Volvo City Safety collision-avoidance systemEnlarge Photo
Even then, there are differences. For instance, the 2017 Volvo S60 comes standard with what the automaker calls "City Safety." This is a low-speed version of automatic emergency braking designed to prevent collisions with pedestrians and cars around town. A more thorough system that works at higher speeds is an additional extra. In the S60's case, both systems perform well enough that the IIHS gives that Volvo the nod.
When we're talking headlights, it's far more complicated. You could be forgiven for assuming that extra-cost headlights like LEDs will perform better than the standard units, but the IIHS found that's not always the case.
New cars may be available with a variety of headlight options. On the 2017 Honda Ridgeline only the top-end RTL-E and Black Edition trim levels include LED headlamps, which the IIHS says are excellent. But all other Ridgeline trim levels—which represent the bulk of Ridgelines sold—rate as "Poor," which is the lowest score the IIHS assigns. As a result, the only Ridgelines considered Top Safety Pick+ recipients are RTL-E and Black Edition. Instead of around $30,000 for a base Ridgeline, you're well over $40,000 to get into an RTL-E.
As we said, pricey headlights don't always work better. On the 2017 Lexus ES 350, the IIHS says that the model's standard LED low beam/halogen projector high beam combination is superior to the optional LED low/high beam lights included in the $515 bi-LED headlight package. As a result, the ES 350 is a Top Safety Pick+ without the package, but only a Top Safety Pick with it.
2017 Honda Ridgeline Black EditionEnlarge Photo
And here's how you can ensure you're getting a Top Safety Pick+
Here's what we suggest:
- If automatic emergency braking is optional, make sure the car you're buying is equipped with it. The best way to determine this is to look at the federally mandated "window sticker" that's usually tacked onto one of the car's windows (hence its nickname). This sheet shows every option added to the vehicle plus the manufacturer's suggested retail price, or MSRP.
- Closely read the IIHS' website to make sure the car you're buying has the most effective lights available on it. Remember that optional headlights don't necessarily provide a superior view of the road ahead, according to the IIHS.