Five models achieve the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's top safety pick+ award for their performance in a variety of crash tests, including a newly instituted front overlap test.

Both the 2- and 4-door versions of the ’13 Honda Civic, as well as the ’13 Volvo XC60, ’14 Mazda6 and ’13 Lincoln MKZ passed the overlap test, designed to mimic a real-world collision of the front corner of a vehicle with another vehicle or small fixed object such as a tree.

The 2- and 4-door Civic and XC60 earned “good” ratings for small overlap protection, IIHS says, while the MKZ and Mazda6 were judged “acceptable.”

IIHS says the Volvo passed due to a change in its side airbag algorithm, while Honda engineers upgraded the front structure of the Civic as part of the car’s midcycle change for ’13.

Honda’s Chuck Thomas, chief engineer-automotive safety for Honda R&D Americas, says Honda reinforced the cabin area – bolstering the door opening and side sill with more high-strength steel, to get the Civic to pass the overlap test.

The auto maker hoped to make these changes when the current generation debuted in ’11, but the car was too far into the development cycle.

“We can make the most efficient changes when we do a complete vehicle redesign,” Thomas says. “When the vehicle is designed, to some extent the changes we can make are somewhat limited because we’ve already entered into production and the production tooling is created.”

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com