Safest New Cars for 2020-2021
For most car shoppers, safety is a primary concern when choosing a new model. Every new vehicle sold in America must meet standards mandated by Title 49 of the United States Code, Chapter 301, for motor vehicle safety. While airbags, seat belts and crumple zones keep occupants safe in a crash, technologies available in some new cars work to prevent the crash itself. Those systems vary among car companies — some use radar, others use cameras — but the goal is lessening or avoiding impacts without the need for driver input. For a vehicle to be named an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+, it must earn Good ratings (Good is the highest IIHS rating) in each of six crash tests: driver-side and passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraint & seats. The vehicle must also earn an Advanced or Superior rating for front crash prevention in vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian tests, as well as a Good or Acceptable headlight rating.
For 2020, the IIHS adds an additional requirement for a vehicle to gain distinction as an IIHS Top Safety Pick+. To earn this top award, a vehicle must be available exclusively with Good or Acceptable headlights on all trim variants. This new requirement knocks several previously top-ranked vehicles off the Top Safety Pick+ list. “The headlight ratings that have been part of our awards criteria in recent years have pushed automakers to pay more attention to this essential equipment,” said IIHS President David Harkey. “However, finding vehicles with the right headlights can be a challenge for consumers. We wanted to reward automakers that have removed this obstacle,” Harkey noted. Here, in alphabetical order, are the safest new cars in 2020 — vehicles that achieve the elite IIHS rank of Top Safety Pick+ winner.
2020 Acura RDX
All new last year, the Acura RDX returns to the elite group of safest vehicles in America for the second year in a row. The previous-generation RDX earned the rank of TSP+ for 2016 and 2017, but the compact crossover didn’t meet the headlight requirement for 2018. The RDX earns the highest rating for every IIHS crash test, thanks in part to the newest generation of Acura’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure, new high-strength steel door stiffener rings and eight airbags, including driver and front-passenger knee airbags. The RDX also features the AcuraWatch suite of safety and driver-assist technologies, including automatic emergency braking and road departure mitigation. New LED headlights are also standard.
2020 Audi A6
Audi introduced a new A6 for the 2019 model year that returned to the Top Safety Pick+ list after being absent for the previous few years. The 2020 A6 not only carries the latest styling cues of the Audi brand, it also possesses the latest advanced safety features. A central driver-assistance controller processes data from up to five radar sensors, five cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors and a laser scanner to provide a wide range of driver-assistance systems that include standard automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. The A6 performed at the highest level in all front crash prevention tests.
2021 Audi A7
In 2019 Audi introduced an all-new A7 incorporating many styling cues that originated on the flagship A8, including the larger Singleframe grille and integrated headlights. One of the most captivating luxury sportback models on the market, the A7 retains its signature sleek silhouette; however, it now provides a more comfortable environment for rear-seat occupants via increased headroom and legroom. With a full range of advanced active and passive safety features, the A7 has been a Top Safety Pick for the last few years. For 2021 Audi upgrades to LED projector headlights for all trim levels, thus meeting the criteria for the IIHS’s Top Safety Pick+ rating.
2020 Audi e-tron Sportback
The first fully electric model from Audi, the e-tron is a premium 5-seat midsize SUV with an EPA-estimated range of more than 200 miles. For 2020 Audi introduces the sleeker-looking e-tron Sportback, joining the e-tron SUV. The 2019 Audi e-tron SUV is rated as a Top Safety Pick+, but Audi is skipping the 2020 model year for that model. The e-tron employs a new-generation quattro electric all-wheel-drive system that features two potent electric motors — one powering each axle — that adjust the amount of torque delivered to each axle for ideal balance according to driving conditions. The Audi e-tron has the distinction of being the first fully electric vehicle to achieve the Top Safety Pick + ranking. In addition to the e-tron’s Good score in the required crash tests, the standard automatic emergency braking operates at speeds up to 52 mph for detecting pedestrians and bicyclists.
2020 Cadillac XT6
The XT6 is an all-new model from Cadillac for the 2020 model year, and this luxury 3-row SUV is currently the only General Motors vehicle to earn a spot on the Top Safety Pick+ list. The XT6 stands out with a large expressive grille flanked by a choice of bi-function LED projector headlights or performance LED headlights with a three-element projector array, both of which qualify the XT6 for the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ ranking. This stylish new crossover also gets the latest safety technology such as forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, front and rear park assist, rear cross-traffic alert and a rearview camera with remote wash.
