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It used to be accepted amongst new car buyers that small cars just weren’t as safe as their full-size brethren. Technological advances related to manufacturing standards, materials use and vehicle systems over the past decade have dramatically increased the safety of compact and subcompact cars to the point where a significant number of them are able to hold their own against much larger automobiles when it comes to objective safety tests and ratings.
While some small cars are safer than others, none offer the same high level of protection as those rated Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Let’s take a look at 10 of the IIHS Top Safety Picks in the compact car category.
Photos courtesy of respective manufacturers
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01. 2011 Honda Civic Sedan (w/ Optional ESC, Non-Si Trim)
The 2011 Honda Civic sedan is one of the most popular compact cars on the market, and it is also one of the safest. The vehicle rated “Good” in both frontal offset side and impact crash testing, as well as in roof crush test results. The vehicle’s cabin features front airbags for driver and passenger, side curtain airbags that run the full length of the vehicle and active front head restraints that work to help prevent whiplash. Vehicle Stability Assist is available as an option on most models (and is a requirement for IIHS Top Safety Pick status), and is standard on the EX-L trim.
Other standard safety equipment on the 2011 Honda Civic sedan includes antilock brakes, Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure and a tire pressure monitoring system.
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02. 2011 Volkswagen Golf (Four-Door)
The four-door version of the 2011 Volkswagen Gold compact hatchback trumps the two-door when it comes to the IIHS Top Safety Pick rating system, scoring “Good” in all three critical crash test categories. All versions of the Volkswagen Golf four-door come with Electronic Stability Control as standard equipment, as well as six airbags: two forward-facing units, side airbags in the front and full side-curtain airbags that run the length of the passenger compartment. Rear side airbags are also available as an option.
The 2011 Volkswagen Golf also offers additional safety features, such as an Electronic Differential Lock and Anti-Slip Regulation to prevent wheel spin, Hydraulic Brake Assist and anti-lock brakes and anti-intrusion side door beams to help maintain the integrity of the vehicle’s cabin during a collision.
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03. 2011 Kia Soul
The 2011 Kia Soul is more than just a funky face – its “Good” scores in IIHS side impact, frontal offset and roof crush testing make the 2011 model a Top Safety Pick. The small crossover employs an array of six airbags throughout its interior, including dual seat-mounted side airbags and the requisite front airbags for forward occupants and full-length side curtain airbags. Anti-lock brakes with brake assist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution help to bring the Soul to a rapid stop, and Electronic Stability Control and a Traction Control System are also included free of charge with every model.
The 2011 Kia Soul additionally makes use of a tire pressure monitoring system, active headrests for the front two seating positions, front seatbelt pretensioners and an impact absorbing steering column to help add an additional layer of protection in an accident.
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04. 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer (Excluding AWD)
Non-all-wheel drive editions of the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer compact sedan also rate “Good” scores in roof strength testing and frontal offset and side impact testing by the IIHS. These models include the Lancer DE, the Lancer ES and the Lancer GTS. The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer ups the airbag ante with the addition of a seventh standard airbag to complement the usual six (two in front and on either side of those riding up front, and two side curtain airbags). The seventh airbag is an innovative knee-level unit specifically mounted to protect the driver during certain types of collisions.
The 2011 Lancer also includes Mitsubishi’s Active Stability Control system, as well as anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution. Extra safety gear is on hand in the form of the brand’s Refined Impact Safety Evolution (RISE) chassis design, as well as a seatbelt pretensioning system.
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05. 2011 Nissan Cube
Similar in its boxy shape to the Kia Soul, the 2011 Nissan cube offers a passenger compartment that is laden with six standard airbags. Side curtain airbags protect passengers in the event of an unexpected collision out on the road, while front airbags in the dash and steering wheel and airbags mounted on the sides of each front seat also contribute to aura of safety that comes with passing the IIHS frontal offset, side impact and roof strength tests with a “Good” rating.
Also present and accounted for in the Nissan Cube’s array of safety equipment is Vehicle Dynamic Control and a Traction Control System, as well as anti-lock brakes, Brake Assist technology and even Electronic Brake Force Distribution, each of which contribute to the stability and controllability of the Cube in a variety of different driving situations.
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06. 2011 Scion xB
The 2011 Scion xB – the third rectangular compact crossover on our list – features Scion’s Star Safety System as standard equipment. The Star Safety System consists of an array of electronic safety aids such as anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, as well as high tech features like Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control.
Complementing the Star Safety System are forward and side airbags for the driver and front passenger, as well as side curtain airbags that extend along the length of the cabin. These help the xB to post a “Good” rating in all three crucial IIHS impact and collision tests. The Scion xB also offers Smart Stop Technology, which automatically powers down the engine should the brake pedal and the accelerator be depressed simultaneously.
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07. 2011 Subaru Impreza
The 2011 Subaru Impreza offers up standard safety gear such as all-wheel drive, Vehicle Dynamics Control, a Traction Control System and anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist. A tire pressure monitoring system is also included on all models.
Both the Subaru Impreza sedan and the hatchback also come with seat-mounted front side-impact airbags for the driver and passenger, as well as side curtain airbags that protect front and rear passengers and of course standard front-mounted airbags. Combined with its collapsible steering column and active front head restraints, these features enabled the 2011 Subaru Impreza to score a rating of “Good” in IIHS Top Safety Pick testing for frontal offset, side impact and roof crush testing.
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08. 2011 Ford Fiesta
The 2011 Ford Fiesta is an all-new subcompact design that makes use of the latest in safety technology. Like the Mitsubishi Lancer, the Ford Fiesta comes with seven airbags – the standard two forward, two side seat-mounted and two side curtain units, plus a driver’s side knee airbag. The latter is the only knee airbag offered in the subcompact class. Also contributing to the Fiesta’s “Good” rating in each of the three important IIHS Top Safety Pick categories is a boron steel safety cage and Ford’s AdvanceTrac Electronic Stability Control.
The 2011 Ford Fiesta additionally offers safety equipment such as anti-lock brakes, a traction control system and integrated blind spot mirrors.
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09. 2010 Kia Forte
The first of two 2010 models on our list of compact car IIHS Top Safety picks, the 2010 Kia Forte comes in both sedan and coupe body styles, but it is the sedan which qualifies for a “Good” rating in frontal offset impact, side impact and rollover roof strength testing. Kia worked hard on the Forte’s safety, improving the roof structure of the vehicle after initial testing provided less than stellar results for vehicles built before October of 2009.
The 2010 Kia Forte comes with six standard airbags, including seat-mounted side front airbags, front airbags for forward passengers and side curtain airbags. Anti-lock disc brakes are also included free of charge on the Forte, along with Electronic Stability Control, a Traction Control System and of course a tire pressure monitoring system.
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10. 2010 Toyota Corolla
The 2010 Toyota Corolla rounds out the list of IIHS Top Safety Picks that fall into the compact car category. The Corolla sedan was given standard Vehicle Stability Control after its 2009 redesign, and it also offers traction control, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, Electronic Brake Force Distribution and Brake Assist.
The Corolla’s crash safety is enhanced by side-impact door beams and a steering column that is designed to absorb the energy of a collision. These structural features are complemented by six airbags in all of the usual spots, helping the Toyota to achieve a “Good” rating in IIHS collision testing (frontal offset, side impact and roof crush resistance).
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