For every segment and price point, there’s an IIHS Top Safety Pick — with one exception.
Throughout every year since 2006, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) publishes reports noting the safest cars, trucks and SUVs that qualify for their “Top Safety Pick” rating. A new level, Top Safety Pick+, joined the evaluations in 2013, offering consumers some more granularity to discern which vehicles are the safest models on the roads in any given year.
The tests have evolved over time, beyond simple crashworthiness evaluations to include driver-assistance technology and even headlight performance. That last addition has been particularly important in recent years, as it’s where cars get into the Top Safety Pick+ tier, or possibly even miss the Top Safety Pick designation entirely.
In addition to scoring “Good” crash tests across frontal offset, side impact, roof strength and head restraint evaluations, Top Safety Pick models must have adequate — the IIHS terms are “Advanced” or “Superior” — frontal crash prevention systems available. Vehicles must score “Acceptable” or “Good” headlight ratings, as well. Models can have decent headlights as optional equipment and get Top Safety Pick, but Acceptable or Good headlights must be standard to get Top Safety Pick+.
The IIHS breaks out the safest cars among its award winners into several distinct segments. Among mainstream models, there are Small, Midsize and Large cars, while luxury models are broken out into their own Midsize and Large segments. The same broadly goes for SUVs as well. Finally, the nonprofit agency includes a Minivan segment, as well as Small trucks and Large (half-ton) trucks.
Small (midsize) pickups like the Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger and Chevy Colorado are the only vehicles not represented on the TSP list at all. Some half-ton trucks like the redesigned Ford F-150 and the Ram 1500 achieved Top Safety Pick for 2021, though the Ram was actually downgraded from Top Safety Pick+ as IIHS updated the rules to require Good or Acceptable headlights as standard equipment.
IIHS Top Safety Pick+ list: 2021-2022 models
When you ask, “What are the safest cars on sale?”, it’s tough (if not impossible) to delineate a single answer. A huge range of cars and SUVs score similarly in the Top Safety Pick+ section, to the point where there are really multiple correct answers to the question.
If anything, though, these tests have forced automakers to rethink their designs to improve safety — so that there are few genuinely “wrong” answers if you’re looking for a safe car to transport you and your loved ones. Mind you, these tests reflect how the cars should act in certain conditions, and don’t necessarily represent every situation an owner may wind up in.
The IIHS includes this statement with their award winners: “These awards identify the best vehicle choices for safety within size categories during a given year. Larger, heavier vehicles generally afford more protection than smaller, lighter ones. Thus, a small car that qualifies for an award might not protect its occupants as well as a bigger vehicle that doesn’t earn the award.”
TSP+: Small cars
- 2022 Honda Civic (Sedan and Hatchback)
- 2021-2022 Honda Insight
- 2021 Mazda3 (Sedan and Hatchback)
- 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid
TSP+: Midsize cars
- 2021 Honda Accord
- 2021-2022 Kia K5
- 2021 Mazda6
- 2021 Nissan Altima
- 2021 Nissan Maxima
- 2021-2022 Subaru Legacy
- 2021-2022 Subaru Outback
- 2021-2022 Toyota Camry
TSP+: Large cars
- 2022 Kia Stinger
TSP+: Midsize luxury cars
- 2021 Acura TLX
- 2021 Lexus ES 350
- 2021 Lexus IS
- 2021 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
- 2021 Tesla Model 3
- 2021 Volvo S60 (including Recharge)
- 2021 Volvo V60 (including Cross Country, Recharge)
TSP+: Large luxury cars
- 2021 Audi A6 (including A6 Allroad)
- 2021 Audi A7
- 2021 Genesis G70 (pre-facelift)
- 2022 Genesis G70 (facelift)
- 2021-2022 Genesis G80
- 2021-2022 Genesis G90
- 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class
- 2021 Volvo S90 (including Recharge)
- 2021 Volvo V90 (including Cross Country)
TSP+: Small SUVs
- 2021-2022 Chevrolet Trailblazer
- 2021 Ford Bronco Sport
- 2022 Hyundai Tuscon (redesign)
- 2021 Mazda CX-3
- 2021 Mazda CX-30
- 2021 Mazda CX-5
- 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander (redesign)
- 2021 Nissan Rogue
- 2021 Subaru Forester
- 2021-2022 Volvo XC40 (including Recharge)
TSP+: Midsize SUVs
- 2021 Ford Explorer
- 2021 Hyundai Palisade
- 2022 Hyundai Santa Fe (facelift)
- 2021 Mazda CX-9
- 2021 Nissan Murano
- 2021-2022 Subaru Ascent
- 2021 Toyota Highlander
- 2021 Volkswagen ID.4
TSP+: Large SUVs
- 2021 Audi e-tron (including Sportback)
TSP+: Midsize luxury SUVs
- 2022 Acura MDX
- 2021 Acura RDX
- 2021-2022 Audi Q5 (including Sportback)
- 2021 Cadillac XT6
- 2022 Genesis GV70
- 2021-2022 Genesis GV80
- 2021 Hyundai Nexo
- 2021 Lexus NX
- 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class
- 2021 Volvo XC60 (including Recharge)
- 2021-2022 Volvo XC90 (including Recharge)
An addendum to IIHS’ ratings
You’ll probably note that many of the cars in the sections above don’t lineup with the “segments” we normally use to describe certain cars — like the full-size Nissan Maxima, for example. This is how the IIHS breaks out their ratings, so if you can’t find the car you’re looking for you may need to jump to another section.
Since the Top Safety Pick+ list is substantially long — again, you can find a TSP+ car in most categories — we’ll include a different post with Top Safety Pick ratings.
While we talk about cars here, you can check out a video with the (then most recent) safest trucks below: