Our 2022 MotorTrend Car of the Year program was a significant one for many reasons. It was our first Car of the Year back at Hyundai’s California Proving Ground after a pandemic-induced change of venue last year. With just 16 total nameplates—partially due to supply shortages, compounded by America’s appetite for more trucks and SUVs—it was our smallest COTY field in at least a decade. It was also significant because we had four new staff judges this year.
Any veteran Car, Truck, or SUV of the Year judge can robotically repeat the six criteria we use to judge our Of The Year awards, but new blood reminds us our criteria and methods might not be as well understood as we think they are, both to fresh judges and to readers alike. This was apparent during our debate over which cars would advance into our finalist round, when one new judge asked, “What is advancement in design, anyway?” in reference to a pair of small, sub-$30,000 Japanese sports cars.
To help new judges, readers, and industry friends, here’s what the six MotorTrend Car, Truck, and SUV of the Year criteria are and what they mean in practical terms for each class of vehicle in question. We use our criteria because, well, how do you compare a Lucid Air with a Kia Carnival? You don’t. Because our OTY competitions aren’t comparison tests, we judge each contender against the criteria, not one another. Here’s the breakdown:
Advancement in Design: How do you “advance” automotive design? On the outside, this means an attractive design with a clear point of view, resolved lines (meaning character lines that don’t just appear and disappear out of nowhere, as they do on something like a Toyota Prius), and styling that takes advantage of the platform’s proportions. A good exterior design should tell you what a car is, what it’s about, and who makes it, without having to rely on badging or grilles to do so. Case in point, can the Ford Bronco be anything but a Ford? Would you know the Jeep Grand Wagoneer was a Jeep without the seven-slotted grille?
Interior design is just as important. In a car’s cabin, we look for clever packaging details, well-chosen materials, an intuitive interface, and a design aesthetic that fits the exterior’s styling.
Our guest judges help a lot when it comes to evaluating advancement in design. This year, self-described “frustrated designer” and legendary former Chrysler and Ford engineer Chris Theodore hosted our design walkaround, but in years past Tom Gale (Chrysler’s former head of design, known for penning lookers like the Dodge Viper), and Ian Callum (Jaguar’s recently retired design director, responsible for show-stoppers like the Jaguar F-Type) have given a hand—and their eyes—in this pursuit.
Efficiency: A common misconception we hear from readers is, just because something is hybridized or electrified, it’s efficient. As this year’s Mercedes-Benz S580 (a V-8 hybrid netting 17/25 mpg city/highway) and Audi RS E-Tron GT (a dual-motor electric netting 79/82 mpg-e, making it among the least efficient EVs in its segment) prove, that isn’t the case. For this criterion, we consider a vehicle’s mpg and mpg-e, charge speed, range, operating costs, weight, and other environmental factors in our rankings.
Engineering Excellence: A biggie but probably among the easiest to understand. In this category we evaluate how well a vehicle is built. Outside, we look for tight panel gaps and trim pieces. Under the skin we determine how new powertrain, suspension, and chassis technologies work both in the real world and in extreme conditions. And inside, we judge a vehicle’s ability to fit people, the things we carry, and the onboard software owners will operate day after day.
Performance of Intended Function: All six of our criteria are weighted equally, but this one stands out. How well does a vehicle do the job its creators intended it to do? A sports car ought to be fun to drive. Deliver poorly here, and you likely won’t even make it to the finalist round.
Safety: Although we rely heavily on NHTSA, IIHS, and foreign crash ratings for this category, the absolute safest thing is to avoid a crash in the first place. As such, “safety” encompasses many things. At its most basic level, we take time to evaluate how our contenders perform in emergency stops and lane changes, among other things. We also test each vehicle’s advanced driver assist systems for their ability to keep the car driving predictably and safely on the road, evaluate emergency stop and lane departure features, and ensure the screens that increasingly are a part of auto design don’t needlessly distract drivers.
Value: We all work hard for our money, so why not try to hang onto more of it? This criterion is relative to each individual buyer and each segment, of course. We look less at base prices and instead focus on what you get for your dollar. A $111,000 Porsche Taycan like the one that competed in this year’s COTY program might not seem like good value at first glance. But compare its equipment level and cost to run to the rest of its segment, and it surprisingly makes some sense.
Hopefully this all sheds some additional light and transparency on what we do for our OTY programs. Our staff takes great pride in the stewardship of the world’s first and oldest Car of the Year program, and we work hard every time to make it more relevant and more entertaining for you. Now it’s time to find out which car claimed our Golden Calipers for 2022.
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