Ever wonder how Consumer Reports evaluates and rates new cars? Newsday.com paid a visit to the magazine's test track in Connecticut to find out how the ratings are done, and what tests are conducted on vehicles in the facility. Learn more about how the cars are rated and evaluated below.
Consumer Reports Auto Test Center
The Consumer Reports Auto Test Center is located on 327 acres in rural Connecticut, approximately 30 miles from Hartford and 135 miles from New York City in the town of East Haddam.
The site of Consumer Reports Auto Test Center was originally the site of the Connecticut Dragway, which opened in 1961.
Drag racing took place on the site from 1961 to 1985. The Connecticut Dragway was rebranded the Connecticut International Raceway in 1980 before closing for good in 1985.
Layout of the Connecticut Dragway
The original layout of the Connecticut Dragway allowed for drag racers to speed quickly in a straight line, and when Consumer Reports bought the quarter-mile track and surrounding woods in 1986, it was modified to allow for various testing of vehicles.
Layout of the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center
The current layout incorporates the former drag strip, but also has other paths and roads for banking, turning, and simulating driving in various conditions and roadways.
Consumer Reports anonymously buys around 70 cars a year for testing, with its employees going out and purchasing specific models from nearby auto dealers for its use without telling the dealer they're being used for testing, according to the company.
The vehicles Consumer Reports tests are driven both on and off-site, with approximately 2,000 miles driven before a vehicle formally begins the rigorous testing process, according to a representative.
Vehicles on site
The cars are kept at the Connecticut facility, and either taken on the test track or some of the around 30 employees are allowed to take them for off-site testing.
According to the company, the acceleration tests are done on the smooth, flat straightaway, and timed for acceleration from 0 mph to 30 mph, as well as 0 mph to 60 mph -- in this case, measuring the speed of the "Insane" mode of this Tesla car.
The facility also has a road adjacent to the track for testing, which includes normal road hazards like storm drains.
According to the company, the process involves over 50 formal tests, including accelerating, braking (shown above), transmission, ride comfort, noise handling, emergency handling, controls and displays, driving position, fit and finish, fuel economy, headlights, safety features, off-road capability and trunk and cargo capacity.
Consumer Reports doesn't rely on the federal numbers for gas mileage of each vehicle, and conducts its own tests to see how cars fare in terms of consuming fuel in its testing, according to a representative.
Various luggage is on site to test various vehicles' storage space and get an idea of how many pieces of baggage a consumer could expect a vehicle to carry.
Consumer Reports also tests a vehicle's headlights, to make sure they are as good as they should be, measuring performance, intensity and width to make sure drivers have a good view even on a dark night, according to the company.
The noise inside a vehicle is also measured, driving over various surfaces and pavements -- inside and outside the track -- to see how a much engine, road and wind noise are heard inside the vehicle.
The track does have special area of the track to test wet conditions if natural conditions don't allow, featuring sprinklers that dampen the track.
With the fickle Connecticut winters, when there isn't natural ice available to test at the track, Consumer Reports takes cars inside -- and tests vehicles at a local ice rink.
Same as ice, when the natural conditions aren't right to test vehicles in the snow, Consumer Reports hits the road and takes vehicles to another site in New England where powder can be found.
Cars aren't the only products being tested at the track -- according to a representative, Consumer Reports buys about 800 sets of tires every year for testing, in the same manner as buying cars, purchasing it anonymously from various retailers.
Like the cars, the tires are also tested to see how they handle in various conditions -- like banking at a high rate of speed, as shown above.
Car seats are also tested at the facility, trying to see how they fit in various vehicles and their performance on the road.
The facility even features a studio for shooting photography of the various cars for both the magazine and the web.
Due to the nature of testing, the track is tightly controlled, with testers required to check in before taking a vehicle either on the straightaway or the side roads to avoid any problems.
Connecticut State Police
Consumer Reports only lets one outside organization use their test track for testing cars -- the Connecticut State Police.