In the cabin
* Our road tests explained * What's behind the ratings * Written by our road test team...
4) Behind the wheel
In this category we rate how easy a car is to live with from the driver's point of view.
We assess the seats for support and comfort, how easy it is to adjust the height/angle of the seat and the range of adjustment available.
The overall driving position is also a factor whether the relationship between the seats and steering wheel is comfortable and whether the pedal area is cramped or the pedals are offset. The placement of the gearlever and handbrake are also considered.
Visibility forms a part of the score, too if the front pillars obstruct the view forward, or the view behind compromises motorway driving or parking, the rating is adjusted accordingly.
The ease of use of the controls and dashboard are a key consideration. We assess whether the instruments and switches are well placed and how easy they are to read. We also consider how intuitive the cars controls and entertainment systems are: the best are simple and straightforward, whereas the worst can be illogical or distracting.
5) Space and practicality
As with every category, this is an area where the score we give reflects a balance between a cars relation to its peers and its place in the wider car market.
It goes without saying that a big MPV is more practical than a two-seater sports car, but some MPVs arent as versatile as others and whereas some sports cars are fine for everyday transport, others are compromised.
We dont rely on manufacturers' figures or claims to give a true picture of how cars stack up against each other, we take a comprehensive range of measurements for every car we test.
With the drivers seat in a pre-determined position, we measure leg- and headroom for every seat. Cabin width or shoulder-room is also measured and we ensure that we actually sit in every seat, so our assessment is based on real-world comfort rather than just a number from a tape measure.
Although we use the official boot capacity figures as a reference point, we measure the length, width and height of a cars boot, along with the load lip (the height from the lowest point of the load entrance to the floor) and, for hatchbacks, the height of the tailgate when open.
In cars with folding or removable rear seats we measure the various permutations of load and passenger space. We also check how easy it is to swap things around, to gain a thorough understanding of the cars versatility.
Access is another consideration. We look at the size and shape of door openings and how easy it is to get passengers or child seats in and out of the car.
Finally, we look at the storage areas in the cabin. Its more important for some cars than others, but we expect some sort of provision to store everyday bits and bobs.
In this category, everything is relative. A supermini will always be less well equipped compared with an executive saloon or a big 4x4, but that doesnt necessarily matter because were looking for value for money.
To do this, we compare a cars standard equipment with the equipment you get on similarly priced rivals. We also consider how desirable that equipment is it might be the only car in its class with heated seats, but most people would rather have air-conditioning.
It's worth remembering that items such as airbags and deadlocks are not considered here they're rated in the Safety and Security section.