Small Yet Safe: New Cars That Earn Top Safety Ratings

© IIHSSmall Yet Safe: New Cars, Crossovers
A common misconception goes like this: the bigger the car, the safer the occupants. Although there’s some validity to this notion, it’s not the only factor to consider when shopping for a safe new vehicle. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, several small cars and crossovers on the U.S. market can help avoid crashes and offer protection if one becomes inevitable, earning recognition as a top safety pick. The IIHS rates cars for crashworthiness and highlights those that earn top scores and offer some level of crash-avoidance technology — here we highlight new vehicles that are small yet safe. However, if you still get in an accident caused by a negligent driver, you may seek professional vehicle accident lawyer and auto accident attorney services. A professional auto accident lawyer can help ensure that your rights are protected. 

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceIIHS Vehicle Ratings
To be called an IIHS Top Safety Pick, a vehicle must achieve “Good” ratings in six crashworthiness tests, as well as score an “Advanced” or “Superior” rating for front-crash prevention. Last year, the IIHS added an additional requirement for a vehicle to gain ultimate distinction as an IIHS Top Safety Pick+. To earn this top award, a vehicle must be available exclusively with Good or Acceptable headlights on all trim variants. What follows are this year’s small cars and crossovers that earn a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ designation from the IIHS.

© General Motors2021 Chevrolet Equinox
Top Safety Pick
Chevrolet’s second-best-selling vehicle after the full-size Silverado pickup, the Equinox stands out in the crowded crossover market with projector-beam headlights, LED running lights, wider horizontal taillights and LED taillights for upper trim levels. Inside, the Equinox features a down-and-away instrument panel with a low windshield base for improved outward visibility. Two engine choices for Equinox are a 170-horsepower 1.5-liter turbo or a 252-horse 2.0-liter turbo teamed with a 9-speed automatic transmission. All trims of the Equinox come with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision alert, lane-keeping assist and IntelliBeam headlights as standard equipment.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 Ford Bronco Sport
Top Safety Pick +
Last year Ford revived one of the automaker’s iconic nameplates by creating the Bronco and Bronco Sport. The first to arrive, the Bronco Sport quickly became one of the best-selling SUVs in America, and now it earns a top rating as one of the safest. The new SUV achieved the highest score in all crash tests as well as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian crash prevention. With classic Bronco styling cues, a stepped-up roofline and upright body panels, the Bronco Sport features a bolder look compared to many of today’s compact SUVs. The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is offered in five trim levels: Base, Big Bend, Outer Banks, Badlands and First Edition.

© Ford Motor Company2021 Ford Escape
Top Safety Pick
Ford introduced an all-new Escape for the 2020 model year that is lower, wider and longer than its predecessor, sporting looks that are a considerable departure from the previous generation. The front end features an all-new grille surprisingly similar to those on the Focus and Fusion passenger cars, rather than Ford SUVs. The Escape is available with a choice of four engines; the standard unit is a 3-cylinder 1.5-liter EcoBoost producing 180 horsepower. With the new Escape Ford brought back the Escape Hybrid, available as a standard hybrid as well as a plug-in version. All Ford Escapes come with Ford Co-Pilot 360, a suite of advanced driver-assist technologies. This includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, a rearview camera, post-collision braking, cross-traffic alert and automatic high-beam headlights.

© American Honda Motors2021 Honda Civic
Top Safety Pick
The tenth-generation Civic debuted early in 2017, built on new vehicle architecture with improved driving dynamics and a more spacious interior. Last year Civic received a light refresh and a range of new features, as well as the new Civic Sport trim. The Honda Sensing safety system is now standard on all trims, which includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. Honda recently introduced an all-new 2022 Civic with an upgraded chassis, fresh styling and a range of advanced safety equipment that could likely earn it a Top Safety Pick rating — to be determined.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 Honda CR-V
Top Safety Pick
The best-selling vehicle of Honda’s lineup, the CR-V received updates last year including fresh exterior styling and the first hybrid powertrain of the CR-V lineup. Similar to the Honda Accord Hybrid, the all-wheel-drive CR-V Hybrid uses a 2-motor hybrid powertrain that teams two electric motors with a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle engine for a combined output of 212 horsepower, making it the most powerful variant in the CR-V lineup. All Honda CR-Vs are equipped with Honda Sensing, a suite of advanced safety and driver-assist features. These include automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, road departure mitigation, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic high-beam headlights.

