Fortunately, technology has advanced to the degree where it is no longer necessary to invest in an enormous automobile or truck in order to be protected in the event of an accident. Active safety devices and excellent construction techniques have rendered smaller cars nearly as safe as their full-size counterparts. This article discusses 5 of the safest entry-level cars currently available on the market according to their NHTSA New Car Assessment Program Ratings.
2009 Toyota YarisThe 2009 Toyota Yaris two-door hatchback is Toyota's most efficient non-hybrid vehicle. Starting at a very reasonable $12,205, the Yaris also happens to be the least expensive car bearing the Toyota brand. Often times, the cheapest model in the lineup conjures up visions of safety-reducing cost-cutting, but this is not true of the Yaris. The two-door compact boasts a 5 star frontal crash rating for the driver, along with a 4 star passenger rating from the NHTSA. Ratings for a side crash are 5 stars for front occupants and 3 stars for those riding in the rear. The Yaris also comes in with only a 14% risk of rollover, which translates into a 4 star NHTSA rating.
Much of this enhanced safety can be attributed to features such as dual-stage airbags for both driver and front passenger, as well as side curtain airbags front and rear, seat-mounted side airbags for both forward occupants, and head restraints front and rear. Electronic brake-force distribution is standard equipment and works with the anti-lock braking system in order to prevent a loss of control during a hard stop. Seatbelt pretensioners are also included.
In addition to superior safety, buyers of the Yaris are also treated to a 1.5 liter, 4-cylinder engine that produces 106 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque. Available with either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission, the 2009 Toyota Yaris two-door hatchback returns fuel economy numbers of 29 miles per gallon in city driving and 36 miles per gallon on the highway. The base model Yaris comes with manual door locks and windows as well as air conditioning. There is no radio included, but a number of packages can be used to upgrade the interior with exactly the options that drivers are looking for, including power everything, cruise control, and an LCD screen to control and monitor vehicle functions.
2009 Honda FitThe 2009 Honda Fit is a close competitor to the Yaris, and not just in terms of practicality and fuel economy. The Fit was completely redesigned in 2009, and as a result it was able to maintain a very high level of passenger safety. Priced at just $14,750 for the entry-level edition, the Fit Provides a 5 star driver and passenger frontal crash NHTSA safety rating. This is backed up by an excellent 5 star rating for front occupants involved in a side crash and a 4 star rating for those in the rear. The Fit's risk of rollover in a given accident is only 12%, which allows it to qualify for a 4 star NHTSA rating.
The 2009 Honda Fit features an extensive list of safety gear, including dual-stage front air bags for passenger and driver, side airbags for both front occupants, and side curtain airbags front and rear. New crush zones in the body structure improve the vehicle's safety compared to the outgoing model, and the Fit also employs active head restraints. Anti-lock brakes are standard on the base model, as are seatbelt pretensioners, and stability and traction control can be ordered as an option.
Underneath the hood, the Fit provides drivers with a 1.5 liter, 4-cylinder engine good for 117 horsepower and 106 lb-ft of torque. Fuel mileage is quite respectable, with the hatchback being rated at 27 miles per gallon in the city and 33 miles per gallon on the highway. A 5-speed manual is standard, but a 5-speed auto transmission can be ordered as an option. The Fit comes with an MP3-capable stereo system, power windows and door locks, and a folding rear seat. A voice-activated navigation system and a USB interface can be ordered on the Fit Sport model.
2009 Honda Civic CoupeHonda's second entry on this list is the somewhat larger but still entry-level 2009 Honda Civic Coupe. Starting at $15,305, this sporty-looking vehicle is a strong performer when it comes to NHTSA NCAP crash test ratings. In terms of a frontal crash, both driver and passenger positions are rated 5 stars, while front seat side crash drops to 4 stars. Rear occupants, on the other hand, benefit from a 5 star side crash rating. A 10% chance of rollover gives the Civic Coupe a 4 star NHTSA rating in this category.
