The Best Small Car Safety Ratings for 2022

Small car safety ratings judge vehicles on their crashworthiness, crash avoidance and mitigation, and child seat anchors. The best car safety ratings are given to vehicles that exceed expectations in all three categories. Not only can choosing to buy one of the safest cars protect you and your passengers, but it can also help you save money on your insurance.

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A former insurance producer, Laura understands that education is key when it comes to buying insurance. She has happily dedicated many hours to helping her clients understand how the insurance marketplace works so they can find the best car, home, and life insurance products for their needs.

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Written by Laura Berry
Former Insurance Agent Laura Berry

Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP® Joel Ohman

UPDATED: Jun 22, 2022

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Here's what you need to know...

  • The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety keeps a detailed database on safety ratings available to the public
  • Subaru, Hyundai, Kia, and Honda dominated the small car safety list
  • The most common problem that brought cars down in their ranking was poor headlight performance, but most cars had an optional LED option to boost safety ratings

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) ranks cars on their safety and then publishes this information. It is thoroughly recommended that you consider a car’s IIHS rating before you buy it so that you can avoid an unpleasant surprise later.

While the primary goal of buying a safe car is to protect you and your passengers from as much harm as possible, there are several other benefits. For example, you’ll likely get a car that has better fuel economy since safe vehicles are typically equipped with the latest technology.

Additionally, you can save money on your car insurance by having built-in safety features. Drivers with safe cars tend to make fewer claims, which further lowers your insurance rates.

If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, consider the following small car safety ratings. Then, enter your ZIP code into our free tool to see what insurance might cost you.

Top 10 Safest Small Cars

There are plenty of top ten car lists, ranging from the most affordable classic cars to the safest compact SUV in 2021. For this list, we focus on the top ten safest small cars as of 2021.

Before we list the safest cars, it can help to understand what factors affect small car safety ratings. Since IIHS safety ratings are so thorough, we base safety performance on those numbers.

The IIHS ranks cars based on crashworthiness, crash avoidance and mitigation, and child seat anchors.

Another critical feature to the rankings of cars is their available safety features and whether they are included in the base price.

Number 10: Subaru Impreza

Starting Price: $19,755

Available Safety Features: Forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert

As the first car on this list, the Impreza has a spacious interior for a small vehicle and a style people love. Reviews also state that this is a fun car to drive. With a low starting price, the Impreza is suitable for small budgets.

The Impreza earns its spot on this list with its excellent ratings from IIHS. Every category earns a high mark, except for its headlights.

Number 9: Subaru Crosstrek

Starting Price: $23,570

Available Safety Features: Automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist

The Crosstrek is smaller than the Outback and more expensive than the Forester, yet it remains a popular choice for Subaru enthusiasts. The Crosstrek strikes an adventurous image comparable to more costly Jeeps and Land Rovers.

Rankings from the IIHS are high in every category, except for the base model’s headlights. The Crosstrek gets the highest ranking possible for its child safety seat system.

Number 8: Nissan Sentra

Starting Price: $20,535

Available Safety Features: Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, forward-collision warning, and automated and rear automated emergency braking

The Nissan Sentra has a lot of style but is a little lacking in performance. With a comfortable interior and an appealing price tag, the Sentra remains a popular car.

One of the reasons that the Sentra scores so highly in safety ratings is that safety features are included in the standard price.

As for IIHS ratings, the Sentra scores very high in most categories. As with many other cars on this list, the Sentra only lacks in the headlights category.

Number 7: Mazda 3

Starting Price: $21,815

Available Safety Features: Automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure, and lane-keeping assist

One of the biggest selling points of the Mazda 3 is its premium package style and performance for a budget price. You can buy it as a hatchback or sedan, and it comes with a powerful engine.

Both sedan and hatchback perform well in their IIHS ratings. Both options earn slightly lower options because of their headlights.

Number 6: Kia Soul

Starting Price: $20,505

Available Safety Features: Forward-collision warning, automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping assist

Affectionately called a toaster, the Soul strikes an image on the street that’s instantly recognizable. Some people love it, others hate it, but there’s no denying it’s a zippy ride.

