Have your cake and eat it too

Look – we all want to be safe out on the road, right? I mean, actually making it from Point A to Point B in one piece seems like a pretty good idea, right? That said, no one reading this article wants to be stuck in some foam-lined penalty box, bored to tears by rubbery, zero-engagement feel and city-bus levels of excitement. It’s a tough combo to crack, but fear not, because we found six cars that manage to be both safe and fun to drive.

First up – the safety. To gauge this, we went to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS (check them out here), which releases an annual list of models that manage to wow in a battery of evaluations designed to test crashworthiness and crash prevention. This year, 44 models got the IIHS’s Top Safety Pick designation, while 38 models got the Top Safety Pick + designation (the “+” is a nod to crash prevention technology. For more info on how the IIHS rates vehicles, click here).

New for this year’s Top Safety Pick+ awards were headlight evaluations, which looked at parameters like how far light is projected down the road, as well as headlight adaptation to curves and automatic high and low beams (find more information here).

Now for the fun factor. While not quite as scientific as what the IIHS is doing, finding out how much “fizz” you get behind the wheel is still critical for this list. And hey – in case you didn’t notice the URL, you’re reading this on TopSpeed.com. So trust us – we got the fun factor dialed.

Continue reading for our list of safe cars that don’t completely suck to drive.

Safe Cars That Don’t Completely Suck To Drive

Subaru WRX

2015 - 2016 Subaru WRX High Resolution Exterior
- image 533258

First on our list is America’s favorite rally-bred sports car – the Subaru WRX. While the ’17 ‘Rex failed to snag that coveted “+” designation (the headlights only got a “Marginal” rating), it’s still among the IIHS’s Top Safety Picks, earning a top “Good” rating in every single crashworthiness test. It also received top marks (or “Superior” in IIHS parlance) in crash avoidance and mitigation when equipped with optional equipment, while the standard AWD provides loads of grip when the weather gets sour (check out the complete safety ratings here).

The AWD is also useful for other things – like laying down every last turbocharged pony from the thumping flat-four engine under the hood. Output is rated at 268 horsepower, while sport-tuned suspension keeps you planted. If you’ve got the means, splurge on the even-faster WRX STI, which adds a larger, more powerful engine, stiffer suspension, bigger brakes, and a gigantic wing in the rear. Don’t forget the manual six-speed transmission, conveniently offered on both the WRX and WRX STI.

Read the full review here.

BMW 2 Series Coupe

2014 - 2015 BMW 2 Series Coupe High Resolution Exterior
- image 530082

Getting behind the wheel of the ultimate driving machine doesn’t mean you gotta concede survivability in an accident. The 2017 2 Series proves it, receiving a top “Good” rating in every crashworthiness category and an “Advanced” front crash prevention rating (check out the complete ratings here).

And as soon as the road opens up, 2 Series transforms from comfortable cruiser to nippy sports car, propelled by 248 horsepower thanks to a boosted four-cylinder engine. Alternatively, you can get 335 horses from a 3.0-liter inline-six, which pairs well with upgrades like Adaptive M Suspension and the inherent balance of a front-engine, RWD drivetrain layout with polished 50/50 weight distribution.

Read the full review here.

Mazda 3

2016 - 2018 Mazda3 High Resolution Interior Exterior
- image 682549

The Mazda 3 is the first entry on this list to get a Top Safety Pick + designation, coming equipped with headlights evaluated as “Acceptable” by the IIHS. And that’s mighty high praise considering how most automakers faired in the new headlight test. Of course, the “Acceptable” headlights are attached to a body that gets “Good” ratings across the board in crashworthiness, as well as “Superior” front crash prevention (check out the complete ratings here).

So it’s obvious quite safe. But Mazda also prides itself on churning out cars that are a blast to drive, and the 3 is no different. With up to 184 horsepower possible thanks to a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, this stylish FWD fun-mobile also gets a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. Not only that, but it looks quite good, offered as either a four-door sedan or a hatchback.

Read the full review here.

Mazda CX-3

2016 - 2017 Mazda CX-3 High Resolution Exterior
- image 578380
After a lot of waiting, here it is folks: the 2016 Mazda CX-3.

Mazda has been killing it with the safe and fun cars lately… okay, maybe that’s not the best choice of words, but the point is Mazda is getting two spots on this list. If the hatchback- or sedan-styled 3 isn’t really for you, the CX-3 steps it up with a compact crossover body style, plus all the trimmings you’d expect. That includes those “+”-winning headlights, not to mention “Good” ratings across the board and a “Superior” frontal crash prevention rating (check out the complete ratings here).

For the fun factor, you get a 146-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox and FWD as standard, while AWD is an available option. And while it might be a tall-bodied crossover, the CX-3 is still surprisingly fun in the twisty bits, and it maintains that handsome Kodo exterior styling.

Read the full review here.

Mini Cooper

2014 Mini Cooper High Resolution Exterior
- image 541457

Sure, it’s grown considerably over the course of its lifetime (no, seriously, just check it out in this year’s Thanksgiving special here), but that means it’s a whole lot safer than the tin can on wheels that was the first generation. Per usual for Top Safety Picks, crashworthiness is “Good” in every category, while front crash avoidance prevention is rated as “Advanced.” The headlights, however, are rated as “Marginal,” which keeps the British icon from receiving a “+” designation.

And while it’s bigger and heavier than before, the new Cooper is still a hoot to drive. If fun is a major concern, consider the top-shelf Cooper Works model, which gets 228 horsepower routed to the front axle from a 2.0-liter turbo engine and a standard six-speed manual transmission. Dynamic Damper Control is extra, but might be worth it for even greater agility.

Read the full review here.

Volvo S60/V60

2014 Volvo S60 High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 517805

Well of course a Volvo is gonna be safe, right? The S60 sedan and V60 wagon complete the stereotype with “Good” crash ratings, “Superior” front crash prevention, and “Acceptable” headlights, which means these slick-looking Swedish meatballs get the IIHS’s Top Safety Pick + designation (check out the full ratings for the sedan here and the wagon here).

Not only that, but these head-turners are also surprisingly fun to drive, with up to 300 horsepower offered at the top of a wide range of engine options, plus AWD grip when you need it. If you’re feeling particularly saucy, opt into the Polestar models, which add even more juice thanks to a twin-charged 367-horsepower inline-four, upgraded suspension, big brakes, and sticky tires.

Read the full review for the Volvo S60 here.

Read the full review for the V60 here.

Jonathan Lopez
About the author
What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: