BACKGROUND: The purpose of this study was to assess the diagnostic test accuracy of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), magnetic resonance arthrography (MRA) and multidetector arrays in CT arthrography (MDCT) for assessing chondral lesions in the hip joint. MATERIALS AND METHODS: A review of the published and unpublished literature databases was performed to identify all studies reporting the diagnostic test accuracy (sensitivity/specificity) of MRI, MRA or MDCT for the assessment of adults with chondral (cartilage) lesions of the hip with surgical comparison (arthroscopic or open) as the reference test. All included studies were reviewed using the quality assessment of diagnostic accuracy studies appraisal tool. Pooled sensitivity, specificity, likelihood ratios and diagnostic odds ratios were calculated with 95 % confidence intervals using a random-effects meta-analysis for MRI, MRA and MDCT imaging. RESULTS: Eighteen studies satisfied the eligibility criteria. These included 648 hips from 637 patients. MRI indicated a pooled sensitivity of 0.59 (95 % CI: 0.49-0.70) and specificity of 0.94 (95 % CI: 0.90-0.97), and MRA sensitivity and specificity values were 0.62 (95 % CI: 0.57-0.66) and 0.86 (95 % CI: 0.83-0.89), respectively. The diagnostic test accuracy for the detection of hip joint cartilage lesions is currently superior for MRI compared with MRA. There were insufficient data to perform meta-analysis for MDCT or CTA protocols. CONCLUSIONS: Based on the current limited diagnostic test accuracy of the use of magnetic resonance or CT, arthroscopy remains the most accurate method of assessing chondral lesions in the hip joint.