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Status Report, Vol. 50, No. 10 | December 10, 2015 Subscribe

Advancing safetyWinners have good crash protection and front crash prevention

The Hyundai Tucson, a Top Safety Pick+ winner in the small SUV category, aces the front crash prevention test on the Institute's new covered outdoor track.

Nearly 50 vehicles meet tougher criteria for 2016 to take home an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award, earning good ratings in all five crashworthiness evaluations and an advanced or higher rating for front crash prevention. An additional 13 vehicles qualify for Top Safety Pick in this initial group of winners.

"We asked auto manufacturers to do more this year to qualify for our safety awards, and they delivered," says Adrian Lund, IIHS president. "For the first time, a good rating in the challenging small overlap front crash test is a requirement to win, in addition to an available front crash prevention system. How that system rates determines whether a vehicle will earn Top Safety Pick+ or Top Safety Pick."

The baseline requirements for both awards are good ratings in the small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, as well as a standard or optional front crash prevention system. The 48 winners of the "plus" award have a superior- or advanced-rated front crash prevention system with automatic braking capabilities. These vehicles must stop or slow down without driver intervention before hitting a target in tests at 12 mph, 25 mph or both. Models with an available basic-rated front crash prevention system, which typically only issues a warning and doesn't brake, qualify for Top Safety Pick.

IIHS inaugurated Top Safety Pick in the 2006 model year to help consumers home in on vehicles with the best safety performance. The Top Safety Pick+ accolade was introduced in 2012 to recognize vehicles that offer an advanced level of safety (see "Family cars in the lead," Dec. 20, 2012, and "Top Safety Picks for 2006," Dec. 17, 2005).

Last year when IIHS announced the initial winners of the 2015 awards, 33 models qualified for Top Safety Pick+ and 38 qualified for Top Safety Pick (see "Safety gains ground," Dec. 23, 2014). The ranks then grew to 51 Top Safety Pick+ and 48 Top Safety Pick winners. IIHS releases ratings as it evaluates new models, adding to the ranks of winners throughout the year.

The 2016 winner's circle includes some redesigned models with improved frontal crash protection and autobrake features, which help to prevent or mitigate certain frontal crashes.

The 2016 Nissan Maxima and Volkswagen Passat, for example, earn good ratings in the small overlap front test, while earlier models were rated acceptable. Nissan also improved occupant protection in rear crashes and rollovers, boosting the Maxima's head restraints and seats rating from marginal to good and its roof strength rating from acceptable to good. The Maxima's optional front crash prevention system is rated superior and the Passat's is rated advanced. Both midsize cars earn the plus award.

Toyota added autobrake to the Avalon, a large family car, and the RAV4, a small SUV, to qualify for Top Safety Pick+. Both are rated superior for front crash prevention.

In the award count, Toyota leads manufacturers with nine 2016 Top Safety Pick+ winners, including the popular Camry midsize car, while Honda picks up eight Top Safety Pick+ awards and one Top Safety Pick. Volkswagen/Audi has seven plus-award winners. Six Subaru models qualify for Top Safety Pick+.

Volkswagen Passat/Nissan Maxima

Volkswagen Passat (left), Nissan Maxima (right)

Several automakers improved performance in the small overlap test, and some added front crash prevention systems with autobrake.

Toyota RAV4/Toyota Avalon

Toyota RAV4 (left), Toyota Avalon (right)


The Chrysler 200 is the only domestic model to qualify for a 2016 Top Safety Pick+ award. One other vehicle from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the Fiat 500X, earns the Institute's highest award for 2016.

Ford has just one winning model this year, the F-150 SuperCrew, which earns Top Safety Pick. The large pickup is the only Ford with a good small overlap rating.

Tougher criteria thwart many vehicles

A number of previous winners are missing from the new lists, including many small and midsize cars. Last year, vehicles with an acceptable small overlap rating could qualify for either award if their other four crashworthiness ratings were good. An available front crash prevention system was required only for Top Safety Pick+ and not Top Safety Pick. More than 20 winners of the 2015 Top Safety Pick award and four plus-award winners don't qualify under the 2016 criteria.

The tougher criteria are intended to encourage manufacturers to continue to build safer vehicles, a focus that has helped to dramatically reduce crash deaths during the past two decades.

The small overlap front crash test is based on research showing that about a quarter of the serious deaths and injuries in frontal crashes are in ones that involve just a small portion of the front end of a vehicle. These often are collisions with oncoming vehicles or run-off-road crashes into trees or utility poles (see "Small overlap crashes," Aug. 14, 2012).

"When the Institute introduced the small overlap test, we knew many manufacturers would need to make structural improvements to safeguard people in this common type of frontal crash," Lund explains. "We expected a lot of marginal and poor ratings, and we got them."

At the same time, IIHS wanted to recognize automakers that were already paying attention to this crash configuration.

"As a compromise, we set the minimum ratings bar at acceptable. Now it's time to push ahead to give occupants the best possible protection," Lund says.

The Toyota Highlander and Sienna, for example, are available with an advanced-rated autobrake system, but less-than-good ratings in the small overlap front test put the SUV and minivan out of contention for a 2016 accolade. The pair earned 2015 plus awards.

Lack of an available front crash prevention system is the issue with several vehicles with good small overlap ratings. The Audi Q3, for example, no longer qualifies for Top Safety Pick because it doesn't have front crash prevention.

"Consumers who purchased a winning 2015 model that doesn't qualify this year needn't worry that their vehicles are now less safe," Lund says. "As vehicles continue to improve, however, we think it's important to recognize that progress and encourage further advances by making our ratings more stringent."

Autobrake availability to increase

Among the Top Safety Pick+ winners, there are 31 models with an available superior-rated front crash prevention system and 17 models with an advanced rating.

The Scion iA, a Top Safety Pick+ winner, is the first low-priced car with a standard autobrake system. With a base price of about $16,000, the iA is rated advanced for front crash prevention and is the only minicar to earn a 2016 IIHS award. This shows that front crash prevention systems are becoming more affordable. Besides the iA, autobrake is standard on just a few luxury vehicles. These include all Volvo models, some Mercedes-Benz models and the Acura RLX.

More automakers are expected to make autobrake standard equipment in the near future under a voluntary agreement being developed by manufacturers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and IIHS. NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind announced the historic commitment in September at the dedication of the newly expanded IIHS Vehicle Research Center in Ruckersville, Va.

Further bolstering the commitment is NHTSA's November announcement that it will add autobrake as a recommended safety technology to the agency's 5-star safety ratings program for consumer information, beginning with the 2018 model year.

"Ask for autobrake and forward collision warning features when you're out shopping for a new vehicle," Lund says. "Look for good ratings in IIHS evaluations and at least 4 of 5 stars from NHTSA. And remember that larger, heavier vehicles offer the best protection in a crash."


TOP SAFETY PICK+ 2016

To qualify for 2016 Top Safety Pick+, a vehicle must earn good ratings in the small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, as well as an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.

All the models listed below have optional front crash prevention systems except for the Scion iA, the Acura RLX, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and all Volvo models, which have standard systems.

TOP SAFETY PICK 2016

To qualify for 2016 Top Safety Pick, a vehicle must earn good ratings in the small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, as well as a basic rating for front crash prevention.

All the models listed below have optional front crash prevention systems except for the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, which has a standard system.

Small cars

Midsize moderately priced car

Small SUVs

Midsize SUVs

Family cars in the lead: Luxury models don't do as well in tough new crash test

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