Nissan Rogue, Audi A3 get top safety ratings

The Nissan Rogue has joined a handful of small SUVs in passing a difficult new crash test that stymied top-selling competitors such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape.

The Rogue thus becomes one of only four small SUVs to get a "Top Safety Pick Plus" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the institute announced last week. (The others are the Subaru Forester, Mitsubishi Outlander and Mazda CX-5.) In a separate category, the redesigned Audi A3 also got the top rating.

To achieve the Top Safety Pick Plus rating, a 2014 model or later car has to have good results in the institute's crash tests -- including the difficult new small overlap test, which simulates hitting another car, a tree or light pole with one corner of the car. In addition the top-rated vehicles must have a crash prevention system at least as an option -- including automatic braking or front collision warning. Vehicles that perform well in crash tests but do not offer accident-prevention technology get the second-level ranking of Top Safety Pick (without the plus).

The crash test report on the Nissan Rogue noted that, "In the small overlap test, the driver's space was maintained reasonably well. Injury measures recorded on the dummy indicated low risk of any significant injuries in a crash of this severity." That is especially important because in vehicles that fared poorly in that test, the crash collapsed the driver's space in a way that threatened hip and leg injuries. That was the case with small crossover SUVs that got poor or marginal ratings for the test, including the Honda, Toyota and Ford models.

The Rogue, which starts at a list price of $22,490, was completely redesigned for the 2014 model, becoming longer and wider with additional leg room and cargo space. The 2013 design, which did not pass the new crash test, remains on sale as the Nissan Rogue Select. If you are interested in a Rogue, be sure to get the 2014 version with the top safety rating.

New Audi A 3 also scores well

The Audi A3, previously available here only as a hatchback wagon, has been completely redesigned and now offers a sedan as a 2015 model starting at a list price of $29,995. The IIHS also gave a Top Safety Pick Plus rating to the new A3 -- the first Audi model to earn that designation. It is one of five models tested so far in the midsize luxury/near luxury category with the top rating -- along with the Volvo S60, Infiniti Q50, Lincoln MKZ and Acura TL. Falling below that rating are the Mercedes-Benz C class and BMW 3 series -- both of which got marginal ratings in the small overlap crash test.

With the A3 small overlap results, "injury measures taken from the dummy indicated a low risk of injury." The optional front crash prevention system for the A3, which includes automatic braking, got an advanced rating-the middle of three levels -- after it avoided a crash in a separate IIHS test.

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

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