Safest SUVs in America for 2021

© IIHSIIHS 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 many 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.

© IIHSIIHS Ratings
For a vehicle to be named an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 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 with standard headlights. For 2021 there are 26 SUVs and crossovers that have earned this top rating, making these the safest SUVs in America.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2022 Acura MDX
Acura introduced an all-new MDX for the 2022 model year, built on an new platform with bold styling, a spacious interior and a wide range of high-tech goodies. All Acura MDX trims are equipped with Acura’s suite of advanced safety and driver-assist features called AcuraWatch. This suite includes forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, road departure mitigation, a blind-spot information system and rear cross-traffic alert. These updates — along with the standard four-element Jewel Eye LED headlights — put the MDX on the Top Safety Pick+ list for the first time since 2017.

© American Honda Motors2021 Acura RDX
All new in 2019, the Acura RDX returns to the elite group of safest vehicles in America for the third 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. Acura’s Jewel Eye LED headlights are also standard.

© Audi of America2021 Audi e-tron
The first all-electric model from Audi, the e-tron is a premium 5-seat midsize SUV with an EPA-estimated range of more than 200 miles. Last year Audi introduced the sleeker-looking e-tron Sportback to complement the e-tron SUV, and both have earned the IIHS’s top safety rating. 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 full EV 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.

© Audi of America2021 Audi Q5
The best-seller in Audi’s lineup, the Q5 receives an updated look for the 2021 model year, featuring a slimmer and wider octagonal Singleframe grille with taller side air intakes that have sporty trapezoidal inserts. As part of this 2021 refresh, the Q5 gets an advanced headlight system with standard LED lights that meet IIHS requirements, making the Q5 a Top Safety Pick+ for the first time since 2017. Audi has also added its first plug-in hybrid Q5 SUV, which features a 2.0-liter engine with an electric motor positioned between the engine and the 7-speed S-tronic dual-clutch transmission. The Q5 55 TFSI e gets an electric-only range of 19 miles and receives an EPA combined rating of 50 MPGe.

© General Motors2021 Cadillac XT6
An all-new model from Cadillac for 2021, the luxurious three-row XT6 is currently the only vehicle from General Motors 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 crossover 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.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 Ford Bronco Sport
Last year Ford revived one of the automaker’s legendary nameplates by creating the Bronco and Bronco Sport. The first to arrive, the Bronco Sport quickly became one of the best-selling SUVs in America, and now it earns a top rating as one of the safest. The new SUV achieved the highest score in all crash tests as well as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian crash prevention. With classic Bronco styling cues, a stepped-up roofline and upright body panels, the Bronco Sport features a bolder look compared to many of today’s compact SUVs. The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is offered in five trim levels: Base, Big Bend, Outer Banks, Badlands and First Edition.

© Ford Motor Company2021 Ford Explorer
The Explorer has been one of the best-selling SUVs in America for decades, but it had never been rated one of the safest in America until its redesign for the 2020 model year. Completely new last 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.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 Genesis GV80
Genesis expands its lineup for the 2021 model year with the brand’s first SUV, the GV80. This luxurious sport-utility vehicle quickly became the Korean automaker’s best-seller, possessing a luxurious interior as well as exterior styling that complements the Genesis portfolio. Joining the G70, G80 and G90 sedans, the new SUV is the brand’s fourth model to earn a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS. The GV80 stands out from the crowd with the brand’s signature Crest Grille with quad narrow headlights for a unique look. The quad light motif of the 2021 GV80 continues at the rear of the vehicle, where wraparound LED taillights echo the lighting style up front.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 Hyundai NEXO
The NEXO remains unique on this safest new cars 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.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 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 the Top Safety Pick+ designation.

© Toyota Motor Sales USA2021 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 + that includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert and intelligent high-beam headlights. 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.

© Mazda North American Operations2021 Mazda CX-3
The smallest crossover in the Mazda lineup, the CX-3 was introduced for the 2016 model year. Last year the CX-3 received headlight improvements that helped 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.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 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.

© Mazda North America2021 Mazda CX-5
Mazda’s popular CX-5 crossover has been on the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ list since 2014, and the second-generation redesigned for the 2017 model year continues 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.

© Mazda North American Operations2021 Mazda CX-9
Mazda’s three-row SUV was a recent addition to the Top Safety Pick+ list, and now every Mazda crossover makes the list. The CX-9 passes all the requirements with a headlight update for all vehicles built after December 2019. Like the other Mazdas 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. The system 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.

© Mercedes-Benz USA2021 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 and — surprisingly — it is the only Mercedes-Benz model on the IIHS list. 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.

© Nissan North America2021 Nissan Murano
One of the more stylish crossovers on the market, Nissan’s Murano received exterior updates a few years ago that include a larger, more prominent V-Motion grille flanked by redesigned LED headlights and new LED fog lights. For 2021, Nissan makes the Safety Shield 360 suite of advanced safety features standard on all Muranos, and those systems help the crossover make the Top Safety Pick+ list. Safety Shield 360 includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning and rear automatic braking.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 Nissan Rogue
Nissan introduced an all-new Rogue for the 2021 model year. Built on a new platform with fresh styling, advanced safety features and a family-friendly interior, the 2021 Nissan Rogue will likely continue as one of the most popular SUVs in America. Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 is standard for all trim levels of the Rogue. This suite of advanced features includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, rear automatic braking and high-beam headlight assist. Blind-spot intervention and traffic-sign recognition are available, as is Nissan’s Intelligent Around View monitor.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 Subaru Ascent
In 2019 Subaru returned to the three-row crossover market with its largest production vehicle yet — the 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 EyeSight suite of safety features 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.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 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-assist technology 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. The non-hybrid Crosstrek is a Top Safety Pick (no +).

© Subaru of America2021 Subaru Forester
All new in 2019, the current Forester is the roomiest version 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 the DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System that can alert the driver of fatigue or distraction as well as automatically adjust many driver settings at startup. Last year Subaru made LED projector headlights standard, which helped elevate it to the rank of Top Safety Pick+ once again.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 Subaru Outback
There aren’t many wagons available in America, but the Subaru Outback — with its perfect score from the IIHS — is arguably one of the safest wagons on the market. Like the Legacy, the Outback was 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 2021 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.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 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.

© Volvo Cars North America2021 Volvo XC40 / XC40 Recharge
When Swedish automaker Volvo introduced the XC40 for the 2019 model year, the compact crossover immediately earned a Top Safety Pick+ ranking; however, it fell off the safest new cars 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. Run-off-road mitigation and protection, lane keeping and oncoming lane mitigation, and a whiplash protection system for front-seat occupants are all standard features on the XC40

© Volvo Cars North America2021 Volvo XC60 / XC60 Recharge
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 detects if the car drifts over a lane marker and automatically steers it back into the proper lane. The automatic emergency braking system also detects pedestrians, cyclists and large animals.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2021 Volvo XC90 / XC90 Recharge
Volvo built its reputation creating cars that keep people safe, and for 2021 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.

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