By Suzanne Kane

Many factors go into the choice of a good used car, including style, performance, fuel economy, amenities, and safety, among others. Taking safety as a primary consideration, there are numerous variables to take into account. In order for a car to be on the top 3 safest list, in this writer’s analysis, it has to score near-perfect on the crash and rollover tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Since testing is different for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), cars must also be rated one of that agency’s Top Safety Picks. Ratings from Consumer Reports also factor into the equation. And, finally, the cars should have many standard or optional features that help in accident avoidance.

Ask any person to agree on the top 3 safest cars and you’ll likely get vastly different lists. This is according to preference, personal experience, familiarity with or respect for an automaker’s models. Therefore, it is unlikely that there’ll ever be universal agreement. In addition, finding a trio of vehicles among the hundreds available and calling them the safest is just asking for a debate. Not in the cards.

So, this list is purely put together according to the parameters already laid out. After you check them out, look at some other good choices that almost made the list.

  • Acura RL (2006-2009) – No question about this selection, as the luxury Acura RL 4–door, 5-passenger 2009_Acura_RL--DCall-wheel-drive (AWD) sedan is tops on every list. This is the second-generation RL, which bowed in 2005. An IIHS Top Safety Pick for 2006 to 2009, Acura RL scores a perfect 5-stars in every NHTSA category (front, side and rollover) for years 2005 to 2010. Powered by a 300-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 engine mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission, RL has standard 4-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS), front, head and side airbags, electronic stability control (ESC) and traction control (TC). Curb weight is 4,083 pounds. Of its AWD system, Edmunds.com says it “tenaciously maintains traction.” Consumer Reports lists RL in its large car safest list for 2008-2009.
  • Audi A4 (2006-2009) – This midsize 5-passenger, 4-door front-drive sedan (with available Quattro AWD) is in its fourth generation for 2009. The third-generation A4 was available from 2006-2008. The 2.0T is powered by a 211-horsepower, 2.0-lier inline 4-cylinder turbocharged engine with continuously variable transmission (CVT). There’s also the 265-horsepower 3.2-liter V-6. Standard safety features include 4-wheel ABS, front, head and side airbags, ESC and TC. Curb weight is 3,527 pounds. Edmunds.com says A4 is a “favorite among luxury car buyers thanks to its handsome, well-finished cabin, sharp handling and available Quattro all-wheel drive.” Consumer Reports lists A4 as a top safety choice in midsize cars for 2008-2009. IIHS named A4 a Top Safety Pick for 2006-2009. In NHTSA testing, RL achieves a perfect 5-star rating in all testing for 2009 models.
  • Hyundai Genesis (2009) – Just introduced in the 2009 model year, the Hyundai Genesis marks the automaker’s first foray into the luxury car market. Edmunds.com says of the 4-door, 5-passenger rear-wheel-drive sedan that it’s “quiet as a murmur and drenched in luxury.” Weighing in at 3,748 pounds, the car is available in the 3.8 with 290-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6 engine with 6-speed automatic transmission or the 4.6 with 375-horsepower 4.6-liter V-8, Genesis has standard 4-wheel ABS, full complement of airbags (front, head and side), ESC and TC. It also carries perfect NHTSA 5-star ratings for front and side crash and rollover testing. Genesis is an IIHS Top Safety Pick for 2009 with good performance in front, side and rear tests and standard electronic stability control.

Other cars with impressive safety marks include midsize SUVs Acura MDX, Volvo XC90, Saturn Vue, as well as Volkswagen Tiguan small SUV. In midsize cars, there’s the Subaru Legacy, Volkswagen Jetta and Passat. Also check out the Cadillac CTS large sedan. If your favorite car isn’t on this list, just do your own checking of the safety marks for your top pick. In the end, which car you choose has a lot to do with how you’ll use it.

Here are two important safety links: NHTSA’s crash test results: http://www.safercar.gov/ and IIHS vehicle ratings: http://www.iihs.org/ratings/default.aspx.

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