The Motor Trend Car of the Year is selected by the magazine's editorial board, and sometimes guest judges, based on six criteria. These are advancement in design, engineering excellence, efficiency, safety, value, and performance of intended function.
The contest is limited to new cars, and each is evaluated individually against each of the six criteria.
Advancement in design refers to the car's styling, both inside and out, including the selection of materials. This criterion primarily judges aesthetics. Engineering excellence measures how engineers were able to anticipate and overcome problems with creative engineering solutions to create an effective car for consumers.
Efficiency measures both fuel consumption and pollution. However, this measure is relative to cars in a similar class. A Prius would not be compared to a Ferrari, for example. Safety is viewed from two angles: first, how the car actively helps drivers avoid crashes to begin with, and second, how the car protects drivers in the event of a crash.
Value is also a relative measure of how much value the buyer receives per dollar spent compared to cars with similar performance standards and equipment. The last measure, performance of intended function, is cumulative. It measures how well the car fulfills the vision of the designers and engineers who created it.