Just as many people feel there are no bad cars anymore, plenty of pundits say there are no unsafe cars anymore. While that's true compared to safety levels from decades ago, not all new cars are created equally: some are better than others, some are safer than others.
And a safe car doesn't necessarily have to be something large like a full-size truck, a minivan, or an SUV. Cars are inherently safer than SUVs and trucks, too, with less risk for rollover, while sedans and hatchbacks on this list tend to be driven more responsibly than performance coupes, reflected in often lower insurance rates.
The cars featured here score well in all crash tests, head restraint tests, and rollover tests, and other safety ratings. And they also boast technology with safety features to avoid having a crash in the first place, with headlights that allow the driver to see better at night and vehicle and pedestrian detection.
The best part? None of these vehicles are unreasonably priced either, with base prices ranging from $21,645 to $55,945.
In alphabetical order, the following 13 2021 cars have been tested by both agencies and received a Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS and an overall five-star rating from NHTSA. Check out details on IIHS and NHTSA at the end of this piece.
Redesigned for the 2021 model year, the Acura TLX is also now the brand's largest sedan. With more aggressive styling than before, it also gets more standard power, with a 272-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. A 335-horsepower turbo V6 comes on the Type S model.
Changes to the interior are also radical, with Acura's new touchpad-based infotainment system controlling a 10.2-inch display that incorporates Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity.
What lands the TLX on this list, however, is a strong structure and standard technologies that include not only automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection but also adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, and a road departure mitigation system (which closes windows and tightens seat belts if the car detects an impending run-off-road crash) are standard.
All but the base model have blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, while the top Advance trim gets a surround-view camera.
From $38,525 MSRP, the 2021 TLX packs a healthy amount of features, performance, and safety into an attractive and modestly priced luxury sedan.
Audi A6/A6 Allroad
A midsize luxury car that's also a delight to drive, the Audi A6 gives off the impression of solidity. That's also reflected in its crash performance, with excellent scores across every test and making this the only model from the vast Volkswagen Group on this list.
Audi's 2021 A6 is powered by a 261-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, or a 335-horsepower, turbocharged 3.0-liter V6. All A6s get a seven-speed dual-clutch automated transmission and Audi's trademark Quattro all-wheel drive.
But in addition to being powerful and surefooted, the A6 is loaded with technology. From its two touchscreens for infotainment and climate functions, the all-digital Audi Virtual Cockpit for vehicle information and speed, the A6 also comes standard with safety-assistance technology.
Audi Pre Sense includes automatic emergency braking and forward-collision warning, along with LED headlights and automatic high beam assist. Options include adaptive cruise control and a surround-view camera, and even side airbags for the outboard rear-seat passengers.
For a practical twist, there's the A6 Allroad wagon. While its styling and adjustable air suspension to give it additional ground clearance suggests off-road adventure, it's even more composed than an equivalent five-seat luxury SUV — only without the excess.
Prices for the A6 line start from $55,945 MSRP, making it the most expensive vehicle here. But it's also the most luxurious and the safest midsize luxury sedan and wagon for 2021.
A popular midsize sedan with a loyal following, the Accord is also one of the safest new cars sold in the US. For several years now, Honda has prided itself with its widespread adoption of driver assistance technology through its Honda Sensing suite that combines with a very stiff structure to provide protection if a crash can't be avoided.
Since its 2018 redesign, every Accord gets automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, and a road departure mitigation system. EX and EX-L models also add blind-spot monitoring and the top models get low-speed automatic braking.
Every Accord, including the hybrid models, also offers an immense amount of interior space, easy-to-use controls, and a better driving experience than is the case with large sedans.
With prices starting from $25,985 MSRP, it's hard to ignore the amount of car the Accord provides and how safety isn't limited to expensive ones.
Including its Acura subsidiary, Honda is the best-represented automaker on this list. The only gas-electric hybrid here, the Honda Insight is also one of the least expensive cars on this list.
From $24,125 MSRP, every Insight gets the Honda Sensing driver assistance technology package, similar to what's included on the Accord, while achieving as high as 55 mpg in the city, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). All but the base model get blind-spot monitoring, too.
The gasoline-powered engine and electric motor produce a combined output of 151 horsepower that's usually sufficient, but the Insight feels as pedestrian as most compact sedans of this price — and some hybrids.
About the size of a Honda Civic sedan, the Insight is reasonably spacious inside and has mostly simple controls, lacking the weirdness of some rivals like the Toyota Prius and Corolla hybrids. But the Prius isn't on this list, and the Insight's safety scores and efficiency make it a strong rival as a hybrid.
