The most important thing is electronic stability control, which has proven to be statistically the most effective safety advancement in cars since seat belts. ESC helps drivers keep the car on the road in emergency situations. And staying on the road goes a long way to keeping the car from rolling over or spinning into a tree or a telephone pole, which are among the most dangerous types of accidents. A car with ESC will also have antilock brakes and probably traction control, since they require all the same hardware components. ESC became mandatory in 2012, but most cars began to include it earlier as standard equipment.
It’s also important to find a car with side and curtain air bags. Since there’s much less space between the edge of the car and passengers in a side collision than in front or back, side air bags form a critical buffer. Curtain air bags, which cover the side windows, can also help keep passengers inside during an accident, a critical safety benefit.
Any car with curtain air bags and ESC will also have front air bags, which became mandatory in 1999.
Chevrolet Malibu (2009-2012, 4-cyl.)
Starting at: $8,125
Ford Focus (2009-2011)
Starting at: $6,050
Ford Fusion (2010-2012, 4-cyl. and hybrid)
Starting at: $8,325
Hyundai Sonata (2006-2014, 4-cyl., non-turbo)
Starting at: $5,450
Kia Soul (2010-2011)
Starting at: $8,925
Starting at: $9,825
Mazda6i (2009-2013, 4-cyl.)
Starting at: $8,375
Toyota RAV4 (2004-2012, 4-cyl.)
Starting at: $5,590
Volkswagen Jetta (2009-2010, 4-cyl.)
Starting at: $7,250
Volkswagen Rabbit/Golf (2009-2014)
Starting at: $7,700
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