IIHS Announces Initial 2017 Safety Winners

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe

CARS.COM — The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has again toughened requirements for earning its top award, Top Safety Pick Plus. Vehicles must now have acceptable or better scores in IIHS' new headlight evaluations. Like before, they also must have an effective automatic emergency braking system in the agency's frontal crash prevention tests and strong scores in its other crash tests.

Related: IIHS: Auto-Braking Slashes Rear-End Crashes, Injuries by 40 Percent

With the stricter qualification, just 38 vehicles earned the Top Safety Pick Plus award for the 2017 model year. Here they are:

Another 44 cars earned a Top Safety Pick (no "Plus"), the next rung down. Top Safety Pick awardees must meet all the requirements except the headlight evaluation. Click here to see the full lists.

Adrian Lund, IIHS' president, noted in a statement that the list of top cars was "not as small as we expected when we decided to raise the bar for the awards." Indeed, when IIHS released its first results of the headlight tests last March, 19 of 31 cars earned marginal or poor scores (possible scores are poor, marginal, acceptable and good). But IIHS spokesman Russ Rader told Cars.com three automakers — Mitsubishi, Subaru and Toyota — improved their headlights for the 2017 model year in response to the new requirement.

And the list is far from final. It's likely to increase in the coming months as IIHS tests more vehicles. A year ago, when the agency first announced a consolidated batch of 2016 model-year awardees, 61 cars made the list (48 as Top Safety Pick Pluses, 13 as Top Safety Picks). By the end of the 2016 model year, that swelled to 90 cars.

Forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking must earn an advanced or superior rating in IIHS collision-avoidance tests (possible scores are none, basic, advanced and superior) for cars to earn a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick Plus, but consumers should note the high variance in the availability for such equipment, especially among affordable cars. Case in point: The 2017 Hyundai Elantra sedan's forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking system earned top marks in IIHS' evaluations, but you have to get the highest of five trim levels and then add two option packages to get it. In essence, only a fully loaded Elantra would have the feature. By contrast, the Toyota Corolla's system, which also earns top IIHS marks, is standard on all trims.

The Corolla isn't the only car to feature that. IIHS notes that more cars now have standard forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking. Twenty-one models the agency tested for 2017 include it: the Acura MDX and RLX; the Audi A3, A4 and Q7; the Genesis G80 and G90; the Lexus ES and RX; the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class; the Toyota Avalon, Corolla, Prius, RAV4 and Yaris iA; the Volkswagen Passat; and the Volvo S60, S90, V60, XC60 and XC90. And two cars from that group — the Corolla and Yaris iA — start under $20,000. Virtually the entire auto industry has pledged to make the feature standard on new cars by 2022.

IIHS also tests Latch anchors for car-seat accommodations, but those results don't factor into the agency's awards.

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