The 2021 Kia K5 replaces the popular Optima as the brand's bread-and-butter midsize sedan. But it takes a much different route than the top sellers in the class, such as the Accord, by offering a striking exterior design that is almost more eye-catching than some recent Genesis models.
Yet it also has a spacious interior, high-quality materials with easy-to-use controls, and offers all-wheel-drive on some models — still relatively rare among mainstream sedans (even the mechanically related Hyundai Sonata).
But it also comes comprehensively equipped with features such as automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, driver attention monitoring, and automatic high beam assist on every model. Blind-spot monitoring comes on all but the base model, too, while adaptive cruise control and a rear exit system to prevent passengers from opening the door into oncoming traffic come on higher trim levels.
But the K5 isn't all about safety tech, as it's responsive to drive and handles competently with good performance from either the standard 180-horsepower turbo four or the GT's 290-horsepower turbo-four. All of this for a car that ranges in price from $24,585 to $31,585 MSRP makes the Kia K5 very compelling.
The Mazda3 is the least expensive car on this list, which makes it all the more impressive that it scores so highly for crash safety and prevention.
Even the base model gets added assist tech like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, and lane-keeping assist. Some models also add traffic sign recognition, traffic jam assist, a 360-degree camera, and reverse automatic emergency braking.
But the Mazda3 doesn't just major in safety. It's an unusually stylish and refined car in the mainstream compact class.
For 2021, a new 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter four powers the base sedan model, but most sedans and hatchbacks use a 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine along with a six-speed automatic. Both engines do a decent job of powering the Mazda and return good fuel economy.
The 2.5 can also be had with all-wheel-drive or a six-speed manual transmission, both rarities for the class.
Also new for 2021 is a 250-horsepower, 2.5-liter turbo four that comes with all-wheel-drive for performance that rivals compacts from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz — but for far less money.
The Mazda3 is a mature compact, and from between about $21,645 for a base 2.0-liter four to $35,000 for a loaded turbo hatchback, it's also a logical compact car.
Like its smaller stablemate, the midsize Mazda6 sedan boasts an excellent balance between value and safety. As well as strong performance in crash tests and headlight evaluations, every Mazda6 gets automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, among other features.
Top models also add a 360-degree camera and front and rear parking sensors, in addition to an already generous list of other features that include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and LED headlights with automatic leveling.
Both the 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter four, and 250-horsepower turbo-four are available, both with a six-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel-drive isn't available, but the Mazda6 makes up for it with excellent interior materials and steering and handling that's far more responsive than the class average.
With prices ranging from $25,470 to $36,895 MSRP, the Mazda6 spans a wide segment of the midsize sedan market. But with a comprehensive safety and driver assistance package and a refined interior and athletic reflexes, it should be high on the consideration list.
Another mainstream midsize sedan on this list, the Nissan Altima, is both reasonably priced and packed with standard driver assistance technology.
Every 2021 Altima not only does well in crash tests and the headlight performance but also includes effective automatic emergency braking technology, as well as automatic high beam assist. Most models also get blind-spot monitoring with rear automatic braking, and lane-departure warning.
Higher trim levels get Nissan's ProPilot Assist package, which includes adaptive cruise control and a lane-centering system that performs minor steering corrections to keep the car in the lane (provided the driver's hands are still on the steering wheel).
Above that, the Altima is a competent handler and comfortable to be in, with an interior that's logically laid out.
A 188-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine comes on most models and is capable of up to 39 highway mpg. A 248-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four is available on other models. The Altima also offers all-wheel-drive with the base engine.
Starting from $25,300 MSRP, the Altima is in the thick of things when it comes to its rivals on this list, the Accord, K5, Mazda6, Subaru Legacy, and Toyota Camry.
But that's only good news for consumers who now have an extensive list of choices when it comes to reasonably priced midsize sedans that offer excellent crash protection, as well as technology that may prevent a crash in the first place.
Large sedans continue to disappear from the market, and the Nissan Maxima is the only one to make this list. Every model comes with the Nissan Safety Shield 360 group of driver assistance systems, including the requisite automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, as well as blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and automatic high beam assist.
Adaptive cruise control and active lane-keep assist are also offered, as well as a 360-degree camera.
The Maxima is comfortable and relaxed for the most part, with a robust 300-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 giving effortless power that could make a Cadillac driver sit up at attention.
