Nearly five dozen 2019 models meet stricter criteria to qualify for a 2019 TOP SAFETY PICK+ or TOP SAFETY PICK award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The 30 first-tier “plus” award winners earn the highest rating for passenger-side protection in a small overlap front crash and have good-rated available headlights, while the 27 winners of the second-tier award qualify with an acceptable or higher rating in the newest IIHS crash test and the nighttime headlight evaluation
All 57 vehicles in this elite group earn good ratings in the Institute’s five other crashworthiness evaluations and have an available automatic emergency braking system that rates advanced or superior for front crash prevention. IIHS now requires a good rating in the passenger-side small overlap front test to earn a 2019 TOP SAFETY PICK+ rating, versus an acceptable or good rating for the 2018 award. An acceptable or good rating in the passenger-side test is a new criterion to earn a 2019 TOP SAFETY PICK.
This marks the sixth time that IIHS has raised the bar to earn the TOP SAFETY PICK+ award since introducing it in the 2013 model year to recognize vehicles that offer a superior level of safety. The TOP SAFETY PICK accolade launched in the 2006 model year to help consumers identify vehicles with the highest ratings. Over the years, IIHS has added to and strengthened criteria for both awards to encourage manufacturers to speed up safety advances.
“We challenged manufacturers to provide the best possible protection in a range of crash scenarios and equip vehicles with an automatic emergency braking system to avoid crashes, as well as offer headlights that give drivers confidence when traveling at night,” says IIHS-HLDI President David Harkey.
“Fifteen brands hit all the marks to give consumers shopping for a new car a wide variety of 2019 models to consider.”
More models have standard front crash prevention
Across manufacturers, the majority of award winners qualify only when optionally equipped because good or acceptable headlights and an advanced- or superior-rated front crash prevention system aren’t part of their base trims.
Twenty automakers have pledged to equip virtually all passenger vehicles with automatic braking by 2022. Many are on track to beat the deadline, under a voluntary commitment brokered in 2015 by IIHS and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“Among the 57 vehicles that qualify for either of our 2019 awards, 31 of them have a standard front crash prevention system,” Harkey says. “What’s impressive is that all but one winner earn the highest rating of superior in our track tests, even though an advanced rating is enough to qualify.”
A variety of choices
Cars and SUVs account for the bulk of the TOP SAFETY PICK+ winners in most size classes. Missing are microcars, minicars, minivans and pickups. All classes except for microcars and pickups are represented among the TOP SAFETY PICK winners.
The Subaru brand leads with seven 2019 TOP SAFETY PICK+ winners. They are the Ascent, Crosstrek, Impreza sedan and wagon, Legacy, Outback and WRX. The Forester falls shy of the top award because its headlights rate acceptable, but the small SUV qualifies for TOP SAFETY PICK.
Hyundai Motor Co. owns the Hyundai, Kia and Genesis brands. The Hyundai and Kia nameplates earn four and five TOP SAFETY PICK+ awards, respectively, while Genesis has three TOP SAFETY PICK+ awards. Hyundai also earns six TOP SAFETY PICKs, and Kia earns three.
Mercedes-Benz and Toyota Motor Corp. and its Lexus brand qualify for three TOP SAFETY PICK+ awards each. BMW earns two top-tier awards and a TOP SAFETY PICK. Honda and its Acura brand pick up two TOP SAFETY PICK+ awards and four TOP SAFETY PICKs. Mazda has one TOP SAFETY PICK+ and two TOP SAFETY PICKs for 2019.
Near misses on headlights, passenger-side crash protection
Besides the Forester, 17 other vehicles just missed achieving the top award because of acceptable-rated headlights. The Honda Accord, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Altima and Toyota Corolla are among this group. IIHS began rating headlights in 2016 based on research showing that many headlights don’t do a good job of adequately lighting the road at night while limiting glare for oncoming drivers.
Passenger-side protection in small overlap crashes was a hurdle that kept four vehicles from reaching TOP SAFETY PICK+ status. The Honda Pilot, for example, has good-rated headlights and a superior-rated autobrake system, but an acceptable rating in the passenger-side small overlap front test limits the midsize SUV to a TOP SAFETY PICK award.
The Institute developed the passenger-side small overlap front crash test after it became clear that some manufacturers weren’t paying sufficient attention to the passenger side as they made improvements to achieve better performance in the driver-side small overlap front test, introduced in 2012. IIHS began rating vehicles in the passenger-side test in 2017 and added it to award criteria for 2018.
Five vehicles fell short of TOP SAFETY PICK+ because of an acceptable rating in the passenger-side small overlap test and acceptable-rated headlights. These are the Chrysler Pacifica, Hyundai Accent, Nissan Kicks, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander.
“Several automakers still need to bring their vehicles up to speed when it comes to offering advanced levels of safety and headlights that provide good visibility,” Harkey says.
Absent from the winner’s circle are Fiat Chrysler’s Dodge, Jeep and Ram brands; Ford and its Lincoln brand; General Motors’ Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC brands; and Tesla. All failed to qualify for either award.
The Ford Fusion and the Ram 1500 crew cab, for instance, are held back by underperforming headlights. In addition, several Dodge and Ford models with older designs still lack a good rating for driver-side protection in a small overlap front crash.
Volvo hasn’t yet qualified for a 2019 award due to missing passenger-side small overlap front test results.
Under the IIHS test verification program, manufacturers can submit their own test data for certain ratings. If a model has a good driver-side small overlap rating, automakers may submit video footage and data from a passenger-side test conducted using the IIHS protocol, and IIHS will evaluate the information and assign a rating.
The ratings are subject to occasional audit tests. Verification allows more vehicles to vie for a 2019 TOP SAFETY PICK+ award than IIHS would have time to test on its own.
As 2019 progresses, the winner’s list will grow as new models are evaluated. By the fall of 2018, 34 vehicles had earned the 2018 TOP SAFETY PICK+ award, and 54 had earned 2018 TOP SAFETY PICK.