The 2009 Honda Civic Coupe was refreshed for this model year, and as a result safety equipment has been improved all around. The entry-level DX model is of course outfitted with dual-stage front airbags for driver and passenger, along with side airbags for forward occupants. Similar to the Fit, side curtain airbags and active head restraints can also be found in the front and rear passenger compartment. Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution, a tire pressure monitoring system and seatbelt pretensioners round out the list of standard safety gear.
All editions of the Civic Coupe except for the performance-oriented Si trim level come with the same 1.8 liter, 4-cylinder engine that produces 140 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. A 5-speed manual transmission is included in the purchase price, with a 5-speed automatic available as an extra-cost option. Despite the vehicle's larger size, fuel economy remains good at 26 miles per gallon around town and 34 miles per gallon during highway driving. Power windows and a rear spoiler are standard, but like the Yaris a radio is not. Air conditioning, an MP3 stereo system and a number of other convenience options can be added either through packages or by ordering the Civic in any of its 4 other trim levels.
2009 Nissan VersaThe 2009 Nissan Versa Hatchback is a relative newcomer from the Japanese car company, and its slightly larger dimensions and practical design have quickly made it a favorite amongst entry-level car buyers. Despite its bargain price of $13,100, the Versa Hatchback does very well on NHTSA crash tests. The frontal crash results for both driver and passenger qualify for a 4 star rating, which is identical to the vehicle's 4 star side crash rating for front and rear occupants. The Versa's risk of rollover is 14%, allowing it to claim a 4 star NHTSA rating in that category.
Nissan has installed a raft of safety equipment in each 2009 Nissan Versa Hatchback. Up front, occupants are protected by dual-stage airbags, as well as seat-mounted side impact airbags. Passengers front and rear benefit from side curtain airbags mounted on the roof which are designed to protect the head in the event of an impact. A tire pressure monitoring system, active head restraints for the driver and front passenger and seatbelt pretensioners are also standard.
The five-door hatchback edition of the Versa offers a 122 horsepower, 1.8 liter 4-cylinder engine that also generates 127 lb-ft of torque. When ordered with a 6-speed manual transmission, the Versa sees fuel economy that is rated at 26 miles per gallon in the city and 31 miles per gallon on the highway. A 4-speed automatic is also available as an option, and the more upscale Versa SL can be outfitted with a continuously-variable automatic unit. Air conditioning is the only standard equipment of note, but a number of inexpensive options such as cruise control, power windows and door locks, a moonroof and a more powerful Rockford-Fosgate stereo system can be installed in order to civilize the vehicle's interior.
2009 Volkswagen RabbitOften advertised as one of the sportier compacts on the market, at $19,300 the 2009 Volkswagen Rabbit is also one of the pricier entry-level options. However, for that amount of expenditure buyers benefit from a very safe and comfortable car. The four-door hatchback edition of this German vehicle features a 4 star frontal crash rating from the NHTSA for both the driver and the front passenger. Side crash performance is even better, with a 5 star rating shown for front and rear occupants. The Rabbit's chance of rollover is tested as 12%, which gives it a 4 star NHTSA rating.
The 2009 Volkswagen Rabbit four-door hatchback's list of safety equipment is fairly comprehensive. The forward part of the cabin is protected by both standard front airbags as well as side thorax airbags for the driver and passenger. Side curtain airbags for all occupants work alongside side thorax airbags for rear passengers to provide an extra level of safety. Seatbelt pretensioners and head restraints are also found in the cabin, while anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution, traction control, electronic stability control and engine braking assist are employed to help keep the Rabbit from getting involved in an accident in the first place.
The Rabbit's higher purchase price does allow a peppier engine, with a 2.5 liter, 4-cylinder unit installed under the hood that is good for 170 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. A 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic are the transmission choices, and fuel economy is rated at 21 miles per gallon in city driving and 30 miles per gallon on the highway. The level of standard equipment is also higher than some of the other vehicles on this list, with air conditioning, cruise control, and power windows, door locks and mirrors all included on the base model. A 6-CD changer and refrigerated center console help to create a premium feel in the compact hatch.