Waiting till 2011 may be good for you if you hate the current crash rating system for vehicles. All to frequently I find it difficult to exclude cars from my shopping wish list based on safety alone. Take for instance the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). IIHS has a "top safety picks list of 2009" which lists a whopping 74 vehicles. What's so top about 74 vehicles? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) isn't that tough on its crash test ratings either.
NHTSA recognizes that nine out of 10 vehicles routinely score either four or five stars out of five. NHTSA now vows to increase the standards for front- and side-impacts, along with more stringent rollover testing starting with 2011 models. Reference:
The Energy Independence and Security Act amends the 1975 law by requiring fuel economy standards for 2011-20 models to be set to ensure an industry-wide average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020 for all new passenger vehicles combined (that is, different standards no longer will apply to cars and light trucks). This law authorizes NHTSA to use a size-based system for both cars and light trucks, and the agency’s new (March 2009) standard for 2011 models uses such a system. The result will be to promote fuel economy without compromising safety (source).
Knowing this, I'll either wait and buy a 2011 model or buy a heavily discounted 2010 if the model didn't change significantly between 2010 and 2011 and the 2011 crash test results are top of its class. If you want to view current NHTSA crash results go to safercar.gov. If my research is correct, the cheapest new vehicle with 5 star crash ratings (front, side, rollover) is the 2010 Mazda 6.