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5 of the safest cars you can buy

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When looking for a safe car to buy, you want to know it can hold up well in crashes. But you should also look also for strong headlights and advanced technology that may help you avoid an accident altogether.

That's what it takes nowadays to win the best rating of "top safety pick plus" from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Only vehicles with superior crash test results plus accident-avoidance technology and strong headlights earn top ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

As new active safety technology like front crash prevention has become available, the IIHS has tested these systems and added them to superior crash test ratings as requirements for the top overall rating. More recently, to focus on the dangers of substandard headlights, superior performance in this category has been added to the necessary hurdles.

The latest list achieving top safety pick plus ratings includes one small car, one small SUV and three large sedans. Vehicles that do well in the crash tests for front, side, glancing front blow and rollover but do not get adequate crash prevention or headlight ratings get the next rank -- "top safety pick" minus the plus. (See the the top two IIHS ratings for 2017 models.)

Let's have a closer look at the five latest top safety pick plus winners. In some cases, the advanced crash-avoidance technology is optional and only versions of a car with those options qualify for the top award.

Kia Forte

Kia

With structural improvements, the Forte got a top rating this time in the so-called small overlap crash test, which approximates the corner of a car hitting a tree or light pole. Kia also added longer side-curtain airbags to this small car. The Forte's optional crash prevention system, new for 2017, avoided collisions when traveling 12 MPH and 25 MPH on the IIHS test track.

Reviewers surveyed by U.S. News like the Forte's roomy, comfortable interior and superior cargo space for its size. The four-cylinder standard engine is rated for 29 MPG in city driving, 38 on the highway. List prices on the Forte run from $16,600 to $26,000.

Mazda CX-5

Mazda

The CX-5, redesigned for 2017, got top ratings in all five IIHS crash tests -- as the 2016 model did before it. But this compact SUV added a front crash-avoidance system as standard equipment for 2017, and it performed well on the test track. Headlights on two versions of the CX-5 -- the Grand Touring and Sport -- come with high beam assist, which switches the headlights to low beam if other cars are approaching.

Test drivers at U.S. News ranked the CX-5 among the top three compact SUVs, praising its strong performance and comfortable seating. The standard four-cylinder engine is rated for 24 MPG city, 31 highway. List prices on the CX-5 run from $24,045 to $30,696.

Lincoln Continental

Lincoln

The Continental is new for 2017 but carries a Lincoln nameplate from the past. The Continental's optional front crash-prevention system did avoid collisions while traveling 12 MPH and 25 MPH. Optional headlights on the Reserve trim provide good vision on straightaways and in most curves.

Reviewers describe the Continental as a throwback to large American luxury cars of the past, with comfortable ride and strong acceleration. The turbocharged six-cylinder engine is rated for 18 MPG in the city, 27 on the highway. List prices for the Continental run from $44,720 to $66,076.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Mercedes-Benz

This large luxury sedan was completely redesigned for 2017. It comes with a standard front crash-prevention system and a different, optional system on some versions. Both get high ratings. All headlights available on the E-Class got at least an acceptable rating. But the IIHS says the headlights that come with the E-300 premium packages are the highest-scoring headlights the organization has ever tested.

Reviewers at U.S. News rank the E-Class No. 1 in its class, praising its strong performance, comfortable ride and wide range of tech features. The turbocharged four-cylinder engine is rated 22 MPG city, 30 highway. List prices on the E-Class range from $52,150 to $72,400.

Toyota Avalon

Toyota

Avalon moves up one level to top safety pick plus this year because of improvements in its headlights. The Limited version now comes with headlights rated acceptable -- sufficient to earn the top award if all the other hurdles have been cleared.

Test drivers praise Avalon for its commodious cabin and a smooth and quiet ride. The Avalon's six-cylinder engine is rated for 21 city, 30 highway, while a gas-electric hybrid version has estimated mileage of 40 city, 39 highway. List prices on the Avalon run from $33,300 to $41,100.

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