4 of the safest cars you can buy

  • Honda

    The definition of a safe car is expanding to include not only keeping you safe in a crash but aiming to avoid the crash altogether. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given its first top safety rating of 2016 to three sedans and a luxury SUV.

    The Honda Civic, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima and the Lexus RX 350 SUV all earned the maximum Top Safety Pick Plus designation.

    To get a Top Safety Pick Plus rating, a vehicle must get a score of "Good" in crash tests that cover front and side impact and rollover accidents. In addition, it must also offer accident prevention systems such as automatic braking that are rated "Advanced" or "Superior." If a vehicle passes the crashworthiness tests but has an accident prevention system rated only as "Basic," it gets a second-tier Top Safety Pick rating.

    The rules for getting a Top Safety Pick Plus designation have tightened for 2016. Before, a car could earn this rating with just an "Acceptable" score in the difficult small-overlap front crash test, which simulates hitting a tree or utility pole with the corner of the vehicle. Now that rating must be "Good" -- the same as for the other four crash tests.

    Let's have a closer look at the first four vehicles of the new year to get the Institute's top safety rating.

  • Jerry Edgerton On Twitter»

    View all articles by Jerry Edgerton on CBS MoneyWatch»
    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.