Despite tough new criteria, 22 vehicles earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest safety honor for 2014, the Top Safety Pick+ award.
The top award requires vehicles to provide a high level of protection in side, front, rear and rollover crashes and, for the first time ever, include front-crash prevention technology.
An additional 17 vehicles earned the Top Safety Pick award, which requires vehicles to meet the crashworthiness criteria alone.
The 2014 Top Safety Pick+ winners include eight models that didn't earn the award in 2013. Among them are fully redesigned models, including the Acura MDX and RLX, Infiniti Q50, Mazda 3 and Toyota Highlander. Honda/Acura has the most winners of any automaker, with six models earning Top Safety Pick+ and two earning Top Safety Pick.
A full list of the winners are available on the IIHS website.
This year's requirements for both awards are tougher than ever before. For the first time, the Top Safety Pick award requires good or acceptable performance in the institute's small-overlap front test, introduced in 2012. The test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle strikes an object. As in the previous few years, vehicles must also earn good performance in the moderate-overlap front test as well as side, roof strength and head restraint tests.
To earn the Top Safety Pick+ award, vehicles must achieve the same level of performance in all of those tests, along with at least a basic rating for front crash prevention.
"We've made it more difficult for manufacturers this year," IIHS President Adrian Lund said in a press statement. "Following a gradual phase-in, the small overlap crash is now part of our basic battery of tests, and good or acceptable performance should be part of every vehicle's safety credentials. We also felt it was time to offer extra recognition to manufacturers that are offering a proven crash avoidance technology."
Front crash prevention, which includes both warning systems and automatic braking, was developed to help inattentive drivers avoid rear-ending a stopped or slower-moving vehicle in front of them.
IIHS began rating front-crash prevention systems earlier this year after research by its affiliate, the Highway Loss Data Institute, showed that forward-collision warning and automatic braking systems are reducing crashes. Vehicles can earn basic, advanced or superior ratings for systems offered as standard or optional equipment. A vehicle with a forward-collision warning system that meets performance criteria set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration automatically qualifies for a basic rating. Vehicles earn additional points for autobrake, based on performance in IIHS track tests at 12 mph and 25 mph.
Most of the winners qualify for the award only when equipped with optional front-crash prevention systems. When those vehicles aren't equipped with the features, they still meet the regular Top Safety Pick criteria. The Volvo S60, S80 and XC60 and the Honda Civic hybrid earn Top Safety Pick+ on the basis of standard equipment.