• A high rating in every test category earns models the designation of Top Safety Pick.
  • The new 2013 Ford Escape improves on a previously weak rating.
  • 2013 Acura ILX provides crash worthiness in a small, luxury package.
  • Sporty Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ offer small-car safety and performance.

The four vehicles recently named by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) as Top Safety Picks prove that size doesn't necessarily matter when it comes to faring well in a crash. The IIHS awarded its highest honors to the completely redesigned 2013 Ford Escape compact SUV, 2013 Acura ILX compact luxury sedan and the 2013 Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ--small, 2-door sports cars that share nearly everything but their name.

Only vehicles that score the best rating of Good in all four IIHS crash tests get the Top Safety Pick designation. The tests include high-speed front and side collisions, a roof strength test to determine rollover protection, and a rear impact test that evaluates protection against neck injuries. IIHS assigns one of four ratings for each test: Good, Acceptable, Marginal or Poor.

A Top Safety Pick designation is especially important for the 2013 Ford Escape. The previous generation Escape, including 2008 through 2012 models, did not fare well in IIHS roof strength tests. The last generation Escape scored a Marginal rating, while the hybrid version received a rating of Poor. But improved scores for the 2013 Escape should give safety-conscious buyers confidence.

The Acura ILX is an all-new model, so no previous model exists for comparison. Acura's most compact model is also the brand's first hybrid vehicle. The ILX shares a platform with the Honda Civic, another compact sedan and IIHS Top Safety Pick. The ILX offers a compelling combination of luxury, safety and efficiency for car shoppers who don't need the space of a midsize or large sedan.

The Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ are also all-new models with relatively diminutive proportions. Jointly developed by Toyota (Scion's parent company) and Subaru, these sporty little performers deliver exciting driving dynamics along with the assurance of a Top Safety Pick designation. That's a combination that competitors like the MINI Cooper cannot claim.

These models dispel the myth that only large vehicles offer excellent car safety. In fact, smaller vehicles often exhibit better braking and handling characteristics thanks to their lighter weight. That means better chances of avoiding accidents in the first place. Of course, superior crash test performance shows that these four vehicles are well prepared for the unavoidable too.

What it means to you: A Top Safety Pick designation from the IIHS means a vehicle exhibits the best performance in crash tests. These small cars dispel the myth that big size is a crucial part of the safety equation.


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Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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