10 NHTSA 5-Star Safety Picks for Any Lifestyle

2016 Volvo XC90

Cars and safety have had a long and difficult relationship, but it became way more complex with the arrival of the smartphone. A Pew survey last year determined that 64% of American adults own a smartphone, and anyone who’s spent any time on American roads within the last couple of years knows many people use those phones while driving. In fact, we’re just concluding April, Distracted Driving Awareness Month, during which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched its “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” campaign.

We strongly urge everyone reading this post to take NHTSA’s recommended steps to minimize their distractions while behind the wheel and avoid getting pulled over–and not just in April, but year-round. Unfortunately, there’s very little any driver can do about to prevent other drivers from getting distracted. So here are ten 2016 cars that should meet the needs and budgets of a wide variety of drivers, all with 5-star overall safety ratings from NHTSA. We hope none of you will ever have to test your car’s safety features, but just in case….

2016 Mazda Mazda6

Is there anything the 2016 Mazda6 can’t do? Well sure, if you want to drive the Darién Gap or powerslide through the Tsukuba Circuit’s 12th corner, the front-wheel-drive-only Mazda6 might not be an ideal choice; but if you’re looking for an inexpensive, stylish, sensible, and safe sedan, the Mazda6 leads the pack. Not only does the Mazda6 look fantastic and drive even better, but it received 5 stars from NHTSA for both head-on and side-impact crashes and has suffered from no recalls or investigations. It also received Good ratings across the board from the IIHS. The Mazda6 looks, feels, and drives like a much more expensive car, but with nearly 10,000 new examples currently listed on CarGurus at an average price of $26,506, this is a smart, safe option for shoppers on a budget.

2016 Nissan Maxima

All trims of the Mazda 6 employ the same 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder, making 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque, and frankly, that’s just not enough for some people. If you want your sedan to offer more power, the 2016 Nissan Maxima is the car for you. It may lack the ultra-precise steering of the Mazda, but with 300 hp and 261 lb-ft of torque coming from its 3.5-liter V6, it’s sure to get your attention on the straights. Nissan has heavily marketed this eighth-generation Maxima as a “4-door sports car,” but that title belies the car’s impressive reputation for safety. Another NHTSA 5-star winner, it scored top marks across the board, in frontal and side crashes as well as the rollover test. At an average price of just over $36,000, new Maximas on CarGurus are competitive options for someone looking for a safe sedan with plenty of power.

2016 BMW 3 Series

What’s the best option for someone shopping for a luxury sedan? Maybe something that has a legacy of performance and comfort, available all-wheel drive, and a reputation for top-of-the-line safety? Look no further than the 2016 BMW 3 Series. Not exactly a surprising pick, the 3 Series was predictably the best-selling luxury sedan in America last year, with the Bavarian automaker moving nearly 95,000 units. Simply put, the 3 Series is the entire package. An engine lineup ranging from a fuel-efficient 180-hp 4-cylinder to a thrilling 320-hp 3.0-liter I6, along with standard rear-wheel drive or available all-wheel drive, make the 3 Series the perfect sedan for anyone who can afford it. NHTSA awarded 5 stars to the 3 Series (see a pattern?) and, while its $46,124 average price tag puts it a class above the Nissan Maxima, it’s hard to argue against its reputation.

2016 Toyota RAV4

As far as affordable crossover/SUVs go, you’ll be hard pressed to find something as drivable and practical as the 2016 Toyota RAV4. By offering a great balance of performance, style, and functionality in an extremely cost-effective package since 1995, it’s no wonder Toyota has maintained one of the best-selling crossovers in the U.S. for some time now. The RAV4 has also consistently received excellent marks in NHTSA and IIHS safety tests, especially in recent years. In addition to making one of the safest and most affordable SUVs, Toyota also finally introduced its legendary hybrid engine technology in a crossover body with the brand-new 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. This hybrid crossover takes everything you’ll want in a RAV4 and increases fuel economy to 34 mpg city/31 highway, though it comes with a slight price increase. If you’re not too concerned about your fuel consumption, you can find 2016 RAV4s with an average listing price of $29,850.

2016 Subaru Outback

Arriving on the market in the same year as the Toyota RAV4, the Subaru Outback has remained extremely popular ever since. Although it wears its station-wagon heritage on its sleeves more than over crossovers, the Outback is one of the best midsize crossovers on the market. The only true downside to the Outback is its somewhat anemic CVT (continuously variable transmission), which plagues other Subaru models like the Legacy, Crosstrek, and, of course, the Impreza. Other than that small issue, the Outback is an amazing family vehicle. It brings together a good deal of cargo volume and surprisingly good performance (despite the CVT) in a functional and comfortable package. Of course, it also happens to be one of the safest midsize crossovers you can find, with perfect crash test scores from NHTSA. And, with an average new listing price of $32,910, it’s a great buy.

