Top 10 Safest Cars of 2017
When choosing which multi-ton chunk of metal to drive around at highway speeds…it’s best to know how safe it is.
Cars today are safer than they've ever been. More than a century of technological developments have created vehicles capable of protecting fragile human bodies from the ravaging forces of high-speed crashes. Safety belts, crumple zones, airbags, traction control—they've all helped to build safer cars and save thousands of lives since they were implemented decades ago. More recently, automakers have begun adding even more advanced safety features to cars, from pop-up hoods that protect pedestrians to semi-autonomous features such as active emergency braking, lane departure warning, and rear view cameras.
Many of these high-tech features will become standardized as time rolls on; rear-view cameras, for example, will be mandatory on all new cars by the 2019 model year. Thanks in part to these semi-autonomous systems, Volvo has pledged that no one will die in one of its cars after 2020; while that goal certainly seems ambitious, the onrushing era of self-driving cars does seem to suggest there will come a day when automotive fatalities are as rare as commercial airline-related deaths.
Cars are safe these days, but some are safer than others. So we at The Drive decided to round up a list of the 10 safest cars on sale in America right now, to help prioritize your hunt for the vehicles best-suited to protect you from danger. We analyzed data from two esteemed organizations whose skills at measuring vehicular safety are unmatched: the federal government's National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, or NHTSA, and the independent research agency known as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS.
From the NHTSA, we took every car with both an overall five-star crash test rating and five-star rating in all three specific crash tests: front impact, side impact, and the rollover predicted crash test, which uses a formula to calculate how likely a vehicle is to flip. From the IIHS, we took all the cars that achieved the highest ranking of Top Safety Pick +, which signifies good ratings in five separate crash tests, good marks in front crash prevention, and a strong showing for headlight brightness. We then cross-referenced the lists, pulled together the vehicles that came up on both of them, and prioritized the ones that didn't require any specific options to achieve their lofty IIHS ranking.
And after all of that, because we at The Drive want to make sure you wind up driving an enjoyable car as well as a safe one, we ranked them based on our considered opinions after spending time behind their wheels. Our staff is lucky enough to have driven almost all the new cars on the road; as a result, we know which cars are most worthy of your hard-earned dollars. (We've also included the base price of every vehicle, just to give you an idea where these cars sit in comparison to your own budget.)
This is not, by an stretch of the imagination, an exhaustive list of all the safe passenger vehicles in America. As you'll see, the list is somewhat biased towards, well, cars; credit or blame for that goes to the NHTSA's rollover crash test, which trucks and SUVs have trouble achieving a perfect score on. (There's one exception found at the end of the list, but we'll explain that when we get there.) As a result, this list of the safest cars on sale in America is heavily biased towards, well, cars—not the crossovers that are rapidly becoming the de facto standard for family transportation in the United States.
1. Mercedes-Benz E-Class - $52,950
Loyal readers of The Drive already know we're big fans of this sleek luxury car, whether it's in basic E300 sedan form, as the E400 station wagon, or in the form of the rip-roaring AMG models, the E43 and the E63. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class combines comfort, style, performance, and technology like few other cars on America's roads today, arguably making it one of the best vehicles you can buy off the showroom floor (assuming you can stomach the price tag, of course).
But the E-Class is also one of the safest cars on the road, according to the IIHS and the NHTSA. Mercedes has been a leader in automotive safety for decades, and this four-door only builds upon that legacy. In addition to the usual array of safety features found in cars today, the E-Class offers innovative high-tech occupant protection components, like a system that prepares your ears for the bang of a crash by blasting "pink noise," car-to-X communication that lets other Benzes notify your car about potential safety hazards, and a system that preventively inflates the front seat bolsters if the car senses a side-impact crash to move the occupants away from the deforming sheet metal. And with a solid predicted reliability rating, this Benz should hold up well over the years.
2. Honda Accord - $22,495
The Honda Accord is set to be replaced with an all-new, 10th-generation version later this year, but the outgoing version is hardly outdated; the 2017 model is still one of the safest cars in America. It's also one of the more multifaceted cars on sale in America today; depending on options and trim level, the Accord can play any role from basic transportation to sporty sedan to pseduo-luxury car to Earth-friendly hybrid.
