NHTSA Tesla Model S crash test (Image: crashnet1 Youtube screen grab)
Trouble is, between the two U.S. agencies that conduct crash tests—the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)—there's a lot of information to distill. And to compound matters, the test results from these two agencies aren't always in agreement.
We already help make sense of that in the Safety section of each full review here at The Car Connection, and that's a great place to start when cross-shopping models before you head to the dealership. And to make this information even more useful to those who want one of the safest new cars, we've done some additional sorting to filter out the best of the best.
In order to come up with this list of safest cars, we looked at vehicles that earn top scores in both (sorry, Tesla Motors) federal and IIHS crash-test programs. First we separated out models that get NHTSA five-star scores overall, frontal, and side (allowing 4 stars for rollover): then we looked at which of those models also qualify for the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ nod.
That culled the selection down to just ten vehicles. But it should be noted that there are likely many luxury-brand vehicles that also meet the same (or better) level of occupant protection. Because of their relatively low sales volume (and high sticker prices), a number of luxury-brand models are left out of testing—especially by the federal government.
Crash-test ratings are only a starting point
But there's more to safety than crash tests. Before you dismiss safety as something you can't test-drive, there are plenty of other elements of safety that do have a lot to do with your impressions behind the wheel. Handling, outward visibility, and your comfort with the driving position all play a part in accident avoidance. And of course there are the advanced-technology accident-avoidance features like blind-spot systems,
If you're shopping for used cars, it's useful to also include a model's real-world record of insurance losses—which the IIHS has attempted to normalize for real-world factors like driver age and location—in addition to its crash-test ratings. But please be aware that the most recent batch of vehicles covered is for 2009 through 2011 model years, and because of the rate at which vehicle structures are being improved and new safety features are being introduced, these records are relevant to the 2013 or 2014 model years in very few cases.
Our list contains a mix of 2013 and 2014 models because, at the time of posting, the safety agencies haven't yet extended 2013 ratings in many cases. With subtle safety-feature and structural changes sometimes enough to make a difference in star ratings between model years, we're resisting the urge to jump the gun in some of these cases, although most will essentially carry over their 2013 ratings to the 2014 model year.
Considering those rather narrow constraints, here are ten of the safest vehicles of 2013:
2013 Dodge Dart GT
The 2013 Dodge Dart is near the head of its class, with top-notch safety ratings in most tests, plus 10 airbags.
2013 Ford Focus Electric
With some standout options and top-tier occupant safety, there's nothing missing here for security-minded small-car shoppers.
2013 Ford Fusion Energi
Top-tier safety ratings fit right alongside available accident-avoiding features like blind-spot monitors.
2013 Honda Accord Coupe
There's an extensive list of available active-safety features; and a new, stronger structure contributes to crash-test ratings that are better than any other affordable mid-size sedan.
2014 Kia Optima
The Optima remains one of the safest sedan picks; and blind-spot detection is newly optional for 2014.
2013 Nissan Altima
The last Altima missed out on the safety-tech parade; this one marches into lockstep with options for everything from a rearview camera to blind-spot monitors.
2014 Subaru Outback
The 2014 Subaru Outback is again one of the safest family vehicles you can get, with top ratings from both agencies.
2013 Volkswagen Passat
Great crash-test performance makes the VW Passat a good choice—although it's lacking some of the most advanced safety options seen in some rivals.
2014 Volvo S60
Excellent crash-test scores make safety assurances, but the advanced active safety onboard will help keep you out of trouble in the first place.
2013 Volvo XC60
The 2013 Volvo XC60 has cutting-edge safety technology that could help you avoid an accident entirely.