Which Compact Sedan Has the Most Safety Features?

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2017 Kia Forte

CARS.COM — Safety isn't just about airbags and crash tests. Crash avoidance technology has taken center stage as automakers offer features that can warn you before an accident or intervene with automatic steering or braking systems. Until recently the province of expensive luxury models, this technology has now filtered down to many affordable cars.

Such was the case at Cars.com's 2017 Compact Sedan Challenge, where we compared eight cars that stickered between $21,360 and $22,975. Even in that affordable range, plenty of this technology exists.

The 2017 Compact Sedan Challenge
Results | Safety Features

How We Scored

At the time of our comparison — early March 2017 — not every car had been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. But the agency had evaluated the forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking systems across all eight, giving us a baseline to score points. Our tally for each car amounted to 100 points, or 10 percent of the car's overall score. Here's the breakdown:

  • Forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking: Up to 60 points based on IIHS' six-point rating system. The agency awards one point for a qualifying collision warning system and up to five additional points for automatic braking, depending how well it stopped the car at various speeds in the agency's tests. That's a total of six points, multiplied by 10 to get 60.
  • Blind spot warning: 10 points if a car has it. 
  • Lane departure warning and prevention: Up to 30 points based on what it does. A system that warns you alone gets 10 points. A system that can provide active steering intervention to mitigate lane departure gets another 10 points, but it gets 20 points if it can provide true lane centering steering, which keeps the car pointed straight in the right circumstances — not just ping-ponging off lane markings.

As in other comparison categories, we score based on what we get. If an automaker offers a certain safety feature on a given car but our test car didn't have it, no dice. A final caveat: These features aren't substitutes for your attention to the road.

Here's how the cars did:

2017 Kia Forte

Our test car's score: 100 points
Possible minimum/maximum scores for this model: 0/100
What happened: Our Forte ($21,540 as tested; all prices include destination) snagged a perfect score thanks to its optional Technology Package, which includes top-scoring collision warning and automatic braking (60 points), plus blind spot warning (10 points), lane departure warning (10 points) and lane centering steering (20 points). The steering worked as advertised on well-marked highways, which makes for some advanced self-driving tech for a sub-$23,000 car.

2017 Honda Civic

Our test car's score: 90
Possible minimum/maximum scores for this model: 0/90 
What happened: Our Civic EX ($22,975 as tested) had an optional Honda Sensing package, which bundles top-scoring collision warning and automatic braking (60 points) with adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning (10 points) and lane centering steering (20 points). Like the Forte, the Civic's lane centering steering performed as advertised on well-marked highways. Honda doesn't offer a blind spot warning system, however. Its LaneWatch camera gives a good view of your passenger side, but it doesn't show both sides, so it doesn't qualify.

2017 Toyota Corolla

Our test car's score: 80
Possible minimum/maximum scores for this model: 80/80
What happened: Our Corolla SE ($22,865 as tested) comes with Toyota's safety gauntlet of technologies, like lane departure warning (10 points) with steering mitigation (10 points), adaptive cruise control and a well-performing collision warning system with automatic braking (60 points), which are all standard for 2017. Impressive. Alas, lane centering steering and a blind spot warning system are unavailable.

2017 Mazda3

Our test car's score: 40
Possible minimum/maximum scores for this model: 0/100
What happened: All but the lowest Mazda3 trims have blind spot warning (10 points) and collision warning with automatic braking. The latter only brakes at low speeds, however, earning middling IIHS scores (thus, 30 points in our grading). Higher trims offer automatic braking that works in a larger range of speeds, earning top IIHS scores (and a full 60 points), but our Mazda3 Touring ($22,670 as tested) didn't have it. Mazda also offers lane departure warning with lane centering steering, but our test car had neither.

2017 Hyundai Elantra

Our test car's score: 10
Possible minimum/maximum scores for this model: 0/90
What happened: The Elantra offers some advanced safety technology, with all but lane centering steering available (up to 90 points' worth). But you can't get most of it until you step up to a well-optioned Elantra Limited, a car far above our price limit. Our mid-level Elantra Value Edition ($21,360 as tested) had a blind spot warning system but no other point-worthy tech.

2017 Volkswagen Jetta

Our test car's score: 10
Possible minimum/maximum scores for this model: 0/30
What happened: Most Jetta trims, including our 1.4T SE ($22,815 as tested), have a blind spot warning system (10 points). But the Jetta's collision warning and automatic braking system comes only on the too-expensive Jetta 1.8T SEL, and it only earned middling IIHS scores (20 points in our grading). The Jetta doesn't offer any lane departure warning or active steering systems.

2017 Subaru Impreza

Our test car's score: 0
Possible minimum/maximum scores for this model: 0/90
What happened: Subaru's EyeSight system includes a well-rated collision warning and automatic braking system (60 points), as well as lane departure warning (10 points) with steering assist (10 points). Subaru also offers a blind spot warning system (10 points), in some cases bundled with EyeSight. The technology is optional on all but the Impreza's lowest trim level, but adding it to the next-cheapest 2.0i Premium would have exceeded our $23,000 limit. Our Impreza 2.0i Premium sedan ($22,519 as tested) lacked it.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze

Our test car's score: 0
Possible minimum/maximum scores for this model: 0/40
What happened: Our Cruze LT Automatic ($22,465 as tested) had no active safety options, leaving it with zero points. But even with everything, the Cruze would have scored modestly: Chevrolet offers a blind spot warning system (10 points), but its optional forward collision warning (10 points) has no automatic braking component — a factor that hamstrings the car's IIHS scores. The optional lane departure warning (10 points) has steering assist (10 points) but no lane centering steering.

2017 Kia Forte

 

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Senior Consumer Affairs Editor Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price.  Email Kelsey

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