Car Ratings Should Be Personalized

By Jeremy Anwyl February 16, 2011

Malcolm Gladwell has an interesting piece in The New Yorker about US News & World Report's college rankings. He makes his point by poking holes in how Car and Driver rates vehicles in its comparison tests.

The issue, as Gladwell states it, is that Car and Driver's rankings are heterogeneous. In other words, sports cars receive an overall rating based on attribute weightings that are the same as the overall ratings for SUVs. Gladwell's point is that styling, for example, is far more important to sports car buyers than it would be for buyers of SUVs. And he is right. He alludes to a solution that would rate vehicles on a single attribute. "Fun to drive" would be one example, but here I have to disagree with him slightly as "fun to drive" is a tricky attribute to define.

He is headed in the right direction though. An ideal ratings system would allow consumers to pick the attributes they cared about, define their own relative weightings, then rank vehicles based on the results. Even better, the attributes should be granular enough that they would be easy to understand and clearly defined so they don't muddy the results.  (Efficiency and performance are two attributes that will generally be opposed. These should always be individual attributes.)

Happily, this is where Edmunds.com is headed. Already visitors to the new site can filter, sort and rank vehicles on attributes like price and features. Next up will be personalized ratings that will allow consumers to build and save rankings of vehicles based on what is important to them, choosing from a wide variety of possible attributes.

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wrinklebump says: 2:35 AM, 02.17.11

Consumer Reports' car rankings are a suitable analogue for this debate, I think. Much as U.S. News ranks colleges based on how Yale-like they are (annually ensuring Yale a high ranking), Consumer Reports ranks most vehicles based on how much like a Toyota they are.

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