For some people, the opinion of others is essential in their decision-making process. They rely on the Academy Awards to tell them what movies they should see, and for the Grammy’s to tell them which artist really has what it takes. The same phenomenon exists in the car business, as decisions are based on which vehicles are crowned the winners of the many awards handed out to cars each year. At least the decision to buy a vehicle has a little bit more foundation than that of which movie to watch.

There are many awards out there that are given to manufacturers, specific models, and even parts of cars, but the oldest, and arguably the most prestigious is Motor Trend’s Car of the Year Award or the COTY. Launched in 1949, Motor Trend gave the first COTY to an engine, specifically the Cadillac’s V8. 1958 marked the first year in which the award was given to a specific model, Ford’s Thunderbird. For many years, there was a division between domestic and import cars, which lasted until 1999. Over the years, Motor Trend has expanded the COTY to include a truck and an SUV category to match the increasing demand of each.

Sure, there are other awards out there, but many of them are popularity contests, or they simply hand out awards to cars, simply for participation. Motor Trend has a standard by which they judge their vehicles, and they are put through rigorous testing to see which vehicle meets those standards. This year, the Chevrolet Camaro took home the prize for Car of the Year, while the Chevy Colorado was recognized as the Truck of the Year, and the Volvo XC90 received the accolades for SUV of the year. How was each of these winners chosen, however, and what makes them the best?

Motor Trend has a barrage of tests by which their winners are judged, and none of them involve which one is the most popular. This year, several different automobiles were tested in order to make the right decision about the winner, including the Audi A6, the Kia Optima, and the ever-popular Honda Civic. Through several different phases, courses, and tests, they narrow down the contestants, and the final seven go through the second phase of testing. Of these seven finalists, one car emerges victorious and is declared the Car of the Year.

Testing begins at Hyundai’s California Proving Grounds, where the tests have started for the past ten years. Each vehicle is run through the entire first phase battery of tests that included focuses on acceleration, brakes, figure eight, handling, ride quality, and refinement. It is against these six standards that each car must be measured. The first phase of the testing is meant to weed out the vehicles that aren’t up to snuff. Using a variety of ten different tracks, they test how each car measures up in six different tests.

Only the top seven vehicles move on to the next phase of testing, which is real-world testing. They test the cars on several different straightaways and curved roads. They run the vehicles up the Tehachapi Mountain range on a nearly thirty-mile course. During this phase, they test how the vehicle handles accelerating and braking on numerous road conditions, how it measures up in terms of blind spots and also includes testing to see how it handles cracked and broken roads. They check to see if you can feel the differences in the road conditions and if the tires create excessive noise in these bumps in the road.

Following the straight and curving roads tests, they see how it handles the ascent into the mountains, and similarly how the car rides coming back down the other side. Next, comes the hairpin turn test, which reviewers say is, by far, the most entertaining part of the testing. After two different railroad crossing tests, they end the series by testing the vehicle on the highway. It is during this portion of the phase that they check on the functionality of the safety equipment, special features, and also the car’s ability to pass in traffic. Finally, after all of these tests are complete, Motor Trend determines which car passes muster to be declared the Car of the Year.

It may seem like a lot of testing for an award that doesn’t mean much outside of the automotive community. However, many people rely on the expertise of Motor Trend to determine which car is the best purchase, so the decision is an important one. If you’re one of the people that relies heavily on public research to make important decisions, there couldn’t be one that is better tested by rigorous standards than that of the Motor Trend Car of the Year.

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