By on September 21, 2018

2017 Honda Civic Si Sedan - Image: Honda

Sorry, was that too snarky? Our headline alludes to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s recent awarding of five stars in all crash test categories to the Tesla Model 3 — a bit of news that’s made the rounds lately. It’s a worthy achievement, so hats off to Tesla for building a car that can take a beating.

However, if you’re still waiting patiently for Tesla to deliver your car, here’s a listing of vehicles costing less than the current “base” Model 3 (the $44,000 Long Range model) that are just as safe in a collision, and are available to buy at a dealership near you. Like, even today.

Tesla’s achievement isn’t an everyday occurrence, despite countless vehicles boasting a “5-star safety rating” from the NHTSA. That’s an overall score; an amalgam of front- and side-impact tests, plus a rollover tests. Available safety technology factors into the score, too. It’s common for vehicles to drive away with an overall five-star score after receiving four out of five stars in one or two of the categories. Actually, someone arriving via time machine from the 1980s would be surprised to see how close many plebian vehicles come to acing it.

My last car, for example — a 2011 Chevrolet Cruze that liked making fluids disappear — received five out of five stars in both the front- and side-impact tests. Available safety tech was sufficient, and only the rollover test suffered in any way, with NHTSA awarding four out of five stars for that hurdle. Regardless, the NHTSA stamped it with a highly marketable 5-Star Safety Rating. The Cruze’s second-gen successor also gained this rating.

But we’re not talking about “very good” here — we’re talking straight A students. So, here are vehicles with MSRPs below that of the Model 3 LR that leave nothing wanting in terms of safety, at least as far as the NHTSA is concerned.

  • Ford Mustang (going back years, too)
  • Kia Optima (see above)
  • Genesis G80
  • Acura TLX
  • Honda Accord
  • Honda Civic (Coupe excluded)
  • Toyota Camry
  • Subaru Impreza
  • Subaru Legacy
  • Nissan Maxima

This list could be incomplete, as several new models haven’t yet undergone testing. For example, the NHTSA still hasn’t offered a score to the 2019 Ram 1500 and Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra full-size pickups, among others. The safety agency never even got around to testing the Kia Niro or Hyundai Ioniq, despite those vehicles not being new for the looming model year.

Regardless, suffice it to say there’s plenty of affordable options for buyers wanting a perfect safety score. If you’re more worried about tech annoyances and reliability issues, head over to J.D. Power.

By the way — have you noticed something unusual about this list of vehicles? That’s right, they’re all members of a vanishing race of traditional passenger cars.

[Image: Honda]

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34 Comments on “Let’s Applaud These Affordable Cars for Their Tesla Model 3-like Crash Safety...”

  • avatar

    I don’t have the time at the moment to dig up the actual head injury criteria, but HIC-15 ratings, which are basically linear in terms of your likelihood of receiving a ‘moderate’ head injury, can vary drastically even within a 5-star rating. Driver’s side-impact HIC-15 for the car I have (A 2015 Hyundai Genesis, the same as the current G80) is, if memory serves, somewhere around 190, whereas the newest-gen Honda Accord was pushing 300. And even a 400 would still warrant a five-star rating. And some cars were better than mine.

    So you can end up with two fairly similar cars (these discrepancies exist within weight and price classes as well as across them as I just mentioned) that both have five-star side impact ratings, but one of which is four times as likely to give you a serious thump on the noggin as another one if you get t-boned in an intersection.

    So it’s definitely worth looking beyond the star ratings if you’re picking between two five-star cars.

  • avatar

    No German cars at all on this list? Something odd about EuroCap or other methodology?

    Also I’m idly wondering where a ten-year old Saab or Volvo would land on this criteria. Maybe that’s a whole other column though.

    • 0 avatar

      I did some digging on this when shopping last year, and found that ~10-year-old Volvos and Saabs generally did quite well, though Saabs never got tested with the new small offset tests. But the S80, whose platform is from about eight hundred years ago, is right up there with modern midsizers, and is better on a few metrics.

      • 0 avatar

        I think it was the Volvo XC90 that aced the “new back then” small overlap crash test using ancient Viking boat building technology. The Mazda CX9 got a “poor” score despite scoring “good” on the moderate overlap test. When confronted I think Mazda basically said their cars were built to the crash standards at the time. Not very confidence inspiring.

        • 0 avatar

          I have a 2010 S80, and indeed it feels like a tank. I was involved in a motor vehicle collision last summer. The car was thrown to the side of the road, with a part of the front end getting completely sheared off. I barely felt the impact and the collision wasn’t severe enough to deploy the airbags. Could’ve been a lot worse… thankful I was in the Volvo though. No fault of mine, insurance covered the $8500 in repairs.

    • 0 avatar

      This is list of “Affordable” cars.

  • avatar

    Yes. Too snarky. If you want to live up to the second T in your publication’s name, leave your obvious Tesla hating at home. You take every opportunity to bash Tesla, or shade your writing to the negative. How many other vehicles (besides… oh yeah, the Model S and Model X) have a 5-star rating across the board? THAT would be a useful article (and it’s an honest question, because I don’t know).

