The 2016 Honda Pilot has earned a top safety rating, further vindication of a design process for the SUV that relied on computer modelling and 3D printing in its development.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced Friday that the 2016 Pilot has received a Top Safety Pick Plus rating which is the highest level issued.

Honda engineers have focused their efforts on achieving the highest safety standards and the body of the third-generation Pilot was designed with a series of crumple zones and high-strength, carefully crafted, steel beams and other structural enhancements to keep the cabin of the vehicle safe, said Brian Bautsch, head of safety engineering for the Pilot.

The SUV scored well in the “small overlap” test where a front corner of a vehicle is struck. Bautsch said Honda developed a chassis and body that works to dissipate the energy after a collision to keep it from intruding into the passenger compartment. The IIHS rating confirms the structure works and Honda expects 11 Honda and Acura brand vehicles will be awarded with the top safety rating.

Adding to the feat: the Pilot was developed without the use of traditional prototypes. Instead, engineers relied on computers to virtually build the car, down to individual parts and ease of assembly at the Alabama assembly plant. Where a physical part or tool was needed for troubleshooting, Honda used a 3D printer to create one, said Jeff Tomko, president of Honda Manufacturing Alabama.

Honda saved millions normally spent on physical prototypes and the tooling to make them. Several months of development time were also shaved off the process, said Tomko.

The Pilot launch was the most challenging to date for the 15-year-old Honda plant because it is a complicated vehicle to build with all its features and technology. And it is the first Honda vehicle in North America developed completely in the virtual world and the second globally: Honda developed the Stepwgn in Japan this way as well.

Until pre-production vehicles started going down the line in the last year, “we had only seen (the new Pilot) on computer screens,” Tomko said. But there were 3D printed pieces such as a transparent instrument panel that allowed engineers to view all the components, including wiring underneath. This approach prompted a redesign of the center console and other components were moved. The team also printed some tools to test for use on the assembly line.

Going forward, Honda will use this development model for all vehicles, Tomko said. “This is the new corporate direction.”

It has been a learning curve for those who have spent their careers working with physical models to develop new vehicles. And the supply base also had to learn to use computer-assisted design to come up with parts. The vehicle has 150 suppliers, of which 20 are new to Honda Alabama and five are new to Honda altogether.

“We had to evaluate the supply base,” Tomko said, “and assign our resources to go help educate them to be able to develop without physical parts.”

The Alabama plant initially only built the Odyssey minivan but a new assembly line was added in 2004 and the facility now makes the Honda Odyssey Pilot and Ridgeline pickup as well as the Acura MDX. There is also an engine plant under the same roof which has been upgraded and now even makes its own pistons for the engines it assembles.

The four vehicles share a new global platform. The MDX went into production about 18 months ago, followed by the new Pilot in June. The next-generation Ridgeline will go into production in the first half of 2016 and the new Odyssey will launch in late 2016, Tomko said.

Correction: An earlier version misstated the braking distance and maneuvering test results