Getting on the highway is one of the riskiest behaviors an average person engages in on a daily basis.
In 2009, about 34,000 people died in motor vehicle wrecks in the United States. That’s an average of more than 93 people per day.
So, finding the safest cars would be a natural desire for any car shopper. Many eco-conscious consumers will want a safe car that also treads lightly on the environment.
There are the old stand-bys: The Prius gets high marks from both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Also, the Nissan LEAF has made headlines for being 100 percent electric, and, though it scores high points with both the NHTSA and IIHS, it bears a high sticker price for a car its size, technology aside.
But what are some other options? Well, here are a few of the safest cars that also don’t skimp on Mother Nature’s safety:
Buick LaCrosse 2012: The 2012 model of this family-sized sedan features eAssist, Buick’s compact electric motor with a lithium-ion battery coupled with a four-cylinder engine, bringing it up to 36 miles per gallon highway (the company says that’s highest in its class), and the drive itself remains largely like the non-hybrid 2011 models. Its base price is just under $30,000, but for the luxury set, add-ons include OnStar, the always-handy parking assist and rear-seat DVD players for those who like to keep the peace in the family sedan. It bears noting, too, that its lithium-ion battery is the popular choice for high-performance cars. Both the all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive received five stars from NHTSA.
Lincoln MKZ Hybrid: Both the 2011 and 2012 models of the Lincoln MKZ feature a hybrid engine with a nickel-metal-hydride battery and regenerative braking, which captures kinetic energy, netting it 41 city miles per gallon and 36 highway. The tech experts fell in love with its display, which includes a power gauge, battery charge, a regenerative braking indicator, and other bells and whistles that elevate a sedan to the luxury class, such as the voice-activated Sync, which includes a vehicle health report. The car generally scored well in crash-test ratings, with NHTSA giving it an overall four stars and IIHS including it in its 2011 top picks for the midsize luxury class.
Infiniti M Hybrid: We’re doing some extrapolation on this one because the M Hybrid was introduced for 2012 and doesn’t have its own rating yet. The 2011 M37 and M56, however, tended to score well with IIHS, as well as NHTSA. From a hybrid standpoint, the engine delivers with its lithium-ion battery, and from a hybrid performance standpoint, it accelerates to 60 miles and hour in six seconds or less — and it can operate in pure electric mode up to 62 miles per hour. From a drive perspective, it scores points for handling that’s unadulterated from the standard Infinitis, and from an efficiency perspective, it boasts 32 miles per gallon highway and 27 miles per gallon.
Budget-friendly and eco-conscious
Ford Fusion Hybrid: Starting above $28,000, the Fusion hybrid is pricey for the budget-conscious. But, when you consider a consistent remark about the Lincoln MKZ — that without its extra-luxurious bells and whistles, it’s essentially a Ford Fusion — then you begin to think the Fusion is a bargain. Key aspects of its hybrid engine are the same, as is the eco-fabulous SmartGauge and EPA MPG rating. An array of tech-savvy options are available, though they could take it out of the budget-conscious range. Drive-wise, the 2011 model scores high marks for its handling and drive, and the 2012 model is largely unchanged. Safety note: IIHS only recommends the 2011 and 2012 models, and NHTSA gives it an overall four stars, with the lowest marks in the frontal crash test rating.
Chevrolet Cruze Eco: The Cruze, unlike the rest of the lineup, doesn’t feature a hybrid engine, but it still reaches 42 miles per gallon highway. So, yes, though it uses fossil fuels exclusively, it uses them efficiently with its turbocharged engine and drag-reducing design, and the manual version actually gets better miles per gallon than several hybrids. With a bottom sticker price of just over $16,500, it makes for an attractive option for the very budget-conscious, something few hybrid versions of the standard small car can claim. It scored a top pick by IIHS and received five stars from NHTSA in all tests except for the rollover test where it received four stars.
Honda Civic Sedan: Plenty of hybrid and fuel-saving options exist in the Honda Civic, but the fact is that at 39 miles per gallon highway and 28 city, at $15,805, the standard gets a gold star for anyone on a budget. Safety-wise all four-door 2012 models of the Civic are a top pick from IIHS, as are most 2011 models. The NHTSA hasn’t rated the 2012 models yet, but the 2011 four door gets three gold stars, with four stars in the frontal crash and rollover categories, but only two in the side crash. From an eco standpoint, the standard 2012 model can go into econ mode, which puts its engine and power systems into the most efficient modes possible. The slightly less budget-conscious can get the HF model at just under $19,500 to get 41 miles per gallon on the highway and 29 miles per gallon in the city.
Have other ideas for what are the safest cars that minimize damage to the environment? Leave us a note in the comments below.