    • 0 avatar

      No, not snarky enough. Why is the cult of Tesla so easily offended? It’s just another start up, with a ridiculous valuation which may or may not make it. (Not to mention the fact that the owner is slowly going crazy, but I guess all iconic bosses are a bit odd.)

      • 0 avatar

        There is no cult. It’s just that some of us care more about vehicle performance than the teenage drama queen stuff. We care more about the suspension, acceleration, and handling of a car than whining about the CEO smoking weed or building cars in a tent.

        • 0 avatar

          You also don’t care about not making any money, you don’t care about quality, you don’t care about safety, you don’t care about many high level employees jumping ship.

          There’s a lot the cultists don’t care about.

          • 0 avatar

            Not a cultist. But, unless I decide to buy one (and I might), I really don’t care about that crap.

            But yeah, when it comes to performance, I can take a hit on quality. I can have anything I don’t like fixed at a body shop or whatever. I used to send my BMWs to a tuner, so that’s nothing new for me. If I buy one, I care about safety, but that’s obviously not a problem. Executives jumping ship, that’s a drama queen thing. Don’t care. Do I care about whether it makes money? No, again that’s for the drama queens. If I decide to buy one, that might be an issue but haven’t made that decision. So again, it’s a drama queen thing. Drama queens that have nothing else going on in their lives that they spend all day obsessing over stupid crap.

          • 0 avatar

            Tesla makes money per car, they spend it and then some on R&D and overhead.

            Quality has improved dramatically. Take another look.

            Safety… now you’re the one veering into crazy land.

            Tesla has always had a lot of high level employees, and movement is to be expected, even more so in silicon valley where they move around a lot.

            Bottom line is the cars are good, and if they go belly up tomorrow your car will still drive and drive amazingly.

        • 0 avatar

          On another note ,I was driving by the Tesla dealership in Charlotte NC and they must have 100 model 3’s on the lot out front

      • 0 avatar

        “No, not snarky enough. Why is the cult of Tesla so easily offended? It’s just another start up, with a ridiculous valuation which may or may not make it. (Not to mention the fact that the owner is slowly going crazy, but I guess all iconic bosses are a bit odd.)

        This. This a thousand times. THIS infinity!

        • 0 avatar

          I’d say it’s not snarky, just a dumb comparison. Very few buy a car *solely* on the basis of a safety rating. The percentage of buyers who disregard the huge difference between a BEV and non-BEV while, at the same time, focusing solely on the safety rating is, I would bet, so close to zero as to be dismissed entirely.

    • 0 avatar


      But every other auto website of note flows the other direction, so it’s nice to have some balance!

      And financially, at this point, for this long, Tesla definitely appears to be a house of cards.

      I’ve always wondered what Elon’s exit strategy is.

  • avatar

    The Insurance Institute’s ratings are a better indicator, plus they keep adding criteria. I would think they have a lot of empirical evidence to go on as well from real world results.

    I do like the addition of the headlight criteria, maybe cut down on a few vehicles that blind everyone everywhere they go.

    It hasn’t happened yet obviously but I would think in the interest of underwriting they will begin testing small sedan/hatchback type vehicles against a barrier meant to replicate a pickup truck as they must be one of the most frequent road hazards out there right now. With vehicles so large on that end of the spectrum, you almost have to wonder if underwriting standards will eventually demand much higher premiums on “normal/traditional” sized vehicles as they become less common on the road of supersized modes of transport.

    • 0 avatar

      Why would you say better? Crash tests remove the human factor and a whole host of variables in order to make scientific, repeatable results. A great indicator of design integrity. IIHS data are affected by how vehicles perform in the real world and how the human factor comes into play. Frankly you need both sources. The brodozer that performs well when mowing over that Civic might fare very poorly when striking a tree.

  • avatar

    Not snarky at all considering the arrogant blowhard that “runs” Tesla. He loves to present news where Tesla is merely matching the competition as some sort of miracle that only Tesla could achieve.

    You are accurately addressing the media’s disgusting love for Tesla when many, many other cars are just as safe, etc.

  • avatar

    If there’s no bad Tesla news for a couple of days, you’re going to make some. TTAC = Tesla Troubles, And Cars.

  • avatar

    Here is the NHTSA list and tool:

    The 2018 Toyota Camry was five-star across the board, as is the Cadillac ATS and Buick LaCrosse.

  • avatar
    Dan R

    My Vincent Black Shadow was not on the list but I like her anyway.

  • avatar

    The Mustang was subject to some serious scrutiny by Euro and Australian NCAP organizations for poor crash test results, no? This article seems to gloss over that. Have those problems been redressed?

