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16 Safest Small Cars

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 3/2/2015 Kelly Pleskot

Driving has become increasingly safe over the years, but some cars are safer than others in the same vehicle class. Among small cars, there are plenty of good options on the market, as automakers have responded to stringent crash test expectations from the government and private organizations.


We looked at crash test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) to compile a list of the safest small cars and crossovers on the market for the 2015 model year. All vehicles on the list have received five stars from NHTSA in addition to either a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ rating from IIHS.

Subcompacts: Honda Fit

2015 Honda Fit© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Honda Fit Completely redesigned for 2015, the Honda Fit is the only subcompact car to score both five stars from NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick rating from IIHS. Thanks to a product update issued for 2015 Fit models, the car now earns an Acceptable rating in the harrowing small overlap frontal crash test. A rearview camera comes standard even on the base trim level.

Small Cars: Chevrolet Volt

2015 Chevrolet Volt© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Chevrolet Volt Despite its odd shape, the Volt performs very well in crash tests and scores a Top Safety Pick rating from IIHS. Forward collision alert is available on the Enhanced Safety Package 2 for the 2015 model year. Although not a factor in the ratings, the car also comes standard with OnStar for three years, bringing roadside assistance, automatic crash response, stolen vehicle assistance, and turn-by-turn navigation to all Volt drivers.

Small Cars: Dodge Dart

2015 Dodge Dart Limited© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Dodge Dart Limited The Dodge Dart comes with a whopping 10 standard airbags, including curtain airbags in the front and rear and knee airbags for the driver and front passenger. In government ratings, it scored five stars in front and side crash tests and nabbed four stars in rollovers for five stars overall. It is considered a Top Safety Pick from IIHS.

Small Cars: Honda Civic Sedan

2015 Honda Civic Si Sedan In Black© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Honda Civic Si Sedan In Black Fortunately, one of the most common cars on the road is also one of the safest. The Civic sedan even manages to earn top scores in the difficult small overlap front test. Along with a standard rearview camera for all models, the Civic also offers forward collision warning on the hybrid version. The two-door Civic is still a good bet, earning four stars in government crash tests and high marks from IIHS.

Small Cars: Hyundai Elantra Sedan

2015 Hyundai Elantra© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Hyundai Elantra Although the two-door Elantra has not been rated, the traditional four-door Elantra performs very well in government safety tests. It snags five stars overall, although it scores four in both front and rollover tests. It is an IIHS Top Safety Pick, scoring marks of Good in all categories except the difficult small overlap front test, where it earned an Acceptable.

Small Cars: Kia Soul

2015 Kia Soul© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Kia Soul Boxy wagons have traditionally received mixed (and often contradictory) safety ratings. The Honda Element scored Good marks from IIHS back in the day but earned an unfavorable three stars in rollover tests from the government. The Nissan Cube received Good marks from IIHS, but the Scion xB earned a score of Marginal in the difficult small overlap front test. But the Kia Soul has managed to perform well in every crash test, earning five stars from NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick rating from IIHS, including a Good score in the small overlap test.

Small Cars: Mazda3

2014 Mazda3© Provided by MotorTrend 2014 Mazda3 Whether you opt for the sedan or hatchback version, the Mazda3 is a great choice in terms of safety. The model even includes some auto-braking technologies, which along with top crash test scores satisfy requirements for IIHS' Top Safety Pick+ award. Forward obstruction warning alerts the driver if the car gets too close to the vehicle ahead, and Smart City Brake Support helps deliver maximum stopping power when the driver applies the brakes to avoid a rear-end collision in low-speed driving.

Small Cars: Scion FR-S

2015 Scion FR S Release Series 1© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Scion FR S Release Series 1 Those looking for a sports car with top safety ratings might want to check out the Scion FR-S or its twin, the Subaru BRZ. Although it scores five stars in government tests and a Top Safety Pick from IIHS, few safety technologies are available. Rearview camera and front crash prevention systems aren't available on the FR-S.

Small Cars: Scion tC

2015 Scion tC© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Scion tC The Scion tC is a relatively no-frills model with standard features such as remote keyless entry, sport cloth seats, Bluetooth, and a basic audio system. Although it lacks front crash prevention technology and a rearview camera, it is structurally sound, scoring five stars from NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick rating from IIHS.

Small Cars: Subaru BRZ

2014 Subaru BRZ© Provided by MotorTrend 2014 Subaru BRZ This model is mechanically identical to the Scion FR-S. And just like its twin, the Subaru BRZ has earned top safety marks. It also does not come with an available rearview camera or front crash prevention technology.

Small Cars: Subaru Impreza

2015 Subaru Impreza© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Subaru Impreza The Subaru Impreza earns a Top Safety Pick+ rating from IIHS thanks to its ample front crash prevention technologies. Optional EyeSight technology includes pre-collision braking, lane-departure warning, optimized cruise control, and other technologies that prevent crashes. The WRX variant has not been rated by NHTSA but has been named a Top Safety Pick by IIHS.

Small Crossovers: Subaru XV Crosstrek

2013 subaru XV crosstrek© Provided by MotorTrend 2013 subaru XV crosstrek Volvo wagons aren't the only ones known for safety. The Subaru XV Crosstrek earns a Top Safety Pick+ rating from IIHS, scoring Good in the small overlap front test and Superior in front crash prevention technology thanks to optional EyeSight technology.

Small Crossovers: Buick Encore

2015 Buick Encore© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Buick Encore Just like Honda, Buick has made rearview cameras standard on every 2015 model. The Buick Encore not only comes with standard rear camera but also optional forward collision warning. It ranks Good in the small overlap front test from IIHS, a significant improvement from its Poor rating on the 2014 model.

Small Crossovers: Chevrolet Trax

2015 Chevrolet Trax LTZ Front Three Quarter 3© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Chevrolet Trax LTZ Front Three Quarter 3 General Motors recently came out with a cheaper twin to the Buick Encore in the form of the Chevrolet Trax. This model earns identical ratings, but it does not offer front crash prevention technology. Just like the Encore, the Trax shares a platform with the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic, which does just OK in safety ratings.

Small Crossovers: Mazda CX-5

2016 Mazda CX 5© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Mazda CX 5 Mazda's compact crossover distinguishes itself from others in its segment thanks to its low-speed auto-brake technology. Smart City Brake Support is available for tech packages on the Touring and Grand Touring trim levels. These innovations, as well as a Good small overlap front rating and top ratings from the government, make it one of the safest small crossovers around. It is a Top Safety Pick+ vehicle per the IIHS.

Small Crossovers: Subaru Forester

2015 Subaru Forester Front Side View© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Subaru Forester Front Side View The Forester is another in a long list of Subaru models to earn exceptional safety marks from both the government and IIHS. It achieves five stars overall from NHTSA, although only four stars in front and rollover tests. It is a Top Safety Pick+ from IIHS thanks to optional EyeSight and favorable ratings in all crash categories.

Safest Subcompact Cars© Provided by MotorTrend Safest Subcompact Cars

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