The list, released Thursday, named the Honda Civic hybrid, Honda Accord, Acura RLX and Acura MDX as the highest-ranking. The Honda Civic two-door and Acura TL were also ranked as top safety picks.
Infiniti's Q50, the Mazda 3, Toyota Highlander and the Chevrolet Spark mini-car were all newcomers to the list.
The Honda Civic Hybrid and several Volvo models won the top designation on the basis of standard equipment in their vehicles.
The 39 chosen cars met tougher standards than last year's 130-car list. For the first time, criteria included a good front crash prevention system, in addition to top crash test scores. Vehicles are now ranked as either a "Top Safety Pick" or "Top Safety Pick +" if they meet the front crash protection criteria as well.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.