What Kind of Terrain and Tracks Does Consumer Reports Test Cars On?

When car shopping, many people consult Consumer Reports. The site is known for its in-depth car reviews and ratings. For instance, CR’s reliability ratings are based on real owner experiences, giving shoppers realistic expectations about whether a specific model will satisfy them.

Each car Consumer Reports tests is also driven thousands of miles before it receives its final road test score. How does CR test cars on various surfaces? Let’s look at the process and how long it takes to complete.

How does Consumer Reports get its test cars?

Consumer Reports says it tests about 50 cars a year, all of which CR purchases anonymously. In 2022, the site spent an estimated $2 million on new vehicles. 

The CR team also researches to determine which trims and packages customers are likeliest to purchase. The site sometimes tests multiple vehicle versions if it has several available powertrains, such as hybrid options. If there’s an electric version of a gas-operated vehicle, CR reviews that model separately.

Where and on what terrain does Consumer Reports test cars?

Consumer Reports car tests
A Hummer H2 SUV on a test track during a General Motors 2008 model year display | Mark Elias/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Before Consumer Reports testers take a vehicle to the test track, they drive it for 2,000 miles to get a feel for its unique daily driving quirks. That’s also the best way for CR’s testers to gauge the long-term comfort of the seats in each row.

After that, the car goes to CR’s Auto Test Center in rural Connecticut. The facility encompasses 327 acres and has a few test tracks for different types of driving, Consumer Reports says.

To evaluate each car’s handling, CR testers take it on a 3,500-foot course filled with sharp turns and corners. They judge off-roading capabilities on rough terrain, including a 33% grade rock hill.

Ride quality testing is scored over bumpy roads, while braking performance and modulation are tested over wet and dry pavement. During the braking test, CR judges how quickly a car comes to a complete stop from 60 mph. 

There’s also an avoidance maneuver course where cars are driven in a tight-knit pattern between small traffic cones. Using speed-monitoring tools, CR testers judge how fast a car can go while avoiding the cones. This evaluation gives drivers an idea of how well the vehicle can avoid hitting sudden obstacles. Testers also take note of any concerning body roll exhibited during the maneuvers.

Acceleration (how fast a vehicle can travel from 0 to 60 mph) is tested on a 4,400-foot straight course. Testers also calculate 0–30-mph sprints. This test is conducted with a GPS computer to ensure maximum accuracy. 

Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) features are tested using foam cars, crash test dummies, and fake line markers. Low-beam and high-beam headlights are evaluated for their illumination (as well as any resulting glare) on moonless nights.

Usable cargo space is measured using a special pipe-frame box. CR also extensively tests each car’s infotainment interface and other technology features.

How long does it take to test a car?

Consumer Reports doesn’t give a testing timeline because each car is different. But overall, every vehicle goes through 50 tests at the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center. It takes a team of 30 testers to drive the cars, compile data, write road tests, and take photos of the process. A team of experienced auto engineers evaluates jury tests. 

Each car is driven for about 10,000 miles yearly, and initial test drives conducted before testing take several weeks to complete.

Professional testing takes a lot of time and effort, but it results in more accurate data for shoppers.