Why publish a list of our picks for the best new cars that are the safest? Aren’t all cars safe in 2023? Don’t confuse “safe” with “safer.”
Manufacturers make vehicles safer than those from 10 years ago, for sure. However, some are safer than others. At least, that’s the finding of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Both organizations put new car models through a battery of crash and safety tests, scoring each for the degree of protection they provide for occupants.
If you choose a car on this list, you can be assured you will likely survive a crash and possibly avoid it altogether. We pulled together a collection of the best 2023 models that make it safer for you to drive on the road and what earns them that distinction.
In a nutshell, these car models go above and beyond government-mandated safety features and manufacturer norms. Read on to learn more. Use the following jump links to skip ahead in the story.
We looked for cars with perfect scores in both IIHS and NHTSA testing. With those in hand, we narrowed the field among the trim levels within each model based on standard and available active safety features such as forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking.
Several safety features we’ve grown accustomed to are actually government-mandated. In other words, the federal government made them standard by law. These include antilock brakes, stability control, traction control, rearview cameras, tire pressure monitors, etc.
The government also mandates airbags. However, that mandate stops at two: one for the driver and one for the front passenger. Besides 2-seat sports cars, nearly all passenger vehicles today come with at least six airbags. They include the two mandated airbags, two front-side impact airbags, and two side-curtain airbags.
However, several models don’t stop there, either. They may include airbags covering rear-side impact, knee, front center, etc. We point out when one of our picks provides more than six airbags.
Some government-mandated safety features get referred to as active safety features, defined by their role in preventing accidents. Stability control and antilock brakes fall into this category. We know these are mandated features, so we don’t itemize them in our descriptions.
Advanced driver assistance technologies
We are convinced that advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS, are critical in the safety of you and your family when in your car. In research published in August of 2023, AAA reported that 37 million crashes could be prevented over the next 30 years with the widespread adoption of ADAS. Moreover, preventing those millions of crashes could save 250,000 lives while preventing 14 million injuries. Consequently, ADAS ranks high in our consideration when picking our list of safest cars.
In determining the safest trim levels within models, we looked at active safety features that the government does not mandate. This is where features like forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, automatic braking, and lane-keeping assist come in.
We also considered other driver aids, such as adaptive cruise control, high-beam assist, driver-awareness alert, and a head-up display. We argue that LED exterior headlights, rain-sensing wipers, and auto-dimming rearview mirrors also contribute to a vehicle’s safety.
Here’s a list of the more significant advanced technologies we considered. Many carmakers have unique names for the advanced safety technologies listed below. We’ve used popular industry names. Moreover, we use the acronyms (in parentheses) in the safest cars descriptions for brevity.
Other safety features
Here’s a crash course in crash tests and what you can expect.
Key to our research and a core qualifier for our safest car picks is the battery of crash and safety tests performed by the independent and nonprofit IIHS. It relies on four main crash tests on cars, light trucks, minivans, and SUVs. They include a driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side overlap front, moderate overlap front, and side. It’s worth noting that the side-test protocol includes both the right and left sides; consequently, the side protocol could technically be called two tests for a total of five. However, the IIHS lumps the side tests into a single score for scoring purposes.
The IIHS no longer conducts a roof strength or head restraint test because the technology for both has become so advanced and good.
The IIHS scoring is Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor in descending order. Every pick on our list scored four for four Goods.
TIP: IIHS changed its side crash-test protocol in 2021, using a heavier ram. Although the results of this new version of the test were shown in some vehicles’ results in the past couple of years, 2023 is the first year the IIHS figured those results into a vehicle’s scoring. Consequently, testing and finalizing the 2023 scores has required extra time. This, combined with the ongoing difficulty of the IIHS and NHTSA acquiring vehicles for testing, has slowed the process considerably. We expected many of last year’s cars to remain on our 2023 safest list. However, a few didn’t qualify, while others are still in the testing phase. Below, we also include a list of last year’s safest cars not on our 2023 list but that still may qualify once testing is complete.
Beyond the crash tests, the IIHS evaluates headlights and vehicle-to-pedestrian front crash protection. Here the scoring is Superior, Advanced, and Basic. Moreover, the LATCH child-seat anchors are also assessed.
Only models getting the highest marks in both the crash tests and the other evaluations earn the IIHS highest safety awards of Top Safety Pick (TSP) and Top Safety Pick+ (TSP+). Every model on our list has the IIHS TSP+ safety rating. We do include a list of models earning the TSP safety rating.
Note: When the IIHS tests vehicles, they treat plug-in hybrids (PHEV) and electric vehicles (EV) as distinct models, scoring them separately from the ICE (internal combustion engine) models. However, IIHS views hybrid models that don’t require charging through an outside source as a trim level of the ICE model. That means if a gas-powered model made this list with a TSP+ rating, its hybrid version did, too.
Last year’s safest cars that may still qualify for 2023
With the changes in the IIHS testing protocols beginning in 2023, we decided to include a list of 2022 safest cars that are still in testing and might still make the 2023 list.
