The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said 66 vehicles from the 2011 model year earned its "top safety pick" award, the most ever awarded by the group. Last year, Arlington, Va.-based IIHS handed out 27 awards, it said in a statement.
Hyundai Motor and its sister make, Kia Motors, along with Volkswagen and its luxury brand, Audi, garnered the most awards with nine each, followed by General Motors (GM), Ford Motor (F) and Toyota Motor (TM), with eight each. Subaru, the Japanese manufacturer of niche all-wheel drive vehicles, was the only company to earn an award for each class of vehicle it offers -- five.
Among new vehicles for the 2011 model year, IIHS said GM's Chevrolet Cruze, with 10 airbags, broadens the number of safe, small, fuel-efficient cars available to consumers. The car was designed to outperform the government's minimum roof-strength tests, part of recently introduced rollover-crash protection criteria.
Quick Response to "More Challenging" Safety Criteria
IIHS credited automakers for quickly responding to recent changes in testing and award criteria that have substantially increased the safety of passenger vehicles. In addition to providing adequate rollover protection, the testing organization required that carmakers make electronic stability control standard to earn the IIHS's best rating.
"Automakers deserve credit for quickly rising to meet the more-challenging criteria for Top Safety Pick," said IIHS President Adrian Lund in a statement. "Several already have requested tests for new models due to ship early next year, so we expect to add even more winners to the 2011 list."
GM's other winners included the Chevrolet Malibu and Equinox; Cadillac CTS and SRX; Buick LaCrosse and Regal; and GMC Terrain. Ford's top achievers included the Ford Taurus full-size sedan, Fusion midsize sedan, Fiesta subcompact, Explorer SUV and Flex crossover. Among Lincoln models the MKS, MKZ and MKT were recognized.
Toyota Scores Well, Despite Recent Recalls
Toyota, which has seen its reputation for safety sullied in the past year because of numerous recalls, earned high scores for its Toyota Avalon and Corolla sedans, Sienna minivan, Highlander SUV and Venza crossover. Within its luxury Lexus division, the RX sports-utility vehicle was recognized, as were two small cars from Toyota's Scion unit -- the tC and xB.
Hyundai's Genesis luxury sedan, Sonata midsize, and Santa Fe and Tucson SUVs earned top safety picks, while Kia's Optima midsize car, Forte and Soul small cars, and Sorento and Sportage SUVs garnered top awards.
No small pickups tested qualified for this year's award, IIHS said, noting that large pickups haven't yet been tested.
(View IIHS's complete list of Top Safety Picks here.)