Toyota, Honda, VW Top Insurance Institute’s Safest Car List

By Jeff Plungis | December 10, 2015

Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Volkswagen AG had the most models rated among the safest U.S. vehicles in a year-end review by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Toyota led the industry with nine models on the institute’s list, followed by Honda with eight and VW with seven. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV had the only U.S.-made car on the list, the Chrysler 200 midsize sedan.

The Scion iA is rated good in the small overlap front test and is the first low-priced model with standard autobrake. Photo: IIHS
The Scion iA is rated good in the small overlap front test and is the first low-priced model with standard autobrake. Photo: IIHS

A total of 48 car and sport-utility models got the institute’s safest car designation of “top safety pick plus.” Toyota’s vehicles on the list ranged from the $16,000 Scion iA to the Lexus RC, a large luxury car which retails for more than $40,000. Honda models included the Accord sedan and Acura RDX luxury SUV. Among Volkswagen vehicles were the Jetta, Passat and Audi A3.

Recommendations from the safety group, which is funded by the insurance industry, are closely followed by car shoppers and automakers alike. They also provide a glimpse of the future as the criteria include elements that U.S. safety regulators announced this week they want to add to their ratings.

Tough Tests

To get the institute’s highest designation, vehicles have to perform well in a tough offset frontal crash test and also offer automatic braking technology. Three years ago, the group shifted to the test, in which a small part of a vehicle’s front end strikes a fixed barrier at 40 miles per hour, in an effort to reduce fatalities and injuries in crashes like those involving a off-road tree or utility pole. Insurance industry data showed this was a particularly deadly type of crash.

“As vehicles continue to improve, we think it’s important to recognize that progress and encourage further advances by making our ratings more stringent,” said Adrian Lund, president and chief executive officer of the insurance institute.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Tuesday it will introduce a similar frontal offset crash test in its New Car Assessment Program. The auto-safety regulator is also introducing a new crash-test dummy with more sensitive injury sensors and would adjust its star ratings to include credit for crash-avoidance technologies.

Automatic Braking

In the insurance-industry ratings, some models that got the IIHS top safety designation last year fell off the list with 2016 models, because the institute shifted its minimum criteria from “acceptable,” its second-highest rating, to “good,” its highest. The models also had to offer automatic braking, a crash-avoidance technology that will slow or stop a vehicle if it senses an impending collision, even without the driver taking actions.

VW touted the appearance of the 2016 Passat sedan on the IIHS list, after the company redesigned the car with a fully reinforced structure. Driver-assistance features like automatic braking, forward-collision alerts and a lane-departure warning are standard, the company said in a statement Thursday.

The top-pick designation “demonstrates Volkswagen’s longstanding commitment to vehicle safety and the development of innovative technologies,” Mark McNabb, chief operating officer of Volkswagen of America, Inc., said in the statement. The car’s technology is “unique to the segment and not typically seen outside the luxury market,” McNabb said.

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