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10 Safest Cars of 2014

When purchasing a new car, crash safety ratings tend to fall below other priorities like style, fuel economy, performance, amenities, cost and even brand loyalty. That’s unfortunate, since more than a handful of cars will consistently fail to perform well in the one situation we all hope to avoid: a serious accident.

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As safety standards rise, so does the cream of cars

Editor’s Note: Our talk of cars tends to be related to a wide variety of topics like speed, looks, comfort and fuel mileage. Yet often overlooked — both by enthusiasts and everyday drivers — is one of the most important factors: safety. This week, we’re taking a deeper look at how modern vehicles are keeping you and your loved ones safe on the road with our Automotive Safety Issue.

When purchasing a new car, crash safety ratings tend to fall below other priorities like style, fuel economy, performance, amenities, cost and even brand loyalty. That’s unfortunate, since more than a handful of cars will consistently fail to perform well in the one situation we all hope to avoid: a serious accident. If you’re smart, and especially if you have kids in tow, you’ll take the time to bone up on which vehicles are the safest. Fortunately it’s not a crapshoot anymore; thanks to rapid improvements in safety technology and engineering, cars are safer than they’ve ever been.

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Each year the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), a private organization, conducts its own crash tests and gives out safety ratings: Top-testing vehicles receive the honor of Top Safety Pick (TSP) and Top Safety Pick Plus (TSP+). 2014 TSP qualifications included rating highly in the moderate overlap front (formerly known as the “offset crash”, a test where 40 percent of the vehicle’s front fascia hits a two-foot-tall barrier of deformable aluminum at 40 mph), side-impact crash, roof strength and head restraint tests, as well as a good or acceptable rating in the small overlap front test (which simulates an impact with a small stationary object like a light pole; 25 percent of the frontal area of the car must make contact at 40 mph with a 5-foot-tall rigid object).

This year the IIHS upped the requirements to earn the TSP+ designation. Now vehicles must perform well in the aforementioned tests in addition to offering an effective frontal crash prevention system such as a forward collision warning or an automatic braking system that helps mitigate frontal impact with cars or objects ahead. Thirty-nine vehicles met the new, more rigorous criteria, a number drastically reduced from last year’s 130. In other words, only manufacturers that spend time and money developing crash avoidance technology will be recognized by the IIHS.

The 10 vehicles listed here were culled from the 22 vehicles that earned the TSP+ award based on both crash protection performance and available front crash avoidance technology. Our picks received the highest rating in the crash protection category (“good”) and include at least a basic level of crash avoidance tech. (Note that vehicle type is also an important factor; larger vehicles with lower centers of gravity tend to be safer, providing larger crumple zones to absorb impact, bigger passenger compartments to prevent occupants from colliding with hard surfaces and a lower likelihood of rollovers.) The vehicles below represent the best of the best for 2014; combined with smart, alert driving, any one of them would be a smart choice to protect you and your loved ones on the road.

Mazda 3

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IIHS Scoring: Mazda3

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IIHS Crash Safety Rating: Top Safety Pick+
Overall Crashworthiness: Good
Front Crash Prevention: Advanced
Safety Features: Side airbags, rollover sensor, electronic stability control, antilock brakes, daytime running lights

Safest Small Car The 3 has the same handsome Kodo design as the beautiful Mazda6 — and it’s even safer than its big brother. The 3’s Forward Obstruction Warning system (FOW) detects cars or obstacles in front via radar; the car’s computer rapidly calculates the distance to impact in front using that radar data and sends an audible and visible alert to the driver if there’s risk of a collision. It says a lot that Mazda is infusing one of its smaller vehicles with not just great design and driving dynamics but advanced safety features typical of pricier cars.

Buy Now: $16,945

Honda Accord Sedan

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IIHS Scoring: Honda Accord

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IIHS Crash Safety Rating: Top Safety Pick+
Overall Crashworthiness: Good
Front Crash Prevention: Basic
Safety Features: Side airbags, rollover sensor, electronic stability control, antilock brakes, daytime running lights

Safest Midsize Moderately Priced Car The Accord’s like a belly button — everybody has one. But there’s good reason for that, besides great handling for a front-wheel-drive car, bulletproof reliability and unrivaled family practicality. The Accord sedan racked up impressive safety cred this year, nabbing top marks for a reasonably priced family car. No other car in this category scored as high in crash tests while including crash prevention options like their Forward Collision Warning (FCW), which uses either a windshield-mounted (or a grille-mounted in the top-end Touring model) radar to detect objects and vehicles ahead, warning the driver with dash lights and an alarm of potential collisions.

Buy Now: $22,105

Acura RLX

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IIHS Scoring: Acura RLX

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IIHS Crash Safety Rating: Top Safety Pick+
Overall Crashworthiness: Good
Front Crash Prevention: Advanced
Safety Features: Side airbags, driver knee airbag, electronic stability control, antilock brakes, daytime running lights

Safest Large Luxury Cars (1 of 2) The big Acura flagship, even in its new, sharper duds, may not be a head-turner compared to its German competition, but it boasts one of the best safety ratings in the business. In addition to high marks in crash testing, the RLX’s Advance package gets you what’s known as the Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS). In a nutshell, the system detects and intervenes in potential frontal collisions. It utilizes a grille-mounted radar to detect both distance and closing speed of objects in the RLX’s path and alerts the driver, then initiates light braking and tugs at the seatbelt if you don’t reduce your speed. When the collision becomes unavoidable, a higher tier of intervention activates and tightens the seat belts while simultaneously applying stronger brake forces to reduce the severity of the crash.

