Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Consumer Reports likes Toyota Camry again

Safest cars on the market

The Toyota Camry is back on a list that it has traditionally been featured on every year—Consumer Reports' recommended list.

It lost that status in October because it had done poorly on a critical crash test by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

(Read more: Toyota slammed by Consumer Reports)

On Thursday, the institute released its annual report on safest vehicles, and the Camry was among 39 models designated a Top Safety Pick. That designation allowed it to regain its spot on Consumer Reports' recommended list.

"We're raising the bar with this list of Top Safety Picks," said IIHS President Adrian Lund. "The new list shows state of the art safety for 2014."

This year, the institute has made it tougher for vehicles to earn that distinction.

The criteria include the small overlap crash test, which measures how well vehicles protect the driver and passengers when the front end on the driver's side hits a barrier at 40 mph. It's a test the institute has added in recent years because small overlap collisions are among the most common—and often deadliest—crashes on the road.

(Read more: Drivers' need for speed is hard to break)

"There are enough models that have been tested, and automakers have been improving the design of models, that we feel this should be part of the basic Top Safety Pick award," Lund said.

Collision avoidance systems rewarded

The institute has added a new designation—Top Safety Pick Plus—for those models that not only perform well in crash tests, but also have collision-avoidance systems. These systems alert drivers and automatically kick in braking features that stop the car before it rear-ends another vehicle.

Collision avoidance systems have become a more popular feature in new vehicles, so the institute is now testing how well those systems work at 25 mph.

(Read more: Safe! This model tops crash avoidance tests)

The popularity of the systems is one reason there are more 2014 Top Safety Pick Plus vehicles than regular Top Safety Pick vehicles.

2012 - 2014 Toyota Camry SE
Source: Toyota Motors

Twenty of the 22 models awarded Top Safety Pick Plus status are foreign brands. Honda and its luxury line, Acura, have the most for any automaker, with six models on the list.

"Honda is way in front of their competitors when it comes to making design changes to protect occupants in a crash, and also adding front crash prevention technology to avoid collisions in the first place," Lund said.

Camry regains recommended status

After losing its Consumer Reports recommendation in October, Toyota has made adjustments to the Camry so that it performs better in small overlap crash tests.

The Camry had previously been featured on the Consumer Reports recommended model list nearly every year.

IIHS 2014 Safety Ratings

Top safety pick +Top safety pick
MinicarChevrolet Spark
Small carsHonda Civic hybrid
Mazda 3 built after October 2013
Toyota Prius built after November 2013
Dodge Dart
Ford Focus
Honda Civic 2-door
Hyundai Elantra
Scion tC
Subaru Impreza
Subaru XV Crosstrek
Midsize moderately priced carsFord Fusion
Honda Accord 2-door
Honda Accord 4-door
Mazda 6
Subaru Legacy
Subaru Outback
Chrysler 200
Dodge Avenger
Kia Optima
Nissan Altima
Toyota Camry built after November 2013
Volkswagen Passat
Midsize luxury/near-luxury carsInfiniti Q50
Lincoln MKZ
Volvo S60
Acura TL
Large luxury carsAcura RLX
Volvo S80
Small SUVsMazda CX-5 built after October 2013
Mitsubishi Outlander
Subaru Forester
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
Midsize SUVToyota Highlander
Midsize luxury SUVsAcura MDX
Mercedes-Benz M-Class built after August 2013
Volvo XC60
Volvo XC90
MinivanHonda Odyssey

—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau. Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews.