The safest cars on the road

It’s tougher than ever to make the list of safest U.S. cars on the road. In its annual rankings from its crash tests, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave only 22 vehicles its highest rating, compared with 130 last year.

To achieve the organization's new Top Safety Pick Plus rating, a 2014 model car had to have good ratings in its crash tests. That includes the institute's tough new "small overlap" test, which simulates hitting a tree or light pole with one corner of the car.

In addition, top-rated vehicles must offer a crash prevention system at least as an option, including automatic braking or front collision warning. An additional 17 vehicles that performed well in crash tests but did not offer accident-prevention technology got the second-level ranking of Top Safety Pick (without the plus).

“Consumers who want crash-prevention technology and the latest in occupant protection have a fair number of vehicles to choose from,” said IIHS President Adrian Lund. “We hope manufacturers will continue to incorporate front crash prevention, developing more robust systems and adding them to more trim levels or, better yet, making them standard equipment.”

Some of the highlights of the institute's latest car safety rankings:

Tough new test. The new small overlap crash test posed a problem for vehicles that otherwise did well in the front, side and roof strength rollover tests. This was especially true among small SUVs.

Of the 13 2013 and 2014 models tested, only the 2014 Subaru Forester got the instituite's top “good” rating. The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport got a second-level “acceptable” rating. Several other popular crossovers—including the Ford Escape, BMW X1 and  Hyundai Tucson—got marginal or poor ratings. The Honda CR-V also got a  marginal rating, Honda’s only poor performance on this test.

Honda scored well. The Japanese automaker and its corporate sibling Acura did the best among manufacturers, with six models earning rated as a Top Safety Pick Plus two as a Top Safety Pick. Subaru had three models with the top ranking and two at the second level.

Camry improved. This top-selling Toyota sedan  dropped from the safety rankings last year because of poor performance in the small overlap test. But a partial structural redesign won the 2014 Camry an Acceptable rating in that test and an overall Top Safety Pick. The 2014 Toyota Prius moved up to a Top Safety Pick Plus.

Here are the full listings of the IIHS top two rankings. Some cars were tweaked and retested with higher scores, so those rankings stipulate only those built after a certain date.

                                        TOP SAFETY PICKS PLUS

                                        Small Cars

- Honda Civic Hybrid

- Mazda 3 built after October 2013

- Toyota Prius built after November 2013

                    Midsize, Moderately Priced Cars

- Ford Fusion

- Honda Accord 2- and 4-door

- Mazda 6

- Subaru Legacy

- Subaru Outback

                          Midsize Luxury Cars

- Infiniti Q50

- Lincoln MKZ

- Volvo S60

                        Large Luxury Cars

- Acura RLX

- Volvo S80

                       Small SUVs

- Mazda CX5 built after October 2013

- Mitsubishi Outlander

- Subaru Forester

                                  Midsize SUVs

- Toyota Highlander

                            Midsize Luxury SUVs

- Acura MDX

- Mercedes-Benz M Class built after August 2013

- Volvo XC60


- Honda Odyssey

                                         TOP SAFETY PICKS

                             Small Cars

- Dodge Dart

- Ford Focus

- Honda Civic 2-door

- Hyundai Elantra

- Scion 1C

- Subaru Impeza

- Subaru XV Crosstrek

                    Midsize, Moderately Priced Cars

- Chrysler 200

- Dodge Avenger

- Kia Optima

- Nissan Altima

- Toyota Camry built after November 2013

- Volkswagen Passat

                   Midsize Luxury Cars

- Acura TL

- Small SUVs

- Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

                  Midsize Luxury SUVs

- Volvo XC90

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.