6 of the safest cars on the road

To buy a safe car, you want to know that it can hold up well in crashes. But 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.

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. And to focus on the dangers of substandard headlights, superior performance in this category has also been added to the necessary hurdles.

IIHS recently updated its crash-test requirements. A new test measures occupant protection simulating an accident where one corner of the vehicle on the passenger side hits a tree or light pole.

The six vehicles given top safety pick plus status so far in 2018 scored well in this passenger-side test in addition to tests for a similar collision on the driver side, plus front, side and rollover crashes. Vehicles that meet all other criteria but have not passed the passenger-side test get a ranking of "top safety pick" minus the plus.

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

BMW X3

This compact SUV gets a superior rating -- the highest -- on its front crash-prevention system. It gets a second-level good rating on its headlights, but the combination still adds up to a top safety pick plus. Like most BMWs, the X3's strong performance and nimble handling drew praise from reviewers. They also liked the easy-to-use touch-screen infotainment system. List prices on the X3 range from $42,650 to $54,500.

Hyundai Elantra

After scoring an acceptable rating in the new passenger-side crash test, the Hyundai Elantra was upgraded to the top IIHS rating. This compact sedan also gets a superior rating for its front crash-prevention system. Reviewers praise the Elantra for its spacious comfortable seats, above-average trunk space and quiet ride. List prices for the Elantra go from $16,950 to $24,350.

Hyundai Sonata

The Hyundai Sonata earns a top safety pick plus designation after scoring a good rating -- the highest -- in the passenger-side crash test. Like the smaller Elantra, this midsize sedan gets a superior rating for its front crash-prevention system. Reviewers surveyed by U.S. News note that new suspension in the 2018 model provides better cornering and a more comfortable ride than before. And they praise the easy-to-use tech features in the Sonata. List prices range from $22,050 to $32,450.

Kia Optima

The Kia Optima scores the highest rating -- good -- on the new passenger-side crash test, and it gets a superior rating for its front crash-prevention system. Test drivers like the Optima's comfortable cabin and its easily accessible tech features. All Optimas include Apple Car Play and Android Auto, which allow you to control your smartphone through the car's touch screen. List prices run from $22,600 to $30,600.

Kia Sorento

The Kia Sorento has been upgraded to a top safety pick plus after doing well in passenger-side crash tests and updating its headlights. Ranked in a tie for No. 2 among midsize SUVs by U.S. News, the Sorento wins praise for its quiet, comfortable ride. If you're looking for performance with your SUV, the Sorento comes with an option for a lively V-6 engine. List prices range from $25,900 to $46,300.

Lexus RC

This sporty luxury coupe gets top IIHS ratings both for the passenger-side crash test and its collision-prevention system. Reviewers praise its athletic handling and elegant, comfortable interior. List prices run from $40,640 to $64,650.