What Is The Safest Used SUV?


SUVs are some of the more common vehicle types to see on the road these days. 

There are so many options and preferences different people have, and it can be hard to know where to look when trying to buy one. 

Safety should always be a top concern though, especially if you’re buying a used SUV. But which used SUV is the safest?

A few of the Top Safety Pick+ used SUVs are the 2020 Audi e-Tron, the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, and the 2015 Mazda CX-5. IIHS tests the crashworthiness and safety of vehicles and provides a rating of either Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+, which is a higher rating than was introduced in 2013.

Potential buyers may be looking for a certain car year to select from with the best safety ratings. 

Below is a list of some of the safest SUVs from the past 10 years. 

There are 8 SUVs with a Top Safety Pick+ rating from 2020-2013, and 2 SUVs with a Top Safety Pick rating from 2012-2011. 

But first, in order to understand all the terms used in these ratings, you will need to understand all of the tests each vehicle will go through.

Top Safety Pick vs. Top Safety Pick+ Rating

Top Safety Pick ratings have been around for years to help buyers find the safest available vehicles. 

To earn this rating, they had to pass a set rating in Crashworthiness, Moderate Overlap Front, Side, Roof Strength, and Head Restraints and Seats.

Top Safety Pick+ ratings were introduced in 2013 as safety technology and engineering had evolved and standards had improved. 

A higher level of safety rating was needed to address these advancements.

They are generally tested in more areas such as Small Overlap Front Driver Side, Small Overlap Front Passenger Side, Child Seat Anchors, as well as Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Vehicle and Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Pedestrian.

Throughout all these tests, the engineers were paying special attention to the structural endurance of the vehicle, as well as injuries and the movement of the dummies. 

Engineers have found over years of research and testing that larger or heavier vehicles tend to be able to withstand crashes better, and are considered safer in case of a wreck.

After each test, they use a grading system of G (Good), A (Acceptable), M (Marginal), and P (Poor), or Superior, Advanced, and Basic.

Now that you understand some of the testing terminology used to determine safety ratings, here is a list of the top-rated used SUVs from the past ten years.

2020: Audi e-tron Sportback (4D Large SUV)

The 2020 Audi e-Tron Sportback was awarded the Top Safety Pick+. 

It earned the highest of ratings with each test with a Good rating in overall Crashworthiness, Small Overlap Front Driver Side, Small Overlap Front Passenger Side, Moderate Overlap Front, Side, Roof Strength, Head Restraints and Seats, and Child Seat Anchors. 

It also earned a Superior rating in Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Vehicle and Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Pedestrian.

It was the first plug-in all-electric vehicle to be awarded the highest rating of Top Safety Pick+, making it perfect for the modern family who was looking to do away with gas costs and pollution. 

It’s also great for customers who are looking for the safest possible SUV out there.

2019: Subaru Forester (4D Small SUV)

The 2019 Subaru Forester, with its remote engine start system, also earned the Top Safety Pick+ and the highest ratings. 

It scored a Good rating in Crashworthiness, Small Overlap Front Driver Side, Small Overlap Front Passenger Side, Moderate Overlap Front, Side, Roof Strength, Head Restraints and Seats, and Child Seat Anchors. 

And it, too, earned a Superior rating in Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Vehicle, and Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Pedestrian.

This vehicle has a remote engine start system you can access through your phone and all-around visibility from the front seat. 

This, paired with the highest ratings in all testing, ensures you will be safe and feel safe while driving. 

It’s truly made with safety at the top of mind.

2018: Hyundai Santa Fe Sport (4D Midsize SUV)

The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport was given the Top Safety Pick+ after earning a Good rating in overall Crashworthiness, Small Overlap Front Driver Side, Moderate Overlap Front, Side, Roof Strength, and Head Restraints and Seats. 

It earned an Acceptable rating in Small Overlap Front Passenger Side and Child Seat Anchors.

Starting in 2017 additional reinforcements were made for models to ensure better protection for passengers inside when they faced frontal crashes. 

It was also rated Superior in Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Vehicle and Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Pedestrian. 

Overall this is a nice safe SUV to buy used.

2017: Honda CR-V (4D Small SUV)

The 2017 Honda CR-V, with its traffic alerts, blind-spot detection, and rearview camera, was awarded the Top Safety Pick+ rating.

It earned a good rating in Crashworthiness, Small Overlap Front Driver Side, Small Overlap Front Passenger Side, Moderate Overlap Front, Side, Roof Strength, and Head Restraints and Seats. 

It also earned an Acceptable rating for Child Seat Anchors. 

It was given a Superior rating in both Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Vehicle, and Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Pedestrian.

2016: Toyota Highlander (4D Midsize SUV)

The 2016 Toyota Highlander was also given the rating of a Top Safety Pick+ and was made with reinforcements in the door design and structure to better protect its passengers.

It earned a Good rating in Crashworthiness, Small Overlap Front Passenger Side, Moderate Overlap Front, Side, Roof Strength, and Head Restraints and Seats, as well as an Acceptable rating for Small Overlap Front Driver Side.

Unfortunately, it only earned a Marginal rating in Child Seat Anchors, so this might not be the best vehicle for families with young children. 

It was not tested for Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Pedestrian, but it did earn an Advanced rating in Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Vehicle.

