In its latest round of testing, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has cited five models, including two from General Motors, for keeping occupants safe in case of a crash.
In addition, IIHS now is rewarding new vehicles that have accident prevention systems. As a result, the 2016 Audi A6 (shown above in a crash test) gets the Top Safety Pick Plus rating for its technology that hits the brakes if it senses an imminent crash with the vehicle ahead.
Vehicles with top crash test ratings but without such automatic braking get a Top Safety Pick (without the plus) rating. That includes GM's small SUVs Chevrolet Trax and Buick Encore as well as the Kia Sorento SUV and Nissan Sentra compact car.
IIHS President Adrian Lund said earlier in explaining the new ratings that favor automatic braking: "Systems that don't require a driver response to avoid or mitigate a crash have the most potential for reducing crashes."
Click here for a closer look at the vehicles that rated tops for crash protection.
The redesigned 2016 A6 got the top "good" rating in all of the IIHS crash tests, including the difficult small overlap tests, which approximates hitting a tree or light pole with one corner of the car. IIHS engineers commented that the test dummy's position after the small overlap crash indicated good protection of the driver. Other tests include a broader front crash, side crash and roof strength in a rollover crash. The crash prevention equipment on the A6, some of it optional, includes automatic braking plus so-called adaptive cruise control that uses radar to keep the car a certain distance from the vehicle ahead.
In an early review of the 2016 A6, Car and Driver praised the car for its tech features, handsome interior and power and handling. "The A6 does almost everything well whether carving corners or highway cruising," the reviewer said. The list price for this midsize luxury car ranges from $46,200 up to$70,900.
The Trax, one of a new generation of very small subcompact SUVs, also got the top "good" rating in all of the IIHS crash tests. Engineers noted that the knee airbag helped protect against leg and foot injuries, while the side airbag protected the driver's head in a side collision. Just introduced this year by General Motors, the Trax includes another important standard safety feature -- a rearview camera to help avoid backup accidents.
The Trax has EPA ratings of 26 MPG in city driving, 34 on the highway -- among the highest in its class. But reviewers surveyed by U.S.News criticized the Trax for sluggish acceleration and cheap interior materials. The Trax list price ranges from $20,120 to $26,530.
A GM corporate sibling to the Chevrolet Trax, the Encore also was top-rated in all the IIHS crash tests. Engineers noted that in the small overlap front crash the front and side curtain airbags worked well together to keep the test dummy's head away from injury-threatening stiff structures of the small SUV.
The Encore's turbocharged four-cylinder engine is rated at 25 MPG city, 33 highway. Even with the turbo boost, reviewers found the Encore's acceleration a bit sluggish. But they praised its comfortable upscale interior and quiet ride, as well as good handling through turns. The Encore list price ranges from $24,065 to $30,935.
The Sorento, a mid-size SUV, has been completely redesigned with the 2016 model. Like the other vehicles on this list, it scored a top-rated "good" on all the IIHS crash tests. The Sorento scored very well in the roof strength test approximating a rollover -- in which the roof must bear four times the vehicle's weight before crumbling.
Test drivers found the standard four-cylinder engine, rated for 21MPG city and 29 highway a little sluggish. You can get much better acceleration with the V-6 option. But there is a mileage penalty with ratings of 18 city, 26 highway. Reviewers do praise the Sorento's stylish and roomy interior and ample cargo room. The Sorento's list price ranges from $24,900 to $43,100.
The Sentra, the only compact car on this list, also got top ratings in all crash tests. Test engineers noted that in the side crash test, side curtain air bags protected the heads of both driver and passenger.
Reviewers recommend the Sentra as a good daily commuter car because of its spacious cabin and good gas mileage, rated at 29 MPG city, 39 highway with an automatic transmission. But test drivers found the Sentra underpowered for passing on the highway. Sentra's list price ranges from $16,480 to $20,760.