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Most improved cars 2012

There is no shortage of information, online or elsewhere, that rates new cars. The issue rather is there are so many sources - from J.D. Power to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to Consumer Reports - that sometimes it’s difficult to form a complete picture of what the automotive pros think of a given ride.

Enter Total Car Score, a simply named website that bowed in March whose mission is to be to cars what Rotten Tomatoes is to movies: an aggregating machine that punches out one defining number per vehicle. That’s particularly handy when it comes time to shop for a new ride, especially if you’re looking to see which model has upped its game over the past year.

Total Car Score recently released a list of Most Improved Cars for 2012, highlighting eight redesigned automobiles whose improvements helped the models’ scores jump significantly over 2011. Two American automakers made the Asia-centric list, Ford and General Motors, but notably only one manufacturer placed multiple cars in the Total Car Score line-up: Toyota, with a trio of significantly tweaked models, two Camry sedans and its Yaris economy car. The results are welcome kudos for the Japanese automaker, which recently grappled with natural disasters (a devastating earthquake stymied production) and unintended-acceleration debacles (which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ruled were driver-error related).

Toyota’s four-door winners - Camry and Camry Hybrid - nabbed third and fourth positions respectively. Total Car Score noted that both models improved their standings by roughly 9%, with 2012 marks of 81.64 and 85.59. Camry Hybrid’s 85 score was in fact tops in the entire group, followed by the seventh-place Cadillac SRX sport-ute with 83 points. (The most improved car on the list was Ford Focus, whose score of 80.68 was a 7.95 point boost to its 2011 score of 72.73. Rounding out the site’s list were the second-place Hyundai Accent, sixth-place Kia Sportage and eighth-place Honda CR-V.)

Helping both Camrys improve their positions was redesigned styling that includes crisp, exterior lines and a roomier interior. Camry Hybrid also won positive reviewer marks for improvements to its already fuel-efficient powerplant as well as further refinements to the system that switches the car between electric and gas modes. Critics noted a more refined ride for the practical sedan, the result of a revamped underbody and suspension. The Hybrid improved its lot by taking advantage of new battery technology already unleashed on the popular Prius, as well as mileage numbers that push 45 mpg on the highway.

Toyota Yaris’s score bounced from 68.91 in 2011 to 75.42 in 2012, attributable largely to the frugal car’s rock-steady reliability and abundant safety features. This competitor to Hyundai Accent and Chevrolet Sonic got stretched 2.9 inches, which led to improved luggage space. The car’s interior also got a make-over, going from a bit staid to tech-trendy, in keeping with the rest of Toyota’s line-up.

Total Car Score’s methodology is simple and straightforward, says editor-in-chief Karl Brauer. He takes car reviews and scores from nine of the leading car-judging sources and converts the results into a percentage based on what each vehicle scored compared relative to a perfect score. The resulting average of all these scores determines his point total. “(This method) has been used in most other areas, like movies, electronic gadgets and travel,” he says. “I created Total Car Score to give shoppers a one-stop location to quickly and easily see what the entire automotive industry thinks of any given model.”