The interior may feel tight for some but cocoons others with soft seats and high-grade materials. The sporty SR model tries to bring some performance cred with a stiffer suspension, but the Maxima is best as a cruiser for four.
From just over $38,000 and rising to more than $45,000 for the new 40th Anniversary Edition, the Maxima isn't exactly cheap. But as far as the dying breed of large sedans goes, it's a safe choice.
The Subaru Legacy continues the brand's tradition of offering standard all-wheel-drive with a practical package that includes comprehensive driver assistance technology.
The EyeSight suite of systems comes standard on every Legacy model, which starts from $23,820 MSRP. Features including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and a lane-centering system.
Reverse automatic emergency braking is available on most models, as is blind-spot monitoring, and the highest trims get a driver-attention monitor that can detect when the driver becomes distracted or drowsy while behind the wheel.
But beyond all of that, the Legacy is a well-rounded midsize sedan, with respectable power from its four-cylinder engines, a spacious interior, and a reputation for dependability. Even if all-wheel-drive isn't a must for a new car purchase, the Legacy (and its related Subaru Outback wagon derivative) deserves a look for its merits as a safe and practical vehicle. Instead of another popular Subaru SUV like a Crosstrek or Forester, the Legacy is worth the attention.
Tesla Model 3
The only all-electric car on the list, the Tesla Model 3, earned stellar scores in every category. Its structure is one of the strongest of any car tested on this list, receiving the highest scores across the board from both the IIHS and NHTSA.
Not having an engine up front means there's also less to intrude on the occupant space and lets the crumple zones keep high crash forces away from passengers. The Model 3 also scored well for crash prevention with its standard automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection.
But Tesla also markets its Autopilot advanced driver-assist system that can perform lane changes and follow navigation instructions without much input from the driver, among other functions, for a cool $10,000.
And the Model 3 is also all about range and performance, with the standard range rear-wheel-drive car estimated at 0-60 mph at 5.3 seconds and 263 miles on a full charge. Or there's the Dual Motor all-wheel-drive model that can accelerate to 60 mph in as little as 3.1 seconds or allow as much as 353 miles between charges.
Ranging from roughly $36,000 to $49,000 before options, the Model 3 isn't inexpensive. But it shows electric cars can definitively land on the list of safest cars.
One of America's best-selling vehicles also performs admirably in crash tests. The Toyota Camry is most known for dependability, ease of use, and a comfortable, spacious "Lexus-like" environment for people who demand hassle-free transportation.
Every model in the lineup gets the Toyota Safety Sense group of driver assistance systems, including automatic emergency braking, but also full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and automatic high beams, among other features. Lane centering and traffic sign recognition systems are also available, as are blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and a bird's eye view camera.
There are even side torso airbags for rear-seat passengers. Couple that with three available powertrains, including a very efficient hybrid, and the overall completeness of the Camry that starts from $25,965 MSRP, and there's good reason the country keeps coming back to this car.
Historically safe territory, the Volvo S60 sedan and its wagon relative, the V60, top the crash test scores for 2021.
Every model gets LED headlights with an active bending beam feature and excellent head restraints, while the V60 is available with integrated child booster seats, something parents with young children might appreciate.
It's helped that Volvo has long been a proponent of driver assistance technology. Automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, and lane departure warning come on every model.
For a more advanced system, Pilot Assist includes adaptive cruise control, but can perform steering corrections to keep the car in the intended highway lane, provided two hands are firmly on the steering wheel.
Starting from $39,995 MSRP for an S60 or $42,740 for a V60, all models now feature a 250-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic. While the S60 offers optional all-wheel-drive, V60 buyers who want that feature will have to go for the V60 Cross Country variant. And each model is also available as a plug-in hybrid.
What Makes a Car Safe?
Twice as many vehicles received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) highest rating in 2021 than did last year, for a total of 49.
The Top Safety Pick+ award goes to cars that earned Good ratings in six crashworthiness tests, including three frontal crash evaluations, one for side crashes, a roof strength test, and a head restraint evaluation. Cars must also at least offer automatic emergency braking that scores well in front crash prevention with other cars and pedestrians.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the federal agency that tests new cars for crashworthiness, established following the 1970 Highway Safety Act. In 1993, it started using a star rating system, with five stars being the highest rating for overall safety.
Today, it bases the overall rating on four tests: a frontal test into a fixed barrier at 35 mph, a side crash into a barrier at 38.5 mph, and another into pole at 20 mph. It also determines how top-heavy a vehicle is to determine the likelihood of a rollover. The agency only lists the advanced driver assistance features offered on each car.