These are the 15 safest vehicles you can drive in 2018, IIHS says

  • Nathan Bomey
  • USA TODAY
12:17 p.m Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017 Business

Fifteen cars and SUVs have earned the highest honors from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety despite stiffened requirements for 2018.

After IIHS decided to require better headlights and a solid performance on a new crash test to receive the "Top Safety Pick Plus" designation, only 12 cars and three sport-utility vehicles received the award in the organization's first round of ratings.         

Another 47 vehicles earned "Top Safety Pick" honors. Both lists are likely to grow as more vehicles are evaluated.

IIHS said it has not yet reviewed all models and may not test every variation but will update the rankings throughout 2018.

"Automakers have really come to grips with the fact that safety is an important component of consumer choice, and they are working hard to meet the criteria," outgoing IIHS president Adrian Lund said. "They want to be known as leaders of safety."         

Lund said new vehicles are safer than ever.

Still, even as automakers make significant safety improvements to new vehicles, more people are dying on American roads. Car crash deaths spiked in the U.S. for a second consecutive year in 2016, hitting a nine-year high of 37,461 people in 2016, up 5.6 percent, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.         

Lund said the improved economy, which has enabled more people to hit the road for jobs and leisure, is a key factor in the uptick. Distracted driving is also a likely factor to explain the increase.         

One positive sign, Lund said, is that automakers are rapidly improving headlights amid growing awareness that vehicles aren't sufficiently illuminating the roadway to keep drivers and pedestrians safe.         

To reflect the need for better headlights overall, IIHS is now requiring automakers to earn a "good" rating when it comes to their beams to receive the Top Safety Pick Plus designation.         

"We are seeing a big change" in headlights, Lund said. "In previous years, it really was the designers who were determining the positioning of headlights. Now, because we’re actually giving some objective ratings of how much light these headlamps put on the road, the engineers are getting more say."

Overall, Toyota led the industry with 10 vehicles on the Top Safety Pick+ or Top Safety Pick lists. Much-smaller Hyundai was second with nine models.         

Subaru, which is on a red-hot sales streak, got all but one of its seven vehicles on the lists.

The 2018 Subaru Outback.

There's one key caveat: The "vast majority" of models only qualify for the list with optional equipment, IIHS said. Most basic models don't come with the features IIHS requires to make the list, including automatic emergency braking.         

As usual, IIHS re-evaluates vehicle safety throughout the year and sometimes makes adjustments to its rankings to reflect midyear improvements and new entries.

Here's the full list:

Kia Forte (sedan only)

Kia Soul

Subaru Impreza

Subaru WRX

Subaru Legacy

Subaru Outback

Toyota Camry

BMW 5 series

Genesis G80

Genesis G90

Lincoln Continental

Mercedes-Benz E-Class (sedan only)

Hyundai Santa Fe

Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

Midsize Luxury SUVs

Mercedes-Benz GLC

Chevrolet Volt

Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid

Hyundai Elantra

Hyundai Elantra GT

Mazda 3

Subaru Crosstrek

Toyota Corolla

Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius Prime

Honda Accord

Hyundai Sonata

Kia Optima

Nissan Altima

Nissan Maxima

Alfa Romeo Giulia

Audi A3

Audi A4

BMW 3 series (sedan only)

Lexus ES

Lexus IS

Volvo S60

Volvo V60

Kia Cadenza

Toyota Avalon

Honda CR-V

Hyundai Tucson

Kia Sportage

Mazda CX-3

Mazda CX-5

Mitsubishi Outlander

Nissan Rogue

Subaru Forester

Toyota RAV4

Honda Pilot

Kia Sorento

Mazda CX-9

Toyota Highlander

Acura MDX

Acura RDX

Buick Envision

Lexus NX

Lexus RX

Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

Volvo XC60

Chrysler Pacifica

Honda Odyssey

Honda Ridgeline

View full experience