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Price spike forces buyers out of new-car marketA chain reaction touched off by the coronavirus pandemic has pushed new-vehicle prices to record highs and dramatically driven up the cost of used cars. (Feb. 23)APSometimes simple changes add up to meaningful improvements.That’s the case for vehicle safety as the number of cars, trucks and SUVs earning the highest ratings from the nonprofit that assesses vehicle safety more than doubled for the 2021 model year, in large part due to tweaks involving features like headlights.The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) named 49 vehicles as Top Safety Pick+ award recipients for 2021 and another 41 for its second tier, Top Safety Pick.”The good news this year is consumers have a lot to choose from,” IIHS President David Harkey said. “There should be something to meet your needs.”The honors, which automakers often trumpet in marketing campaigns, reflect an assessment of crash-test performance, advanced safety features, engineering and design.Kia ditches Sedona minivan: Switches to Kia Carnival “multi-purpose vehicle” with logo on the hoodJeep Cherokee faces scrutiny: Cherokee Nation chief says SUVs do ‘not honor us’But features as ordinary as headlights sometimes is the difference between making the list or not, Harkey said.In 2020, only 23 vehicles initially qualified for Top Safety Pick+ in large part due to IIHS’ decision to require “good” or “acceptable” headlights as standard equipment.Let there be better headlightsThis year, a number of vehicles made significant strides in headlight improvements after years of IIHS flagging them for underwhelming performance. The group has previously criticized automakers for focusing too much on looks and not enough on basic elements such as installing the lights correctly to ensure they’re properly aimed.”We saw dramatic improvements in automakers who have figured out how to create better-performing headlights, reduce the glare for oncoming drivers and get winning scores in our headlight test,” Harkey said.Hyundai, Genesis and Kia, which are part of the same Korean manufacturer, had the most vehicles on either IIHS list with 17.Volvo had the most IIHS Top Safety Pick+ vehicles with nine, in large part because “they’ve figured out the headlights,” Harkey said.While every brand but low-volume Mitsubishi had at least one vehicle earn IIHS honors, Harkey noted that high-volume automakers like General Motors and Stellantis (the company that now owns the former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) should be performing better, especially given their popular pickups and SUVs.”The fact that these companies produce so many models yet have so few award winners is still disappointing and something we need to continue to work with them on to make improvements,” Harkey said.The IIHS criteria didn’t change in 2021 but are expected to evolve further soon. Harkey said the group plans to increase the speed and mass of side-impact collisions in crash tests from 31 mph to 37 mph as soon as 2023.”It’s to be more representative of the vehicles that are out there in the fleet these days,” he said.2021 IIHS Top Safety Pick+ recipients:Small carsHonda InsightMazda 3 hatchbackMazda 3 sedanSubaru Crosstrek HybridMidsize carsHonda AccordKia K5 (built after November 2020)Mazda 6Nissan AltimaNissan Maxima built after November 2020Subaru LegacySubaru OutbackToyota CamryMidsize luxury carsAcura TLXLexus ES 350Lexus ISTesla Model 3Volvo S60Volvo S60 RechargeVolvo V60Volvo V60 RechargeLarge luxury carsAudi A6Audi A6 allroadAudi A7Genesis G70Genesis G90Small SUVsMazda CX-3Mazda CX-5Mazda CX-30 built after September 2020Nissan RogueSubaru ForesterMidsize SUVsFord ExplorerHyundai PalisadeMazda CX-9Subaru AscentToyota HighlanderMidsize luxury SUVsAcura RDXCadillac XT6Hyundai NexoLexus NXMercedes-Benz GLE-Class with optional front crash preventionVolvo XC60Volvo XC60 RechargeVolvo XC90Volvo XC90 RechargeVolvo XC40Large SUVsAudi e-tronAudi e-tron SportbackMinivansHonda OdysseyToyota Sienna2021 IIHS Top Safety Pick awards:Small carsHonda Civic hatchback (excluding Type R performance variant)Honda Civic sedanHyundai Veloster (with optional front crash prevention)Kia Forte (with optional front crash prevention)Kia Soul (with optional front crash prevention)Nissan SentraSubaru Crosstrek (with optional front crash prevention)Subaru Impreza sedan (with optional front crash prevention)Subaru Impreza wagon (with optional front crash prevention)Subaru WRX (with optional front crash prevention)Toyota Corolla hatchbackToyota Corolla sedanMidsize carHyundai SonataMidsize luxury carsAudi A4Audi A5 SportbackBMW 3 seriesMercedes-Benz C-Class (with optional front crash prevention)Large car Kia Stinger (with optional front crash prevention)Small SUVsChevrolet EquinoxFord EscapeHonda CR-VHyundai Kona (with optional front crash prevention)Hyundai Tucson (with optional front crash prevention)Hyundai VenueKia Seltos (built after August 2020; with optional front crash prevention)Kia Sportage (with optional front crash prevention)Lexus UXLincoln CorsairToyota C-HRToyota RAV4Toyota RAV4 PrimeToyota VenzaMidsize SUVsFord EdgeKia SorentoKia TellurideVolkswagen TiguanMidsize luxury SUVsLexus RXLincoln AviatorMercedes-Benz GLC (with optional front crash prevention)Large SUVAudi Q8Large pickup Ram 1500 crew cab (with optional front crash prevention)Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.