The combined total number of vehicles named to the Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick + categories this year fell from 130 to only 39.
Tighter rules rules served to cull last year’s crop down to an exclusive group, meaning many automakers can count far fewer products as Top Safety Picks or better. Telling as the shrunken number is, what’s even more telling is the fact that eight brands were given the boot entirely. Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Fiat, Jeep, Lexus and MINI all had vehicles on last year’s list, but their badges are nowhere to be found this time around.
“We’ve made it more difficult for manufacturers this year,” says IIHS President Adrian Lund. “Following a gradual phase-in, the small overlap crash is now part of our basic battery of tests, and good or acceptable performance should be part of every vehicle’s safety credentials. We also felt it was time to offer extra recognition to manufacturers that are offering a proven crash avoidance technology.”
The IIHS added tests this year to evaluate the growing number of vehicles featuring front crash avoidance systems. But those tests, like the nebulous “Top Safety Pick +” name did little to actually inform people buying new cars because the old “Top Safety Pick” label was allowed to continue without changes to its criteria. Tests related to high-tech safety features were even more poorly integrated into the IIHS’ nomenclature, but this year the insurance industry-funded institute is is aiming to make its ratings more valuable to consumers by making them harder to achieve.
Cars are assigned one of four ratings in each testing category: “good,” “acceptable,” “marginal,” and “poor.” Last year, the Institute allowed vehicles to qualify for its Top Safety Pick rating even if they failed the small overlap crash test, but that isn’t the case anymore. The higher Top Safety Pick + rating required a “good” score in all tests aside from the small overlap where an “acceptable” rating would suffice. Now, the top rating also requires that vehicles earn a basic rating in front crash prevention.
In the new test, an engineer drives the vehicle at an inflatable object meant to simulate a stationary vehicle. Points are awarded based on warning the driver, automatic braking and vehicle speed reduction during a test at 12 mph and 25 mph. Vehicles can earn “basic,” “advanced” or “superior” ratings. The first is all a vehicle needs to qualify for Top Safety Pick + status and the basic rating only asks that the system meet minimum NHTSA requirements. Scores above the basic rating for front crashes are based on how the systems perform, but aren’t reflected with additional recognition in the ratings system.