Autotrader: 10 compact cars with the highest safety ratings in 2019

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If you’re shopping for a new vehicle, it’s worth looking into how well that vehicle is likely to hold up relative to the competition in the event of an accident. Luckily, the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests most new vehicles for both how they perform in a crash and how well they prevent a crash from happening in the first place. Vehicles that perform at or near the top of their class walk away from testing with an IIHS Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ award. Here we’ll outline each of the mainstream compact sedans and hatchbacks that earned one of these coveted awards in 2019.

For the full list, and for deeper looks into the performance of each individual vehicle, visit

Honda Insight — Top Safety Pick+

While the venerable Civic misses out on an IIHS Top Safety Pick award for 2020 due to poor headlights, the Civic-based Insight hybrid cleans up, earning top marks in every single test, from crashworthiness all the way down to the ease-of-use of its LATCH child seat safety system. This applies to all trim levels, too, from the base LX to the top-spec Touring model. The Honda HMC, +1.85%  Insight also gets exceptional fuel economy, with Environmental Protection Agency ratings of 55 miles per gallon in the city, 49 mpg on the highway and 52 mpg in combined driving. The Insight is pretty nice, too, with mature exterior styling to go along with a relatively upscale cabin. Overall, the Insight checks a lot of boxes.

Subaru Impreza Sedan and Hatchback— Top Safety Pick+ (with optional forward collision warning and specific headlights)

The Subaru Impreza

The Subaru FUJHY, +1.12%   Impreza has evolved to offer a number of different configurations here in 2019, even spawning an off-roady Crosstrek variant that we’ll cover next. Here, though, we’re looking at the Impreza sedan and wagon, both of which carry Top Safety Pick+ designations for 2020 but only in top-spec Limited guise, which is the only trim to come with LED projector headlights. Otherwise, the IIHS found that the halogen reflector lights on the base, Sport and Premium trims offer inadequate overall visibility. Despite this shortcoming, it’s still fair to call the Impreza one of the safest compact cars on sale new today, which is perhaps its second-strongest selling point next to its standard all-wheel drive system. 

Also see: Should you buy a car with all-wheel drive?

Hyundai Elantra— Top Safety Pick+ (sedan with optional forward collision warning and specific headlights built after September 2018)

The Hyundai HYMTF, -8.32%   Elantra earns top marks in all six crashworthiness subcategories, plus all possible points for its forward collision warning system. Things go downhill when it comes to headlights. While the LED projector beams in the top-of-the-line Limited trim earn a score of Good, all other trims come with Halogen lights that earn a score of Poor due to visibility from both the high and low beams that was deemed inadequate. The LATCH system ease of use earns an Acceptable.

Kia Forte— Top Safety Pick+ (with specific headlights)

The last compact sedan to earn a Top Safety Pick+ rating for 2019, the Kia Forte earns top marks in all crashworthiness categories, a maximum score for its standard collision mitigation system and an Acceptable rating for its LATCH child seat system ease-of-use. Models equipped with LED projector headlights— offered on the S trim with the Premium package and on the EX trim with the Edition package— earn a score of Good for headlights, while the halogen lights offered on lower trims earn a rather underwhelming score of Poor due to inadequate visibility. Beyond its safety ratings, we like the Forte for its industry-leading warranty, great array of features and modern design.

Related: 7 family sedans with the highest safety ratings

Mazda3 Sedan and Hatchback— Top Safety Pick

The Mazda3

The new Mazda3 scores quite well in IIHS crash testing, earning nearly perfect scores in all categories. Like many vehicles on this list, though, headlights are its downfall. On the positive side, every 2019 Mazda3 comes with LED projector beams as standard, which is impressive, as IIHS testing has shown that they generally offer better illumination than the less-modern halogen lights found on lower and mid-tier trims of many other vehicles in this segment. The unfortunate thing for the Mazda MZDAY, -1.54%, though, is that the IIHS found the low beams in the Mazda3’s LED headlights to offer inadequate illumination on the left side on both straightaways and in turns, which kept it from earning top marks. With a score of Acceptable in this category, the Mazda3 earns only a Top Safety Pick award. That said, this is still an exceptionally safe vehicle.

Toyota Corolla Sedan and Hatchback— Top Safety Pick (with specific headlights)

The all-new Toyota TM, +0.92%   Corolla earns scores of Good across the board in all tests except for in the headlight category. While every new Corolla comes with LED headlights, those equipped with what the Institute refers to as “curve-adaptive” headlights, meaning that they turn with the vehicle, earn a score of Acceptable due to poor left-side visibility, while those without this feature earn a Marginal due to diminished visibility. The hatchback, which debuted for the 2019 model year, earns a score of Good+ for its LATCH system’s ease-of-use. While the IIHS has yet to publish LATCH system test results for the new Corolla sedan, which debuted as a 2020 model, we expect them to offer similar performance. 

Also on MarketWatch: 10 cars with the best resale value

Hyundai Elantra GT— Top Safety Pick (with optional forward collision warning and specific headlights)

While the Elantra earns a Top Safety Pick+ rating with certain headlights, the hatchback Elantra GT tops out at a basic Top Safety Pick rating given that none of its available headlights receive perfect marks. The IIHS found that even the LED projector beams found on upper trims offered insufficient visibility from a variety of angles. Examples with high-beam assist earn a score of Acceptable, while those without high-beam assist earn only a Marginal.

Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid/Ioniq PHEV— Top Safety Pick (with optional forward collision warning and specific headlights)

Hyundai’s Prius-fighting Ioniq is available in both Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid versions but both earn identical marks in IIHS testing. The Ioniq earns scores of Good across the board in all crashworthiness categories along with a perfect score for its forward collision warning system, although this system is optional. The basic halogen lights on the lower-end SEL and Blue trims earn a score of Poor, while the HID projector beams found on the Limited trim earn a score of Acceptable.

Hyundai Veloster— Top Safety Pick (examples built after August 2018 with specific headlights)

The Hyundai Veloster

Now in its second generation, the quirky Hyundai Veloster is known primarily for its asymmetric design that features two doors on the passenger side and one door on the driver’s side. In IIHS testing, the Veloster earns top marks in all crashworthiness categories and a perfect score for its standard automatic emergency braking system. LATCH system ease-of-use earns an Acceptable, while headlights earn either an Acceptable or a Poor. The basic halogen projector lights on the 2.0 and 2.0 Premium trims earn a Poor for inadequate visibility all around. Turbo models built before September 2018 earn a Poor, mainly for excessive glare from their low beams. Hyundai seems to have corrected this starting in September 2018, with all post-August 2018 Veloster builds earning an Acceptable in this category. 

Toyota Prius and Prius Prime— Top Safety Pick

The last compact passenger car to earn a Top Safety Pick on our list is the economical Prius. Last fully redesigned for the 2016 model year, the Prius lags behind the competition to a degree but not so much so that it misses out on an award. Both the Prius and Prius Prime earns scores of Good in five out of the six crashworthiness subcategories, with the Institute’s newest test, the small-overlap front crash test, proving somewhat difficult, as the Prius earns an Acceptable in this category due to the dummy’s head moving far enough forward to come in contact with the dashboard. Elsewhere, though, things are pretty good for the Prius and it earns top marks for its collision avoidance technology and a Good+ for LATCH system ease-of-use. Headlights, which are LED projector beams across the board, earn an Acceptable for overall less-than-ideal visibility.

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