Cars.com's multicar comparison results aren't magic. Our expert judges spend a week driving and comparing vehicles in the best way anyone can evaluate competitors: back to back. Judges include Cars.com editors and, often, an in-market shopper who take each car on identical routes to uncover the little idiosyncrasies that in some cases can determine the difference between a winner and a loser.
For the 2018 Mid-Size Sedan Challenge comparing the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry, judges took each contender for a 90-minute loop on a range of roads around Cars.com's Chicago headquarters. We also took laps on a one-third-mile closed handling course southwest of the city, with associated exercises — including a simulated evasive maneuver — on a 12,000-square-foot skidpad.
Our judges' opinions account for a large portion of determining a contestant's score, but depending on the class, we also include objective scoring in the form of fuel economy, car-seat fitment, safety features and/or crashworthiness, acceleration and braking. Below is how we scored sedans in the 2018 Mid-Size Sedan SUV Challenge.
Subjective Scoring Categories
Legroom, headroom and knee room are all considered when determining front-seat comfort. So is whether the cushioning is comfortable and if the seat can be adjusted appropriately. Features we look for include heated and ventilated seats, the extent of occupant seat controls, and memory and massaging functions.
Along with dimensions, backseat comfort is determined by cushioning, support and whether there's a large center floor hump that could crowd foot room, as well as whether it's easy to get in and out of. Backseat feature considerations include whether the seats slide or recline and if it has adjustable air vents, rear climate controls, and heated or ventilated rear seats.
Judges consider ease of use, screen quality, connectivity, responsiveness and controls. In addition, we note the presence or absence of Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, onboard navigation systems, Wi-Fi, wireless smartphone charging, mechanical volume and tuning knobs, head-up displays and virtual gauges. We measure screen sizes and record the number of USB ports and 120-volt household-style outlets.
Interior quality considerations include whether the cabin seems appropriately appointed, rating the appearance and feel of the surfaces, and overall craftsmanship of quality. Judges note if the materials are well-made and authentic or a cheap imitation, and if major controls feel precise and substantial or crude and flimsy. Another consideration is whether the quality drops from the front to rear seats.
As the size of our smartphones and other mobile devices grow, it's important to have the space to accommodate them. We evaluate those and other storage options in the cabin, including open and covered storage and if there are enough cupholders or a sunglasses holder.
Judges drive the car on the same route to determine how well each car corners, determining if it rolls (i.e., leans) and whether it feels planted and confident or uneasy, requiring too much effort to drive cleanly through a corner. Steering execution also plays a part.
Similar to handling, judges drive the same route to determine how well each car brakes, how planted and confident or uneasy the car seems, and what pedal feel is like from the driver's perspective. This is not a measure of exact distances done under emergency panic-stop braking.
Rather than a reflection of the vehicle's quickness, which may be tested separately in timed trials, the powertrain score reflects how well the engine and transmission work together. Judges look for whether there's enough acceleration from a stop or for passing, if the transmission upshifts smoothly or downshifts without too much delay, and if the engine is smooth and refined or rough and unsophisticated.
Separate from handling, considerations for ride quality include how it contributes to the vehicle's comfort level. Judges evaluate whether the ride is too firm, too soft, if it feels controlled over bumps and if it's stable on rough roads.
Judges gauge how much wind, road, engine and external noise enter the cabin during all circumstances, including highway driving and acceleration.
Considerations for visibility include whether roof pillars or low roofs obstruct forward visibility, as well as if there are large blind spots to the side or rear. We look for features that can improve visibility, such as rear head restraints that flip down, manually or remotely, and a full-time rearview camera mirror.
Judges determine if the test vehicle and the features with which it's equipped are worth the retail price. Considerations apart from the categories above include warranties, free maintenance and whether it has all-wheel drive.
Objective Scoring Categories
Safety and Autonomy
Safety and autonomy is scored by the number and complexity of safety and driver assistance features equipped on the tested vehicle. These include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking (low versus high speed), lane departure warning (with steering or braking assist), lane-centering steering (low versus high speed), adaptive cruise control (higher speeds only or to a complete stop), blind spot warning, dynamic lines for the backup camera, 360-degree camera systems, rear cross-traffic detection, parking sensors, automatic high beams and adaptive, pivoting headlights.
Cars.com's staff includes certified car-seat installers who test the fitment of various child-safety seats in our test cars. You can find more information on how we install and test child-safety seats in our Car Seat Check section.
We've reported how provided cargo specs can lie, and cargo storage is much more than a cubic-footage number. When judging cargo room, we conduct our own volume measurements and also consider how usable the space is as well as how easy it is to load and retrieve objects. We consider associated features, such as whether the backseat can fold to extend the cargo space, if there's a power trunk, cargo-area releases for the folding backseat and if the folded backseat creates a flat cargo area.
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