It used to be that going green meant giving up something, whether it was size, safety, or features in a car.

Well, smaller cars still get better gas mileage. That's just physics. But just as you no longer have to sacrifice features, smaller and greener cars also now have safety ratings just as good as their larger, thirstier counterparts.

The latest case in point is the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, which the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has just designated a Top Safety Pick in both of its body styles, the four-door sedan and five-door hatchback.

The subcompact Sonic, which will be the only subcompact built in the U.S. when it hits dealerships later this year, improves greatly on the 2011 Aveo model it replaces.

The IIHS had given the Aveo an "acceptable" rating in only one of four crash tests (frontal collision), with "marginal" ratings for the other three.

The IIHS gave the 2012 Sonic top ratings for all of its new, tougher tests for the 2012 model year. Those include front, side, and rear crash protection, as well as rollovers.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic

2012 Chevrolet Sonic

To qualify for the rating, a car must also have electronic stability control as standard, as is Federally mandated for all cars built starting this month.

The Institute also noted that in its rollover tests, the Chevy Sonic's roof withstood forces of more than 5 times the car's weight (against just over 3 times for the Aveo). A "good" rating in that IIHS test is a ratio of 4 or higher.

Other green cars that have received top ratings from the IIHS include the 2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2011 Nissan Leaf, both plug-in electric cars.


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