The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has released its list of vehicles that qualify for either of its two awards — Top Safety Pick and a higher rung, Top Safety Pick Plus — for 2021, and it’s a banner year for safety. Ninety cars won either award, up from 2020’s 64, and more than half of this year’s winners qualify for the highest designation, Top Safety Pick Plus. The 49 Top Safety Pick Plus designees for 2021 are more than double the 23 that earned that distinction in 2020.
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The consumer safety advocate, which is backed by the insurance industry, rates vehicles in a series of crash safety tests. It also tests headlight performance and the effectiveness of frontal crash prevention technologies. IIHS also tests fitment for child-safety seats, but those scores don’t factor into its annual awards.
To qualify for either award, a vehicle must earn a score of good — on a scale of good, acceptable, marginal, or poor — in six crash safety tests: driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints. Available or standard front crash prevention technologies must also earn a score of superior or advanced (on a scale of superior, advanced, basic or none) in preventing both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian collisions.
Where the awards currently differ is how a vehicle’s headlights are treated. For the lesser award, Top Safety Pick, at least one set of a vehicle’s available headlights must earn a score of good or acceptable — and only vehicles equipped with those headlights technically qualify for the award. A Top Safety Pick Plus designee, however, must have all available headlights earn a score of good or acceptable.
The 2021 awards criteria match the requirements for 2020. The agency “decided to hold the criteria steady this year to give automakers time to keep improving their models, particularly in regards to headlight performance,” IIHS spokesman Joe Young told Cars.com. With criteria unchanged and so many more award winners in 2021, it’s also clear that vehicles are improving.
All winners are model-year 2021 vehicles. Here they are:
2021 Models Earning IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus
Acura: RDX, TLX
Audi: A6, A6 Allroad, A7, E-Tron, E-Tron Sportback
Genesis: G70, G90
Honda: Accord, Insight, Odyssey
Hyundai: Nexo, Palisade
Kia: K5 (examples built after November 2020)
Lexus: ES 350, IS, NX
Mazda: Mazda3 (hatchback and sedan), Mazda6, CX-3, CX-30 (examples built after September 2020), CX-5, CX-9
Mercedes-Benz: GLE-Class* (excluding GLE Coupe variants)
Nissan: Altima, Maxima (examples built after November 2020), Rogue
Subaru: Ascent, Crosstrek Hybrid, Forester, Legacy, Outback
Tesla: Model 3
Toyota: Camry, Highlander, Sienna
Volvo: S60, S60 Recharge, V60, V60 Recharge, XC40, XC60, XC60 Recharge, XC90, XC90 Recharge
2021 Models Earning IIHS Top Safety Pick
Audi: A4, A5 Sportback, Q8
BMW: 3 Series
Ford: Edge, Escape
Honda: Civic hatchback (excluding Civic Type R) and sedan, CR-V
Hyundai: Kona*, Sonata, Tucson*, Veloster*, Venue
Kia: Forte*, Seltos (examples built after August 2020)*, Sorento, Soul*, Sportage*, Stinger*, Telluride
Lexus: RX (excluding three-row RX L variants), UX
Lincoln: Aviator, Corsair
Mercedes-Benz: C-Class*, GLC-Class* (excluding GLC Coupe variants)
Ram: 1500 crew cab*
Subaru: Crosstrek*, Impreza* (sedan and wagon), WRX*
Toyota: C-HR, Corolla (Hatchback and sedan), RAV4, RAV4 Prime, Venza
*Award applies to models equipped with optional front crash prevention technology
A Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick Plus award is usually a key selling point for any vehicle, but not every version of a vehicle qualifies as an award winner. Many vehicles only qualify when equipped with optional front crash prevention technology, often only available on higher trim levels. Still others only qualify if they’re built after a certain date, which you can usually find on a sticker in the driver’s doorjamb. And in other cases, only certain body styles qualify. The Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class and GLE-Class SUVs receive their respective awards, for example, but the GLC Coupe and GLE Coupe versions do not. Another example: Three-row Lexus RX L SUVs do not qualify for the two-row RX’s Top Safety Pick designation.
Most awards do, however, apply to both gas-only and hybrid variants, sometimes even leading to different awards: The Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid is a Top Safety Pick Plus, while the gas-only Crosstrek is only a Top Safety Pick, and that’s for examples equipped with Subaru’s optional frontal crash prevention technology. Plug-in hybrids are usually evaluated separately — the RAV4 and RAV4 Prime are both Top Safety Picks, for example — and all-electric versions merit separate testing, as well.
It’s also worth noting that a 2021 IIHS award winner refers to the 2021 calendar year. While all the listed models here are 2021 models, upcoming 2022 vehicles may also qualify for the awards based on the calendar-year 2021 standards. Should IIHS update its criteria for the 2022 calendar year, this list could — and likely would — change.
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One of the most notable vehicles on this list is the Ram 1500 crew cab, the sole pickup truck to win either award and also the sole representative of the Stellantis family of merged automakers. Two minivans, the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, are Top Safety Pick Plus designees. In 2020, no pickup trucks or minivans earned either award.
GM, meanwhile, had only the Cadillac XT6 (Top Safety Pick Plus) and Chevrolet Equinox (Top Safety Pick) as award winners among its many vehicles. And zero Mitsubishi models won an award.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Hyundai Motor Group — parent automaker behind Genesis, Hyundai and Kia — had 17 award winners, including five Top Safety Pick Plus designees. Volvo had the most Top Safety Pick Plus winners of any manufacturer, with nine. And every Mazda except the MX-5 Miata, which has not been tested by IIHS, received a Top Safety Pick Plus award.
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