The organization has long used crash tests as a key element for rating vehicles, including hits to the front driver's side, but this year the institute added a new test: crashes to the front on the passenger side.
Over the last decade, vehicle safety has improved dramatically as automakers recognize that safety is a big selling point.
Fifteen vehicles earned the group's highest award of Top Safety Pick+, which is lower than past year. The Crosstrek and Forester earn Top Safety Pick, also with option front-crash prevention and specific headlights. Kia and Subaru models were among the highest rated; no minivans, pickups or mini-cars made the cut.
The Top Safety Pick+ winners are listed below. This year, a new test was included - simulating what happens when the front corner of the passenger's side smacks into a tree or pole. The institute said it devised a passenger-side small overlap front crash test because some manufacturers weren't paying enough attention to the issue. It's a drop from past year - and the new crash tests are not the only reason why.
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"Drivers expect that their passengers, who are often family, will be protected just as well as they are", says IIHS President Adrian Lund. Fifteen of those earning its highest award despite tougher criteria requiring better headlights and enhanced passenger side protection. The institute also tests headlight systems where IIHS engineers measure the reach of a vehicle's headlights on straight roads and on curves.
Automakers have pledged to make autobrake standard on virtually all passenger vehicles by 2022, but for now the technology remains mostly optional, especially on nonluxury brands.
As more 2018 models are tested, IIHS will expand the list. If the pattern holds, they'll have to score a good rating next year to make the 2019 list.
"The improvements in occupant protection have been unbelievable over the past decades", says Lund.
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