2015: Mazda CX-5 (4D Small SUV)

The 2015 Mazda CX-5 was given the Top Safety Pick+ and earned a Good rating in Crashworthiness, Small Overlap Front Driver Side, Small Overlap Front Passenger Side, Moderate Overlap Front, Side, Roof Strength, and Head Restraints and Seats, and an Acceptable rating in Child Seat Anchors. 

Again, it was not tested for Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Pedestrian but earned an Advanced rating in Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Vehicle.

2014: Chevrolet Equinox (4D Midsize SUV)

The 2014 Chevrolet Equinox was awarded the honor of Top Safety Pick+.

Beginning in 2014, the Chevrolet Equinox was made with a better front structure and door design for better protection of the passengers within. 

It was given a Good rating in Crashworthiness, Small Overlap Front Driver Side, Small Overlap Front Passenger Side, Moderate Overlap Front, Side, Roof Strength, and Seats.

From this year onward, they did not test Child Seat Anchors or Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Pedestrian, so that rating has not been determined.

However, they did give it a Basic rating for Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Vehicle.

2013: Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (4D Small SUV)

2013 is the first year the Top Safety Pick+ was introduced, and the 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport was awarded this rating with a Good grade in Moderate Overlap Front, Side, and Roof Strength. 

It had an Acceptable rating in Crashworthiness, Small Overlap Front Driver Side, and a Marginal rating in Small Overlap Front Passenger Side. 

Again, Child Seat Anchors were not tested, and neither were Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Vehicle or Vehicle to Pedestrian.

2012: Volkswagen Touareg (4D Large SUV)

In 2012, since the Top Safety Pick+ had not been introduced, the next best rating was the regular Top Safety Pick.

The 2012 Volkswagen Touareg achieved the rating of Top Safety Pick and had a Good rating in Crashworthiness, Moderate Overlap Front, Side, Roof Strength, and Head Restraints and Seats.

Due to a few nonexistent test standards of the time, they did not test this vehicle for Small Overlap Front Driver or Passenger Side, Child Seat Anchors, or Front Crash Prevention Vehicle to Vehicle or Vehicle to Pedestrian. 

For the time it was made, a Top Safety Pick was a good award in safety testing, and because the Volkswagen Touareg is a large SUV, it was one of the safer options to choose from when shopping for SUVs and smaller vehicles.

2011: Buick Enclave (4D Large SUV)

The 2011 Buick Enclave earned the Top Safety Pick with a Good rating in Crashworthiness, Moderate Overlap Front, Side, Roof Strength, and Head Restraints and Seats. 

Again, even though it does not have the Top Safety Pick+ rating, out of the other vehicles tested during that year, and because it is another large SUV, it is a much safer option than other smaller vehicles or those without the Top Safety Pick rating.

IIHS Testing and Rating System

Vehicle safety standards are taken very seriously and they are tested in a variety of ways.

The IIHS conducts many different tests to rate vehicles.

Each vehicle on the road is safest when its driver is following traffic laws, avoiding all distractions, and staying alert and aware of the driving conditions and the cars around them. 

However, not every driver can safely drive their way out of all wrecks and accidents. 

No matter how carefully you drive, you cannot control the other drivers around you. 

Driving inherently puts you at risk of getting in an accident at any time. 

If you were to wreck, you’d definitely want your vehicle to protect you and any other precious cargo you had inside.

IIHS puts every vehicle through different crash tests to determine how safe they are, in the event that an accident does occur. 

They use six tests to test vehicles’ crashworthiness: Moderate overlap front, driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints/seats.

For the Moderate Overlap Front Test, they use a vehicle going 40 miles per hour towards a barrier wall, while a dummy is sitting in the driver seat.

The car then approaches with 40% of the vehicle’s width making direct contact with the wall.

The Driver-Side Small Overlap Front Test is meant to determine what happens when the corner of a vehicle hits another car or object. 

The vehicle, with a dummy in the driver seat, drives at 40 miles per hour toward a barrier, with 25% of the vehicle’s width making direct contact on the driver’s side.

During the Passenger-Side Small Overlap Front Test, the test drive is the same, but there are two dummies in the car, one in the driver seat, and one in the passenger seat.

The vehicle will also hit with 25% of the vehicle’s width making direct contact with the barrier on the passenger side.

For the Side Test, an SUV-like vehicle will crash into the side of the car at 31 miles per hour. 

Two dummies representing small women or young teenagers are positioned in the driver seat as well as the back seat behind the driver. 

These particularly-sized dummies are used to evaluate the damage done to women and children because they are the most likely groups to experience serious injuries in a wreck. 

During this test, engineers will focus on the structural endurance of the vehicle and the level of damage/injuries done to both dummies.

To test the Roof Strength, a large metal plate is pressed onto one side of the vehicle at a slow, consistent pace until the roof collapses or is crushed. 

This test determines how much weight and pressure the vehicle’s roof can withstand. 

This is used to help imitate and understand what might happen in the event of a roll-over accident, which kills thousands of passengers each year.

For the Head Restraints and Seats Test, a dummy with an accurate or realistic spine is placed in the vehicle’s seat on a sled and is moved in a way to replicate a wreck. 

This is used to test damage done to the dummy, especially in the neck and spine, as whiplash or spinal injuries are the most common injuries passengers get during a crash. 

Will Turner

Will has an absolute passion for 4x4s and loves discovering all of the small details about each model. Will joined the Four Wheel Trends team in early 2021 and has been a valuable contributor ever since!

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