Safest 2014 cars

Earning the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick Plus award has become tougher for 2014, but 22 cars managed to earn the agency's highest safety award.

IIHS has revised its Top Safety Pick Plus criteria. For a car to earn the top nod, it must earn the highest score of good — out of good, acceptable, marginal and poor — in moderate overlap frontal-, side-impact, roof-strength and rear-impact tests; it also must receive a score of good or acceptable in the small overlap frontal-impact crash test, which simulates a car hitting a tree or light pole at 40 mph from the front-left corner. IIHS introduced this crash test in 2012.

Top Safety Pick Plus cars need one more piece to get the award — front crash protection technology that allows drivers to avoid a potential collision through warnings and, in some models, automatic braking. Earlier this year, IIHS began testing the systems, awarding the title of superior, advanced or basic to cars with the systems.

"We've made it more difficult for manufacturers this year," says IIHS President Adrian Lund. "Following a gradual phase-in, the small overlap crash is now part of our basic battery of tests, and good or acceptable performance should be part of every vehicle's safety credentials. We also felt it was time to offer extra recognition to manufacturers that are offering a proven crash avoidance technology."

The frontal overlap tests are the biggest difference between the two national testing agencies. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crashes cars head-on into a solid immovable barrier. Neither the angle nor the obstacle corresponds with the majority of real collisions. IIHS conducts a frontal-offset crash into a deformable barrier that reacts like another vehicle. This gauges how well half of the vehicle's front end absorbs crash energy. Many experts say this test is more revealing and better represents the majority of real-world crashes. Additionally, NHTSA has acknowledged that its New Car Assessment Program hasn't evolved quickly enough to account for marketwide improvements in vehicle crashworthiness. Simply put, too many models are getting high scores from NHTSA, and the differences among them — which exist — aren't reflected in the ratings. 

Front crash prevention systems are available in more cars, and for 2014 the IIHS distinguishes between Top Safety Pick Plus winners and Top Safety Pick winners; the criteria is the same except for the front crash protection technology requirement. For 2014, 17 models earned Top Safety Pick status.

Front crash prevention systems can be basic like those found on the Ford Fusion midsize sedan, Lincoln MKZ midsize sedan and Honda's Civic Hybrid, Accord coupe and sedan, and Odyssey minivan, or complex like Subaru's EyeSight warning and autobrake system that avoids collisions at both 12 mph and 25 mph. EyeSight is optional on the Forester SUV, Legacy family sedan and Outback wagon.

Most of the 2014 Top Safety Pick Plus winners qualify only with the optional front crash protection systems. When a vehicle doesn't have that system, it instead receives the Top Safety Pick award. The Volvo S60, S80 and XC60 and the Honda Civic Hybrid all have a front crash prevention system standard and therefore earn only the Top Safety Pick Plus award.

2014 Top Safety Pick Plus award winners

Compact cars

  • Honda Civic Hybrid
  • Mazda3, built after October 2013
  • Toyota Prius, built after November 2013

Midsize cars

  • Ford Fusion
  • Honda Accord coupe and sedan
  • Mazda6
  • Subaru Legacy
  • Subaru Outback

Midsize luxury/near-luxury cars

  • Infiniti Q50
  • Lincoln MKZ
  • Volvo S60

Full-size luxury cars

  • Acura RL
  • Volvo S80

Compact SUVs

  • Mazda CX-5, built after October 2013
  • Mitsubishi Outlander
  • Subaru Forester

Midsize SUV

  • Toyota Highlander

Midsize luxury SUVs

  • Acura MDX
  • Mercedes-Benz M-Class, built after August 2013
  • Volvo XC60


  • Honda Odyssey

Except for the Volvo S60, S80 and XC60 and Honda Civic Hybrid, vehicles listed under Top Safety Pick Plus qualify for that award only when equipped with optional front crash prevention. Front crash prevention isn't available on non-hybrid versions of the Civic.

Top Safety Pick winners


  • Chevrolet Spark

Compact cars

  • Dodge Dart
  • Ford Focus
  • Honda Civic coupe
  • Hyundai Elantra
  • Scion tC
  • Subaru Impreza
  • Subaru XV Crosstrek

Midsize moderately priced cars

  • Chrysler 200 sedan
  • Dodge Avenger
  • Kia Optima
  • Nissan Altima
  • Toyota Camry, built after November 2013
  • Volkswagen Passat

Midsize luxury/near-luxury car

  • Acura TL

Small SUV

  • Mitsubushi Outlander Sport

Midsize luxury SUV

  • Volvo XC90

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