Choices expand for safety-conscious consumers, as 90 vehicles earn IIHS awards

February 24, 2021

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is recognizing 49 models for providing the highest level of safety — more than double the number that earned the Top Safety Pick+ award last year.

Another 41 vehicles earn Top Safety Pick (without the plus), bringing the total number of 2021 award winners to 90, compared with 64 in February 2020.

“With these awards, we want to make it easy for consumers to find vehicles that provide good protection in crashes, sufficient lighting and effective front crash protection,” IIHS President David Harkey says. “Manufacturers have stepped up to meet the challenge, and the list of great options has grown to an impressive size this year.”

Both awards require good ratings in all six IIHS crashworthiness tests — driver- and passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints. Award winners must be available with front crash prevention that earns a superior or advanced rating in both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian evaluations. Last but not least, Top Safety Pick winners must be available with good or acceptable headlights. The “plus” designation is given to models that have good or acceptable headlights across all trim levels and packages.

Of all manufacturers, Hyundai Motor Group, including the Hyundai, Kia and Genesis brands, has the most 2021 awards — 12 regular Top Safety Picks and five pluses. Volvo has the most Top Safety Pick+ awards with nine.

Only one automaker, Mitsubishi, has failed to earn a single award so far. The low number of awards for General Motors — one Top Safety Pick and one Top Safety Pick+ — is striking for such a large manufacturer.

This year two minivans, the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, qualify for the Top Safety Pick+ award. A pickup truck, the Ram 1500 crew cab, qualifies for Top Safety Pick and is the only winner from Stellantis, the company created by the recent merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot. A year ago, there were no minivans or pickups in the winner’s circle.

Headlight improvements

IIHS has been using a two-tier award system since 2013 as a way to phase in new requirements that may be tough for all manufacturers to meet immediately. Over the years, IIHS has used Top Safety Pick+ to introduce new crash tests and crash avoidance criteria before making them part of the requirements for the regular Top Safety Pick award.

Headlight ratings were first incorporated into Top Safety Pick+ criteria for the 2017 award year. To qualify for the highest award, vehicles had to at least have good or acceptable headlights available as an option. The following year, that requirement became part of the base award.

As manufacturers showed they could produce headlights with better lighting and less glare, IIHS decided to encourage them to make this improved equipment standard. Starting in 2020, only vehicles with good or acceptable headlights across the board could earn Top Safety Pick+.

The strategy seems to be working. A year ago, only 23 vehicles qualified for the higher-tier award. Today, the number has more than doubled, and the majority of awards handed out for 2021 models include the plus sign.

Front crash prevention

Vehicles don’t have to have front crash prevention as standard equipment to qualify for either award, but a voluntary manufacturer commitment is helping on that front. Twenty automakers have signed the pledge to equip at least 95 percent of vehicles they make with vehicle-to-vehicle automatic emergency braking beginning in the 2022-23 production year.

All 49 Top Safety Pick+ winners and 31 Top Safety Pick winners have standard systems that meet the vehicle-to-vehicle requirement. Forty-eight of the Top Safety Pick+ winners and 26 of the TOP SAFETY PICK winners also meet the pedestrian crash prevention criterion with their standard systems. The others qualify based on optional equipment.

Near misses

The extensive list of criteria for both awards means many vehicles check all boxes but one. Twelve vehicles are only lacking good or acceptable headlights, while seven don’t have pedestrian crash prevention that earns a superior or advanced rating. Only five fall short on crashworthiness. All five lack a good rating in the passenger-side small overlap front test.

IIHS has added to its lineup of vehicle evaluations over the years. The 2021 Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ awards are based on these nine tests.

Moderate overlap front
Program began in 1995
Side
Program began in 2003
Head restraints and seats
Program began in 2004
Roof
Program began in 2009
Small overlap front: driver-side
Program began in 2012
Front crash prevention: vehicle-to-vehicle
Program began in 2013
Headlights
Program began in 2016
Small overlap front: passenger-side
Program began in 2017
Front crash prevention: vehicle-to-pedestrian
Program began in 2019

Top Safety Pick+

  • G Good ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests
  • AdvancedSuperior Advanced or superior rating for available front crash prevention — vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian evaluations
  • AG Acceptable or good headlights standard

Top Safety Pick

  • G Good ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests
  • AdvancedSuperior Advanced or superior rating for available front crash prevention — vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian evaluations
  • AG Acceptable or good headlights available, but not standard; vehicles qualify for the award only when equipped with those headlights
  • Large car
  • Kia Stinger with optional front crash prevention

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