Buy Now: $48,450

Volvo S80

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IIHS Scoring: Volvo S80

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IIHS Crash Safety Rating: Top Safety Pick+
Overall Crashworthiness: Good
Front Crash Prevention: Superior
Safety Features: Side airbags, electronic stability control, built-in child restraints (optional), antilock brakes, daytime running lights

Safest Large Luxury Cars (2 of 2)The S80’s most impressive safety feature is the Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake and Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection. When the S80 is traveling above a mere 2.5 mph, the system sends sounds and dash warnings if the car gets too close to an object, pedestrian or cyclist. Automatic full stop braking activates to avoid a collision or at least reduce its severity. Volvo also employs grille-mounted radar and a windshield camera to monitor vehicles or objects within a 164-yard range and sends warnings when appropriate as well, and applies full braking force when they detect imminent contact.

Buy Now: $41,450

Volvo S60

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IIHS Scoring: Volvo S60

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IIHS Crash Safety Rating: Top Safety Pick+
Overall Crashworthiness: Good
Front Crash Prevention: Superior
Safety Features: Side airbags, electronic stability control, built-in child restraints (optional), antilock brakes, daytime running lights

Safest Midsize Luxury/Near Luxury Cars Volvo carries on its legacy of safety with an unmatched three TSP+ wins. The big S80’s baby brother deserves some credit in the safety department, too; it nets the same high ratings and the same crash avoidance technology in all three of its trim levels. It also comes with a host of standard technology like an inflatable curtain airbag and whiplash protection.

Buy Now: $33,750

Acura MDX

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IIHS Scoring: Acura MDX

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IIHS Crash Safety Rating: Top Safety Pick+
Overall Crashworthiness: Good
Front Crash Prevention: Advanced
Safety Features: Side airbags, rollover sensor, driver knee airbag, electronic stability control, antilock brakes, daytime running lights

Safest Midsize Luxury SUVs (1 of 3) The Acura MDX is clearly in its finest form with this third-generation SUV. Less edgy and more welcoming and safer than before, it’s a seven-passenger SUV that pleases just about everyone. The Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) will both warn you of a potential impact with alarms and warning lights and intervene with seat belt tensing and increased braking force when you’re headed for a wreck.

Buy Now: $42,565

Mercedes-Benz M Class

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IIHS Scoring: Mercedes-Benz M Class

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IIHS Crash Safety Rating: Top Safety Pick+
Overall Crashworthiness: Good
Front Crash Prevention: Superior
Safety Features: Side airbags, rollover sensor, driver knee airbag, Electronic stability control, includes roll stability control, antilock brakes, daytime running lights

Safest Midsize Luxury SUVs (2 of 3) The midsize Merc SUV is available with Collision Prevention Assist, which activates above 20 mph, detects objects in the way with radar and employs Adaptive Brake Assist to enhance a driver’s braking pressure. The Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control feature also keeps you safe and reduces fatigue by keeping you at an appropriate distance from the car ahead (and stopping and accelerating automatically in traffic, too). It’s as autonomous as cars get right now.

Buy Now: $48,300

Volvo XC60

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IIHS Scoring: Volvo XC60

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IIHS Crash Safety Rating: Top Safety Pick+
Overall Crashworthiness: Good
Front Crash Prevention: Superior
Safety Features: Side airbags, rollover sensor, built-in child restraints (optional), electronic stability control, includes roll stability control, antilock brakes, daytime running lights

Safest Midsize Luxury SUVs (3 of 3) Volvo earned their three-peat by remembering their SUVs. The XC60 isn’t just their best-looking vehicle, it’s also one of their safest. Like its sedan brethren, the XC60 utilizes Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake and Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection. In addition, it includes a Blind Spot Information System that even works with motorcycles and a Cross-Traffic Alert; when the XC60 detects an approaching vehicle as you back out of limited-visibility parking spaces, beeping sounds emit from speakers corresponding to the other vehicle’s location.

Buy Now: $36,200

Subaru Forester

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IIHS Scoring: Subaru Forester

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IIHS Crash Safety Rating: Top Safety Pick+
Overall Crashworthiness: Good
Front Crash Prevention: Superior
Safety Features: Side airbags, driver knee airbag, electronic stability control, antilock brakes, daytime running lights

2014 Subaru Forester

Safest Safest Small SUVs (1 of 2) Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive across Subaru’s entire model line isn’t its only claim to fame. Consider the humble CUV’s EyeSight driver assistance system — basically a smart, adaptive cruise control that slows the car down in potential collision situations and also happens to warn you if you start coloring outside the lines. The Brake Assist system works to apply necessary brake pressure when the driver does a quick, panicky stop, since most drivers fail to slam the brake pedal hard enough even when things get bad.

Buy Now: $22,195

Mitsubishi Outlander

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IIHS Scoring: Mitsubishi Outlander

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IIHS Crash Safety Rating: Top Safety Pick+
Overall Crashworthiness: Good
Front Crash Prevention: Advanced
Safety Features: Side airbags, rollover sensor, driver knee airbag, electronic stability control, antilock brakes, daytime running lights (optional)

Safest Safest Small SUVs (2 of 2) The biggest Mitsu available in the States gets the benefit of optional Adaptive Cruise Control that maintains a safe distance via radar. The Outlander also has available Forward Collision Mitigation (FCM), which can automatically apply brakes to bring the car to a complete stop even if the driver doesn’t touch the pedal. Considering the Outlander’s bargain price for a seven-passenger SUV with advanced safety tech, it’s a worthy all-around bacon saver.

Buy Now: $23,195

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