© American Honda Motor Co., Inc.2021 Honda Insight
Top Safety Pick+
In 2019 Honda returned an Insight to the lineup for a third time — and this may be the best version yet. The extremely efficient hybrid sedan also scores at the top for all IIHS crash tests in its first years on the road. All Insights come with the Honda Sensing suite of advanced safety features as standard equipment, including automatic emergency braking with forward collision warning, road departure mitigation, lane departure warning and lake-keeping assist. The Insight achieved the best score possible for vehicle and pedestrian avoidance.

© Hyundai Motor America2021 Hyundai Elantra
Top Safety Pick
Hyundai introduced an all-new Elantra for the 2021 model year featuring a longer wheelbase, a wider stance and a lower roof profile than the outgoing model. Exterior styling is now similar to the recently redesigned Hyundai Sonata. The base-level Elantra SE comes in below the $20,000 mark with a long list of standard features such as wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as advanced safety technology including forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection and blind-spot collision avoidance.

© Hyundai Motor America2021 Hyundai Kona
Top Safety Pick
In a market of cookie-cutter crossovers, the Hyundai Kona features styling that stands out from the crowd. Kona is one of the lowest priced all-wheel-drive vehicles available in America, and it was also the recipient of the North American Utility Vehicle of the Year award in 2019. Offering a roomy interior with plenty of utility, even Kona’s basic trims come well equipped with Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a rearview camera and LED headlights. The base-level Kona SE comes with forward collision avoidance, lane-keeping assist and driver attention warning; higher level trims add rear cross-traffic alert, lane change assist and blind-spot collision warning. Look for an updated Kona to arrive for the 2022 model year.

© Hyundai Motor America2022 Hyundai Tucson
Top Safety Pick +
Hyundai introduced an all-new Tucson for the 2022 model year, with a more expressive design, interior refinements and upgraded technology. In addition to the standard gasoline engine, the new Tucson will be offered for the first time as a gas-electric hybrid, with a plug-in hybrid scheduled to follow this summer. Standard safety equipment for the updated Tucson includes driver attention warning, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, lane-following assist and lane-keeping assist. The Tucson SEL adds blind-spot collision avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist, safe exit warning and side mirror turn signals. These updates earn the Tucson a Top Safety Pick + rating.

2021 Hyundai Veloster
Top Safety Pick
An all-new Veloster rolled out in 2019 with a refreshed design as well as other improvements. The sporty coupe continues to stand out with its unique 3-door configuration: one door on the driver side, two on the passenger side. The base Veloster 2.0 is motivated by a 147-horserpower engine and features a 7.0-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple Carplay, Android Auto, a rear spoiler, a 6-speed manual transmission and 17-inch alloy wheels. All Velosters have forward collision avoidance, driver attention warning, blind-spot warning, lane-keeping assist and a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines as standard equipment.

© Hyundai Motor America2021 Hyundai Venue
Top Safety Pick
Hyundai added to its SUV lineup last year with the all-new Venue. Now Hyundai’s smallest crossover, the Venue brings its own unique style to the brand. All trims are front-wheel drive, powered by a 1.6-liter engine producing 121 horsepower, teamed with a 6-speed manual transmission. The base-level Venue S features air-conditioning, an 8.0-inch touchscreen display, an AM/FM/HD audio system, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Bluetooth connectivity. All Venues come with Hyundai SmartSense as a standard feature, which includes forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist and driver attention warning.

© Kia Motors America2021 Kia Forte
Top Safety Pick
Completely redesigned in 2019 with updated features and a fresh new look, the Kia Forte is powered by a 2.0-liter 147-horsepower engine matched to a 6-speed manual gearbox and rates an impressive 37 mpg on the highway. Standard equipment on this small sedan includes air-conditioning, an 8.0-inch touchscreen display, a rearview camera with dynamic parking guide, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, forward collision avoidance, lane departure warning and driver attention warning.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 Kia Seltos
Top Safety Pick
Kia added to its ample SUV lineup this year with the all-new Seltos, designed to slot between the Soul and Sportage. Four inches shorter than Kia’s Sportage crossover, the all-new Seltos features a bold, modern design with a more upright, classic SUV shape. Available in a variety of trim levels, the Seltos can be equipped with a large display screen with standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. The Seltos comes standard with the latest safety and driver assist features that include forward collision warning, forward collision-avoidance assist, lane-keeping assist, lane-following assist, driver attention warning and high-beam headlight assist.

