Institute Picks Safest Vehicles For 2009

Ford tops list, Lexus missing | Published: Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ford has topped the list in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Picks, while Honda’s luxury division Acura earned the title for every vehicle in its lineup. Missing from the list was Lexus and Infiniti.

In all, 72 vehicles earned the IIHS’s Top Safety award for 2009, more than double the number of 2008 recipients and more than 3 times the number of 2007 winners – proving that many of today’s cars are safer.

The U.S. safety agency says Top Safety Pick winners are vehicles that do the best job of protecting people in front, side, and rear crashes based on good ratings in Institute tests. Winners also have to have electronic stability control (ESC), which research shows significantly reduces crash risk.

For the first time ever, winners represent every class of vehicle the Institute tests except microcars. Ford and its subsidiary Volvo have 16 winners, including the Ford F-150 large pickup. Thirteen winners are from Honda and its Acura division. The Honda Fit with optional ESC is the first minicar to earn Top Safety Pick.

Honda, Acura, and Subaru, which picked up 4 awards, are standouts for 2009 because they have at least 1 safety pick in every vehicle class in which they compete.

“Consumers are the biggest winners,” says Institute president Adrian Lund. “No matter what kind of vehicle buyers may be considering, now they can walk into just about any dealership and find one that affords the best overall protection in serious crashes.”

Front and side impacts are the most common kinds of fatal crashes, killing about three-quarters of the 28,896 passenger vehicle occupants who died in 2007. Rear-end crashes usually aren’t fatal, but they result in a large proportion of crash injuries. Neck sprain or strain is the most commonly reported injury in two thirds of insurance claims for injuries in all kinds of crashes.

“In order to win, automakers have beefed up the side structures of vehicles and added side airbags to do a better job of protecting people in serious side crashes,” Lund says. “They’re rapidly adding ESC to prevent crashes, and they’re designing seats and head restraints that do a better job of protecting against whiplash.”

The changes are evident in the safety equipment that is increasingly standard. For the 2009 model year, 84 percent of passenger cars, 99 percent of SUVs, and 23 percent of pickups have standard side airbags with head protection. The same is true for ESC. It’s standard on 74 percent of passenger cars, 99 percent of SUVs, and 37 percent of pickups.

Twenty-six models fall short of earning top picks because of inadequate head restraint designs. The Smart Fortwo, the only microcar in the US market, missed because of its head restraints. The same goes for Toyota’s hybrid Prius, which performed well in the Institute’s front and side crash tests but came up short for rear crash protection.

Chrysler is the only major automaker lacking a single Top Safety Pick. It could have picked up five awards if the head restraints were better in the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring, the Sebring convertible, and the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country, the IIHS said.

Eleven vehicles missed the mark because they didn’t earn a good rating for occupant protection in side crashes. Many of these vehicles are smaller cars whose size puts them at a disadvantage in the challenging test compared with larger, heavier vehicles.

“Still, the sheer number of this year’s winners indicates that automakers have made huge strides to improve crash protection to achieve TOP SAFETY PICK designation,” Lund says. “For years, Toyota had more also-rans than winners. For 2009 this automaker has come on strong by updating seats and head restraints in the Avalon, Corolla, FJ Cruiser, and RAV4 to earn good ratings. Volkswagen has done the same with the Eos, Jetta, Passat, and Rabbit.”


Large cars

  1. Acura RL
  2. Audi A6
  3. Cadillac CTS
  4. Ford Taurus
  5. Lincoln MKS
  6. Mercury Sable
  7. Toyota Avalon
  8. Volvo S80

Midsize cars

  1. Acura TL, TSX
  2. Audi A3, A4
  3. BMW 3 series 4-door models
  4. Ford Fusion with optional electronic stability control
  5. Honda Accord 4-door models
  6. Mercedes C class
  7. Mercury Milan with optional electronic stability control
  8. Saab 9-3
  9. Subaru Legacy
  10. Volkswagen Jetta, Passat

Midsize convertibles

  1. Saab 9-3
  2. Volkswagen Eos
  3. Volvo C70

Small cars

  1. Honda Civic 4-door models (except Si) with optional electronic stability control
  2. Mitsubishi Lancer with optional electronic stability control
  3. Scion xB
  4. Subaru Impreza with optional electronic stability control
  5. Toyota Corolla with optional electronic stability control
  6. Volkswagen Rabbit


  1. Honda Fit with optional electronic stability control
  2. Minivans
  3. Honda Odyssey
  4. Hyundai Entourage
  5. Kia Sedona

Large SUVs

  1. Audi Q7
  2. Buick Enclave
  3. Chevrolet Traverse
  4. GMC Acadia
  5. Saturn Outlook

Midsize SUVs

  1. Acura MDX, RDX
  2. BMW X3, X5
  3. Ford Edge, Flex, Taurus X
  4. Honda Pilot
  5. Hyundai Santa Fe, Veracruz
  6. Infiniti EX35
  7. Lincoln MKX
  8. Mercedes M class
  9. Nissan Murano
  10. Saturn VUE
  11. Subaru Tribeca
  12. Toyota FJ Cruiser, Highlander
  13. Volvo XC90

Small SUVs

  1. Ford Escape
  2. Honda CR-V, Element
  3. Mazda Tribute
  4. Mercury Mariner
  5. Mitsubishi Outlander
  6. Nissan Rogue
  7. Subaru Forester
  8. Toyota RAV4
  9. Volkswagen Tiguan

Large pickups

  1. Ford F-150
  2. Honda Ridgeline
  3. Toyota Tundra

Small pickup

  1. Toyota Tacoma

ALSO-RANS These 26 vehicles earn good ratings in front and side crash tests. They have ESC, standard or optional. They would be 2009 TOP SAFETY PICK winners if their seat/head restraints also earn good ratings:

  • Chevrolet Malibu
  • Chrysler Sebring, Sebring convertible, Town & Country
  • Dodge Avenger, Grand Caravan
  • Infiniti G35, M35
  • Kia Amanti
  • Lexus ES, GS,IS
  • Mazda CX-7, CX-9
  • Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, Endeavor
  • Nissan Altima, Pathfinder, Quest, Xterra
  • Saturn AURA
  • Smart Fortwo
  • Toyota 4Runner, Camry, Prius, Sienna