2016 Volvo XC60

The Volvo XC90 has been getting a ton of press lately, but there’s no reason to overlook the other models Volvo has outfitted with its acclaimed IntelliSafe safety suite. The 2016 Volvo XC60, the XC90’s slightly smaller and less expensive sibling, packs almost the same safety cachet and also has the honor of receiving perfect 5s from NHTSA. We should note that the XC90 was not officially tested simply because its price tag moves this beacon of safety technology beyond NHTSA’s requirements. The XC60 is a little more reasonable, with an average listing price of $45,677. But don’t worry, the XC60 still comes packed with front and rear park assist, a blind-spot information system, cross-traffic alert, and lane-change merge aid, and a Technology package that includes adaptive cruise control, collision warning and pedestrian and cyclist detection with full brake and distance alert, lane-departure warning, road-sign information, and front blind-view cameras. These features, coupled with its crash-test safety performance, make the XC60 one of the safest vehicles on the road.

Sports Cars
2016 Volkswagen GTI

Long before Volkswagen made “defeat device” a commonly understood term, it coined a much more likable phrase: “hot hatch.” The GTI has won countless awards since it arrived in 1976 and continues to do so, with the 2015 version having earned Car of the Year awards from both Motor Trend and Yahoo, not to mention a 9-out-of-10 performance rating from our reviewer. The 2016 Volkswagen GTI has the same powertrain as that 2015 award winner and gets 5-star overall and side-impact ratings from NHTSA, not to mention across-the-board Goods from the IIHS. And an optional Driver Assistance package, which includes automatic emergency braking, gives the GTI the coveted—though not critical to most sports-car buyers—Top Safety Pick+ rating. The 2016 GTI’s 210 hp (220 with the Performance package) don’t put it anywhere near the top of the current heap of available sports cars power-wise, but it offers a very satisfying helping of driving enjoyment and precision at an average price of $29,800.

2016 Ford Mustang GT

Anyone with a little more money to spend will probably want a horsepower figure that starts with at least a “3” and a car that sends that power to the rear wheels. The 2016 Ford Mustang can satisfy that desire, with a GT version taking things even further with its 435-hp V8. A V6 Mustang gets exactly 300 hp from a proven 3.7-liter engine, but two more powerful engines are available. Europeans finally got a Mustang with an independent rear suspension in 2015, and they seem to love the EcoBoost 2.3-liter 4-cylinder that puts out 310 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque while getting up to 31 mpg on the highway. That 435-hp V8 in Mustang GTs is rated at 400 lb-ft of torque and tops out at 25 mpg highway, and it sounds great, even without the Active Noise Control Ford uses to boost the sound of the EcoBoost engine. NHTSA doesn’t care which engine you take, having given the 2016 Mustang convertible a single 5-star rollover rating and the coupe 5 stars across the board. The average price for a 2016 Mustang on our site? A hair over $32,400, with even GTs starting below $40k.

2016 Dodge Challenger SXT

The high end of the sports-car world reflects the “pay to play” idea more clearly than any other auto segment. If you want a new car with 1,500 hp, you can find one, but it will cost you $2.6 million. The 2016 Dodge Challenger can’t go that high in either measure, but it does offer one of the largest ranges of power, and price, that can be found in any single 2016 car lineup. At the low end, the ’16 Challenger SXT offers a 305-hp V6 for $27,000, and at the top, the SRT Hellcat gets 707 hp out of a 6.2-liter Hemi V8 at an MSRP of $62,500. Across the lineup, the Challenger represents a very traditional, American take on the sports car, with all versions getting rear-wheel drive and a larger footprint than most European sport models. All non-SRT Challengers earned 5-star overall and side-impact ratings from NHTSA, but the organization did not test the SRT versions. That’s too bad, because at an average price of just under $42,800, the SRT 392 Hemi Scat Pack Shaker and its 485-hp V8 may be the sweet spot of the 2016 Challenger power-price curve despite its lack of a NHTSA rating.

Pickup Truck

And let’s not forget those of you who are looking for a pickup truck. It was unsurprising to find that most pickup truck models span a very wide breadth of prices, from your relatively barebones to your high-end High Country, King Ranch, and Laramie Limited luxury-esque trim levels. But no matter your price point, you’re going to want to be as safe as you possibly can while hauling or towing a load. So if you’re looking for a capable pickup that has the necessary power and comfort—and a perfect 5-star safety rating from NHTSA—look no further than the 2016 Chevrolet Silverado 1500. With its new, more muscular exterior, this truck can offer everything you would ever want from a versatile pickup truck, with a ride that’s comfortable, powerful, and, of course, safe. Though pricing for pickups can vary wildly (with an average new listing price of $43,225), you’ll be sure to feel quite safe in any Silverado variant.

What vehicle best meets your safety and lifestyle needs?

–John Harrington, Matt Smith, and Steve Halloran

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Used Mazda Mazda6
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