And the Safest Cars of 2018 Are…

By: Bridget Clerkin January 3, 2018
The 2018 Chevrolet Volt was one of the only American-made cars named to the annual IIHS list of safest vehicles.
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New Year's is a time for making new promises, and one nonprofit has resolved to make 2018 the safest year yet on the road.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently released its annual list of the year’s safest cars—and thanks to newly discerning rules adopted by the organization in 2018, fewer models than ever claimed the group’s top designation.

Just 15 vehicles, including 12 cars and three SUVs, were rated “Top Safety Pick Plus” by the IIHS, meaning they met or surpassed all safety expectations set by the group. An additional 47 vehicles were designated “Top Safety Pick,” having met most of the major considerations. (Last year, nearly 70 cars earned “Top Safety Pick Plus” honors, while 120 vehicles overall were granted safety distinctions.)

Making the top prize especially difficult to win this year were new crash test and headlight requirements imposed by the IIHS. In order to pass top safety pick muster, a vehicle has to provide passenger safety, passing a collision test ensuring that riders are just as safe as drivers. And responding to widespread reports of poor road illumination at night, the group raised its criteria for determining whether vehicle headlights are safe enough for night driving.

Indeed, it was the heightened headlight designation that caused most of last year’s winners to slip or disappear from the list altogether in 2018. But the IIHS has good reason to take the new analysis seriously: In 2016, nighttime crashes killed 19,274 motorists—eclipsing the number of daytime roadway fatalities by more than 1,300 people, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The dwindling number of top models doesn’t point to a road plagued by unsafe vehicles, IIHS officials insist. Instead, they noted that the tightening criteria represents the evolution of safety evaluation—and many top automakers agreed.

In fact, at least one 2018 model produced by each top car manufacturer made the cut this year, despite the reduced field of winners overall. Designees were placed into different categories based on their size, weight, and price point, ranging from small cars to large luxury vehicles.

The IIHS has the full list of top-rated vehicles on its website, and has said it will continue to add to the list throughout the year as more cars are examined. Below are some highlights from this year’s safest models—including both Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick Plus winners.

Small Cars

The 2018 Subaru Impreza.

Foreign carmakers dominated the overall small vehicle category this year, with the Chevrolet Volt representing the sole American entrant at the start of 2018. Hyundai, Subaru, and Toyota made particularly strong showings, with three models each included in the round-up.

Among the group’s Top Safety Pick Plus winners this year, however, Kia and Subaru stood out from the pack, each with two models earning the highest designation.

The newly reinforced headlight and collision standards bolstered the Korean and Japanese companies, respectively, as all four top winning models—the 2018 Kia Forte, Kia Soul, Subaru Impreza, and Subaru WRX—were lauded for their extra considerations. Still, IIHS officials noted the particular safety features were only available as options on some of the Top Safety Pick Plus models.

Midsize Cars

The 2018 Toyota Camry.

This year, the midsize car category spanned a wide range of price points—and was completely devoid of American automakers.

Among the “midsize” and “midsize luxury” classes of 2018, only three models earned Top Safety Pick Plus credentials. The Subaru Outback, Subaru Legacy, and Toyota Camry reaped the honors, thanks to the vehicles’ optional front crash prevention and specific headlight designations. Nissan otherwise won out in the midsize (non-luxury) category, with two entrants making this year’s list—more than any other automaker in the midsize mix.

Meanwhile, European designers overtook the midsize luxury division, with Audi and Volvo scoring two titles each, though Japan's Lexus also made a double appearance on the list. As of January, none of the midsize luxury models had earned the “Plus” designation.

Large Cars

The 2018 BMW 5 Series.

The large car category has the most Top Safety Pick Plus winners in 2018, with all five nods coming in the “large luxury cars” group. The winners represent a global mix of carmakers and include the BMW 5 Series, Hyundai Genesis G80, Hyundai Genesis G90, Lincoln Continental, and Mercedes-Benz E Class.

Toyota and Kia also took home Top Safety Pick awards for the Toyota Avalon and Kia Cadenza in the non-luxury category. 


The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe.

Spanning the designations of “small,” “midsize,” and “midsize luxury,” the 2018 SUV division includes the most overall winners this year (so far)—although the group boasts only three Top Safety Pick Plus titles. True to its performance in other categories, Hyundai hogged the honors, with the 2018 Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport models both earning the top award. In the luxury category, Mercedes-Benz was once again acknowledged, earning the highest designation with its GLC-Class SUV.

Overall, Asian manufacturers dominated the SUV categories, with Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Toyota, Acura, and Lexus all making multiple appearances on the list, taking home several Top Safety Pick awards. Buick was the only American carmaker named in the entire SUV group.

As of January, no “small SUVs” earned the highest IIHS honors, although the group will continue to expand upon the list of overall winners throughout the year.

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