It's harder than it used to be to get a top vehicle safety rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In addition to a top rating in traditional crash tests, the "top safety pick plus" rating now requires collision-avoidance technology and well-rated headlights.
As new active safety technology like front crash prevention has become available, the IIHS has tested these systems and added them to the requirements for the top rating. More recently, to focus on the dangers of substandard headlights, superior performance in this category has been added to the necessary hurdles.
The seven vehicles announced so far in 2017 as "top safety picks plus" include two SUVs, two mainstream sedans and three luxury sedans. Vehicles that do well in the crash tests for front, side, glancing front blow and rollover but don't earn adequate crash prevention or headlight ratings get the next rank -- "top safety pick" without the "plus." Numerous other 2017 models earned the "top safety pick plus" ratings but already were announced last year.
Let's have a closer look at the seven "top safety picks plus" announced this year. The advanced safety features and certain headlights are optional on most of these models, and the "top safety pick plus" ratings apply only to models with all that equipment.
Audi has been known as a technology leader, and its front crash-prevention system gets a maximum "superior" rating. Test drivers praise the A3 for its interior technology in the instrument display and infotainment system. They also like the sporty handling and lively acceleration.
List prices for this luxury model range from $31,200 to $42,900.
BMW 2 Series
This entry-level BMW gets a stronger rating for headlights than competitor Audi A3 but a slightly lower advanced ranking on its front crash prevention. But the combination still adds up to a "top safety pick plus."
Increased horsepower and improved exterior styling are featured in the 2017 model. Like most BMWs, the 2 Series gets good marks for nimble handling and swift acceleration. Unlike some competitors, it has ample trunk space. List prices for the 2 series run from $33,150 to $52,500.
BMW 3 Series
Like its smaller sibling 2 Series, the 3 Series gets an advanced rating on its optional front crash prevention system. Long the signature model for BMW in this country, the 3 Series continues to feature lively acceleration, nimble handling and all-around fun driving. Test drivers also praise it for its spacious cabin and intuitive infotainment system.
Starting list price for the 3 Series of $33,450 is close to the 2 Series, but it ranges all the way to $64,000 for loaded versions.
Not only does the CR-V get a top safety rating, it's also the No. 1-rated compact SUV among reviewers surveyed by U.S. News. These test drivers praise the CR-V for its comfortable interior with ample legroom and plenty of cargo space.
Shoppers seem to agree, since the CR-V is regularly one of the best-selling small SUVs. List prices range from $24,065 to $33,695.
This small sedan gets top IIHS grades all around -- crash tests plus collision avoidance and headlights. Fully redesigned for 2017, the Impreza comes standard with all-wheel drive, as do all Subaru models. Test drivers praise the Impreza for its roomy interior and comfortable ride.
The least-expensive car on this safe cars list, Impreza prices range from $18,395 to $24,595.
This midsize SUV gets a top "superior" rating for its collision-avoidance system and second-best "acceptable" for its headlights. Unlike many competitors, Highlander's advanced safety systems come as standard equipment.
Test drivers praise the three-row Highlander for its comfortable and quiet ride on the highway. Highlander prices range from $30,630 to $46,260.
Toyota Prius Prime
Like the Highlander, the Prius Prime gets the very best rating for its crash avoidance and second-best for its headlights. New for 2017, this plug-in hybrid, of course, gets terrific fuel mileage. The EPA ranks the Prime at 133 MPGe -- the gas mileage equivalent for electric vehicles. The gas engine alone gets a 54 MPG rating for combined city-highway driving.
Test drivers praise the Prius Prime's comfortable ride and smooth transition between gas and electric engines. List prices run from $27,100 to $33,100.