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.

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:

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