But this list is about excellence in safety, and that's something every example of Honda's mid-sized sedan brings to the table. Every Accord comes with a rear-view camera and a brake assist system that helps drivers apply greater stopping force in a panic stop; higher-trims come with Honda's LaneWatch system, which projects the feed from a wide-angle camera under the passenger's side mirror onto the center console when the right blinker is on. Standard on the top-tier Touring trim and optional on other Accords is the Honda Sensing suite, which bundles together active braking and collision warning, lane and road departure warning, and lane keep assist. With all those features and solid reliability rankings, the Accord makes for a good choice for any driver looking to have it all in a sedan at a decent price.
3. Subaru Impreza - $18,395
Most car enthusiasts know the Subaru Impreza best for its sporty WRX and STI models—the former of which earned a place on our "Best Cheap Sports Cars of 2017" list—but the non-turbocharged models are more than deserving of praise. With a 152-horsepower flat-four connected to a ropey five-speed manual or an economy-tuned CVT, the Impreza isn't exactly swift, but standard all-wheel-drive and the carmaker's new Global Platform architecture makes it stable and secure on the road.
But this Subaru also comes with plenty of standard and optional safety features. Every Impreza comes with a rear view camera, for example, years ahead of the government's mandated date. In addition, the Impreza can be specced up with rear cross traffic alert, automatic reverse braking, blind spot detection, and the camera-based EyeSight system, which brings with it active braking to prevent or minimize collisions and lane keep assist to, well, keep the car in its lane.
And not only is the Subaru Impreza one of the safest cars in America today, it's also one of the most affordable. Buyers can walk out the door with an Impreza equipped with all those standard and optional safety features for less than $24,000—almost $10,000 cheaper than the median new car price in the United States. Add in a decent J.D. Power predicted reliability rating, and this Subie seems like a solid bet for anyone seeking quality transportation on a budget.
4. Chevrolet Volt - $34,095
The second-generation Chevrolet Volt is best-known for its fuel economy prowess; it is, after all, a plug-in hybrid capable of going 53 miles on electric power alone and averaging an impressive 106 mpg-e overall, according to the EPA. It's also a far more stylish vehicle than its predecessor, and in spite of what you might expect based on its eco-friendly nature, isn't all that unhappy being hustled down a back road.
But the car surrounding this futuristic powertrain is also one of the safest environments on the road. Every 2017 Chevy Volt comes with 10 airbags and a rearview camera; add on the Driver Confidence II Package, and the Volt picks up lane keep assist, blind spot awareness, forward collision alert, and rear cross traffic alert. The Volt is still fairly new, so long-term dependability is hard to pin down, but J.D. Power and Associates estimates it should have average reliability.
5. Genesis G80 - $41,750
Along with the larger G90 sedan, the Genesis G80—formerly known as the Hyundai Genesis—marks Hyundai/Kia's most significant push into the luxury car world. While unlikely to be confused with a BMW M5, even in G80 Sport form, the middleweight contender from Hyundai's luxury division is an exceedingly comfortable cruiser, ideal for both commutes and road trips alike. And its Korean-spec warranty means you can expect to go 10 years or 100,000 miles before worrying about paying for powertrain breakdowns—a handy feature for the well-off who got that way by being smart with their money.
And you'll likely feel comfortable driving the Genesis G80 all those years, as its standing as one of the safest cars in America means it should remain a secure place for your family for the next decade. Unlike some carmakers' vehicles, every single G80 comes loaded with every safety feature the company offers on the model, from nine airbags to a rearview camera. Lane keep assist, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, pedestrian-detecting automatic emergency braking—they're all standard, whether you spring for the basic 3.8-liter V6 model or the full-blown 5.0 Ultimate version with its naturally-aspirated V8. Factor in strong predicted reliability, and this Genesis seems like a great choice for anyone seeking a safe luxury car...so long as they don't care about the badge.
6. Volvo S60 - $33,950
Considering Volvo made a name for itself in America by playing up how safe its vehicles are, it should be all that surprising to find one of the Swedish company's cars on this list. Better yet for bargain seekers, the S60 is one of the older models in the carmaker's lineup these days, which means it's not hard to find a good deal on one, as a glance at the company's U.S. website proves. While reliability is fairly average, legions of Volvo fans roaming the roads in decades-old vehicles are a testament to the fact that these cars can take care of you for ages if you return the favor.
And the S60's age doesn't mean it lacks much in the way of safety features, thankfully. Every one comes with a broad collection of airbags and Volvo's City Safety crash avoidance tech, which provides active emergency braking at low speeds. Pedestrian and cyclist detection that hits the brakes if it senses a vulnerable human in the car's way, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, and lane keep assist all come as options, if you feel the need for a few extra safety features.
