Japanese automakers dominate IIHS safest car list

Japanese carmakers trounced American makes on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) list of the safest cars for 2016, while Volkswagen received some much needed good news.

Out of the 48 vehicles that received the IIHS “Top Safety Pick Plus” rating, 23 of them were from just three companies: Toyota, Honda and Subaru.

Toyota and Honda, including their subsidiaries Scion, Lexus and Acura, were the top two automakers, overall, while Volkswagen came in third with seven VW and Audi models on the list. The Chrysler 200 was the only vehicle from a domestic brand to get the top safety rating.

To be a "Top Safety Pick Plus," vehicles must get the top score in all five of the group's crash tests. Winners must also offer advanced front crash-prevention systems with automatic emergency braking. The institute says several vehicles added automatic braking in 2016 so they could compete for the top prize, including the Nissan Maxima and Toyota Avalon.

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Before this year, winners could get a lower score on the small overlap front crash test, which is the institute's newest and most challenging test. It replicates what happens when the front corner of a car hits a fixed object. Some previous winners, such as the Toyota Sienna minivan, dropped off the list this year because they didn't earn the top score on that test.

Adrian Lund, the institute's president, said the group tightened its requirements in order to recognize the progress that some automakers are making and encourage others to follow.

The institute noted that automatic braking is standard on the Scion iA, a $16,000 subcompact. It was the only minicar to earn the designation. Only a handful of other vehicles, all of them luxury models, offer automatic braking as a standard feature. Most offer it as an option.

Thirteen vehicles, including five made by General Motors Co., earned the institute's second-highest rating of "Top Safety Pick." Among those was the Buick Encore, which earned the highest scores on the institute's crash tests but doesn't offer automatic braking.

Rankings from the Insurance Institute — which is funded by the insurance industry — are closely watched by automakers and consumers.