The non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash tests new cars to evaluate how they stand up to front, side and rear impact collisions and to determine their tendency to rollover in an accident. In 2006, IIHS initiated a program to publish its "top safety pick" winners in efforts to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions regarding safety. According to IIHS, "awards are by car size class because vehicle size and weight influence occupant protection in serious crashes." There were several cars from the small, midsized and large car classes that made the shorts lists in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
2006 Top Safety Picks
Only models with side airbags were eligible for IIHS's top picks in 2006. In the small car category, the Honda Civic, the Subaru Impreza and the Saab 9-2X made the shortlist. Mid-sized cars making the list include the "Saab 9-3, Subaru Legacy, Audi A3, A4, Chevrolet Malibu with optional side airbags, and Volkswagen Passat and Jetta." In the large car class, the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego with optional side airbags and the Audi A6 were awarded top safety distinction.
2007 Top Safety Picks
In order to be considered for the IIHS "Top Safety Picks," 2007 models had to be equipped with electronic stability control (ESC), which IIHS reports "significantly reduces the risk of crashing." Due to the absence of ESC, no small cars made the 2007 list. Mid-sized car winners include the Audi A4, Saab 9-3 and the Subaru Legacy with stability control. The only large car making the list is the Audi A6, but only for models manufactured in December 2006 or later.
2008 Top Safety Picks
In 2008, more cars were awarded "top safety" distinction as a result of manufacturer's efforts to introduce "new and safer vehicle designs," according to IIHS. The only small car making the cut was the Subaru Impreza with stability control. Midsized winners include the Audi A3, A4, Honda Accord, Saab 9-3, Subaru Legacy with stability control and the Volvo C-70. In the large car class, the Audi A6, Volvo S80, and the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable with optional stability control made the list.
Safety features including ESC, side curtain air bags and anti-lock brakes are major considerations when evaluating vehicle safety. Also, keep in mind that IIHS advises consumers to compare a car only with vehicles from the same size and weight class. A good rating for a small car is not equal to a good rating for a large car, since crash results are based on barrier tests and do not include collision tests with heavier, larger vehicles.
Compare Crash Test Results
Safecar.gov provides comprehensive safety data for cars dating back as far as 1990. Available information includes frontal, side, rear and rollover safety ratings. The ratings are based on crash tests performed by the New Car Assessment Program, a division of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Crash test results from IIHS and NCAP may differ slightly. For the most accurate evaluation of the safest small, mid-sized and large cars from 2006 to 2008, compare ratings from both IIHS and NCAP.