What Car? – What our star ratings mean

What it takes to achieve a five-star rating, and why three stars is far from a mark of condemnation...

What Car? – What our star ratings mean

You’ll see a What Car? star rating, from one to five, at the bottom of every first drive and review, as well as for all cars featured in our group tests.

These ratings show our verdicts at a glance, and we make use of each level of our five-point scale to highlight the differences between the best and worst cars in any class. The summaries below tell you how to interpret our star ratings.

Rated 5 out of 5 – Outstanding

Cars that receive What Car?'s five-star rating must be outstanding in a number of key areas. This means they beat their rivals at the things that matter most (ie. practicality and comfort for an MPV, performance and handling for a sports car), without disappointing in the less crucial areas. These class-leading cars shouldn't just be on your shortlist – they should be right at the top.

Rated 4 out of 5 – Above average

Four-star cars are still excellent choices, and should be high on your shortlist of models to test drive. They may not be quite as good as the class leaders in some key areas, or may be slightly more expensive than the best rivals in a particular class. However, they won’t have any major shortcomings.

Rated 3 out of 5 – Average

Our three-star rating is far from being a mark of condemnation. These cars may either be par for the course in most key areas, or may impress in some and disappoint in others. Models that receive this rating are rated average in their class – rather than above average or outstanding – but are certainly worth considering if you’ve discounted rivals with higher star ratings.

Rated 2 out of 5 – Below average

Cars that get a two-star rating are a long way off the standard set by the class leaders. These disappoint in too many key areas to be considered average. They may cost significantly more than rivals to run over three years, or have compromises in interior quality, comfort or refinement. We think these cars are best left off your shortlist.

Rated 1 out of 5 – Poor

One-star cars are rare. To be rated as poor in its class, a car will have serious shortcomings in a number of key areas. It may be very poor to drive, cramped inside, be poor value for money, or depreciate far more quickly than its rivals – or all of these things. One-star cars fall well short of the standards we expect, and as a result are impossible to recommend.

Next: Every 5-star car on What Car? revealed >

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