Safest cars for 2015: Asian, European brands win top spots

Toyota and Subaru outscored the competition in the Top Safety Pick+ annual safety tests

Asian and European cars have taken top honors from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Winners in categories for small cars, midsize cars, luxury cars, SUVs and minivans included Acura, BMW, Honda, Infiniti, Lexus, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Toyota and Volvo.

Oh, and Chrysler. The lone American marque in IIHS' Top Safety Pick+ category for 2015 vehicles was the Chrysler 200.

Vehicles winning slots in the Top Safety Pick+ category had to score very high on crash tests and be equipped with forward collision warning and auto braking systems that help prevent forward collisions. Not all 2015 vehicles include this relatively new technology.

By brand, Toyota led the field, scoring five of the 32 IIHS Top Safety Pick+ spots. Subaru had four winners. Volvo, Acura and Lexus each had three.

American cars fared slightly better in the Top Safety Pick category. Ford, Chevrolet, GMC and Lincoln together claimed 10 of the 38 awards given in that segment.

These vehicles did best in their classes on crash tests, but were not necessarily equipped with auto braking technology.

For its annual survey of safest cars for the upcoming year, the IIHS tests vehicles for their ability to protect passengers in five areas -- a small overlap front test, a moderate overlap front test, side strength, roof strength and head restraints. In a small overlap test, a vehicle is driven at 40 mph into a rigid, five-foot-tall barrier. In a moderate overlap test, a vehicle is driven at that speed into a semi-rigid, two-foot-tall barrier.

Vehicles can qualify to be Top Safety Picks only if they score as good or acceptable in the small overlap front test and good in all four other test categories.

Last year's top picks were dominated by Honda, Subaru and Volvo; U.S. brands lagged behind.

An increasing number of car buyers take crash test safety results seriously, said Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer. So do car companies.

“There is a segment of car buyers who are very hot on this, and won't purchase a car without checking its crash tests scores,” Brauer said. “For that subset of buyer, it's critical to have good scores. As a result, car companies tout their scores in advertising.”

Car companies are also responding more quickly to low scores, Brauer said. Manufacturers that score poorly on crash test safety standards are quicker to make design and manufacturing changes to improve their results.

After the IIHS introduced its moderate overlap front crash test in 1995, it took seven years before more cars were able to pass it, said IIHS President Adrian Lund.

Manufacturer response time to the small overlap crash test, introduced in 2012, is about half that, Lund said, which makes cars, in general, safer to operate.

Thirty-nine cars won slots in the Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ categories last year, Lund said. This year, 71 vehicles made it to those levels.

“Drivers have less chance of being seriously injured or killed in these vehicles,” Lund said.

“That's good news for consumers who have had a lot of bad news this year, in terms of safety recalls. Cars are much safer to drive than they were 15 years ago, or even five years ago.”

Twitter: @misterfleming

 

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