Just 15 vehicles qualify for the Top Safety Pick+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) after the requirements were strengthened to include good-rated headlights and good or acceptable passenger-side protection in small overlap front crashes, down from 48 vehicles in 2015.
Another 47 vehicles earn the Top Safety Pick award, which now requires acceptable or good headlights.
The inclusion of a passenger-side crash test is a first for any IIHS award. The Institute developed the passenger-side small overlap front crash test after it became clear that some manufacturers weren't paying sufficient attention to the passenger side as they made improvements to achieve better performance in the driver-side small overlap front test.
Headlight ratings relatively new
The Institute's headlight ratings also are relatively new, with the first ones released in March 2016. Initially, few performed well in IIHS track tests, which measure how well low beams and high beams illuminate the road ahead on the one hand, and the amount of glare they produce for drivers of oncoming vehicles on the other.
"Headlights have long been treated as design elements instead of the critical safety equipment that they are," says IIHS President Adrian Lund. "We're pleased to see this changing. Every one of the 62 award winners for 2018 is available with headlights that are at least acceptable."
Toyota led all manufacturers with 10 vehicles receiving IIHS's Top Safety Pick. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Toyota stands out amongst a handful of winners
Toyota Motor Corp. has the most vehicles — 10 — on the Top Safety Pick list. Hyundai is the runner-up with nine. All but one of the seven vehicles in Subaru's 2018 lineup earn one of the awards.
The Impreza, Legacy, Outback and WRX qualify for Top Safety Pick+ when equipped with optional front crash prevention and specific headlights. The Crosstrek and the Forester earn Top Safety Pick, also with optional front crash prevention and specific headlights. The BRZ is the only Subaru model that doesn't qualify.
Across manufacturers, the vast majority of winners qualify only when optionally equipped because front crash prevention and acceptable or good headlights aren't part of their base trims.
Hyundai has most Top Safety Pick+ awards
Most of the Top Safety Pick+ awards go to Hyundai Motor Co. — which owns the Hyundai, Kia and Genesis brands — has six models earning the award, and Subaru has four. Mercedes-Benz has two, while Toyota, BMW and Ford Motor Co. have one each.
The 15 Top Safety Pick+ winners include four small cars, three midsize cars, five large luxury cars, two midsize nonluxury SUVs and one midsize luxury SUV. No minivans, pickups or minicars earn the highest award. Models from a wider range of vehicle types earn Top Safety Pick, but there are no minicars in that category either. See the complete list of vehicles that earned the safety awards.
"The improvements in occupant protection have been amazing over the past decades," says Lund. "All automakers now recognize the important role of safety in consumer choice, and they are increasingly receptive to working with our engineers to understand the next steps in keeping people from harm in motor vehicle crashes and to make real changes in their vehicle designs."