The NHTSA testing isn’t as involved as that of the IIHS. NHTSA performs front and side crash tests. The front test is a 35-mph crash into a fixed barrier. NHTSA combines the results of side-barrier and driver-door side-pole crash tests to arrive at the side test results. NHTSA scoring takes into account a rollover aspect in its scoring. It’s really an evaluation of the likelihood of a vehicle rolling over. No crash test is performed.
NHTSA awards one to five stars each for front, side, and rollover scenarios. Five is the best score. NHTSA also issues an overall score. Every pick on this list boasts a 5-Star overall score. Where a 5-Star score isn’t the case, it’s because, for whatever reason, NHTSA hasn’t tested it. We’ve included them on this list because we don’t think we should omit them for lack of NHTSA testing.
We’ve included the base price, the model nameplate with the price of what we consider the best value with the most safety, and the combined city/highway mileage for the base engine at the top of each description. You will also find our Kelley Blue Book Expert Rating.
Note: The new car market remains in a state of unpredictability because of the easing microchip shortage and supply chain issues. With dealer inventories improving for many car models, many popular models remain in short supply, with pricing constantly in flux. We aim to keep up with those price variations, updating stories with the latest price information as we discover it. However, these unannounced factory price hikes are difficult to track. In other words, the prices listed below are the most recent as of this writing. Moreover, you may find dealer markups on some harder-to-find models from carmakers like Honda and Kia. Dealers add these charges to increase their profit on those models.
Best Safety Value: $31,300 (Integra)
Base Price: $31,300 | Expert Rating: 4.0
Combined Fuel Economy: 33 mpg
The Integra nameplate has only been back in showrooms since the 2022 calendar year. Not only is its name a historical throwback, but so is its very personality. It’s a luxury hatchback competing in a world of SUVs. If you don’t think that’s rare, how about Acura making a 6-speed manual transmission standard in the top A-Spec w/Technology Package trim? Built on the bones of the Honda Civic, even the Integra’s entry-level grade comes with AcuraWatch, which is the brand’s bundle of advanced safety tech. It includes TSR, TJA, ACC, LDW, LKA, BSM, and RCTA, the features in the list above. Our recommended safety features include 10 airbags, high-beam assist, hill-start assist, auto on-off LED headlights, and heated outboard mirrors.
You must move up two trim levels to the top grade to have any further impact on safety. With the A-Spec w/Technology Package trim ($36,300), you add front/rear park assist, low-speed rear automatic braking, rain-sensing wipers, a head-up display, and outboard mirrors with integrated turn signals. We’d save the $5,000 and stick with the base trim.
Best Safety Value: $88,400 (3.5T)
Base Price: $88,400 | Expert Rating: 4.7
Combined Fuel Economy: 21 mpg
Genesis totally redesigned its full-size luxury sedan for 2023. The G90 represents solid value within its segment. There is a hybrid version, as well. Luxurious inside and out, the Genesis G90 costs thousands less than European rivals, yet it offers a boatload of safety features. The entry-level 3.5T Premium in this 2-model lineup comes loaded with 10 airbags, rain-sensing wipers, and LED exterior lights (headlights with auto on-off, DRLs, and taillights). High-beam assist, adaptive cruise control, and a head-up display are also included. Auto-dimming mirrors (rearview and outboard) and a surround-view camera are standard, too.
Among the advanced driver aids are LKA, SEA, DMS, and automatic reverse braking. Also standard are RCTA and BSM with steering assist. Highway Driving Assist is standard as well. It’s a semi-autonomous driver-assistance system that can accelerate, brake, and steer the car under certain conditions. What more do you need? The 3.5T is our recommendation.
Best Safety Value: $29,610 (EX+BSM/RCTA)
Base Price: $27,295 | Expert Rating: 4.8
Combined Fuel Economy: 32 mpg
Totally redesigned for this model year, the Accord is our Midsize Best Car Buy of 2023. In addition to its durability and better-than-average resale value, the Accord provides an assortment of safety features and advanced safety technologies. Honda also offers it as a hybrid. It comes with 10 airbags, hill-start assist, auto on-off LED headlights, and high-beam assist. Included among its Honda Sensing suite of safety tech are LDW, LKA, TSR, and TJA. Sadly, BSM and RCTA aren’t available on the entry-level trim and are bundled in a $550 option package on most upper trims. You must go all the way to the top-tier Touring Hybrid ($37,340) to get BSM and RCTA as standard.
There are other good reasons, like the 48-mpg combined fuel economy, to move up to one of the four top trim levels, but increasing safety features isn’t one of them. Sure, you gain front/rear park assist with the EX-L Hybrid ($32,990). You’ll get a few other of our preferred features, like a head-up display, on the top trim, but the jump in cost doesn’t make sense from a safety standpoint. We’d go with the $29,060 EX grade and add the BSM/RCTA bundle.
Best Safety Value: $41,600 (SE RWD Standard Range)
Base Price: $41,600 | Expert Rating: 4.6
Combined Fuel Economy: 140 mpge
Following the success of the Ioniq 5 SUV, Hyundai introduced the all-new Ioniq 6 fully electric sedan. Streamlined, with up to 320 horsepower or 361 miles of range – depending on trim level – and quick charging, the Ioniq 6 is an impressive contender.