2020 Ford Explorer
The Explorer has been one of the best-selling SUVs in America for decades, but it has never been rated one of the safest in America — until now. Completely new for the 2020 model year, the Explorer comes with Ford Co-Pilot360 — the company’s suite of advanced driver-assist features. Co-Pilot360 includes forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, a blind-spot information system, cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist and automatic high-beam headlights. Note that this rating only applies to Explorers built after May 2020 — Ford made structural modifications to improve the performance in small overlap driver’s-side crash tests.
2020 Genesis G70
Introduced last year, the G70 is the third model from Genesis — a relatively new brand in the luxury segment — and the car continues to earn the Top Safety Pick+ moniker. The G70 sedan is available in a variety of trim levels and can be equipped with full-time all-wheel drive. Genesis also offers the G70 with advanced safety tech as standard equipment across the board; this includes forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, high-beam assist and driver attention warning. Note that only Genesis G70 variants built after December 2019 have headlights that earn the model a Top Safety Pick+ rating, discontinuing any headlights that previously scored a Poor rating.
2020 Genesis G80
In 2017 Korean automaker Hyundai created a luxury brand from its flagship model line. The G80 sedan was the first vehicle to wear the new Genesis badge, and the luxury sedan continues to be available in a variety of high-end trims with automatic emergency braking standard on all of them. Using radar from the smart cruise control and cameras from the lane-keeping assist system, the G80 can detect a slower or stopped vehicle ahead — or a pedestrian in its path — and automatically apply brakes as needed to avoid a collision. The Genesis G80 has been a Top Safety Pick+ every year since its introduction.
2020 Genesis G90
Flagship of the Genesis lineup, the G90 gets a major styling update for the 2020 model year. The first model of the Genesis brand when it launched in 2016, the G90 has been a Top Safety Pick + from the very beginning. All Genesis G90s come equipped with the latest advanced safety features, including forward collision avoidance assist with pedestrian and cyclist detection as well as automatic emergency braking; rear cross-traffic collision avoidance; parking collision avoidance assist with automatic rear braking; driver attention warning; and safe exit assist that alerts a driver or passenger if an object is approaching an open door.
2021 Honda Accord
One of the best-selling passenger cars in America, the Honda Accord receives a few upgrades for the 2021 model year. In addition to restyling the front end and updating the infotainment system with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, the automaker adds its Honda Sensing suite of advanced safety features. Most importantly in the eyes of the IIHS, the Accord now meets the most stringent headlight requirements to return this popular sedan to the Top Safety Pick+ ranks. The Honda Accord has been at minimum a Top Safety Pick for more than a decade.
2020 Honda Insight
Last year Honda brought the Insight back to its lineup for a third time — and this may be the best version yet. The extremely efficient hybrid sedan also scores at the top for all IIHS crash tests in its first years on the road. All Insights come with the Honda Sensing suite of advanced safety features as standard equipment, including automatic emergency braking with forward collision warning, road departure mitigation, lane departure warning and lake-keeping assist. The Insight achieved the best score possible on vehicle and pedestrian avoidance.
2021 Honda Odyssey
With updates to standard safety equipment for the 2021 model year, the Honda Odyssey becomes the only minivan to earn the Top Safety Pick + rating from the IIHS. The popular minivan gets the Honda Sensing suite of safety features as standard equipment for the 2021 model year. Honda Sensing includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, road departure mitigation, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control. LED headlights are now standard on all Odyssey trims, which improves the minivan’s headlight rating and helps the people mover earn the highest IIHS rating.
2020 Hyundai NEXO
The NEXO remains unique on this list as the only fuel-cell vehicle to earn a Top Safety Pick+ rating. The second-generation fuel-cell vehicle from Hyundai, NEXO is a 5-passenger crossover featuring a stylish exterior with swept-back narrow headlights, flush door handles and a sleek roofline. The NEXO employs three separate hydrogen tanks that improve interior space as well as provide room for a large, flat cargo area. NEXO come with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert and a blind-spot view monitor as standard equipment.
