The 2015 Sentra is on sale now at Nissan dealerships.
It's a major step forward for the Sentra, which improved from a "poor" rating on the 2014 model to a "good" rating in the Institute's small overlap front crash test. The test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or a utility pole.
"The small car's front structure, A-pillar and door sill were modified to reduce intrusion in the small overlap crashes," the Institute said in a statement on Thursday. "In addition, the side curtain airbag was lengthened to protect the driver's head."
In the latest test, the driver space was "maintained well, with maximum intrusion of less than five inches at the lower door hinge pillar," the statement said. "Measures taken from the dummy indicate a low risk of injuries in a crash of this severity."
Standard safety equipment on the 2015 Sentra includes six airbags, antilock brakes and vehicle dynamic control with traction control.
Edmunds says: Car shoppers should note that the 2015 Honda Civic sedan also earned the 2015 Top Safety Pick award. The 2015 Chevrolet Cruze and 2015 Toyota Corolla did not, earning "marginal" scores in the Institute's small overlap front crash test.