It comes with a wide range of standard safety features, including FCA with pedestrian and cyclist detection, LKA, blind-spot warning, safe exit warning, and automatic high beams. If you want blind-spot collision avoidance assist, junction turning assist, or the Highway Driving Assist II semi-autonomous system (HDA I is standard), you’ll have to choose the SEL. The Limited adds a surround-view monitor, blind spot view monitor (camera), and parking collision avoidance assist. If you’re looking for more power, more features, AWD, or more range, we’d recommend some of the higher trim levels. However, there are so many safety features on the base model that the SE RWD Standard Range is the best safety value.
Best Safety Value: $47,100 (C300 + Exclusive Trim)
Base Price: $44,850 | Expert Rating: 4.6
Combined Fuel Economy: 29 mpg
Planting the Mercedes-Benz flag in the small, luxury sedan arena, the C-Class provides premium features and solid safety ratings. For the price, the entry-level C-Class isn’t exactly packed with advanced safety tech. Among our list of recommended safety features, the entry-level C-Class trim comes with auto on-off LED headlights, high-beam assist, seven airbags, heated outboard mirrors, and rain-sensing wipers. Among the popular advanced safety tech are BSM with exit alert and a driver monitoring system. Yep, that’s it.
We suggest adding the Exclusive Trim Package ($2,250), which adds front-rear park assist, a surround-view camera, and several non-safety features. It also includes the Mercedes-Benz Parking Pilot that allows automatic parking in tight spaces from outside the car using a smartphone app. For $3,950, you can pick up the Pinnacle Trim Package, which includes all of the Exclusive Trim Package’s goodies, head-up display, and a few other additional features. We’d go with the base C300 and the Exclusive Trim Package.
Best Safety Value: $27,600 (LE + BSM with options)
Base Price: $26,320 | Expert Rating: 4.5
Combined Fuel Economy: 32 mpg
Few sedans in history have achieved the success and positive reputation of the Toyota Camry. It checks all the boxes as a family hauler. Comfortable, safe, fuel-efficient, and reliable, the Camry comes with Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.5+. It contains LKA, LDW with steering assist, ACC, and LTA. Also standard are 10 airbags and high-beam assist. Not only are LED headlights standard but so are LED taillights and DRLs.
You can stick with the base LE, adding the Blind Spot Monitor with options package, a $1,280 bundle that includes BSM, RCTA, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror, along with a convenience goodie or two. We recommend that combination as your best safety value.
Best Safety Value: $27,450 (LE)
Base Price: $27,450 | Expert Rating: 4.8
Combined Fuel Economy: 57 mpg
With sleek styling, significantly more power, and better combined mpg, the all-new 2023 Toyota Prius is making waves. In addition to offering stellar fuel economy, the Prius comes standard with plenty of impressive safety features. Even the base model, the LE, has Toyota Safety Sense 3.0. This suite of safety features includes FCW with pedestrian detection, AEB, LDW with steering assist, ACC, LKA, road sign recognition, and automatic high beams. In addition to detecting pedestrians, TSS 3.0 can detect bicycles and motorcycles. Its Emergency Driving Stop can detect when the driver may have a medical issue and can bring the Prius to a stop.
The Prius also comes standard with BSM with rear cross-traffic detection, safe exit assist, and tire-pressure monitoring. You can add front and rear parking sensors for $35, and all-wheel drive for $1,400, but you have just about every safety feature you need in the LE.
Best Safety Value: $32,350 (SE)
Base Price: $32,350 | Expert Rating: 4.8
Combined Fuel Economy: 127 mpge, 53 mpg
Like the Prius, the Toyota Prius Prime is also all-new for 2023. This is the plug-in hybrid version of the Prius, and offers up to 44 miles of electric-only range, compared to 25 in 2022. Horsepower is up by nearly 100, for a total of 220 system horsepower. That makes the Prius Prime more fun to drive, too.
As is the case with the Prius, all trim levels of the Prius Prime come with Toyota Safety Sense 3.0. That means you get ACC, LDW with steering assist, FCW with pedestrian detection, AEB, LKA, road sign recognition, and automatic high beams. All trim levels also come with blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, safe exit assist, and eight airbags. The Prime is not available with all-wheel drive. Because the Prius Prime is so well-equipped at every trim level, we recommend getting the base SE for the best safety value.
Every year, the IIHS gives out awards to the safest vehicles, based on how they perform in the institute’s test. There are two tiers of awards: Top Safety Pick+ (TSP+) and Top Safety Pick (TSP). Here is a list of the cars that earned TSP accolades and NHTSA 5-Star ratings.
|MAKE AND MODEL||IIHS||NHTSA|
|2023 Honda Civic||TSP||5 Stars|
|2023 Hyundai Sonata||TSP||5 Stars|
|2023 Lexus ES||TSP||5 Stars|
|2023 Mazda3||TSP||5 Stars|
|2023 Subaru Legacy||TSP||5 Stars|
|2023 Toyota Corolla||TSP||5 Stars|
This story originally ran on KBB.com.