* Sales up for newer models with top safety rating
* Hyundai Santa Fe, Lexus ES also get top rating
* Of autos sold in U.S., 73 pct get top rating
DETROIT, Oct 3 The Dodge Dart, the model Chrysler is betting on becoming a top-selling small car, was among four new vehicles on the U.S. market to receive a top crash-test rating by an influential safety group on Wednesday.
The 2013 Dart, the first model jointly engineered and designed by Fiat SpA and Chrysler Group LLC, was named a "Top Safety Pick" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Three other 2013 models, each one redesigned from previous model years, also earned the top rating: the Hyundai Motor Co crossover Santa Fe, the Lexus ES 350 midsize luxury sedan, and the Subaru XV Crosstrek hatchback.
The rating means that each vehicle performed well in test crashes evaluating front, side and rear impacts as well as rollovers.
"We had high expectations for the Dart and our engineers delivered," said Reid Bigland, chief of Chrysler's Dodge brand.
Of the 180 vehicles IIHS tested for the 2012 model year, 132 were awarded the Top Safety Pick designation, said Russ Rader, spokesman for IIHS.
The IIHS will issue in December its annual list of the safety report for vehicles sold in the U.S. market. These four models were tested after manufacturers requested the tests ahead of the normal IIHS schedule, Rader said.
Each of the four models were introduced to the U.S. market within the last several months.
Hyundai's Santa Fe sold the most among the new models in September, at 7,378, an increase of 19 percent over last year, a marked improvement over August sales of 4,524, indicating the attractiveness of the newer model.
Hyundai last month said that it aimed to sell 100,000 of the newly remodeled Santa Fe vehicles in the 2013 model year in the U.S. market.
The Lexus ES, from Toyota Motor Corp , sold 6,553 vehicles in September in the U.S. market, up 81 percent from a year ago. A Lexus spokesman said that 80 percent of the cars sold in September were the new 2013 model.
Dart's September U.S. sales were 5,235, up from August sales of 3,045.
In its first full month of sales, Subaru's XV Crosstrek's September sales were 192.
While 73 percent of the models IIHS tested last year received the top safety rating, next year's test will be more stringent.
The new front crash tests will evaluate a vehicle's safety in a crash that impacts the front corners. This will be more demanding because most manufacturers create a structure for vehicles that can better absorb middle-front collisions.
In a recent test of 11 luxury midsize cars by using the new corner-front crash evaluation, only two models earned the top safety ranking, the IIHS said.
Subaru is owned by Fuji Heavy Industries of Japan. (Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Richard Chang)