Oh, and should you prefer to make us at The Drive proud and choose a wagon over a sedan, the IIHS rates the nearly-identical V60 wagon just as highly as the S60. So feel free to go two-box if that's how you like to roll.
7. Nissan Maxima - $32,610
The Nissan Maxima made a name for itself back in the late Eighties and early Nineties as the "four-door sports car," a sedan that its maker pledged packed the verve of a authentic performance machine. Come 2017, the Maxima is less sport sedan than highway cruiser, a big front-wheel-drive sedan distinguished from the likes of the Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Impala by its sharped-edged JDM styling. (Also, its lack of any transmission other than a CVT instantly disqualifies it from sport sedan honors.)
However, it may not be the four-door sports car it used to be, but the Nissan Maxima is in fact one of the safest cars you can buy in America today. Front, side, and curtain airbags are standard, as is a rear-view camera; opt for high-trim SL, SR, or Platinum trim levels, and you also get active emergency braking and forward collision warning, blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic alert. Factor in better-than-average reliability ratings, and the Maxima starts to seem like a prime choice for anyone seeking a safe family car that stands out of the crowd.
8. Subaru Legacy - $22,195
Yup, another Subaru. The Japanese carmaker may be best known for its love of all-wheel-drive and quirky, offbeat image (remember how the company created a website where you could see yourself as a dog?), but it also happens to build one of the safest overall automotive brands in the United States, ranked "Most Trusted Brand" by Kelley Blue Book and tops for safety and dependability by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. That dedication to safety extends across all the company's models, from the popular Forester and Outback all the way to the less-trendy Legacy.
While it may not sell as well as its wagonoid crossover cousins, the Legacy sedan is perhaps the most attractive member of Subaru's lineup, with sleek sedan lines that wouldn't look out of place on a car three times its price. As with the cheaper Impreza, the Legacy is one of the safest cars out there; comes standard with a rear view camera and plenty of airbags; the EyeSight suite, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, and automatic reverse braking are all available or standard on all but the base model. Combine that with the Legacy's generally positive reliability ratings, and you've got a good-looking, likely long-lasting midsized sedan with tons of great safety features, all at a solid price.
9. Kia Optima - $22,200
Admittedly, the Kia Optima is few Americans' idea of a dream car. But this front-wheel-drive family sedan brings a lot of choices to the table, with a wide variety of powertrains on offer—one naturally-aspirated inline-four, a pair of turbocharged four-cylinders, and both plug-in and conventional hybrid powerplants. Plus, while Kias of old may have been dowdy, bargain-basement things, the 2017 models have style and substance capable of standing proud against any Ford, Toyota, or Mazda, with eye-catching looks outside and clean, modern interiors jammed with features aimed at improving the lives of modern drivers; factor in its above-average reliability and excellent warranty, and the Kia Optima proves itself a worthy competitor in the midsized sedan set.
On the safety side, every Optima comes with seven airbags and a rear-view camera; blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert are standard or optional on all models, while forward collision warning, active emergency braking, and lane departure warning are optional on the SX and EX trims and standard on the top-rung SX Limited model. So cast the old stigmas aside; there's no reason to avoid looking at this Kia.
10. Acura MDX – $44,050
That exception we mentioned at the beginning of this story? You've found it. The Acura MDX is the only one of the vehicles on this list that scores less-than-perfect on the NHTSA's rollover test; it locked down four stars out of the possible five. But the NHTSA still gave it a five-star overall rating, and it was one of only two SUVs, minivans, and trucks to get the TSP+ label from the IIHS with zero caveats next to its name.
Besides, if you're looking for a crossover—as millions of Americans are nowadays—with three rows of seats and available all-wheel-drive, you could do a lot worse than the smooth-riding, pleasant-driving MDX. The big Acura was the first of the carmaker's lineup to benefit from the styling update that replaced the old beak with a widened Superman-shield of a front grille, which manages to make this SUV look smaller than it is. And while the basic V6-powered model is nothing to be embarrassed of, it's the 321-hp MDX Sport Hybrid with its NSX-inspired gas/electric powertrain that neatly weds performance and efficiency.
But you're here for safety, and the Acura MDX packs that in spades. Every MDX packs both a rear view camera and what the company calls the "AcuraWatch" bundle of safety features, which includes lane/road keeping assist and active emergency braking; opt for the Technology Package, and you also pick up blind spot warning and rear cross traffic assist. Granted, reliability ranking aren't as high as some models on this list; then again, as we at The Drive have seen, these machines are also capable of racking up close to a million miles when treated well.
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