Every year the (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) IIHS tests cars to find the safest in each category. To be marked a Top Safety Pick for 2021 (or a Top Safety Pick Plus) a car needed “good ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests.” It also had to have “advanced or superior rating for available front crash prevention—vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian evaluations.” Finally, cars coming standard with “acceptable or good” headlights got the Plus moniker; the ones with “acceptable or good” headlights as optional got the standard Top Safety Pick rating. Today we’re looking at small and midsize vehicles. We’ll get to the bigger ones in a later gallery. Click around to see our reviews and more pictures.
The whole Honda Civic family (coupe, hatchback, and sedan) were Top Safety Picks this year, but IIHS noted that the honor applies to the LED headlight models and does not apply to the Type R. The 2022 model has not yet been rated.
The Honda Insight received the Top Safety Pick Plus designation, with no qualifiers. The sedan also gets 49 mpg combined.
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The Hyundai Elantra was redesigned in 2019 and then again for 2021. Models with the optional LED headlights garnered a Top Safety Pick in both sedan and hatchback form.
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The base Hyundai Veloster wouldn’t qualify. It has a 147-hp four-cylinder. Upgraded models with the better headlights and safety features come with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four making 201 hp and the org’s Top Safety Pick recognition.
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The base Kia Forte is cheap, starting under $19K, but you need to upgrade to get the safest one. Even there, you’re still paying less than $23,000. It can also be had with a manual transmission.
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The Kia Soul was new for 2020 and was introduced at the Los Angeles Auto Show in late 2018. Like the Forte, you need to upgrade to make it safer, but also like the Forte, it’s still cheap.
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The Mazda 3 hatch and sedan both get Top Safety Pick Plus ratings for 2021. With the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, and Nissan Altima having more recent styling refreshes, the 3 is now the most boring in the segment to look at. But not to drive.
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Redesigned for 2019, the 2021 Nissan Altima maintains its Top Safety Pick bragging rights for models with the optional LED headlights.
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The Crosstrek has been named an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus for six years running. Base models come with Subie’s EyeSight safety features, but again you need the upgraded headlights for the safest ride possible.
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The Impreza comes standard with a 152-hp flat-four. You have to step up to the Limited trim to get the LED headlights. Like the Crosstrek, a basic EyeSight package is standard across the board.
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The previously mentioned cars are fine, some you would even call fun. But the first true enthusiast car on the list is the Subaru WRX. You get the option of the manual, obviously, but will have to pay more for the LEDs.
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The Corolla is cheap to buy and cheap to fuel, even without the hybrid powertrain. It starts at about $20K and goes up to $25,500.
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We’ve now moved from small to midsize in the safety picks. The Accord with the optional LED headlights earned the Top Safety Pick+ award.
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The Sonata was updated in 2020 and looks better than ever, even a little wild. The base model gets a 191-hp four. It’s good but you need to check the box for premium headlights.
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We love the Mazda 3, and we love the Mazda 6. We don’t love them just for their good looks, but also their handling and ride. This year it’s a Top Safety Pick Plus, even in base form.
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Only the base Altima comes without Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 features including emergency braking, but it is optional. You need to get to the SR trim to get the “specific headlights” that make this a Top Safety Pick.
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Nissan Safety Shield is now standard across the Maxima range, as is the Intelligent Driver Alertness system. Intelligent Cruise Control and Traffic Sign Recognition are optional.
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All-wheel drive is standard on the Legacy, as it is on all Subarus except the BRZ. The company’s EyeSight safety system is standard too, making this another Plus pick.
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The Subaru Global Platform has been optimized for the Outback with a stiffer structure all around compared to the previous Outback’s platform. Crash protection is improved, and the tall wagon continues as a Top Safety Pick Plus.
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The Camry makes every list, whether it’s best-selling vehicles, easiest to live with vehicles, bang for the buck, and of course, safety. It’s a Plus pick, with no qualifiers about headlights or trims.
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