Safest Small Cars

Those looking to spend less than $20,000 on a car needn’t sacrifice safety.

By Jim Gorzelany

CTW Features

Choosing the safest auto available is especially important when shopping for a small car, where every advantage is essential. That’s because the laws of physics dictate smaller and lighter vehicle will tend to fare worse in a crash than a larger and heavier model will.

Fortunately, those shopping for a compact or subcompact car for will find an ample selection of model-year 2012 vehicles that are rated as “Top Safety Picks” by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To qualify, a car must garner top scores across the board for performance in front- and side-impact, rollover, and rear-end crashes based on ratings determined by the IIHS’ evaluations. Vehicles are rated in each category on a basis of “good,” “acceptable,” “marginal” or “poor” performance.

"For the second year running, a record number of models qualify as Top Safety Picks," says IIHS president Adrian Lund. "It's tough to win, and we commend auto manufacturers for making safety a top priority."

Here is the IIHS’ list of Top Safety Picks among small cars with sticker prices that start at under $20,000 (including destination charges):

• Chevrolet Cruze: More upscale than most compacts, the Cruze is a solid choice among small sedans. MSRP: $16,720.

• Chevrolet Sonic: New for 2012, the Sonic borrows styling cues from motorcycles and is far superior to the Chevy Aveo it replaces. MSRP: $13,735.

• Fiat 500: Tiny even by subcompact standards, the 500 is undeniably cute and is nearly as entertaining as a MINI Cooper for less money. MSRP: $15,500.

• Ford Fiesta: The IIHS recommends both the sedan and hatchback versions of this perky, attractive and economical subcompact. MSRP: $13,200.

• Ford Focus: This compact sedan/hatchback is one of the most improved cars of the year, with a stylish new look and lively performance. MSRP: $16,500.

• Honda Civic: The IIHS cites the sedan versions of Honda’s popular compact, which was redesigned for 2012. MSRP: $16,605.

• Honda Fit: This subcompact four-door hatchback is fun to drive and offers clean styling and impressive overall sophistication. MSRP: $15,175.

• Honda Insight: While it’s not as fuel efficient as the Toyota Prius, this four-door hatchback is the industry’s most affordable hybrid-powered car. MSRP: $18,350.

• Hyundai Elantra: It’s tough to beat the Elantra for its good looks, admirable performance and frugal fuel economy. MSRP: $15,195.

• Kia Forte: The IIHS singles out the sedan models in Kia’s compact line over the hatchback and “Koup” two-door versions. MSRP: $15,200.

• Kia Soul: This funky-yet-practical compact wagon was recently updated with freshened styling, added power and improved fuel economy. MSRP: $13,900.

• Mazda 3: The IIHS recommends both the sedan and four-door hatchback versions of this sportier-than-average compact. MSRP: $16,845.

• Mitsubishi Lancer: The IIHS recommends the standard versions of this economical compact over the sportier Ralliart and Evolution renditions. MSRP: $15,295.

• Nissan Cube: This boxy compact wagon’s oddball styling can either be cute or annoying depending on one’s viewpoint. MSRP: $14,740.

• Scion tC: This sporty compact coupe delivers plenty of driving enjoyment at a budget price. MSRP: $18,575.

• Scion xB: A largely rectangular shape enables the xB to be one of the most spacious compact wagons available. MSRP: $16,300.

• Scion xD: The subcompact xD may not be the most stylish small car on the road, but it comes well equipped and is roomier than it would seem. MSRP: $15,345.

• Subaru Impreza: The IIHS recommends the base versions of this amenable all-wheel-drive compact, but not the “fast and furious” WRX. MSRP: $17,495.

• Toyota Corolla: Toyota’s compact sedan continues to perform well in every respect, though its one of the most conservative rides on the road. MSRP: $16,130.

• Toyota Yaris: Redesigned for 2012, the IIHS recommends the four-door hatchback over the two-door version of Toyota’s subcompact entry. MSRP: $15,140.

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