The next best thing? "You couldn't go wrong with the Honda Civic," said Nerad, acknowledging that among the institute's top-ranked small cars, the Civic carries the day from a traditional fuel efficiency standpoint. To make the IIHS ranking, a car had to have the highest of four possible ratings ("good" as opposed to "acceptable," "marginal" or "poor") in all four crash tests (front, rear, side, rollover) and also have electronic stability control features (which are increasingly common in all types of vehicles, if not yet ubiquitous.)
No one ever got T-boned riding the subway, although some urban dwellers still want their wheels. For city driving, the edge goes to the Volvo XC60. It's the only car on the road today to feature automatic braking. "In stop and go situations, if the person ahead of you stops suddenly, the Volvo XC60 will stop automatically if the driver doesn't hit the brake fast enough," said Nerad. "Typically, Volvo has this type of advanced capability." Still, this model wasn't as maneuverable as some others tested, said Quincy.
Forget fuel efficiency and rollover concerns -- some people, particularly farmers and other rural residents (not to mention Massachusetts' new Senator-elect Scott Brown) simply won't drive anything other than a pickup truck. The one model that experts at Consumer Reports, Kelley and the Insurance Institute all agree on is the Ford F150, which scored high in rollover survivability tests, is tops. "Good brakes," Quincy added.
Quincy, like other automotive experts, stressed the difficulty of trying to pick the singularly safest cars, pointing to the growing parity among automakers in technological innovations. He offered numerous other candidates for car buyers to consider, while also taking issue with the presumption that Volvo has cornered the market on superior safety. "There are plenty of car companies that have just as much or more safety equipment than Volvo," Quincy said.
Among the other vehicles Quincy viewed as among the safest, across categories and in no particular order: Audi A6, Acura RL, Volkswagon Golf, and three pickup trucks, the Toyota Tundra, Toyota Tacoma and the Honda Ridgeline.