Last week J.D. Powers’ U.S. Tech Choice Survey reported respondents overwhelmingly said they wanted advanced crash mitigation technologies and it so happens these are required to make the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick Plus (TSP+) list.
Our list culled from the latest IIHS data thus merges two desirable “technologies” – electrified powertrains that save gas and cut emissions as well as crash avoidance systems offering greater chance of personal safety.
Two of the listed vehicles are hybrid variants within broader model ranges that together scored TSP+, but being heavier because of battery and hybrid systems, they may even do slightly better in some kinds of accidents according to IIHS Vice President of Communications Russ Rader.
“All other things being equal, bigger, heavier vehicles are more protective in crashes than smaller, lighter ones,” said Rader. “Similarly, in keeping with the laws of physics, people riding in a hybrid are better protected in a crash than people riding in the same non-hybrid model. Batteries add weight which improves protection in collisions.”
Two Measures of Safety
Each year the IIHS evaluates vehicles for 1) crashworthiness – how well the airbag- and crumple-zone equipped reinforced structure of the vehicle protects in various types of collisions, and 2) crash avoidance and mitigation – systems meant to stop a crash from happening in the first place.
The TSP+ category is the highest acknowledgment the IIHS bestows on vehicles in various size categories. It designates one step above “Top Safety Pick” which requires “good” ratings in five crash tests: moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, as well as a good or acceptable rating in the small overlap front test. Potential ratings are: good, acceptable, marginal, and poor.
Crash avoidance technology can include radar, cameras, automatic braking and more to make the car virtually vigilant in case you are not, or caught off guard – though nothing is foolproof, and never should it be taken as a green light to put down your guard.
As you can tell given that only five green models under $35,000 qualify, it is not available on many cars, but more are expected to get it in years ahead. At this stage many cars with crash avoidance technology tend to be priced higher than our mainstream-ish level cutoff, but there are a growing number of exceptions.
This list of the safest green cars is not a ranking because even authorities do not go so far as to grade a hierarchy of absolute safest, next-safest, and so on. Each car listed is linked to the IIHS original report. You’ll note also this is dominated by Toyota products.
2015 Lexus CT 200h
The sporty styled hatch from Toyota’s upscale division is the lowest priced car in the Lexus family, and propelled by a Prius powertrain. It is a hybrid only, similar to the European-market Auris Hybrid, but improved for Lexus, and no conventional variants are available.
Starting at $32,975 including destination fee, by the time you get it home so equipped and with other bells and whistles you will probably be over $35,000 by a few thousand, but technically it does come in under the threshold.
2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid
The Crosstrek hybrid variant to Subaru’s popular car was introduced in 2013 and also scores “good” in all measures – small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints and sets. Its front crash protection is rated Superior, the top ranking.
Classified as a “small car,” it is one of four Subarus that scored TSP+, the others being the Impreza, Outback, and Forester.
2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid
The Camry Hybrid along with the rest of the Camry line was virtually redesigned in an intensive mid-cycle refresh last year while leaving the 2012-era powertrain intact.
Prices start at $27,615 including destination, and frontal crash protection is an option needed above this to qualify for TSP+.
2015 Toyota Prius Liftback
Needing no introduction, and in its final year before a redesigned 2016 model replaces it, the Prius Liftback scored “Acceptable” in small front overlap, down from “Good,” and Good in all other categories.
Its front crash protection as a “small car” is demoted to “Advanced.”
Prices start at $25,025, and to qualify for TSP+ optional front crash prtection will need to be included.
2015 Toyota Prius v
The largest of the Prius family, the Prius v like the Lexus CT 200h shares a powertrain with the Liftback but fits within the “midsize moderately priced cars” category.
It scored better in the small overlap test than the regular Prius with a “good” ranking and front crash prevention is “Advanced.”
Priced from $27,575 including destination, the advanced crash protection is optional.
A bunch of green cars that were on the TSP+ list in 2014 were dropped in 2015 because the IIHS rules got tougher.
These include the Chevy Volt, Honda Civic Hybrid, Volkswagen Golf TDI and (presumably) new e-Golf, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Honda Accord Hybrid, Jetta TDI and Hybrid, and Chevy Malibu diesel and mild hybrid with eAssist.
We noted this to Rader asking initially about the Volt, Civic, and also that the Ford C-Max Hybrid which has only ever been a TSP and asked what was the reason.
“For the 2015 model year, vehicles can only qualify for TSP+ if they have an available and effective automatic braking system,” said Rader. “Vehicles have to earn an advanced or superior rating in automatic braking tests at 12 and 25 mph. Lacking automatic braking capability, the Volt, C-Max and Civic miss getting the +. They do perform well in the IIHS crashworthiness evaluations, which qualify them for TSP without the +.”
“The criteria are more stringent for 2015,” he continued. “For 2014 vehicles could qualify for TSP+ with a front crash prevention system with a driver warning only. Now automatic braking is required.”
That said, the Volt particularly has been noted to punch above its weight class being around 3,800 pounds – a lot for a compact. Other alternative-energy vehicles also could have made the list, but were above the price cutoff.
The full list can be found here.