© Kia Motors America2021 Kia Soul
Top Safety Pick
Ten years ago Kia joined a trend toward small, boxy people movers when introducing the Soul, and in its current iteration the diminutive Soul remains the only boxy model on the road. Kia refreshed its Soul last year, modernizing the iconic shape with slim headlights, LED daytime running lights and boomerang-shaped taillights that frame the rear window. Soul also had some surgery performed under the skin, thanks to a lighter-weight platform designed to reduce road noise while improving handling and comfort. Sold in a number of trim levels, Soul is available with a turbocharged powerplant or as a fully electric vehicle. All Kia Souls come with advanced safety features including forward collision avoidance, lane-keeping assist, lane-change assist, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert.

© Kia Motor America2021 Kia Sportage
Top Safety Pick
The Sportage was all new last year, featuring updated exterior styling, a sporty S trim level and new available driver-assistance features. A more aggressive exterior design includes new headlights, redesigned projector-beam fog lights, available LED headlights, as well as a new grille, front bumper and wheel designs. The Sportage is available in three trim levels with two 4-cylinder engine choices: a 2.4 liter that produces 181 horsepower, or a 2.0-liter turbo GDI that produces 240 horsepower. Available driver-assistance features include driver attention warning, lane-keeping assist, smart cruise control with stop and go, forward collision assist with pedestrian detection, and high-beam headlight assist.

© Toyota Motor Sales, USA2021 Lexus UX
Top Safety Pick
Lexus joined the growing compact luxury crossover market in 2019 with the introduction of the all-new UX. The UX was the first Lexus vehicle to use the brand’s Global Architecture — Compact platform, providing the small crossover with a rigid structure and low center of gravity designed to deliver both agile handling and improved ride comfort. The exterior styling is similar to the larger NX and RX models but more aggressive, with a large spindle grille that dominates the front view. The UX is offered with a choice of powertrains: a 169-horsepower 2.0-liter engine or a fourth-generation hybrid drive system. The hybrid uses the Lexus E-Four all-wheel-drive system that adds an additional electric motor at the rear axle. All Lexus UX trims come safely equipped with forward collision avoidance with pedestrian and bicyclist detection, lane departure alert with steering assist and intelligent high beams.

© Ford Motor Company2021 Lincoln Corsair
Top Safety Pick
Lincoln has been quickly revamping its entire SUV lineup, and one of the newest to join the group is the 5-passenger Corsair. Replacing the MKC, the new Corsair is easily recognizable as a Lincoln thanks to styling cues borrowed from the larger Nautilus and Aviator models — specifically similar grille and headlight treatments. However, the Corsair does have an overall style all its own with deep contouring along the side panels, which adds depth to the overall design. The Corsair may be an entry-level model in the Lincoln lineup, but inside it features upscale materials to create a premium feeling within the cabin. Pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, blind-spot information systems, lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams and a rearview camera are standard on every Corsair.

© Mazda North American Operations2021 Mazda CX-3
Top Safety Pick+
The smallest crossover in the Mazda lineup, the CX-3 premiered for the 2016 model year. The crossover received headlight improvements last year that helped it earn a Top Safety Pick+ rating. The CX-3 boasts a dynamic design, signature Mazda sporty driving characteristics and an available sophisticated i-ACTIV AWD system offered for all three trim levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The CX-3 comes with Mazda’s i-ACTIVSENSE, which includes a range of advanced safety features such as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist and adaptive front lighting.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 Mazda CX-30
Top Safety Pick+
Mazda introduced the all-new CX-30 for the 2020 model year, slotting the stylish crossover between the CX-3 and CX-5. With seating for five and familiar Mazda styling, the CX-30 took shape as a useful and fun-to-drive package. Inside, the CX-30 focuses on creating a premium vibe with a cockpit feeling for the driver and an open area for the front passenger. As with many vehicles that moved up from Top Safety Pick to Top Safety Pick+ for 2021, the CX-30 receives updated headlights that meet the required criteria for the highest IIHS ranking.

