Whether you're the designated driver for your precious cargo or your teen is getting behind the wheel for the very first time, safety matters just as much as price when it comes to choosing a car.
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But not all vehicles are created equal. To help winnow the field, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety compiles an annual list of the safest cars based on a series of crash tests. IIHS rates the vehicles on their performance in frontal crashes, side impacts and rollover accidents. It also evaluates seat/head restraints for protection against rear crashes. The annual rankings cover every vehicle segment, which means whether you're looking for a lower-priced compact car or an SUV, there's a safe choice for you.
Here's a look at six vehicles that are not only safe in the event of an accident, but in avoiding one, too.
2013 Ford Fiesta sedan
MSRP: $14,000 Safety rating: Top Safety Pick Estimated mpg: City - 27 Highway - 38
Advances in design and manufacturing over the past decade have resulted in small but safe vehicles that are also pretty easy on the wallet. One such vehicle is the 2013 Ford Fiesta, which IIHS rated "good," its highest ranking, in all of its test crashes.
The Ford Fiesta comes equipped with seven standard air bags, has a safety cage reinforced using boron steel and comes outfitted with the AdvanceTrac electronic stability control that helps drivers keep the vehicle in control.
It doesn't hurt that the Fiesta costs less than $15,000 brand new and gets nearly 40 mpg on the highway.
2013 Honda Accord, 2-door
MSRP: $21,680 Safety rating: Top Safety Pick+ Estimated mpg: City - 27 Highway - 36
You don't have to pay a fortune to drive a safe, midsized car, especially if you're buying a 2013 Honda Accord. And its safety doesn't stop at protecting the driver and passengers.
Features such as the forward-collision warning system, which uses cameras to detect vehicles in front, and the lane-departure warning system, which alerts the driver when the vehicle is drifting, are designed to prevent accidents. The 2013 Honda Accord 2-door is a Top Safety Pick+, meaning it had ratings of "good" in at least 4 of 5 categories and no less than "acceptable" in the fifth.
The Accord body is constructed using high-grade steel and uses structural elements to reduce the impact from a frontal crash, and it comes equipped with front air bags and SmartVent front side air bags that are designed to decrease the chances of an air bag-related injury. Standard on all the Accord models is Vehicle Stability Assist with traction control, which helps put you back on course if you over- or understeer.
Like most vehicles on the market, the Accord also has anti-lock brakes, and it has a tire-pressure monitoring system.
2013 Volvo S80
MSRP: $39,150 Safety rating: Top Safety Pick Estimated mpg: City - 19 Highway - 28
There's a reason Volvo is known for its safety. After all, this luxury large sedan has garnered the top rating from IIHS since 2007, and that didn't change in 2013. According to IIHS, the Volvo S80 performed well in all crash tests and also got the highest rating for rear crash protection and head restraints.
In addition to holding its own in crashes, the Volvo S80 offers a host of safety features -- some standard and others that can be added -- to help avoid accidents.
These include active high beam, which recognizes the headlight beams of oncoming vehicles and automatically shifts between high and low beams; adaptive brake lights that can tell the difference between panicked and normal braking; and collision and lane-departure warning.
The Volvo also offers its City Safety technology, which is designed to prevent accidents at low speeds by applying the brakes automatically if a crash is imminent. Pedestrians don't have to worry about getting hit, thanks to the pedestrian detection with full auto-brake, which means if someone steps into the car's path while it is traveling at 22 mph or less, the car will automatically stop.
2013 Subaru Outback
MSRP: $23,495 Safety rating: Top Safety Pick+ Estimated mpg: City - 24 Highway - 30
Winning the Top Safety Pick in any given year is tough, but doing it for four consecutive years for all models (2010-2013) is almost unheard of, unless the manufacturer is Subaru of America.
Not only do all the models have the top rating from IIHS, but the Subaru Outback was able to win a Top Safety Pick+ rating for 2013. One of the reasons the Subaru Outback does so well in crash tests is its ring-shaped reinforcement frame and standard six air bags. The Outback can also prevent accidents with its EyeSight technology, which utilizes two cameras to monitor traffic and react to conditions before the driver does. If there's a chance of a collision, the brakes will be applied automatically.
To provide more control on the road, the Outback is equipped with symmetrical all-wheel drive, which gives more stability than front- or rear-wheel drive and provides maximum traction because power is sent to all the wheels at the same time.
2013 Hyundai Tucson GL
MSRP: $20,595 Safety rating: Top Safety Pick Estimated mpg: City - 20 Highway - 26
What a difference a few years makes. From 2005 to 2009, the Hyundai Tucson GL received poor and acceptable ratings from IIHS. However, that changed in 2010 when several of Hyundai Tucson's ratings changed to "good," garnering it a Top Safety Pick for 2013.
This small-sized SUV comes equipped with six air bags, active front head restraints and traction control. The integrated occupant classification system adjusts the force of deployment of the air bags to match the size of the front seat passenger. If there's no one in the seat, the air bag won't activate.
At the center of this SUV's safety is Hyundai's vehicle stability management system, or VSM, which integrates multiple safety systems to give the Tucson ultimate stability. Also standard in the Tucson is Hillstart Assist Control, which prevents backward roll on steep hills, and downhill brake control, which helps keep the vehicle in control when descending down steep hills.
Every Hyundai is also outfitted with anti-lock brakes and electronic brake-force distribution to provide more stopping power.
2013 Honda Odyssey
MSRP: $28,675 Safety rating: Top Safety Pick Estimated mpg: City - 18 Highway - 27
Minivans often conjure images of row after row of children being shuffled from one school activity to the next, and since parents are the biggest consumer of these vehicles, they want one with a good track record when it comes to safety. That's where the Honda Odyssey comes in.
A 2013 Top Safety Pick, the Honda Odyssey has received the highest rating in crash tests from IIHS for more than a decade. Boasting an advanced body structure that enhances the protection of driver and passengers, the Honda Odyssey comes equipped with anti-lock brakes, driver and front passenger active head restraints, and dual-stage, multiple-threshold front air bags that can be inflated at different rates depending on the severity of the crash.
Front side air bags with passenger-side occupant position detection uses sensors in the front passenger's seat to detect the passenger's height and seating position, so if a child or small adult were leaning into the air bag deployment path, the sensors would deactivate. The three-row, side curtain air bags also come equipped with rollover sensors.