2021 Hyundai Palisade
An all-new model for Hyundai last year, Palisade represents a strong competitor in the large three-row SUV market. With bold styling, an elegant interior and room for up to eight occupants, the Palisade takes its rightful place as the flagship of the Korean brand’s SUV lineup. Palisade features a wide cascading grille flanked by composite headlights and signature daytime running lights for a more upscale style. A Top Safety Pick in its first year on the market, the Palisade now has LED headlights as standard equipment for all trims in 2021, and thus advances to Top Safety Pick+ designation.
2020 Lexus ES
Lexus introduced an all-new ES sedan for the 2019 model year, complete with updated styling, an all-new chassis and the latest luxury and safety features, all of which continue into the 2020 model year. The seventh-generation ES comes with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 as standard equipment. This suite of advanced equipment includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian and bicycle detection, high-speed adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist and road-edge detection, lane-tracing assist and intelligent high-beam headlight.
2020 Lexus NX
Lexus joined the growing compact luxury SUV segment when it introduced the NX for the 2015 model year. The NX has been a Top Safety Pick+ designee since its introduction, with the exception of the 2018 model year. In addition to its high scores in the required crash tests, the NX comes with the Lexus Safety System + which includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert and intelligent high beams. The NX is available with the first-ever turbocharged engine in a Lexus — a 2.0-liter four cylinder that produces 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Also available with a hybrid powertrain, the NX 300h is one of the most fuel-efficient SUVs in America.
2020 Mazda CX-3
The CX-3 is the smallest crossover in the Mazda lineup. Introduced for the 2016 model year, the CX-3 gets headlight improvements for 2020 that help it earn the Top Safety Pick+ rating. Mazda CX-3 boasts a dynamic design, signature Mazda sporty driving characteristics and an available sophisticated i-ACTIV AWD system offered with all three trim levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The CX-3 comes equipped with Mazda’s i-ACTIVSENSE, which includes a range of advanced safety features such as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist and adaptive front lighting.
2021 Mazda CX-30
Mazda introduced the all-new CX-30 for the 2020 model year, slotting the stylish crossover between the CX-3 and CX-5. With seating for five and familiar Mazda styling, the CX-30 took shape as a useful and fun-to-drive package. Inside, the CX-30 focuses on creating a premium vibe with a cockpit feeling for the driver and an open area for the front passenger. As with many vehicles that moved up from Top Safety Pick to Top Safety Pick+ for 2021, the CX-30 receives updated headlights that meet the required criteria for the highest IIHS ranking.
2020 Mazda CX-5
Mazda’s popular CX-5 crossover has been on the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ list since 2014, and the redesigned 2017 model continued this success. The CX-5 is available with advanced safety features that include lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist and smart brake assist — the latter warning the driver and automatically applying the brakes to avoid or minimize damage from a frontal collision. These items are part of an i-ACTIVSENSE package that also includes high-beam headlight control, adaptive cruise control, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers.
2020 Mazda CX-9
Mazda’s three-row SUV was a recent addition to the Top Safety Pick + list, making it five different Mazdas on this safe vehicle list. The CX-9 passes all the requirements with a headlight update for all vehicles built after December 2019. Like the other Mazdas listed here, the brand’s flagship SUV uses radar and cameras to employ a range of advanced safety features — all part of Mazda’s i-ACTIVSENSE system. This includes advanced smart city brake support with pedestrian detection, smart brake assist with collision warning, Mazda radar cruise control with stop & go function, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist, high-beam assist, an adaptive front lighting system, and traffic-sign recognition.
2020 Mazda Mazda3 (Sedan and Hatchback)
All new for the 2020 model year, the Mazda3 features the latest evolution of the company’s KODO design. Available as a 4-door sedan or a hatchback — both achieving Top Safety Pick+ status — the new Mazda3 can be equipped with Mazda’s i-ACTIV all-wheel-drive system. Equipped with the latest advanced safety features such as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, the Mazda3 uses an infrared camera and infrared LED to observe the driver’s condition while driving, checking to see how wide open the driver’s eyelids are and the number of times he or she blinks in order to determine the level of drowsiness or fatigue. It also monitors the driver’s line of sight and eye movements to determine when the driver is being inattentive.
