Is there a better way of scoring cars?

Road test score, every car is seven out of ten

Every week I put together a ‘road test round-up’ for Auto Retail Agenda. RTR is a potted summary of how the latest new car has been received by the main mags.

After two years doing this I’ve noticed that almost every car on sale today is either a three or four out of five or if the publication concerned is scoring out of 10, it’s a six, seven or eight.

And so I wonder; is there a better way of grading new cars for the purposes of a written road test?

With RTR we already cut the scoring to a four-level system, so we have; loves it, likes it, says it’s okay and doesn’t like it. But even with that, the vast majority of cars come in as ‘like’ or ‘okay’ and occasionally ‘love’. I can’t remember the last car to sit in the lowest score.

Are all modern cars above average? Surely, by definition that’s impossible?

As I see it there are two solutions (and I’m a fan of the second).

The first idea would be to run a three-star rating where a single star equals an above average car, two for a very good car and three stars for a best-in-class/excellent car. But I still suspect most cars would get two stars so it would still be impossible to use the scoring system to tell which of two cars is better.

My favourite idea is to take a leaf out of the computer games review manual and give cars a percentage rating. This way, readers will be able to tell which of two 7/10 cars is better than the other, or at least it will if one scores 69% and the other 71%.

This won’t solve the problem that all cars are reviewed as above average, but it will tell readers which cars are more above average than their rivals.

PS. If there’s a better idea, let me know.

PPS. If there’s a publication already doing this, I’m sure you’ll point it out in the comments.

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6 comments on “Is there a better way of scoring cars?
  1. Andy says:

    For my occasional reviews of “stuff” I’ve tried to avoid the “out of five” / “out of ten” approach, and decided on something similar to your idea #1. The problem I see with idea #2 is that instead of being out of five or ten, it’s now out of a hundred – and a car which scores 67% may just as well be a seven out of ten, which may just as well be a four out of five. The extra percentage points, to my mind, don’t count for anything – is a 68% car really that much better than a 66%?

    When it comes down to it, these days you really have to be going some to produce a bad car – or at least a car that your average buyer would consider bad. So do you really need anything more than something like this (from a buyer’s point of view):
    1 – Avoid. This is a bad car.
    2 – It’s worth a look. It is “an car”.
    3 – Excellent, top of the class.

    I guess it’s similar to your current 4-level system, but lumping “likes it” and “it’s OK” into one. Most cars will probably end up in the middle bracket, and whilst this doesn’t do much to split them apart, the differences will probably come down to personal opinion – not something that a review can really address.

  2. admin says:

    A three-level system is a good one. Maybe it’s just me that wants to be able to grade everything against everything else…

  3. Jon says:

    Different people want different things from cars for example a two-seater sports car on a sunny weekend, a barge for motorway miles, a MPV for the school run.

    I’d say break a cars score into quality, fun, comfort, practicality, running costs etc then the reader makes an informed choice.

    On a website you could get the user to list these qualiies in order of preference thus giving them a unique score for that car.

  4. admin says:

    Jon, I like the idea of varying scores depending on personal need. That should easily be possible on a web-based publication. Little more difficult in print.

  5. I think the percentage area is a great shout. As you said a number of industries already employ it, most notably video games.

    You can go even more in depth with it too. There was one publication I used to read that rated a game in 5 categories, assigned them all a percentage, and then created an average overall percentage. If you REALLY want to split hairs you can start moving to decimal points too.

  6. Alex says:

    I’m of the school of thinking that says “there’s no such thing as a bad car”. Aside from the old Chrysler Sebring, of course.

    Rating cars is a tricky, but easily accessible way of doing things. Don’t want to read a whole road test? Head to the sum up bar and see a nice big number heartlessly marking out its viability as a product. Easy.

    If I ruled the world I’d do away with the numeric system all together and replace it/bring forward the Pros/Cons points. Three of each in clear view telling the reader what’s very good and (rather than ‘very bad’ because that doesn’t happen any more) what’s slightly irritating about a car.

    However, I do not rule the world. Numbers it is, I suppose.

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