For most car shoppers, safety is a primary concern when choosing a new model. Every new vehicle sold in America must meet standards mandated by Title 49 of the United States Code, Chapter 301, for motor vehicle safety. While airbags, seat belts and crumple zones keep occupants safe in a crash, technologies available in some new cars work to prevent the crash itself. Those systems vary among car companies — some use radar, others use cameras — but the goal is lessening or avoiding impacts without the need for driver input. For a vehicle to be named an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+, it must earn Good ratings (Good is the highest IIHS rating) in each of six crash tests: driver-side and passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraint & seats. The vehicle must also earn an Advanced or Superior rating for front crash prevention in vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian tests, as well as a Good or Acceptable headlight rating.
For the 2020 model year, the IIHS adds an additional requirement for a vehicle to gain distinction as an IIHS Top Safety Pick+. To earn this top award, a vehicle must be available exclusively with Good or Acceptable headlights on all trim variants. This new requirement knocks several previously top-ranked vehicles off the Top Safety Pick+ list. “The headlight ratings that have been part of our awards criteria in recent years have pushed automakers to pay more attention to this essential equipment,” said IIHS President David Harkey. “However, finding vehicles with the right headlights can be a challenge for consumers. We wanted to reward automakers that have removed this obstacle,” Harkey noted. With these newest criteria in place, only 23 model-year 2020 vehicles earn the Top Safety Pick+ rating, with an additional 41 achieving the Top Safety Pick award. Here, in alphabetical order, are the safest new cars for 2020 — vehicles that achieve the elite IIHS rank of Top Safety Pick+ winner.
All new last year, the Acura RDX returns to the elite group of safest vehicles in America for the second year in a row. The previous-generation RDX earned the rank of TSP+ for 2016 and 2017, but the compact crossover didn’t meet the headlight requirement for 2018. The RDX earns the highest rating for every IIHS crash test, thanks in part to the newest generation of Acura’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure, new high-strength steel door stiffener rings and eight airbags, including driver and front-passenger knee airbags. The RDX also features the AcuraWatch suite of safety and driver-assist technologies, including automatic emergency braking and road departure mitigation. New LED headlights are also standard.
Audi introduced a new A6 for the 2019 model year that returned to the Top Safety Pick+ list after being absent for the previous few years. The 2020 A6 not only carries the latest styling cues of the Audi brand, it also possesses the latest advanced safety features. A central driver-assistance controller processes data from up to five radar sensors, five cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors and a laser scanner to provide a wide range of driver-assistance systems that include standard automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. The A6 performed at the highest level in all front crash prevention tests.
The XT6 is an all-new model from Cadillac for the 2020 model year, and this luxury 3-row SUV is currently the only American-brand vehicle to earn a spot on the Top Safety Pick+ list. The XT6 stands out with a large expressive grille flanked by a choice of bi-function LED projector headlights or performance LED headlights with a three-element projector array, both of which qualify the XT6 for the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ ranking. This stylish new crossover also gets the latest safety technology such as forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, front and rear park assist, rear cross-traffic alert and a rearview camera with remote wash.
Introduced last year, the G70 is the third model from Genesis — a relatively new brand in the luxury segment — and the car continues to earn the Top Safety Pick+ moniker. The G70 sedan is available in a variety of trim levels and can be equipped with full-time all-wheel drive. Genesis also offers the G70 with advanced safety tech as standard equipment across the board; this includes forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, high-beam assist and driver attention warning. Note that only Genesis G70 variants built after December 2019 have headlights that earn the model a Top Safety Pick+ rating, discontinuing any headlights that previously scored a Poor rating.
In 2017 Korean automaker Hyundai created a luxury brand from its flagship model line. The G80 sedan was the first vehicle to wear the new Genesis badge, and the luxury sedan continues to be available in a variety of high-end trims with automatic emergency braking standard on all of them. Using radar from the smart cruise control and cameras from the lane-keeping assist system, the G80 can detect a slower or stopped vehicle ahead — or a pedestrian in its path — and automatically apply brakes as needed to avoid a collision. The Genesis G80 has been a Top Safety Pick+ every year since its introduction.
Last year Honda brought the Insight back to its lineup for a third time — and this may be the best version yet. The extremely efficient hybrid sedan also scores at the top for all IIHS crash tests in its first years on the road. All Insights come with the Honda Sensing suite of advanced safety features as standard equipment, including automatic emergency braking with forward collision warning, road departure mitigation, lane departure warning and lake-keeping assist. The Insight achieved the best score possible on vehicle and pedestrian avoidance.
The NEXO remains unique on this list as the only fuel-cell vehicle to earn a Top Safety Pick+ rating. The second-generation fuel-cell vehicle from Hyundai, NEXO is a 5-passenger crossover featuring a stylish exterior with swept-back narrow headlights, flush door handles and a sleek roofline. The NEXO employs three separate hydrogen tanks that improve interior space as well as provide room for a large, flat cargo area. NEXO come with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert and a blind-spot view monitor as standard equipment.
Lexus introduced an all-new ES sedan for the 2019 model year, complete with updated styling, an all-new chassis and the latest luxury and safety features, all of which continue into the 2020 model year. The seventh-generation ES comes with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 as standard equipment. This suite of advanced equipment includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian and bicycle detection, high-speed adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist and road-edge detection, lane-tracing assist and intelligent high-beam headlight.
Lexus joined the growing compact luxury SUV segment when it introduced the NX for the 2015 model year. The NX has been a Top Safety Pick+ designee since its introduction, with the exception of the 2018 model year. In addition to its high scores in the required crash tests, the NX comes with the Lexus Safety System + which includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert and intelligent high beams. The NX is available with the first-ever turbocharged engine in a Lexus — a 2.0-liter four cylinder that produces 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Also available with a hybrid powertrain, the NX 300h is one of the most fuel-efficient SUVs in America.