IIHS gives the Soul high marks as long as you get the LED headlight upgrade. However, available safety features aren’t included in the standard price – you’ll need to buy the upgrades.

Number 5: Kia Forte

Starting Price: $20,115

Available Safety Features: Forward-collision warnings with automated braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise, and lane-following assist

Kia has made great strides to improve its line of vehicles, and the Forte is the result of that hard work. The Forte is an affordable option for drivers looking for a stylish ride with decent performance.

The Forte earns high marks from IIHS in most safety categories. The only areas it lags in are the latch system for child safety seats and its ability to avoid front-facing pedestrian collisions.

Number 4: Hyundai Veloster

Starting Price: $19,905

Available Safety Features: Forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, automated emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alerts

Although the Veloster is affordable, reviews state that this is an exciting car to drive. Its fuel economy is a little lower than similar cars, but fans say it makes up for it with personality.

The IIHS gives the Veloster top marks in most crash safety categories. However, it does dip a little for its headlights rating and how easy the latches for child safety seats are to use.

Number 3: Hyundai Elantra

Starting Price: $20,995

Available Safety Features: Lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with lane-centering

The Elantra is a solid choice for a small car, especially for drivers that want a unique style. Fans of the Elantra describe the interior as futuristic, and they enjoy the spaciousness.

However, the Elantra only earns the number three spot if you get the right trim. If you get the standard lights, IIHS ranks this car much lower. However, if you upgrade to LED headlights, the Elantra gets top marks.

Number 2: Honda Insight

Starting Price: $26,775

Available Safety Features: Forward-collision warning and automated braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and lane-departure warning

Hailed as the successor to Honda’s Civic hybrid, drivers love the quiet engine and strong fuel economy. You get a comfortable ride, stylish interior, and a robust steering system with the Insight.

The Insight is an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus for four-door sedans, and it receives top marks in every category for crash safety.

Number 1: Honda Civic

Starting Price: $23,365

Available Safety Features: Automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist

The Civic is Honda’s second most popular vehicle, losing out to the CR-V. However, the Civic beats the CR-V for safety.

The 2022 release of the Civic is currently sporting the top 5-star safety rating for both small and mid-sized vehicles. The Civic earns praise for its more refined style, strong performance, and valuable tech upgrades. Those tech options are part of why the Civic has such a strong presence in safety ratings.

The Civic receives top marks from IIHS in every category and only received a slightly lower score for passenger leg safety.

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Safety Ratings for Other Cars

While small cars tend to be relatively safe and have better fuel economy, they don’t fit everyone. Sometimes you need the towing capacity of a truck or the passenger space of a full-sized SUV.

Additionally, it might not be financially possible to buy a brand new car. In those cases, you’ll need one of the used safest and most affordable cars in 2021 to get where you need to go.

How do large car vs. small car safety ratings compare? Check the graph below to see the top picks for safety in every category.

Type of carTop pick for safetySecond pick for safetyThird pick for safety
Small carHonda CivicHonda InsightHyundai Elantra
Midsized carToyota CamryHonda AccordSubaru Outback
Large carToyota AvalonKia StingerVolkswagen Arteon
Midsized luxury carTesla Model 3Lexus ISVolvo V60
Large luxury carAudi 7Audi 6Genesis G70
Small SUVSubaru ForesterMazda CX-5Nissan Rogue
Medium SUVSubaru AscentToyota HighlanderFord Explorer
Large SUVAudi e-TronAudi Q8-
Midsized luxury SUVLexus NXMercedes-Benz GLE-ClassVolvo XC60
MinivanToyota SiennaHonda OdysseyChrysler Pacifica
Pickup truckFord F-150RAM 1500Chevrolet Silverado
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Some car brands show up repeatedly through several categories. In general, Subaru, Toyota, and Honda do very well with their safety ratings.

Find the Best Insurance for the Safest Cars

The best part of buying one of the safest cars is that you know you and your passengers will be as protected as possible. As a bonus, you’ll likely get better insurance prices. Car safety ratings positively affect insurance rates since they lower your chance of making a claim.

If you’re interested in how small car safety can help save you money, comparing rates from multiple companies is the first place to start. Enter your ZIP code into our free tool to see what quotes might look like for you.

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