What happens when a Fiat crashes into a Suburban? Don’t ask. It’s like Giancarlo Stanton crashing into Jose Altuve for a takeout slide at second base. (Substitute any David vs. Goliath comparison here.) Which is to say: Small cars have their work cut out for them in the safety department. It’s simply a matter of mass. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is the first to acknowledge the challenge.
“Larger, heavier vehicles generally afford more protection than smaller, lighter ones,” says the IIHS website when listing its winners of Top Safety Picks. “Thus, a small car that’s a TOP SAFETY PICK+ or TOP SAFETY PICK doesn’t necessarily afford more protection than a bigger car that doesn’t earn the award.”
Still, if you have conceded a compact car is your best choice for commuting, some options are better than others should you get into an accident. Here are the only seven small cars to earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ designation in the 2015 model year. Cars are listed in order of their crashworthiness, beginning with the four Top Safety Pick winners and ending with the three Top Safety Pick+ winners.
2015 Honda Fit
As the only mini car of the 2015 model year and one of two mini cars on the road with a Top Safety Pick designation, Honda has something to celebrate with the Fit’s crash test performance. The subcompact with an electric variant scored “Good” in four of the five tests, nailing the highest possible rating in head restraint and seats, side, roof strength, and moderate overlap front tests. Only the difficult small overlap front test had the 2015 Fit ($15,650) landing an “Acceptable” rating.
Nonetheless, it was better than any of its peers and a major upgrade over the “Poor” it received for the previous (2013) model. Honda went back into the lab and improved the safety of its newest model considerably.
2015 Subaru BRZ/2015 Scion FR-S
The Toyota and Subaru project that yielded two thrilling rear-drive sports cars also yielded two of the safest small cars on U.S. roads. Like the Honda Fit, the BRZ ($25,695) and FR-S ($25,670) aced the side, moderate overlap front, head restraint and seats, and roof strength tests. The only “Acceptable” rating came in the small overlap front test. It is no coincidence: IIHS officials created the small overlap test to raise overall safety standards. Now, Top Safety Picks must score “Acceptable” or “Good” in small overlap front testing to receive the coveted designation.
2015 Kia Soul
No wonder those hamsters are always dancing, strolling down the red carpet, and doing other kooky things in those Soul commercials. The funky little city car (classified as a compact) won Top Safety Pick designation for the 2015 model year. In fact, the 2015 Kia Soul ($15,100) did one better than the preceding entries on this list by scoring “Good” in each of the five IIHS crash tests. Had the Soul been sporting the crash prevention technology in 2015 models, it would have easily entered Top Safety Pick+ territory.
2015 Subaru WRX
If you are in the market for a Subaru WRX ($26,205), you are probably wondering what aftermarket parts can make its performance even more scorching. Should safety ever enter the picture (it will be on the minds of your loved ones), the 2015 WRX has that covered, too. It nailed “Good” ratings in the full battery of tests, from the roof strength and side crash tests to the highest degree of difficulty, the small overlap front test. That makes it one sporty Top Safety Pick and yet another feather in Subaru’s cap when it comes to protecting drivers.
2015 Volkswagen Golf/GTI
Don’t get Car and Driver Magazine started about the Volkswagen Golf. After nine straight years on the publication’s “10 Best” list, the editors must be tired of talking about the Golf’s outstanding value, performance, and slate of options for every driver. As with the sky-high rating on the driver front, the full Golf family gets Top Safety Pick+ ratings for the 2015 model year. In addition to acing the five crash tests (including the highest rating on the small overlap front test), Golf ($17,995) and Golf GTI ($24,395) models have optional front collision warning. That led to a “Basic” rating in front crash prevention and a Top Safety Pick+ designation.
2015 Volkswagen Jetta
Volkswagen hit another home run with the Jetta, one of only three Top Safety Pick+ small car nameplates sporting a 2015 badge. Its “Good” rating in moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, head restraint and seats, and small overlap front crash test performance combined with its “Basic” score in front crash prevention to earn this accolade from the IIHS. Like VW Golfs, the 2015 Jetta ($17,325) crossed the final hurdle by offering optional front collision warning protection.
2015 Subaru Impreza
In addition to the BRZ and Impreza WRX variant, the standard 2015 Subaru Impreza ($18,195) compact was another winner for the Japanese automaker in the latest battery of IIHS tests. Actually, it can be said the 2015 Impreza is the safest small car on the U.S. auto market (at least in the eyes of the IIHS). Besides acing all five standard crash tests with a “Good” rating, Impreza features optional forward collision warning (1 point), low-speed autobrake (2 points), and high-speed autobrake (3 points).
That added up to a score of 6 points and a “Superior” rating in front crash prevention. The nearest competitors scored a single point. Using these criteria, Impreza is the top-performing Top Safety Pick+ of all 2015 small cars.