You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a new vehicle with top crash protection and the latest collision prevention abilities.

Auto safety remains a primary concern among new-car buyers, with both the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the insurance industry-supported Insurance Institute for Highway Safety putting new vehicles through a battery of rigorous crash tests to determine which will offer occupants the highest degree of protection in a crash. Recently, however, the IIHS raised the proverbial bar to further consider the effectiveness of each model’s headlamp performance and forward auto-braking systems that can help drivers avoid getting into crashes in the first place.

Safety first – shop for your next car on

The IIHS gives its Top Safety Pick designation to vehicles that earn top “good” scores in full frontal, driver’s-side small overlap, side-impact, roof strength, and head-restraint performance tests, along with an “advanced” or “superior” rating for front crash prevention and an acceptable rating for headlamp performance. To receive a Top Safety Pick+ rating a model must meet those criteria and demonstrate “good” headlight prowess.

What's Behind New-Car Crash-Test Ratings

Unfortunately, as we’ve found, adding the available forward-collision system and top-performing headlamps to a given model can add thousands of dollars to its sticker price. For example, while the Hyundai Elantra starts at $17,385 (including the destination charge), the least-costly trim level to offer the proper trim level and optional package to equip it with auto-braking and top-rated headlamps costs around $10,000 more at $27,335. (In some cases, you can save money by choosing to forego the high-intensity headlamps.)

To help cut through the clutter, we’ve run the numbers and identified the 13 top-safety-rated cars and crossovers for 2018 with sticker prices – when properly equipped to receive either a TSP or TSP+ designation – for under $30,000. The cheapest model at the top of our list (by about $5,000) offers maximum protection for just under $20,000.

When safety matters most: