Cars receiving the IIHS "top safety pick +" rating were:
• Volkswagen Passat (built after October 2012)
• Chrysler 200 4-door
• Dodge Avenger
• Ford Fusion (built after December 2012)
• Honda Accord 2-door
• Honda Accord 4-door
• Kia Optima
• Nissan Altima 4-door (built after November 2012)
• Subaru Legacy (built after August 2012)
• Subaru Outback (built after August 2012)
• Suzuki Kizashi
Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The Chattanooga-made Passat is one of just 13 cars, and the only vehicle by a German automaker, to pick up the top safety rating from a national group.
The Passat midsize sedan received a "top safety pick +" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The vehicles, all midsize cars, were cited for superior crash test protection by the IIHS. To earn the ranking, vehicles must have "good" ratings for occupant protection in at least four of five evaluations with no less than an "acceptable" score in the fifth test, according to a IIHS news release.
Frank Fischer, chief executive of VW's Chattanooga operations, said he was "very pleased" with the factory's 2012 results, citing not only the volume of cars produced by plant workers but the quality of the Passat.
Fischer said "the craftsmanship of the team members is at a high level."
The IIHS said the Passat built after October 2012 received the highest rating. It said that, beginning with 2013 models, the car's side curtain airbags were reprogrammed to deploy in small overlap frontal crashes to improve occupant protection.
The tested car was retrofitted by Volkswagen engineers with a new airbag computer identical to that used in the modified production cars, according to IIHS. Information about when a specific vehicle was manufactured is on the certification label typically affixed to the car on or near the driver door.
Adrian Lund, IIHS president, said in a statement that in the 29 vehicles it has evaluated so far in its small overlap frontal crash test, the 13 cars cited offer the highest level of all-around crash protection.
Lund said automakers have made structural and restraint changes in response to the IIHS small overlap test. He said five manufacturers redesigned their midsize cars to enhance small overlap crash protection.
VW and Subaru changed airbag control modules on the production lines so that side curtain airbags would deploy for improved head protection, according to IIHS.
The Institute calls itself an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational group wholly supported by auto insurers.