IIHS Top Safety Pick+
Sport-utility vehicles and crossovers are some of the most popular vehicles in America, and safety is a big concern for shoppers when considering a new vehicle. Every new car sold in America must meet standards mandated by Title 49 of the United States Code, Chapter 301, for motor vehicle safety, but not all vehicles are created equal. While airbags, seat belts and crumple zones keep occupants safe in a crash, technologies available in some new SUVs work to prevent the crash itself. Those systems vary among automakers — some use radar, others use cameras — but the goal for the safest SUVs in America 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 the 2020 model year, 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. Due to the new headlight requirement many vehicles that regularly make this safest SUVs in America list are absent for 2020, leaving just 15 models that meet all IIHS criteria. Here, in alphabetical order, are the safest new SUVs and crossovers in America — 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 now standard.
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. The system can also bring the vehicle to a full stop when traveling at speeds under 25 mph.
2020 Cadillac XT6
An all-new model from Cadillac for the 2020 model year, the XT6 three-row luxury SUV is currently the only American-brand SUV 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 Hyundai NEXO
The NEXO remains unique on this list of safest SUVs in America 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.
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 earning high scores in the IIHS 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
Introduced for the 2016 model year , the CX-3 remains the smallest crossover in the Mazda lineup. The small crossover 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.
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 assist, adaptive cruise control, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers.
2020 Mazda CX-9
Mazda’s three-row SUV is a recent addition to the Top Safety Pick + list, making it three different Mazda models on this IIHS safe vehicle list. The CX-9 passes all the requirements with a headlight update for all vehicles built after December 2019. Like other Mazdas on this list of safest SUVs in America, 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 headlight assist, an adaptive front lighting system, and traffic-sign recognition.
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, making it one of the safest SUVs in America. Equipped with all the luxury features expected of a Mercedes, the GLE’s s standard safety equipment includes 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 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 a 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 ever 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 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. All new for the 2020 model year, Outback rides 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/crossover 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 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.