It's not hard to see why small cars have increased in popularity over the last decade or so.

Always popular among some buyers for their gas-saving abilities, today's small cars are also now quicker, more comfortable, better-equipped and safer than ever before.

IIHS has been discovering just how safe in its latest wave of testing, and it's good and bad news for models in the small car market.

The best news is reserved for Honda, whose Civic and Civic coupe earned the maximum Good rating in IIHS's strict small offset frontal crash tests. The small offset test puts the impact's maximum force through just a small area of a car's structure, and really separates the safest cars from those that need more work.

The 2013 Kia Soul and 2014 Kia Forte received 'Poor' ratings in this offset test, with body and dashboard intrusion and a worrying tendency for the driver's head to slide off the airbag and impact upon the car's structure.

Nissan's 2013 Sentra also scored poorly, but all received a Top Safety Pick rating overall due to Good scores in front, side, rollover and rear impact tests.

Better--but not great--were the Chevrolet Cruze and Sonic, and the Volkswagen Beetle. All received a 'Marginal' rating in the small offset test, but all again scored a Top Safety Pick rating overall.

The IIHS's highest honor, a Top Safety Pick+ rating, was awarded to the two Civics, as well as the Dodge Dart, Ford Focus sedan, Hyundai Elantra and Scion tC. The latter four vehicles all received an 'Acceptable' rating in the small offset test.

The upshot of all this crash testing is that virtually every small car on sale is now competent enough in most impact tests to receive a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS--though most haven't yet been rated in the small offset tests.

That's good news for small car buyers, who really can enjoy the benefits of gas-sipping vehicles with better-than-ever standards of safety.

And if you want the best in the class? The 2013 Honda Civic, also available as a 44 mpg hybrid, should be your own top pick.


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