As much as we love sleek styling, dynamic handling, and thrilling acceleration, we appreciate a strong suite of safety gear even more. After all, there may well come a time when maneuverability simply won’t be enough to prevent a crash. That’s when you’ll want your car to be as crashworthy as possible and outfitted with lots of life preserving technology.
Volvo has been top of mind for years when it comes to safety, and for good reason—passenger safety is the company’s foremost concern. Perhaps predictably then, you’ll see more Volvos on this list of the top 10 safest cars, than any other marque. However, Volvo isn’t the only brand out there building safe cars. According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), whose crash testing is the most rigorous in the country, five other brands offer similar levels of crash protection.
To assemble this list, we considered only models the IIHS deemed Top Safety Picks +. These are vehicles designed to protect their occupants in a crash—as well as incorporating autonomous systems capable of preventing or mitigating front-to-rear crashes. These front crash prevention systems typically incorporate warning systems as well as automatic braking to help drivers avoid rear-ending a stopped or slower-moving vehicle in front of them. These systems will generally also try to stop the car when a stationary object, pedestrians, and in some cases bicyclists, are about to be struck.
To qualify as an IIHS Top Safety Pick +, vehicles must be capable of performing well in what’s known as the small overlap front crash test—in addition to the standard head-on, side, and rollover crash testing. The small overlap front crash test is designed to duplicate the effect of hitting another car or a stationary object with one of the front corners of your vehicle. This test is more difficult for a car to withstand than the standard head-on collision because the crash energy gets distributed in an uneven fashion through the car’s structure; making it more likely to intrude into the passenger compartment. To narrow the list of models down even farther to get to the top 10 safest cars, we only included cars that scored “Good” (the IIHS’s highest ranking from among Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor), and cars demonstrating the strongest showing in frontal crash prevention.
It is important to note, a number of cars earned Top Safety Pick + status, but were not ranked in the top ten. These include the Honda Civic Sedan, Toyota Prius, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord Coupe, Mazda6, Subaru Outback, Infiniti Q50, Lincoln MKZ, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Odyssey. Again, these models are easily ranked among the safest automobiles on the road, it’s just there are 10 models deemed even more safe than they are.
When all was said and done, the following cars emerged as the top 10 safest cars, based upon their performances in the crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety…
The Top 10 Safest Cars: Acura RLX
Acura’s flagship model, while not one of the most impressive luxury cars in terms of its appearance is bristling with a wide array of cutting edge technology. Features such as lane keep assist; lane departure warning, blind spot monitors, proximity sensors, and adaptive cruise control are all offered with the RLX. Antilock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, and a driver’s side knee airbag are included as standard equipment. In addition to the collision prevention systems we spoke of earlier, the Acura also incorporates a rear-view camera system to prevent backing over pedestrians, or into other cars.
The Top 10 Safest Cars: Acura MDX
Acura’s crossover utility vehicle, like its flagship RLX sedan also features a broad array of high tech safety equipment. The RDX is offered with collision mitigation warning and autonomous braking, lane keep assist to keep the Acura in its lane should the driver fall inattentive for any reason, and a multi-angle rearview camera. This is also good for monitoring rear cross traffic to detect objects approaching from the sides of the MDX at the rear. You’ll also find antilock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver's knee airbag, active front head restraints, and traction and stability control.
The Top 10 Safest Cars: Mazda3
The Mazda3 comes equipped with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, active front head restraints, front side airbags, and side curtain airbags. The Mazda economy car also offers an optional blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alerts, a lane departure warning system, forward collision warning, and Mazda's Smart City Brake Support. This collision-mitigation system can automatically brake the Mazda3 to a stop at low speeds in response to sensing an imminent collision if the driver doesn’t try. Naturally, a rearview camera is offered too. The Mazda can also be had with technology capable of providing rear cross traffic alerts.
The Top 10 Safest Cars: Mazda CX-5
The Mazda CX-5, like its Mazda3 sibling, also features antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, active front head restraints, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. The CX-5 can also be had with an optional blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alerts, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and Mazda's Smart City Brake Support system, which uses a sensor informed by a laser to look for stationary objects like stopped cars or pedestrians walking in front of the vehicle. If the Mazda is traveling at 19 mph or less and the driver doesn’t respond, the CX-5 automatically applies braking.
The Top 10 Safest Cars: Mercedes-Benz M Class
Surprisingly, the only Mercedes-Benz model to qualify for this list, the M Class crossover utility vehicle boasts antilock brakes, traction and stability control, as well as the Mercedes-Benz PreSafe system. PreSafe will cinch the seatbelts, close the sunroof, and roll up the windows in the event of an impending accident. The Benz also features a collision warning system, front and rear side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, and a driver’s side knee airbag. The Mercedes model also offers automatic collision notification, an SOS button to call for help after an incident, stolen vehicle location, alarm notification, and a rearview camera.
The Top 10 Safest Cars: Mitsubishi Outlander
Mitsubishi brings its Outlander crossover utility vehicle to market with a strong array of safety kit. Among its features are antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, hill-start assist, a driver’s-side knee airbag, front seat side airbags, and side curtain airbags. The Outlander can also be equipped with lane-departure warning and a forward collision-warning/mitigation system. As with the systems we’ve detailed previously, the Outlander can stop itself. At speeds below approximately 20 miles per hour, the Outlander first applies light braking to avoid the problem, if the driver still doesn’t get involved, the Outlander will activate full panic braking mode.
The Top 10 Safest Cars: Subaru Forester
Subaru has been running ads touting the safety of its models, and indeed the Forester is one of the top ten safest cars you can buy. Standard equipment includes antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, and yes, a driver's knee airbag. A rear view camera is standard on all but the base model, while optional safety kit includes lane departure warning and collision mitigation. In the case of the Forester, the car goes into stop itself mode if sensors indicate an obstruction and the car is traveling less than 19 miles per hour.
The Top 10 Safest Cars: Volvo S60
Don’t let the handsome styling fool you, Volvo’s passenger cars are still the equivalent of rolling bomb shelters when it comes to protecting their occupants in the event of a crash. Standard equipment includes antilock disc brakes, stability control and traction control, front-seat side airbags, and full-length side curtain airbags. Then, there is the technology Volvo calls City Safety, which is also known as collision mitigation. (Volvo pioneered these systems by the way). Naturally, you can also get a lane departure warning system, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, a blind-spot warning system, and rear cross traffic alerts.
The Top 10 Safest Cars: Volvo S80
As you might well imagine, the Volvo flagship is a veritable fortress of safety features. In addition to its outstanding crash test scores, the car’s passive and active safety equipment includes four antilock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags with individual chambers for chest and hip protection, a set of side curtain airbags, and Volvo's “City Safety” slow-speed frontal-collision mitigation system. There are also active front headrests. Optional kit includes a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensor arrays, blind spot and lane-departure warning systems, and a driver fatigue monitor. The S80’s City Safety system also looks for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The Top 10 Safest Cars: Volvo XC60
Volvo’s XC60 features integrated child safety seats, four antilock brakes, traction and stability control systems, front seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, and whiplash-preventing headrests in the front seats. Optional safety features for the handsome Volvo include the ability to stop itself from as much as 22 mph if it senses a pedestrian in its path. The Volvo warns its driver against inattentiveness, lane departure, and impending collisions. And yes, it will try to stop itself if it senses the latter. Front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic alerts round out its offerings.