Top 10 Safest Compact Cars

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

In decades past you pretty much had to buy a Volvo if you wanted superior safety but that’s no longer the case.

Today, just about every car and truck on the market performs well in a wide array of very demanding crash tests. You don’t even have to purchase a large vehicle or a luxury model to get top-notch protection. Numerous midsize cars have aced the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s rigorous evaluation rubric and even mini-models like the Honda Fit and Chevrolet Spark perform well.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Safest Midsize Cars of 2015

With a battery of tests including small-overlap, side-impact, roof-strength and more, the IIHS is one of the most stringent vehicular safety evaluation organizations in the world. And fortunately for car shoppers the latest crop of compact models has fared really well.

C-segment cars are an important part of the market as they’re fuel efficient, affordable and designed to appeal to drivers both young and old. So, from a safety standpoint, which ones are good choices? Here are the 10 Safest Compact Cars.

Note: The graphics below can be confusing, so here’s what you need to know. Cars that achieve a TSP (Top Safety Pick) rating are those that earn good ratings in the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, plus a good (G) or acceptable (A) rating in the small overlap front test. The highest-achieving cars earn a TSP+ (Top Safety Pick+) rating, meaning they meet all the TSP criteria and also earn an advanced or superior rating for frontal crash protection.

10. Dodge Dart

While hardly class-leading the Dodge Dart is certainly a fine compact car (or technically midsize based on interior volume); it’s the best small vehicle Chrysler has offered in decades. With a range of engine offerings and trim levels there’s something for nearly every kind of buyer, with the exception of speed demons as there’s no high-performance SRT version. But no matter the model they’re all safe, with “Good” ratings across the board and an “Acceptable” score in the demanding small-overlap crash test, the second-highest rating.

9. Ford Focus

Fun, efficient and affordable are three adjectives that describe the Ford Focus. Historically this C-segment offering has brought near sports-car dynamics to the compact corner of the market. The Focus also has a big-car feel in that it’s solid and refined; of course it’s also safe, posting identical scores to the Dart.

8. Hyundai Elantra

Matching the Ford and Dodge tit for tat is Hyundai’s Elantra sedan. This compact four-door is also a Top Safety Pick, earning “Good” scores in all categories with the exception of the small-overlap test where it’s rated “Acceptable.” Aside from fuel economy, value pricing and a generous warranty, occupant protection is one of this car’s strong suits.

7. Honda Civic

Topping the Dart, Focus and Elantra, if just barely, is Honda’s venerable Civic. This compact model gets “Good” scores across the board, from the rigorous small-overlap test to the IIHS’s roof-strength evaluation. A quick glance at the post-crash photos reveals that this car held up very well, with minimal intrusion into the passenger compartment.

6. Volkswagen Golf

So far we’ve hit the United States, Japan and South Korea, but now it’s Germany’s turn. Just like the Civic, Volkswagen’s Golf is an extremely secure small car, acing its safety report card with “Good” scores in every category. These ratings also apply to the sporty GTI model.

The abovementioned cars have all earned enviable Top Safety Pick scores from the IIHS, but there’s an even higher rating available, Top Safety Pick+. All of the following models have merited this score. The difference between these two levels primarily has to do accident-prevention technology, features like forward collision warning and crash-mitigation braking. If you do happen to hit something they’ll probably perform equally to the Top Safety Pick-rated models, you’re just less likely to smash into something.

5. Toyota Prius

Aside from offering MEGA fuel-economy numbers, Toyota’s Prius is also a super-safe vehicle. According to the IIHS it’s “Good” across the board with an “Acceptable” rating in the small-overlap test. Are you starting to see a pattern here? This evaluation is extremely tough to beat because of the extreme loads it places on a vehicle’s structure. In any event, Prius drivers are well protected, especially with optional crash-prevention technology.

4. Subaru Impreza

Go ahead, smash into something; the Subaru Impreza has your back … plus your front, sides and top. This compact car is a Top Safety Pick+ when equipped with extra-charge equipment, specifically the company’s EyeSight system, which includes all kinds of features from adaptive cruise control to lane-departure warning to pre-collision braking.

3. Mazda3

It’s no secret; the Mazda3 is one of our favorite compact vehicles. In fact this sporty little machine won our 2014 Car of the Year award, bowling us over with its engaging dynamics, premium interior and economical powertrains. Adding another feather to its already plumage-dense cap is a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS.

2. Lexus CT 200h

The Lexus CT 200h is a hybrid hatchback with class-leading safety. This car is rated “Good” in all categories by the IIHS plus it offers advanced crash-prevention features that can keep you out of trouble. Remember, just because you have eight standard airbags doesn’t mean you have to use them.

1. Subaru XV Crosstrek

Arguably the Subaru XV Crosstrek is not a compact car but a shrunken crossover of some stripe. Even so, it’s basically just a lifted Impreza, which we all know is a small sedan (or hatchback if you prefer). When equipped with EyeSight this vehicle dominates all of the IIHS’s crash tests with “Good” ratings across the board.

For more stories like this one check out our Top-10 Section.

Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

More by Craig Cole

Join the conversation
  • Smartacus Smartacus on Jun 04, 2015

    i don't want to know what a Corolla, iQ, or Yaris look like

    • See 3 previous
    • Smartacus Smartacus on Jun 07, 2015

      Shots missed. Mike is a fanboy who calls anyone a Toyota hater when his belief in Toyota reliability is countered by inconsequential things like -the fun with unintended acceleration, -or Consumer Reports "begging Toyota to recall 177,000 Camry Hybrids" for the known brake defect that has led to multiple serious injuries and deaths. -or that tiny recall of only 800,000 Avalons Camries and Venzas for air conditioning condensers dripping water onto airbag control modules. -and don't tell Mike about Camry scoring a P for piss poor in the small overlap crash test. *Here's a scary thought for society: Mike reproducing