Car shoppers interested in a safe new vehicle are wise to check out crash test ratings issued by the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That's because the government organization performs a battery of tests that include front and side impacts and a rollover protection assessment. To help car shoppers navigate which vehicles scored the best, we've rounded up a list of our favorite cars with overall five-star safety ratings - and we've capped our budget at $30,000 to make our choices as affordable as possible.

Chevrolet Malibu

Chevrolet's popular Malibu offers fresh styling, fuel-efficient engines and the federal government's highest overall crash test rating. Recently redesigned for 2013, the hybrid Malibu ECO starts at around $26,000, while the base-level four-cylinder Malibu LS boasts a starting price of just over $23,000 including destination. While either model makes a great choice, we prefer the ECO thanks to its surprisingly small price premium and a fuel-efficient 182-horsepower hybrid four-cylinder engine capable of delivering up to 37 miles per gallon on the highway. Of course, the five-star crash safety rating also helps to sway our opinion, as do the standard safety features like traction control, curtain side airbags and an anti-skid system.

Chevrolet Sonic

Chevrolet's diminutive Sonic is one of the only subcompact vehicles to earn a five-star overall crash test score with the NHTSA's recently revised rating system. Available in three- or five-door variants, the Sonic earned its impressive overall crash test score for both body styles, achieving five-star ratings in front and side impacts and a four-star score in rollover resistance. With a base price of just over $14,000 including destination, the Sonic also fits comfortably under our price cap, allowing buyers to add a long list of options like a power sunroof, Bluetooth, heated front seats and cruise control without breaking the bank.

Ford Taurus

The full-size Ford Taurus sedan scored high in the latest round of NHTSA crash tests, earning five stars in front and side impact tests and four stars in the government's rollover assessment for an overall five-star ranking. The sedan also offers new styling inside and out for 2013 along with a long list of standard safety equipment like curtain side airbags, automatic headlights and traction control. Also included in the Taurus' starting price tag of just over $27,000 is a host of equipment like 17-inch alloy wheels, an iPod hookup, dual power front seats and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. To us, that makes the Taurus a safe buy - both in terms of crash performance and overall value.

Honda Civic sedan

While many of the cars that scored well in the NHTSA's tests are midsize vehicles or larger, the recently redesigned Honda Civic sedan proves that even a small car can be extremely safe. That's because the compact car earned a five-star rating in two of the government's three crash test categories and a five-star overall score. Excellent news for shoppers interested in a safe new car on a budget, since the Civic sedan features a starting price of under $17,000. Budget-minded shoppers will also appreciate the Civic's miserly fuel economy ratings of more than 30 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving with its gasoline engine or 44 miles per gallon combined with its fuel-sipping hybrid powerplant.

Kia Sportage

Kia's recently redesigned Sportage can boast the distinction of being among just a handful of SUVs to earn a five-star crash test rating from the NHTSA. Thanks to a perfect score in the government's front and side impact tests and four stars in rollover resistance, the Sportage clearly proves that it provides safe transportation for up to five adults. But the SUV also features reasonable pricing that starts around $19,000 and a long list of standard safety equipment like four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, traction control and even hill descent control. Best of all, the Sportage claims fuel economy ratings of nearly 30 miles per gallon - even with its muscular 256-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant.

Toyota Prius

The base-level version of Toyota's hybrid Prius offers a starting price of less than $25,000, more than 50 miles per gallon in city driving and a five-star overall NHTSA crash test rating. And while the hatchback's 134-horsepower four-cylinder may not be enough for some buyers and its styling may polarize, we find it hard to believe budget-minded shoppers interested in fuel efficiency and safety will run across a better overall value than the Prius. Standard equipment is even surprisingly generous, with Toyota including automatic climate control, an iPod hookup, Bluetooth and 15-inch alloy wheels on every model sold.

What it means to you: Several of today's best cars have been awarded five-star crash test ratings by the NHTSA.

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Jeffrey Archer is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on AutoTrader.com.

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