2020 Mazda Mazda6
Two years ago Mazda introduced an all-new Mazda6, the flagship of the Japanese car company’s lineup. With a revised chassis designed to provide a more comfortable ride, better handling and a quieter interior, the Mazda6 features the brand’s signature grille flanked by standard LED headlights and integrated fog lights that give the car a wide stance. All Mazda6 trims come the full suite of i-ACTIVSENSE safety features as standard equipment, including adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist and rear cross-traffic alert.
2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
The best-selling passenger car in the Mercedes-Benz lineup, the C-Class moved into its fourth generation for 2019 with updated styling, more power and new features. Looking like a proper Mercedes with standard LED headlights and taillights and freshened front-end styling, the C-Class can be configured in a number of trim levels with varying levels of power. The C-Class is available with the latest driver-assistance systems that include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, evasive steering assist, active lane-keeping assist, blind-spot assist and cross-traffic alert.
2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE
Mercedes-Benz updated the GLE SUV last year with advancements in safety, entertainment, connectivity and drivability. The GLE has been on the Top Safety Pick+ list since its introduction in 2016. Equipped with all the luxury features expected of a Mercedes, the GLE comes standard with Collision Prevention Assist, which uses radar to monitor the distance to a vehicle in front and will alert the driver while priming the brakes if a crash seems imminent. Also available is Collision Prevention Assist Plus with active brake assist, which will automatically apply the brakes to avoid a collision. The LED Intelligent Light System features an ultra-wide beam; it has the brightest headlights allowed on a motor vehicle.
2021 Nissan Altima
Listed as at least a Top Safety Pick since 2013, the Nissan Altima earns a Top Safety Pick+ rating for the updated 2021 model. The automaker rolled out the latest generation Altima for the 2019 model year with a major styling update that brings the time-honored sedan in line with the rest of the Nissan lineup. Two engines are offered, including the first production engine to use variable compression, and Altima is available with all-wheel drive. All trim levels of the Altima now come with the Nissan Safety Shield 360 suite of high-tech safety features including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, high-beam headlight assist and intelligent auto headlights.
2020 Nissan Maxima
The flagship sedan of the Nissan lineup, the Maxima received a major update in 2016 when it was re-dubbed the “4-door sports car.” True to Maxima’s sports car mantra, the big sedan features a 300-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine teamed with a performance-oriented Xtronic continuously-variable transmission. For the 2020 model year, Maxima gets Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 as standard equipment on all trim levels. This suite of safety features includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning and rear automatic braking. This is the first year that Maxima has been on the Top Safety Pick+ list since 2017.
2021 Subaru Ascent
In 2019 Subaru returned to the 3-row crossover market with its largest production vehicle yet — the all-new Ascent. Built on the company’s new platform, Ascent is available in a number of trim levels, all of which come with full-time all-wheel drive and Subaru’s suite of safety features (called EyeSight) as standard equipment. The safety suite includes automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and sway warning. The Ascent also is available with blind-spot detection, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse automatic braking. Note the 2020 Ascent did not earn the highest rating because the crossover’s standard headlights did not meet new IIHS requirements. Subaru solved the issue for the 2021 Ascent.
2020 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid
Subaru introduced the plug-in hybrid version of the Crosstrek last year — the brand’s first plug-in for the U.S. market. The Crosstrek Hybrid comes with the latest version of EyeSight, Subaru’s innovative driver-assistance system that employs stereo forward-facing cameras as well as other sensors. With EyeSight, the Crosstrek Hybrid is available with automatic pre-collision braking, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert. In the IIHS front crash prevention tests, the Crosstrek Hybrid performed at the highest level for both vehicle and passenger avoidance. The Crosstrek Hybrid has standard LED projector headlights; however, the non-hybrid does not — which is why the hybrid version is the only Crosstrek on the Top Safety Pick+ list.
2020 Subaru Forester
All new last year, the Subaru Forester features the roomiest interior offered with a 1.2-inch-longer wheelbase, more rear-seat legroom and more cargo capacity, as well as improvements in crash protection, comfort, quietness and driving dynamics. EyeSight driver-assist technology is standard on all trim levels, and Forester Touring features DriverFocus safety technology that can alert the driver of fatigue or distraction as well as automatically adjust many driver settings at startup. For 2020 Subaru equips Forester with LED projector headlights, which help elevate it to the rank of Top Safety Pick+ once again.
