To help members understand the latest automotive technology so they can purchase vehicles that best suit their needs, the Automobile Club of Southern California's Automotive Research Center (ARC) began testing and reviewing vehicles over a decade ago
For the 2022 edition, we include testing and ranking cars and light trucks with the latest technology, including having at least one advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) feature. In addition to vehicle evaluation, the guide covers a number of pertinent automotive topics in detail—for example, the latest advanced safety features, how to properly maintain your vehicle, and new vehicles coming to market in the next few years.
The huge number of current models, vehicle types, powertrains, and standard and optional features available can make purchasing a new vehicle seem overwhelming. But with a little planning, it all falls into place. In this chapter, the AAA Car Guide lists the kinds of things you need to consider to determine what type of vehicle is best for you.
Your vehicle not only requires a financial investment, but an investment of your time and attention to ensure it continues to operate at its best. Proper and timely maintenance can help prevent breakdowns and costly upkeep down the line. This chapter helps you understand what it really costs to own, maintain and drive a car.
In an ever-evolving car market, manufacturers are tasked with creating safer vehicles to reduce deaths and injuries on the road. From standardizing advanced safety features, to introducing new and innovative technologies, we cover the latest information and options found in dealerships near you.
Automakers face an endless series of challenges as they attempt to meet the changing demands of customers and comply with government emissions and safety regulations. Also, significant changes are occurring in the industry like vehicle electrification. This chapter provides you with snapshots of the latest vehicles coming to market during the next several years.
Chapter 5: How AAA Chooses, Tests, and Ranks Vehicles
To help AAA members make sense of the changing automotive scene, the Auto Club of Southern California's Automotive Research Center (ARC) evaluates and ranks passenger cars and light trucks. The vehicles the ARC selects for testing are reviewed according to the following a dozen different criteria to determine which ones perform best.
The Mustang Mach-E isn’t just a car, it’s a phenomenon:
America’s oldest car company has put the moniker of the original
pony car—introduced in 1964—on a dedicated electric crossover.
The Mach-E is a great-looking car—unmistakably a Mustang,
but new from the ground up. Our Premium AWD test vehicle had
2 motors (346 hp) and the larger 88-kWh battery, which provides
plenty of power and range (an EPA-estimated 270 miles). It’s
powerful, quick, and fun to drive. The roomy cabin is quiet; Ford’s
full suite of advanced safety features, Co-Pilot360, is standard.
Still, Ford has a few wrinkles to iron out. The ride is fine on
smooth pavement but can be jarring on uneven or potholed
streets. The braking and acceleration could be smoother at low
speeds and in stop-and-go traffic. The tablet on the center console
is huge (nearly 16 inches), but some menus are unintuitive and
require multiple steps for simple tasks. Finally, the plain interior
styling, absent any Mustang cues, doesn’t match the flair of the
Mach-E’s sheet metal.
Mercedes-Benz’s handsome S-Class sedan, redesigned
for 2021, has a lot to offer—as should any car whose price tag easily
For one thing, this full-size flagship sedan is as pleasurable
to drive or ride in as any car on the road. The 4.0-liter twinturbocharged
V8 (496 hp) and integrated electric motor, which
can power all 4 wheels depending on driving conditions, proved
both responsive and refined. The standard adaptive air suspension
makes for a remarkably smooth ride. Our test car’s optional rearwheel
steering setup added to the S 580’s agile handling.
Inside, the S 580 is the epitome of opulence and style. The
design is elegant, and the hushed passenger cabin is lined with the
finest materials. Technology abounds, from a 3D augmented-reality
head-up display to massaging seats (10-way programmable) to
dynamic ambient lighting.
It’s here that the S 580 stumbles a bit—it’s a car clearly designed
by engineers who asked "Can we add (insert feature)?" rather than
“Should we?” Examples include a complex infotainment system,
hard-to-use steering-wheel controls, and numerous in-vehicle
driver distractions, such as tutorial videos on driver fatigue.
The BMW 5 Series, an iconic sports sedan now in its
seventh generation, last received a redesign in 2017. For 2021, it
received minor tweaks, including a larger grille and touch screen
and improved voice controls.
The 530e plug-in hybrid is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged
4-cylinder engine (181 hp) and an electric motor (107 hp). In
2021, it got a 40-hp increase (288 hp total), courtesy of XtraBoost,
a feature that provides extra power when the driver floors the
Driving the 530e is a satisfying experience, nicely combining
strong acceleration, smooth braking, responsive handling, a
comfortable ride, and a roomy, quiet cabin with upscale materials.
Fuel efficiency (26 mpg, 64 MPGe) is decent.
On the downside, the 530e’s electric-only range is low (21 miles).
And, as with many BMWs, numerous items that are standard on
other luxury cars—including some advanced safety features—cost
extra on the 530e. Counterpoint: The 530e is eligible for a $5,836
federal tax credit, which brings its base price in below that of a
The BMW 3 Series reintroduced its plug-in hybrid
variant in 2021, after a 2-year hiatus. The powertrain, which consists
of a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and an electric motor
(288 hp total), provides quick acceleration and plenty of power.
Our test car’s responsive handling was improved by its optional
Adaptive M suspension.
The 330e’s fit and finish are excellent inside and out. Both front
and rear seating are very comfortable, although the cabin feels a bit
cramped, and rear visibility is poor. Adaptive LED headlights and
dual-zone climate control are standard, and the digital infotainment
system is easy to use. Our 330e had a 75 MPGe rating, but its allelectric
range is only 23 miles and recharging times are slow. Its fuel
economy is 28 mpg combined.
Annoyingly, BMW tends to charge extra for features that many
luxury automakers include as standard, such as a heated steering
wheel and front seats, lumbar support, and advanced safety
features. More than 20% of the price of our 330e test vehicle was
for optional equipment
Introduced in 1948, the Ford F-Series has been
the most popular vehicle sold in the U.S. for 4 decades. The
14th-generation F-150, new for 2021, is less revolutionary than
some previous redesigns, with one exception—the addition of a
Called PowerBoost, the hybrid system consists of a 3.5-liter V6
(400 hp), electric motor (47 hp), 1.5-kWh battery, and 10-speed
automatic transmission, good for 430 hp total and 570 lb-ft of
torque. The hybrid system provides a 4-mpg (20%) increase in gas
mileage, and every hybrid model comes standard with Pro Power
Onboard, a 2.4-kW generator (a 7.2-kW unit is optional).
The F-150's spacious interior has great legroom and headroom
front and rear, and the infotainment system is nicely sized and easy
to use. Our test truck’s safety features included LED headlights with
auto high beams, a 360-degree camera with parking sensors, and a
blind-spot warning system that adjusts for trailer length.
But not everything came up smelling like roses. The F-150’s ride
was rougher than we’d like—even for a pickup. Transmission shifts
sometimes slipped, especially at low speeds. And the transitions
between electric and gasoline power frequently were jarring.