© Mazda North America2021 Mazda CX-5
Top Safety Pick+
Mazda’s popular CX-5 crossover has been on the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ list since 2014, and the redesigned 2017 model continued this success. Currently the CX-5 is available with advanced safety features that include lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist and smart brake assist — the latter warning the driver and automatically applying the brakes to avoid or minimize damage from a frontal collision. These items are part of an i-ACTIVSENSE package that also includes high-beam headlight control, adaptive cruise control, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 Mazda Mazda3 (Sedan and Hatchback)
Top Safety Pick+
All new for the 2020 model year, the Mazda3 features the latest evolution of the company’s KODO design. Available as a 4-door sedan or a hatchback — both achieving Top Safety Pick+ status — the new Mazda3 can be equipped with Mazda’s i-ACTIV all-wheel-drive system. Equipped with the latest advanced safety features such as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, the Mazda3 uses an infrared camera and infrared LED to observe the driver’s condition while driving, checking to see how wide open the driver’s eyelids are and the number of times he or she blinks, in order to determine the level of drowsiness or fatigue. It also monitors the driver’s line of sight and eye movements to determine inattention.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 Nissan Rogue
Top Safety Pick+
Nissan introduced an all-new Rogue for the 2021 model year. Built on a new platform with fresh styling, advanced safety features and a family friendly interior, the 2021 Nissan Rogue will likely continue as one of the most popular SUVs in America. Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 is standard equipment on all Rogue trim levels. This suite of advanced features includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, rear automatic braking and high-beam headlight assist. Blind-spot intervention and traffic-sign recognition are available, as is Nissan’s intelligent around view monitor.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 Nissan Sentra
Top Safety Pick
A member of the Nissan lineup for more than 35 years, Sentra rolled out in all-new form for the 2020 model year. With styling that matches the rest of its siblings, the compact car received added safety features, more power, better handling and a host of other improvements. The entry-level Sentra S comes well equipped with air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, a 7.0-inch color touchscreen display, an AM/FM audio system with four speakers, a USB port, pushbutton start, a rearview monitor, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat and 16-inch steel wheels with covers. Also standard is Safety Shield 360 which includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, blind-spot warning, rear-door alert, rear cross-traffic alert, high-beam headlight assist, rear automatic braking and lane departure warning.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 Subaru Crosstrek
Top Safety Pick
The latest-generation Crosstrek is longer and wider than the previous model, with styling that features the familiar hexagonal grille, “hawk-eye” headlights and an impressive 8.7-inches of ground clearance. Built on an all-new global platform, the Crosstrek has a lower center of gravity and more responsive steering to improve driving dynamics. The company’s suite of safety features called Eyesight is standard on all Crosstrek variants equipped with the continuously variable transmission. Crosstrek is powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder Boxer engine producing 152 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque with full-time all-wheel drive.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid
Top Safety Pick+
Subaru introduced a plug-in hybrid version of the Crosstrek for the 2019 model year — the brand’s first plug-in for the U.S. market. The Crosstrek Hybrid comes with the latest version of EyeSight, Subaru’s innovative driver-assistance system that employs stereo forward-facing cameras as well as other sensors. With EyeSight, the Crosstrek Hybrid is available with automatic pre-collision braking, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert. In the IIHS front crash prevention tests, the Crosstrek Hybrid performed at the highest level for both vehicle and passenger avoidance. The Crosstrek Hybrid has standard LED projector headlights; however, the non-hybrid does not — which is why the hybrid version gets the higher Top Safety Pick+ rating.

© Subaru of America2021 Subaru Forester
Top Safety Pick+
All new in 2019, the current Forester is the roomiest version ever offered with a 1.2-inch-longer wheelbase, more rear-seat legroom and more cargo capacity, as well as improvements in crash protection, comfort, quietness and driving dynamics. EyeSight driver-assist technology is standard on all trim levels, and Forester Touring features the DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System that can alert the driver of fatigue or distraction as well as automatically adjust many driver settings at startup. Last year Subaru made LED projector headlights standard, which helped elevate it to the rank of Top Safety Pick+ once again.