    • 0 avatar

      This article didn’t “gloss over”, it’s a brash attempt to re-focus good news about safety from Tesla (horrors!!) into an opportunity for more bashing. If the author was interested in actual real reporting with integrity (but we all know he is not), he would have come up with something like this from Karen in Iceland (corresponding links to each result noted didn’t copy in):

      Due to a bug in their site with how they present the GDPR warning to EU readers on Chrome, I can’t interact with the site. I can see through the uncloseable popup that it’s a list of cars that are (mostly) 5-star rated in every category summary but not in every *subcategory* and *recommended feature*. And that nobody’s called them out for this in the comments. I’ll also include the rollover probability, to compare with Model 3’s 6,6%.

      Ford Mustang: Recommended safety features “optional”. Rollover probability: 9,3%
      Kia Optima: 4 stars in passenger front side, recommended safety features “optional”. Rollover probability: 9,8%.
      Genesis G80: 4 stars in combined side barrier and pole, front, as well as side barrier, driver. Rollover probability: 9,5%
      Acura TLX: Crash imminent braking and dynamic brake support unavailable. Rollover probability: 9,8%
      Honda Accord: Forward collision warning, crash imminent braking and dynamic brake support unavailable. Rollover probability: 9,3%.
      Honda Civic: Crash imminent braking and dynamic brake support unavailable; forward collision warning and lane departure warning “optional”. Rollover probability: 9,5%.
      Toyota Camry: Does get 5 stars in all subcategories and have all recommended features standard, but gets a 50% higher chance of rollover. Rollover probability: 9,5%
      Subaru Impreza: All recommended safety features “optional”. Rollover probability: 9,5%
      Subaru Legacy: All recommended safety features “optional”. Rollover probability: 10,1%
      Nissan Maxima: Doesn’t even get 5 stars in one of the main categories (Frontal Crash), let alone all of the subcategories. Also only gets 4 stars on overall side pole rating. Lane departure warning, crash imminent braking, dynamic brake support unavailable. Rollover probability: 9,5%

      Their “counterpoint” to the Model 3 scoring so well is to present a list of vehicles that scored inferior ratings to the Model 3.
      – Karen

      Mr. Willems: your site claims it posts unbiased articles. You’re obviously at least one exception.

    • 0 avatar

      No the Mustang didn’t score low in the Euro crash tests, it is just that the Euro “test” isn’t a crash test and they put great importance on whether “advanced” safety features are standard and place pedestrian safety above occupant protection. IIRC the failing on the Mustang was that it doesn’t have rear seat belt pre-tensioners standard.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Here is a 9-second video comparison of two 5-star-rated cars:


    The Model 3 is clearly superior to the other 5-star car, the Volvo S60.

    The star safety ratings are merely a helpful guide, sort of like rating restaurants or movies.

    • 0 avatar

      The video likely cut out right before Tesla burst into lithium ion fueled inferno that lasted for days. Have you ever seen Tesla burst into flames on impact? Plenty of those to go around on the web. This 5 star rating isn’t worth the epaper it’s printed on…

  • avatar

    Karen did an excellent job explaining, but I’ll just add that you shouldn’t even be comparing cars from different weight classes in this manner. From the FAQ:

    “Frontal crash rating results can only be compared to other vehicles in the same class and whose weight is plus or minus 250 pounds of the vehicle being rated. This is because a frontal crash rating into a fixed barrier represents a crash between two vehicles of the same weight.”

    An EV will almost always be heavier than an equivalent ICE vehicle due to the battery. The Impreza, Civic and Optima are around 3000 pounds. The Model 3, 4000.

  • avatar
    Brett Woods

    “Most people who follow Tesla closely agree that it has been the target of far too much misleading, unfair, negative media coverage. We define journalism as the pursuit of facts and reporting on them in a useful, proper context. When you systematically report with a slant that doesn’t line up with reality, or omit facts that are inconvenient to your point of view, that distorts the general truth and is completely unacceptable.”

    An article that should have been written here.

  • avatar

    ICE cars are crash tested with the fuel tank filled with a non-combustible liquid. Why are EVs crash tested with their batteries discharged/inerted?

  • avatar

    Here’s my main question with Tesla. I don’t give a hot wet fart who does what to who, who tweets what, how much money they’re making or losing on each car. The masses have spoken well so far for their product.

    My question is: Assuming the worst and Tesla folds in a year due to fiscal mismanagement or whatever the case may be, what happens to the cars? The car itself is so highly tied to the corporate overlords that you can’t even get an independent to work on it. You can’t get replacement parts without huge hoops to jump thru. You can salvage them (lookin at you Rich Rebuilds) but there goes your supercharging abilities. If the company folds, there goes ALL supercharging. So now you’re left with home 120/240 connections.

    Whats the end result for the cars?

    • 0 avatar

      “Whats the end result for the cars?”


    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Where do you get an American Motors car serviced? Same answer.

      *Somebody* would buy the rights to service them, and perhaps even produce spare parts.

      Given that there are already over 200k Teslas just in the US, it’s not a bad market to service.

      As for charging, you can charge a Tesla on any existing fast charger, using an adapter. The Supercharger network is ideal for distance travel, but is not required. Some other EV mfr would probably buy it, and I’ve felt for years that they should join Tesla’s charging protocol instead of fighting it.

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