (10 points for each category) to rate cars, though even the highest-rated cars only receive scores in the 80s. Many cars rate in the 40s or worse. That's because Consumer Guide rates all cars on the same scale, meaning the biggest gasoline-guzzling SUVs are competing with the newest hybrids on fuel economy. Accordingly, you'll need to consider a car's rating in comparison to other cars in the same class. Consumer Guide makes that comparison easy by providing the high, low and average rating for each vehicle class alongside an individual car's rating.

After you've looked at the overview page, you can find detailed explanations behind a vehicle's category scores on the road-test page. In the past, Consumer Guide only provided ratings for one configuration for a particular model. It now rates each configuration separately, meaning that if a car comes in a sport edition, for instance, you'll be able to see how that car's handling and ride quality differ from the base model. The editors also make sure to explain the rationale behind their ratings thoroughly, particularly when a car has unique features that affect the ratings.

In addition to the road-test ratings, many reviews also include a page with details and comments from the testing process. For instance, the page may include the precise specifications of the vehicle tested, the number of miles the car was driven during the test, the vehicle's fuel economy over the course of the test and notes about any problems the testers encountered. In addition, the different testers will include their individual impressions about the car, so you'll have several different perspectives on a particular vehicle.