© Subaru of America2021 Subaru Impreza
Top Safety Pick
Subaru’s compact entry had a slight refresh for the 2020 model year while retaining its 2.0-liter Boxer engine that produces 152 horsepower directed to Subaru’s full-time all-wheel-drive system. The stylish small car is also fuel efficient, achieving up to 36 mpg on the highway when equipped with the continuously variable transmission. Standard features on the base-level Impreza include a 6.5-inch touchscreen display, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, a split-folding rear seat, a rearview camera and a 5-speed manual transmission. The CVT adds $1,300 to the price, but CVT-equipped Imprezas also come with Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assist technology.

© Subaru of America2021 Subaru WRX
Top Safety Pick
With the WRX, Subaru offers excellent performance in a very safe package. Motivated by a turbocharged 268-horsepower engine, the WRX features full-time all-wheel drive, a standard feature of every Subaru except the BRZ. For the 2020 model year the Japanese automaker made Eyesight standard on CVT-equipped WRX variants, which includes a full suite of safety features; most important is automatic emergency braking. As with other Subarus on this list, the WRX is also available with blind-spot detection, reverse automatic braking as well as rear cross-traffic alert. Look for a new WRX to be introduced later this year.

© Toyota Motor Sales, USA2021 Toyota C-HR
Top Safety Pick
The C-HR, or Coupe High-Rider, was introduced as a Scion before Toyota discontinued the youth-oriented brand. The front-wheel-drive compact crossover is powered by a 2.0-liter engine producing 144 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque, teamed with a continuously variable transmission with Sport Mode and a simulated 7-speed Sequential Shiftmatic. The C-HR is offered in multiple well-equipped trims featuring dual-zone climate control, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, an 8-inch touchscreen display and sport seats. Also standard is Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 which includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, lane-tracing assist and automatic high beams.

© Toyota Motor Sales, USA2021 Toyota Corolla
Top Safety Pick
Corolla is one of the most time-honored names in the Toyota lineup, and recently the company celebrated the 1 millionth Corolla built in the brand’s Mississippi assembly plant. Toyota introduced an all-new Corolla for the 2020 model year which features updated styling with a wider stance, as well as signature LED headlights and a range of new features. Three powertrains are available, including a very efficient hybrid system that has a U.S. EPA rating of more than 50 mpg. Toyota equips all Corollas with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. This suite of advanced safety features includes automatic emergency braking, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high-beam headlights and road sign recognition.

© Toyota Motor Sales, USA2021 Toyota RAV4
Top Safety Pick
One of the original compact crossovers on the American market, the RAV4 was completely redone in 2019 with bold new styling, improved capability, better performance and an array of new safety and convenience features. In addition to the updated styling and efficient powertrains, every RAV4 now has automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and lane departure alert as standard equipment. Earlier this year Toyota added the 2021 RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid to its lineup, offering better fuel efficiency as well as much higher performance.

© Toyota Motor Sales, USA2021 Toyota Venza
Top Safety Pick
Toyota continues the electrification of its lineup with the introduction of the all-new 2021 Toyota Venza. The new Venza 5-passenger crossover is built on the Toyota New Global Architecture platform features both a hybrid powertrain and all-wheel drive as standard equipment. Power comes from a high-efficiency 2.5-liter gas engine with three electric motors that combine to produce 219 horsepower. All Venzas come equipped with Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 which includes a pre-collision system with low-light vehicle and pedestrian detection as well as daytime bicycle detection; full-speed-range adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist; lane-tracing assist; automatic high-beam headlights; a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.

© Volvo Cars North America2021 Volvo XC40
Top Safety Pick +
When Swedish automaker Volvo introduced the XC40 for the 2019 model year, the compact crossover immediately earned a Top Safety Pick+ ranking; however, it fell off the safest new cars list last year when the IIHS added more stringent headlight requirements. For 2021 Volvo makes the signature LED projector “Thor’s Hammer” headlights standard across all trims. Also standard on all XC40 trims is City Safety, which features collision avoidance that detects vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and animals, and it can automatically apply the brakes as needed. Also standard are run-off-road mitigation and protection, lane keeping and oncoming lane mitigation, and a whiplash protection system for front-seat occupants.

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Published on: August 7, 2021

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