One of the top requirements for people who shop for a new car has everything to do with safety. And not just seat belts, air bags and anti-lock brakes — today’s consumers want features that mitigate crashes, reduce injuries and save lives. To that end, both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) provide safety ratings for most passenger vehicles. We’ll take a look at each entity and the 2015 cars with the best safety ratings.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
NHTSA has been conducting crashworthiness testing longer than anyone else in the United States. In 1978, NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) initiated its 5-Star Safety Ratings Program in an effort to assist consumers with information about crash protection and rollover safety for new vehicles.
The NCAP program goes beyond the minimum safety requirements required by federal law. Initially, the program covered frontal crashes only. In 1997, side crash testing was added, followed by rollover assessments beginning with the 2001 model year. Vehicles are scored on a scale of one to five stars, with one being the lowest score and five representing the highest score.
Beginning in 2011, the 5-Star Safety Rating program was modified and enhanced. The latest program uses different size crash dummies, incorporates side pole testing and collects more crash testing data. Separately, the program also acknowledges advanced technologies included in many vehicles, such as electronic stability control, lane departure warning and forward collision alert.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The IIHS is a nonprofit organization that also conducts crash tests for most new vehicles. The IIHS, along with the companion Highway Loss Data Institute, are backed by insurance companies and insurance associations. The results of IIHS testing will have an effect on your auto insurance premiums.
Formed in 1959, the IIHS has long advocated for more stringent safety requirements for passenger vehicles. In 1995, the institute began to crash test vehicles rating them for frontal crashworthiness and for rear-end collisions. In 2003, side impact tests were launched and in 2005, the institute began awarding the top performing vehicles with a Top Safety Pick award in a bid to help consumers recognize the best of the best.
The IIHS has since modified its tests to measure roof strength in rollovers. A small overlap test is also now included and the institute provides grades for five categories. It also grades vehicles on advanced crash avoidance technologies, such as forward collision warning.
Cars with 5-Star Safety Ratings
Numerous vehicles from a variety of manufacturers have achieved overall 5-star safety ratings for 2015. Certain versions of some models made the mark while others did not. For brevity sake, we have included the model line, not specific sub-models or all-wheel drive versus front-wheel drive and the like.
From Chevrolet, the 2015 Camaro, Cruze, Impala, Malibu, Sonic and Volt received top ratings. Chrysler had the 200, Dodge the Challenger and Dart, and Ford had the Focus, Fusion, Mustang and Taurus recognized.
The Honda Accord and Accord Hybrid, Civic, Civic Hybrid and Fit each achieved overall 5-star ratings. Hyundai had the Elantra, Genesis, Sonata, Sonata Hybrid and Veloster. Infiniti fielded the Q50, Q50 Hybrid, Q70 and the Q70 Hybrid.
Nissan’s lone qualifier is the Altima. Subaru presented the BRZ, Impreza and the Legacy. The Tesla Model S was also recognized by the federal government. From Toyota, the Avalon, Avalon Hybrid, Camry, Camry Hybrid and Corolla achieved the highest score. Scion had the FR-S and tC.
IIHS Top Safety Pick+ Winners
For 2015, the IIHS issued both Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ ratings. To qualify for these awards, a vehicle must earn a Good score (this is IIHS’ highest score) in moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. Additionally, a score of Good or Acceptable in the small overlap front test is necessary. The Top Safety Pick+ (TSP+) award adds in an advanced or superior score for front crash prevention.
Achieving the IIHS’ highest score among small cars for the 2015 model year were the Lexus CT 200h, Mazda3, Subaru Impreza, Subaru XV Crosstrek and the Toyota Prius. For midsize moderately priced cars, the Chrysler 200, Mazda6, Subaru Legacy, Subaru Outback, Toyota Camry and the Toyota Prius V were TSP+ winners.
Among midsize luxury and near luxury cars, the IIHS recognized the Acura TLX, Audi A3, BMW 2-Series, Infiniti Q50, Volvo S60 and the Volvo V60. The large luxury car winners were the Acura RLX, Audi A6, Hyundai Genesis, Infiniti Q70, Lexus RC, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the Volvo S80.
For small SUVs, the Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Outlander and the Subaru Forester each won out. Among midsize SUVs, the Nissan Murano and Toyota Highlander were TSP+ recipients. In the midsize luxury SUV segment, the IIHS recognized five models: Acura MDX, Audi Q5, Lexus NX, Mercedes-Benz M-Class and the Volvo XC60. The Toyota Sienna was the only minivan to garner the IIHS’ top award.
The crashworthiness changes initiated by NHTSA and the IIHS have prompted car manufacturers to introduce design changes that are making today’s cars safer. On CARFAX, we reference IIHS scores and NHTSA ratings as appropriate in our reviews. Please visit our Car Research section for model by model details.