2020 Subaru Legacy
All new for the 2020 model year, Legacy is the latest model to be moved to Subaru’s new global platform. Changes to the structure result in improved crash protection, with the new structure absorbing 40 percent more energy in front/side crashes than the previous model. Subaru’s Eyesight Driver Assist Technology with Eyesight Assist Monitor is standard on all Legacy trim levels. The updated system is designed to help prevent collisions and includes advanced adaptive cruise control with lane centering, pre-collision braking and throttle management, and vehicle lane departure and sway warning. The Legacy can also be equipped with the DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System, which uses an infrared camera and facial recognition to determine if the driver is fatigued or simply not paying attention. If the system determines the driver is drowsy or not paying attention, it provides both audio and visual alerts.
2020 Subaru Outback
There aren’t many wagons available in America, but the Subaru Outback — with its perfect score from the IIHS — is arguably the safest wagon on the market. Like the Legacy, the Outback is all new for the 2020 model year, built on Subaru’s updated global platform. The Outback has been on the Top Safety Pick+ list since 2013, and for 2020 the off-road wagon continues to score the highest marks in all tests. Standard on all Outbacks is Subaru’s innovative EyeSight system, which includes automatic emergency braking as well as an advanced adaptive cruise control with lane centering and the new DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System, which uses both audio and visual alerts if the drive appears to be fatigued or simply not paying attention.
2020 Tesla Model 3
As the model that earned Tesla its first Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS for 2019, the Model 3 is the eponymous third model of the innovative U.S. automaker’s electric vehicle lineup, and it happens to be the entry-level offering. The Model 3 comes well equipped with upscale features including power heated front seats, a premium audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, docking stations for two smartphones and multiple USB ports. The 2020 Model 3 also comes with a range of advanced safety features as standard equipment, including forward collision avoidance, lane-keeping assist and lane departure warning.
2020 Toyota Camry
The Toyota Camry was all new for the 2018 model year, built using a new global architecture with updated styling, a line of more powerful and efficient engines and the latest in advanced safety technology. Toyota has made Toyota Safety Sense P standard on the Camry, which includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist and automatic high beams. This system allowed the Camry to completely avoid a collision in both low- and high-speed IIHS autobrake tests. With its available LED projector headlights, Camry earns the rating of Top Safety Pick+ for the sixth year in a row.
2021 Toyota Highlander
Toyota introduced an all-new Highlander for the 2020 model year, built on the automaker’s New Global Architecture. Highlander received fresh styling with a bold black grille as well as a roomy, premium interior. The crossover comes with a 3.5-liter V6 engine producing a plentiful 295 horsepower — enough oomph to tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped — as well as a fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain option. For 2021 the Highlander earns the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating since all trims come with the latest version of Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ as well as LED headlights across the board.
2021 Volvo XC40
When Swedish automaker Volvo introduced the XC40 for the 2019 model year, the compact crossover immediately earned the Top Safety Pick+ ranking; however, it fell off the list last year when the IIHS added more stringent headlight requirements. For 2021 Volvo makes the signature LED projector “Thor’s Hammer” headlights standard across all trims. Also standard on all XC40 trims is City Safety, which features collision avoidance that detects vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and animals, and it can automatically apply the brakes as needed. Also standard are run-off-road mitigation and protection, lane keeping and oncoming lane mitigation, and a whiplash protection system for front-seat occupants.
2021 Volvo XC60
A Top Safety Pick since its last redesign in 2018, the Volvo XC60 moves up to the Top Safety Pick+ ranking for 2021. Like the XC40, the midsize XC60 now comes with LED headlights to meet the most stringent IIHS requirements. The XC60’s extensive list of safety features includes oncoming lane mitigation with automatic steering, which will detect the car drifting over a lane marker and automatically steers it back into its lane. The automatic emergency braking system also detects pedestrians, cyclists and large animals.
2020 Volvo XC90
Volvo built its reputation creating cars that keep people safe, and for 2020 the flagship XC90 earns a Top Safety Pick + rating. Updated for the 2020 model year, the XC90 is available with a range of safety and driver assistance features. Standard on all Volvos is City Safety, which provides automatic braking and collision avoidance with the ability to detect pedestrians, cyclists and large animals such as a moose. Also available is cross-traffic alert with auto brake, as well as an oncoming lane mitigation system that detects if the XC90 has drifted over the lane marker and automatically steers the SUV back where it belongs.