What Happens at the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center?

Most new cars make an appearance at the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center at one point or another. The experts at the Auto Test Center put vehicles through various tests to see how each car, truck, and SUV performs. The testing center checks headlights, automatic emergency braking, fuel economy, and even the infotainment systems.

The Consumer Reports Auto Test Center is an important part of new car safety

The Consumer Reports Auto Test Center
People driving a new car on a closed course | Helen H. Richardson/ The Denver Post

According to Consumer Reports, the team at the Auto Test Center works nonstop to test all kinds of new cars. In recent years, the scores provided by Consumer Reports have helped millions of people make an informed decision on a new car. Taking up over 327 acres somewhere in Connecticut, the team tests around 50 vehicles per year here.

This is also where those reliability and owner satisfaction surveys will be processed and shared by CS later on. The cars undergo a rigorous testing regimen that spans from drivers, photographers, writing staff, and technicians. One thing that sets the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center apart is that the brand purchases the vehicles and puts each one through long-term testing.

Instead of getting a shiny-decked-out version straight from the automaker, Consumer Reports purchases the same version a consumer would get. That allows for more accurate testing.

Consumer Reports tests acceleration, braking, and advanced safety systems

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The Consumer Reports Auto Test Center drives each new car for 2,000 miles over a few weeks before the formal testing begins. Then a series of 50 tests starts, including the famous road test. This test track has “a 4,400-foot-long main straight, a 3,500-foot handling course, an accident-avoidance course, a 33-percent-grade rock hill, and a brake-test straightaway.” For ride comfort, the team takes the vehicles on regular public roads to see how it performs.

One of the first tests performed is for acceleration. This helps verify the zero to 60 mph times that automakers frequently use as a main selling point. CR tests the zero to 30 mph, zero to 60 mph, and quarter-mile times. This isn’t for speed purposes alone, though. top-Consumer Reports says, “It’s also vital for executing safe highway merges and can potentially play a role in some accident-avoidance situations.”

One of the more critical tests performed at the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center is advanced safety systems testing. This includes forward-collision warning (FCW), automatic emergency braking (AEB), and pedestrian detection. Using lane markings, the team at CR tests real-world driving scenarios like someone drifting out of the lane. Utilizing a foam car, Consumer Reports tests how well a new vehicle reacts at a 20 mph collision. Pedestrian safety is tested similarly.

The Auto Test Center has over 3,500 feet of roads to test each new car

Drivers perform brake testing on each car to see how well it stops from 60 mph to a standstill. The Consumer Reports Auto Test Center also tests wet and dry pavement to measure how well the vehicle stops. Child seat testing is an essential factor and controls/displays. As the automotive industry moves away from actual buttons and toward a touch-screen future, the infotainment systems are usually one of the buyers’ most significant pain points.

Consumer Reports staff performs emergency handling tests on the closed course in a crash avoidance scenario. The team tests how well vehicles can swerve to avoid an object with a “quick left-right-left sequence.” With over 3,500 feet of curvy roads, plenty of driving helps the team pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of each car.

Finally, the team at the Auto Test Center performs its fuel-economy tests. This is independent of the EPA-estimated numbers that automakers usually use. That helps Consumer Reports determine if the fuel economy numbers are accurate, as this can impact the experience. If this sounds very thorough, that’s because it is. The Consumer Reports Auto Test Center wants to ensure each vehicle is safe enough for your entire family.

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