Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Car safety has come a long way since automakers first featured their crash test scores in advertisements, but some models still do surprisingly poorly. This slideshow includes models that didn’t meet the grade and takes a look at some competitors that did much better.

The hardest test to pass is now the small frontal overlap test that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) added in 2012. This test simulates a car crashing into a rigid object, such as a telephone pole, at 40 mph. The tricky part is that just the front corner of the car catches the barrier, which means the car’s crash structure is not able to absorb as much energy as a full-body collision would create. Real-world crashes of this type account for 25 percent of those with serious injuries. 

Here are the cars that have subpar safety scores, along with some vehicles the same size and type that did better. Bear in mind that as the 2017 models are released some may be re-tested and score better.

2016 Audi A4

The 2016 Audi A4, having scored “Poor” on the small frontal overlap test from 2009 through 2016, has been a long-standing underperformer.

It may be surprising, but one unusual aspect of this poor performance is that the Audi A3, a similar but smaller car, did much better, scoring “Good” in 2016 and 2015. Also unusual is that Audi didn’t update the car’s structure to do better on the test and then ask to re-take it, like the similarly sized Toyota Camrydid. The A3 is one option for buyers who want a premium all-wheel drive sedan. One other option is to wait for the 2017 A4, which has earned the prestigious Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS.

For buyers interested in the 2016 Audi A4 but want a Top Safety Pick+ vehicle, there is an alternative aside from the A3. The Subaru Legacy is a standout for safety and one of the safest cars at any price.

The Legacy has drivetrain options that are just as powerful as the A4’s, and the vehicle is almost identical in size. The Legacy features standard all-wheel drive and includes one of the industry’s top-rated forward collision prevention systems, earning the Legacy to be named a Top Safety Pick+ vehicle by the IIHS. It can even match the luxury features offered by the 2016 A4, for the most part, and it is also a standout in the real-world crash evaluations done by the IIHS. 

2016 BMW 3 Series

BMW of North America, LLC

The BMW 3 Series is another example of a pricey, premium car that doesn’t earn top safety scores. Scoring “Marginal” on the small frontal overlap test, the second-lowest rung on the IIHS four-step ratings ladder, the 3 Series can’t match the safety levels of its affordable rivals.

Because the 3 Series uses a rear-wheel drive platform, finding a vehicle like it that has already been tested by IIHS and scored higher is tricky. The main issue is that the new Infiniti Q50 and Lexus IShaven’t been tested yet, and the Cadillac ATS doesn’t fare any better in testing. One premium option in this class that gets good safety scores is the Volvo S60, though that car is long overdue for an update.

2016 Nissan Leaf

The all-electric 2016 Nissan Leaf scores “Poor” on the IIHS small frontal overlap test and is one of the few vehicles in its price range that doesn’t offer forward collision prevention.

The battery electric Leaf is in tough company. The 2016 Toyota Prius is the top-selling green car in the world and also earned itself a Top Safety Pick+ rating. Other green and safe vehicles you should consider are the Kia Soul EV and VW Golf EV. Although not tested in EV form, both of those models were tested as gasoline vehicles and scored “Good” on all crash tests.

2016 Dodge Challenger

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

The Dodge Challenger is a sports coupe that can pass anything in front of it but a crash test. The IIHS gave sports coupes a break from full testing for a long time, but caught up to them this year. The Dodge Challenger fared the worst.

Although it didn’t rate a “Poor” grade in the small frontal overlap test, the crash trapped the dummy’s leg and it had to be removed to extricate it from the wreck. The Challenger also manages to score lower than “Good” on both the roof strength and head restraint tests.

The Lexus RC coupe is the alternative in this car class. This rear-wheel drive coupe with a powerful V8 engine option earned the IIHS Top Safety Pick+.

2016 Nissan Versa

The Nissan Versa is considered a minicar by IIHS, and its diminutive size and “Poor” rating on the IIHS small frontal overlap test do not help make it appealing to buyers looking for safety.

Cars are tested and compared to their peers in terms of size. Testing is important in any class of cars, but in the small car class it has perhaps more critical. In the minicar category, the 2016 Scion iA scored “Good” on all tests and also offers basic forward collision prevention as standard. The Mini Cooper also scored “Good” on all tests, and though pricier than the Versa, it also offers advanced forward collision prevention. Small does not have to mean unsafe.

2016 Toyota Corolla

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Although a top-seller in the affordable small car category, the Toyota Corolla is a laggard in both crash safety and active safety systems. The good news is there are two great alternatives for those that want top safety credentials with an affordable price tag.

The first option comes from Subaru, a company closely aligned with Toyota. They even share manufacturing plants in the United States. The Subaru Impreza has the highest possible crash and active safety scores from the IIHS. With standard all-wheel drive the Impreza is an easy choice for those who value safety. Another alternative is the Mazda3, which brings sporty handling and an outstanding interior to the mix.

2016 Cadillac CTS

The Cadillac CTS is a large luxury sedan that sells in two forms. In most trim levels it is not very sporty, taking the place of an entry-luxury sedan. With a subpar crash test score on the important small frontal overlap test, some CTS shoppers may look elsewhere.

One very safe vehicle in this same class is the Lexus ES 350 and the hybrid version of the same car, the ES 300h. Both earn Top Safety Pick+ ratings in the same and may even be a bit larger. Though the ES is front-wheel drive only, it has a quick and powerful V6 engine in the ES 350 trim. 

2016 Acura TLX

American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

The 2016 Acura TLX is the midsize luxury car from Acura. The TLX underperforms in the small frontal overlap test with a score of “Marginal.” However, there is a car almost mechanically identical to the TLX that earns top scores across the board.

That option, for those willing to try something from the same car family, is the Honda Accord. Quick and agile, the Accord comes as either a coupe or sedan. With the optional 278-horsepower V6 engine, the Accord matches the power and luxury amenities of the Acura TLX very well, but the Accord doesn’t have all-wheel drive. For shoppers that want safety alternatives, this one is a slam dunk.


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Safety Scores

(Score as of 10/26/16, click link for current score)

2016 Audi A4 $35,900 9.2 out of 10
2016 BMW 3 Series $33,150 9.1 out of 10
2016 Nissan Leaf $29,010 8.3 out of 10
2016 Dodge Challenger $26,995 8.3 out of 10
2016 Nissan Versa $11,990 8.0 out of 10
2016 Toyota Corolla $17,300 9.2 out of 10
2016 Cadillac CTS $45,345 10 out of 10
2016 Acura TLX $31,695 9.5 out of 10