Honda Motor Co. has topped the insurance industry's annual list of the safest new vehicles.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety on Thursday gave 39 vehicles top safety ratings for 2014.
That's far fewer than the 130 on the list last year, because vehicles now must meet tougher standards.
For the first time, the vehicles need top crash test scores and a good front crash prevention system - such as warning systems or automatic braking - to get the highest designation. Vehicles are now ranked as either a "Top Safety Pick" -- or "Top Safety Pick +" if they meet the front crash protection criteria, as well.
Twenty-two vehicles got the absolute top grade and 12 others got the one just below it, the institute said.
Honda, which also owns the Acura brand, had the most winners of any automaker with eight of its vehicles making the list, including six that got Top Safety Pick +. The Honda Civic hybrid, Honda Accord, Acura RLX and Acura MDX all got the highest ranking. Its Honda Civic two-door and Acura TL were also ranked as top safety picks.
The list is often used by safety-minded car shoppers and by automakers in advertising.
Most of the Top Safety Pick + winners made that grade only when they had optional front crash prevention systems, the institute points out. When they weren't, they still met the Top Safety Pick criteria.
There were eight newcomers to the list, including Infinity's Q50, the Mazda 3, Toyota Highlander and the Chevrolet Spark mini-car. The Honda Civic Hybrid and several Volvo models won the top designation on the basis of standard equipment in their vehicles.
"Front crash prevention, which includes both warning systems and automatic braking, is intended to help inattentive drivers avoid rear-ending a stopped or slower-moving vehicle in front of them," the institute says. "IIHS began rating front crash prevention systems earlier this year after research by its affiliate, the Highway Loss Data Institute, showed that forward collision warning and automatic braking systems are reducing crashes."
The IIHS's rankings have been a catalyst in recent years for automakers to make their cars safer. Automakers are scrambling to bolster the front-end protection of their cars and trucks to meet the institute's offset test, which measures how well a car protects people in a crash covering only part of the front end.
For example, Toyota redesigned the midsize Camry sedan, America's top-selling car, so it could pass the test, the institute announced Thursday. The changes helped the Camry's crash-test rating move from "poor" to "acceptable," for all models built after Nov. 1, the institute said.