Small cars remain the most dangerous to drive, but auto safety standards are improving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) continue to upgrade their criteria for five-star safety ratings and Top Safety Pick awards.
As recently as 2014, basic front crash prevention systems earned a vehicle the Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS. Now, these safety features warrant the lesser of the two designations from the institute. In 2015, the IIHS made it mandatory for automobiles named Top Safety Pick+ to have advanced or superior frontal crash prevention.
This change bumped the Volkswagen Golf , Chevrolet Volt, and Honda Civic sedan from the list of small cars with the highest honor. While two other cars improved their crash prevention systems, the IIHS presents a more selective list of small cars with the top safety designation for the current model year.
Here are the only five small cars to win an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award for 2015, listed alphabetically.
1. Lexus CT 200h
The small hybrid wagon by Lexus won the Top Safety Pick+ award after Toyota upgraded the front crash prevention system from “basic” to “advanced.” Otherwise, the CT 200h excelled in each of the five IIHS crash tests, landing the highest score possible. Its front crash prevention features include forward collision warning, low-speed autobrake, and high-speed autobrake.
The Mazda3 returns for a second straight year as a Top Safety Pick+ winner. In both sedan and hatchback models, the 3 aced each of the five crash tests and received an “advanced” rating for optional front crash prevention systems, including Smart City Brake Support and Forward Obstruction Warning. IIHS testers gave the flagship Mazda high marks for the low-speed autobrake mechanism.
3. Subaru Impreza
The Subaru Impreza is the second of three small cars to win Top Safety Pick+ awards for consecutive years and the only one to win the honor every year since the IIHS introduced it in 2013. In addition to notching the top score in all five crash tests, Impreza landed a “superior” rating for its forward collision warning, low-speed autobrake, and exceptional high-speed autobrake.
4. Subaru XV Crosstrek
Subaru’s second entry on this list is the XV Crosstrek, a compact crossover deemed a small car by the IIHS. Crosstrek shares with the Impreza its perfect crash-test scores and “superior” front crash prevention systems, most notably the high-speed autobrake. If Subaru’s impressive sales growth is any indication, the combination of affordability, standard all-wheel drive, and top safety features is a winning formula for U.S. consumers.
5. Toyota Prius
Toyota proved that it was not done improving the hybrid that started it all when the automaker upgraded Prius’s safety features for the 2014 model year. With that upgrade, Prius received Top Safety Pick+ honors in 2014 and repeats for the 2015 model year. Unlike the other entries on this list, Prius received one “average” score (in small overlap front tests) along with its four top ratings in the other crash tests. Forward collision warning and low-speed autobrake pushed it into the IIHS’s elite safety category. Last year, Prius sustained its dominance of the green car market as the best-selling hybrid of 2014.