Safe and Sleek Cars

From sensors to parking assist, what new luxury cars offer.

If you’re in the market for a new luxury car, you’ll want it to be sleek—both inside and out. The newest safety features help ensure that your vehicle is as safe as it is stylish.

Look for lane departure warning systems, in which cameras or other sensors are placed around the car to determine its position in your lane. If you stray, a light flashes and/or a sound alerts you. Reverse backup sensors accomplish a similar task, when you’re backing out of a garage or parking spot.

Other features include infrared night vision and even adaptive headlights, which shift as you’re turning and help you see around curves. Parking assist and side view assist sensors can alert you and prevent accidents, and the key safety combination of automatic braking (which brakes the car to lessen the impact if you’re about to crash) and forward collision avoidance systems (which warn you against crashes with visual or auditory clues) are the gold standard in new luxury vehicles.

Each year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) releases its annual list of the safest cars based on a series of crash tests, rating them on their performance on frontal crashes, side impacts and rollovers—in every car segment. Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book and US News and World Report all weigh in each year as well. Here are some luxury vehicles that consistently top the charts for 2013 and 2014:

2014 Mercedes S Class
Claim to fame:
The S stands for sonderklasse (German for "special car") but it might as well stand for safety. The world's best-selling luxury sedan is known for groundbreaking safety standards.
Safety features: The Distronic Plus system uses advanced radar sensors to scan roadways for stopped or decelerating vehicles, and it triggers the brake when it senses an impending collision. A camera using infrared night vision technology detects warm-blooded beings and cold objects alike, allowing drivers to see pedestrians and hazards in the dark.

2013 Volvo S80
Claim to fame: This luxury large sedan has garnered the top rating from IIHS since 2007, and is still a top safety pick.
Safety features: Active high beams can recognize the headlight beams of oncoming vehicles and automatically shift between high and low beams; adaptive brake lights can tell the difference between panicked and normal braking; a warning system for collision and lane departure. It also offers City Safety technology, designed, among other things, to automatically stop if a pedestrian steps into the car’s path while it is traveling at 22 mph or less.

2013 and 2014 Mercedes M Class
Claim to fame:
Performance is the key with the M Class. It offers a variety of powertrains, including V6, diesel, V8 and 518-horsepower AMG model. Its diesel-powered ML 350 Bluetec gets a good EPA rating: 20/28 mpg.
Safety features: The Mercedes M Class was redesigned for the 2012 model year. Beginning with 2014 models built after August 2013, reinforcements were added to the door to protect drivers and passengers in frontal crashes. Other special features include: a rollover sensor designed to deploy side curtain airbags in an impending rollover; a driver knee airbag to minimize knee injuries; electronic stability control and rear seat-mounted torso airbags.

2013 Audi A6
Claim to fame:
This large luxury car is an IIHS top safety pick and was redesigned for the 2012 model year.
Safety features: More airbags than you can shake a stick at. Side airbags; front and rear head curtain airbags and front seat-mounted torso airbags come standard; rear seat-mounted torso airbags are optional. There are also separate airbags in the lower instrument panel designed to minimize knee injuries; electronic stability control; antilock brakes; and daytime running lights.