The bar keeps getting raised for cars to score in the top category of safety. Now, in addition to crash protection, cars must have effective headlights to get the highest rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Driving down a winding road at night, the power of your headlights may determine if you see a pedestrian or an oncoming car and are thus able to avoid an accident. That's why the IIHS is also weighing the effectiveness of headlights when assigning its top auto safety rating.
It began testing headlights this year after determining that federal standards for headlights are set in laboratory tests and don't reflect real-world driving conditions. In one of the initial IIHS tests, 17 of 21 small SUVs were rated as having ineffective headlights.
For this year's ratings of 2017 models, vehicles that got the best rating -- Top Safety Pick Plus -- had to have good or acceptable ratings on their headlights in addition to the previous criteria of scoring well in front, side and rollover crash tests. Since last year, top-rated cars also must have a good or acceptable automatic braking technology to avoid front-end crashes.
The new headlight requirement reduced the number of Top Safety Pick Plus winners from 48 last year to 38 this time. "The field of contenders is smaller this year because so few vehicles have headlights that do their job well," said Adrian Lund, IIHS president. "But the field is not as small as we expected. Manufacturers are focusing on improving this basic safety equipment."
The second-level rating, Top Safety Pick (without the Plus), goes to cars that meet all the standards except for good or acceptable headlights. In some cases, the rating applies only to the version of the car with optional safety equipment (here's the full list of 44 Top Safety Pick and 38 Top Safety Pick Plus vehicles).
Of this year's Top Safety Pick Plus winners, only seven vehicles got good ratings for their headlights. IIHS points out that price is no indicator of headlight quality. The only luxury vehicle with good headlight ratings is a Volvo SUV.
Read on to learn about seven of the safest vehicles on the road.
2017 Chevrolet Volt
This plug-in hybrid maintains its top rating from last year, with the headlights measuring up to its crash test results. The Volt has an advantage over all-electric cars because it has a gasoline engine that works to recharge the battery on the move.
This eliminates so-called range anxiety because the Volt can do 53 all-electric miles and 367 miles combined with the gasoline engine. The Volt is rated for 43 MPG in city driving and 42 on the highway. List prices run from $33,220 to $37,670.
The 2017 Ridgeline pickup returns to the Honda lineup after a two-year absence. And Honda engineers clearly got the crash protection and headlights right.
Ridgeline ranks No. 1 among compact pickup trucks, according to reviewers surveyed by U.S. News. Test drivers praise its pleasing interior, comfortable ride and tech features. The front-wheel drive Ridgeline is rated for 19 MPG in the city, 26 on the highway. List prices range from $29,745 to $42,870.
The Elantra continues as a Top Safety Plus pick even with the headlight ranking included. Test drivers praise the Elantra as comfortable and roomy for a compact car with a good array of technology.
The Elantra is a good combination of reasonable price and good fuel economy. List prices range from $17,150 to $22,350. The base four-cylinder engine is rated for 26 MPG in city driving and 32 on the highway.
Hyundai Santa Fe
With some redesign, the Santa Fe went from not even being on the list last year to among the top picks this year.
Test drivers say the Santa Fe deserves a look among midsize SUVs with three rows of seats. They praise the performance of the standard V-6 engine, which is rated for 17 MPG in city driving, 21 on the highway.
List prices run from $25,350 to $41,150.
The Legacy continues its top rating from the 2016 model. The Legacy midsize sedan combines this high safety rating with standard all-wheel drive and good fuel economy. Its standard four-cylinder engine is ranked at 25 MPG city, 34 highway. However, test drivers find the legacy a little underpowered with this engine. List price runs from$31,195 to $31,460.
Toyota Prius V
The bigger version of this hybrid Prius also continues to hold a top rating along with top fuel economy.
Its roomy cargo area is a plus for shoppers who want a gas-electric hybrid. That power plant is rated for 43 city 39 highway. However, test drivers fault its sluggish acceleration. List prices run from $26,675 to $30,935.
Volvo has always had a strong reputation for safety, and this has continued under its current Chinese ownership. Its feature that detects pedestrians and applies the brakes has raised its score in past years, and excellent headlights helped get top rating for the XC60.
Test drivers praise its powerful engines with good fuel economy. Its base engine is rated for 19 MPG city, 23 highway. List prices on this luxury SUV ranges from $40,950 to $51,000.