Just 15 new vehicles meet the increased requirements of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and have earned a Top Safety Pick+ rating, the safety group reported Thursday.

The stricter guidelines focus on how well passengers in the front seat are protected in frontal collisions that simulate hitting a tree or pole, which the IIHS calls the small-overlap test. Before this year, only the driver’s side faced this test.

“Drivers expect that their passengers, who are often family, will be protected just as well as they are,” IIHS president Adrian Lund said in a statement. “Manufacturers have been taking this issue seriously since we first shed light on it, and we’re confident that good small overlap protection will become the norm on the passenger side, just as it has on the driver side.”

A few brands stood out in this latest batch of IIHS ratings. Toyota, Hyundai, and Subaru were some of the standout brands once the results were in. Toyota has the most models, 10, among the ranks of Top Safety Pick and Safety Pick+. Hyundai was next with nine vehicles represented, and every Subaru except the BRZ sports coupe earned an IIHS safety award.

By ratcheting up the standards to achieve the desirable Top Safety Pick+ designation year after year, the IIHS has effectively influenced the auto industry to improve driver and now passenger protections. Consumer Reports encourages car shoppers to refer to crash-safety ratings and also to consider dynamic performance (such as braking distances and accident-avoidance capabilities) when selecting their next car.

To qualify for Top Safety Pick+ status, a vehicle has to score at least a Good rating for headlight illumination and a Good or Acceptable rating for passenger-side small-overlap crash tests.

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The new criteria are in addition to existing qualifications for high ratings in the driver’s side small-overlap and moderate-overlap frontal-crash tests, side-crash test, roof strength, head restraint, and advanced safety feature performance.

The 2018 model year cars that earned the coveted ranking, Top Safety Pick+, are the BMW 5 SeriesKia Forte (sedan), Genesis G80Genesis G90Hyundai Santa FeHyundai Santa Fe SportLincoln ContinentalKia SoulMercedes-Benz E-Class (sedan), Mercedes-Benz GLCSubaru ImprezaSubaru LegacySubaru OutbackSubaru WRX, and Toyota Camry.

This is the first time the IIHS has included front-passenger small-overlap testing in its Top Safety Pick rankings. Previously, only the vehicle’s performance in the driver’s side was tested. In the new test, a car traveling at 40 mph hits a metal barrier with only 25 percent of the vehicle’s front width, on the front passenger’s side. This is meant to simulate a vehicle hitting a tree or utility pole. By concentrating the force of a crash into a smaller area, on only one corner of the car, this test can be especially revealing when it comes to showing how a vehicle’s cabin structure absorbs a severe impact.

An additional 47 vehicles earned a Top Safety Pick rating.  

2018 Subaru Outback crash test.
2018 Subaru Outback undergoing the passenger-side small-overlap frontal-crash test.
Photo: IIHS