Creating Cars.com's Lifestyle Awards

Choosing our new Lifestyle Awards was a long and arduous process. First, our reviewers drive new cars each week, getting a true, lived-in feel for each car. They get to know its quirks and where it excels and falls short. They get to play with the features and options, and they find out which small joys turn into genius discoveries, which small annoyances turn into disastrous choices.

From these weeklong drives and manufacturer driving events held across the country, our expert reviewers choose Cars.com's Best Bets, our picks of each model year's best offerings. The criteria for becoming a Best Bet include:

  • Meeting minimum safety standards. Cars must have ratings of Acceptable or higher in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests. (The rear test is not included.) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tests are consulted only for vehicle classes not tested by IIHS, mainly full-size SUVs.
  • Be known as a reliable car. For cars that are carryovers, they must have demonstrated over time that they are a reliable car (usually defined by groups and publications that track dependability such as Consumer Reports and J.D. Power and Associates), with no major design flaws or debilitating mechanical problems. A reliability rating of average or higher is a prerequisite. For newly introduced models, the car's manufacturer must have a good track record, especially with introductions.
  • Beyond those more quantifiable issues, the reviewers also look at a car's comfort, amenities and features. Is the car up to date with the latest technology? Does it have the latest features that consumers are demanding?
  • Strong ride and handling. Our reviewers check to see how well each car handles the road and what kind of driving experience it offers. They note how well the car hugs the road, how well it does in gas mileage (a big issue these days) and how much acceleration it provides. Can it scoot when you need it to? Can it scoot without costing you an arm and a leg?

For new models where crash-test results are not yet available, we do designate some cars as conditional Best Bets until those ratings become available. Note: Some categories do not rely on Best Bets. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that they're often convertibles and/or low-volume models, which don't get crash-tested and/or don't always sell enough copies for valid reliability data.

Lifestyle Search Recommendations

When consumers go shopping for a car, some know exactly what they want, and they can research that car on Cars.com. Then there are those who aren't sure what they want, but know they want an SUV, or a pickup or a passenger car, and they can peruse the Cars.com Buying Guides to find what they want.

Then there are consumers who aren't sure what they want and don't want to be limited to choosing from only SUVs or only passenger cars. The Lifestyle Search was developed for them.

For each category (Small Families, Sun Lovers, etc.), we gave our reviewers a list of body styles to consider. For example, for Small Families we asked our reviewers to consider sedans, minivans, station wagons, SUVs and hatchbacks.

We used Best Bet choices from each of those segments to create a pool of candidates, then our reviewers tapped into knowledge drawn from their time with the cars to decide which vehicle best met the criteria and intent of the category. For Small Families, safety was a paramount concern, along with seating, etc. This led to several arguments, but, in the end, a consensus was reached.

In choosing the Best Deal for each category, the reviewers looked at which cars offered the best bang for the buck. They were charged with determining which car could offer consumers a strong choice at a cost appreciably less than the category's most expensive cars.

In addition to Best Car and Best Deal, the reviewers rounded out their choices with eight more recommendations for each category. Each is already a Best Bet in its segment.