IIHS Names Safest 2017 SUV Models

Published January 4, 2017 by Elizabeth Jeneault

82 vehicles earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s praise for 2017. The IIHS is a non-profit organization that’s supported by auto insurers. It works to reduce the number of motor vehicle crashes each year as well as the rate of injuries and amount of property damage. Of the 82 vehicles that earned the non-profit’s Top Safety Pick+ and Top Safety Pick awards for 2017, 29 are sports utility vehicles.

2017 IIHS Top Safety Pick+

Let’s first take a look at the SUVs that earned the highest Pick+ award. It’s an honor that means even more this year as the IIHS beefed up its criteria for the top designation. Small SUVs:
  • Mazda CX-3
  • Mitsubishi Outlander
  • Nissan Rogue
  • Subaru Forester (built after October 2016)
  • Toyota RAV4
Midsize SUVs:
  • Honda Pilot
  • Hyundai Santa Fe (built after March 2016)
Midsize Luxury SUVs:
  • Acura MDX
  • Acura RDX
  • Audi Q5
  • Buick Envision
  • Lexus NX
  • Lexus RX
  • Mercedez-Benz GLE-Class
  • Volvo XC60
The IIHS toughened its criteria for its Top Safety Pick+ designation to reflect new headlight evaluations launched in 2016. “We launched headlight ratings in the spring after finding that government standards based on laboratory testing allow huge variation in the amount of illumination that headlights put on the road,” explained Adrian Lund, IIHS president. The agency says nighttime visibility is critical to highway safety because about half of all traffic deaths occur either in the dark or at dawn or dusk. Therefore in order to receive the Top Safety Pick+ designation, vehicles had to have good or acceptable headlights in addition to an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention and good ratings in the five standard crashworthiness tests. The new criteria for headlights resulted in fewer vehicles receiving the top safety honor. Overall for 2017, 38 models were given the Top Safety Pick+ badge. That’s down from 79 vehicles the year before. Of the 38 that received the designation for 2017, 15 are SUVs. “The field of contenders is smaller this year because so few vehicles have headlights that do their job well, but it’s not as small as we expected when we decided to raise the bar for the awards,” said Lund. “Manufacturers are focusing on improving this basic safety equipment, and we’re confident that the winners’ list will grow as the year progresses.” If you’re wondering how the institute evaluates headlights, you should know engineers measure how far light is projected from a vehicle’s low beams and high beams as it travels straight and on curves. The IIHS says glare from low beams for oncoming drivers is also measured. Vehicles received extra credit for having high-beam assist, which automatically switches between high beams and low beams depending on the presence of other vehicles. Despite less vehicles qualifying for the Top Safety Pick+ designation overall because of the strengthened criteria, several manufacturers of SUVs were able to clinch the honor by improving their headlights. The 2017 Subaru Forester, for example, earned an acceptable rating compared with the 2016 model’s poor rating. Mitsubishi is another example. Its Outlander improved to acceptable from marginal. It’s important to note that of the 38 vehicles that received the top honor, only seven are available with good-rated highlights. Again, the vehicles had to have either good or acceptable headlights to clinch the award. Of those seven vehicles that received good-rated highlights, only two are SUVs. They are the midsize Hyundai Sante Fe and the midsize luxury Volvo XC60. We should also note that no large 2017 SUVs took home the top award. The IIHS says it shouldn’t come entirely as a surprise because it found that a vehicle’s price tag doesn’t necessarily correspond to the quality of headlights. The IIHS also says more modern lighting types are no guarantee of good performance. There were two SUVs that just missed out on qualifying for Top Safety Pick+ because of the way Infiniti and Hyundai bundle optional safety features. The IIHS says the Infiniti Q70’s optional front crash prevention system earns a superior rating in the agency’s tests but the headlights packaged with the autobrake option only earn marginal. “The headlights that come standard on other Q70s are rated acceptable, but consumers can’t get these headlights with the superior-rated front crash prevention system,” writes the company. Similarly, the IIHS says the Hyundai Tucson’s acceptable-rated headlights aren’t available on the model with a superior rating for autobrake.

2017 Top Safety Pick

Earning the lesser Top Safety Pick award are 44 2017 models. Of those 44 models, 14 are SUVs. Let’s take a look at the list. Small SUVs:
  • BMW X1
  • Fiat 500X
  • Hyundai Tucson
  • Kia Sportage
Midsize SUVs:
  • GMC Acadia
  • Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
  • Kia Sorento
  • Nissan Murano
  • Nissan Pathfinder
Midsize Luxury SUVs:
  • Cadillac XT5
  • Infiniti QX60
  • Lincoln MKX
  • Volvo XC90
Large SUV:
  • Audi Q7
Like the Top Safety Pick+ award, models must earn good ratings in the small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests as well as an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention in order to clinch the Top Safety Pick designation. The only difference is that headlights are not factored in. 14 SUVs received the lesser award. Only one large SUV made the cut. That’s the Audi Q7.

Our Take

When it comes to choosing an SUV, checking to see if it earned one of these awards can be helpful. It all began in the 2006 model year, when the IIHS inaugurated Top Safety Pick. The non-profit says it did so to help consumers zero in on vehicles with the best safety performance so that they don’t have to go through the painstaking process of sorting through ratings information. The Top Safety Pick+ accolade came about in the 2013 model year to recognize vehicles that offer an advanced level of safety. This is the fourth time the non-profit has strengthened its criteria for the plus award. And while fewer vehicles qualified for it this year than last year, we should note that the IIHS will continue to release ratings as it evaluates new models. The winners list will therefore be adjusted throughout the year.  

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