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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducts a range of tests on new vehicles and assigns ratings accordingly. You’ve probably heard various automakers tout such awards, such as the group’s Top Safety Pick, or Top Safety Pick+. Numerous factors are involved in determining these picks, ranging from crashworthiness to headlight effectiveness and available safety systems. As you might imagine, criteria for attaining the highest rating (Top Safety Pick+) has evolved along with ever-changing automotive technologies, and for 2019, IIHS awarded its highest honor to 30 vehicles. However, it’s not quite as simple as that.

A report from CarsDirect looked closer at the coveted rating. Yes, 30 new vehicles do make the grade, but most require optional equipment to get there. In some cases, the required items might only be available on fully-equipped – and far more expensive – models. As an example, CarsDirect mentions the 2019 Hyundai Sonata as among the 30 vehicles with a Top Safety Pick+ rating, but only in the range-topping Limited trim with the Ultimate Package selected. IIHS does clearly specify what it takes to achieve that top rating, but when it comes to actually finding the right car with the right options, you’re on your own.

In fact, of the 30 vehicles that IIHS named as Top Safety Pick+ award winners in 2019, CarsDirect identifies just two that actually earn it regardless of trim level or optional equipment. The Honda Insight starts at $22,930 but it’s not a popular car, having just over 12,000 sales for 2018. The other vehicle is the Genesis G90, a decidedly upscale sedan with a starting price of nearly $70,000.

Ratings like these can certainly provide a service to safety-conscious buyers, but as is often the case with such things, checking the fine print is an important part of the process.


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