The CX-3 is the smallest crossover in the Mazda lineup. Introduced for the 2016 model year, the CX-3 gets headlight improvements for 2020 that help it earn the Top Safety Pick+ rating. Mazda CX-3 boasts a dynamic design, signature Mazda sporty driving characteristics and an available sophisticated i-ACTIV AWD system offered with all three trim levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The CX-3 comes equipped with Mazda’s i-ACTIVSENSE, which includes a range of advanced safety features such as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist and adaptive front lighting.
Mazda’s popular CX-5 crossover has been on the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ list since 2014, and the redesigned 2017 model continued this success. The CX-5 is available with advanced safety features that include lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist and smart brake assist — the latter warning the driver and automatically applying the brakes to avoid or minimize damage from a frontal collision. These items are part of an i-ACTIVSENSE package that also includes high-beam headlight control, adaptive cruise control, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers.
All new for the 2020 model year, the Mazda3 features the latest evolution of the company’s KODO design. Available as a 4-door sedan or a hatchback — both achieving Top Safety Pick+ status — the new Mazda3 can be equipped with Mazda’s i-ACTIV all-wheel-drive system. Equipped with the latest advanced safety features such as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, the Mazda3 uses an infrared camera and infrared LED to observe the driver’s condition while driving, checking to see how wide open the driver’s eyelids are and the number of times he or she blinks in order to determine the level of drowsiness or fatigue. It also monitors the driver’s line of sight and eye movements to determine when the driver is being inattentive.
Two years ago Mazda introduced an all-new Mazda6, the flagship of the Japanese car company’s lineup. With a revised chassis designed to provide a more comfortable ride, better handling and a quieter interior, the Mazda6 features the brand’s signature grille flanked by standard LED headlights and integrated fog lights that give the car a wide stance. All Mazda6 trims come the full suite of i-ACTIVSENSE safety features as standard equipment, including adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist and rear cross-traffic alert.
The best-selling passenger car in the Mercedes-Benz lineup, the C-Class moved into its fourth generation for 2019 with updated styling, more power and new features. Looking like a proper Mercedes with standard LED headlights and taillights and freshened front-end styling, the C-Class can be configured in a number of trim levels with varying levels of power. The C-Class is available with the latest driver-assistance systems that include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, evasive steering assist, active lane-keeping assist, blind-spot assist and cross-traffic alert.
Mercedes-Benz updated the GLE SUV last year with advancements in safety, entertainment, connectivity and drivability. The GLE has been on the Top Safety Pick+ list since its introduction in 2016. Equipped with all the luxury features expected of a Mercedes, the GLE comes standard with Collision Prevention Assist, which uses radar to monitor the distance to a vehicle in front and will alert the driver while priming the brakes if a crash seems imminent. Also available is Collision Prevention Assist Plus with active brake assist, which will automatically apply the brakes to avoid a collision. The LED Intelligent Light System features an ultra-wide beam; it has the brightest headlights allowed on a motor vehicle.
The flagship sedan of the Nissan lineup, the Maxima received a major update in 2016 when it was re-dubbed the “4-door sports car.” True to Maxima’s sports car mantra, the big sedan features a 300-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine teamed with a performance-oriented Xtronic continuously-variable transmission. For the 2020 model year, Maxima gets Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 as standard equipment on all trim levels. This suite of safety features includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning and rear automatic braking. This is the first year that Maxima has been on the Top Safety Pick+ list since 2017.
Subaru introduced the plug-in hybrid version of the Crosstrek last year — the brand’s first plug-in for the U.S. market. The Crosstrek Hybrid comes with the latest version of EyeSight, Subaru’s innovative driver-assistance system that employs stereo forward-facing cameras as well as other sensors. With EyeSight, the Crosstrek Hybrid is available with automatic pre-collision braking, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert. In the IIHS front crash prevention tests, the Crosstrek Hybrid performed at the highest level for both vehicle and passenger avoidance. The Crosstrek Hybrid has standard LED projector headlights; however, the non-hybrid does not — which is why the hybrid version is the only Crosstrek on the Top Safety Pick+ list.
All new last year, the Subaru Forester features the roomiest interior offered with a 1.2-inch-longer wheelbase, more rear-seat legroom and more cargo capacity, as well as improvements in crash protection, comfort, quietness and driving dynamics. EyeSight driver-assist technology is standard on all trim levels, and Forester Touring features DriverFocus safety technology that can alert the driver of fatigue or distraction as well as automatically adjust many driver settings at startup. For 2020 Subaru equips Forester with LED projector headlights, which help elevate it to the rank of Top Safety Pick+ once again.
All new for the 2020 model year, Legacy is the latest model to be moved to Subaru’s new global platform. Changes to the structure result in improved crash protection, with the new structure absorbing 40 percent more energy in front/side crashes than the previous model. Subaru’s Eyesight Driver Assist Technology with Eyesight Assist Monitor is standard on all Legacy trim levels. The updated system is designed to help prevent collisions and includes advanced adaptive cruise control with lane centering, pre-collision braking and throttle management, and vehicle lane departure and sway warning. The Legacy can also be equipped with the DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System, which uses an infrared camera and facial recognition to determine if the driver is fatigued or simply not paying attention. If the system determines the driver is drowsy or not paying attention, it provides both audio and visual alerts.
There aren’t many wagons available in America, but the Subaru Outback — with its perfect score from the IIHS — is arguably the safest wagon on the market. Like the Legacy, the Outback is all new for the 2020 model year, built on Subaru’s updated global platform. The Outback has been on the Top Safety Pick+ list since 2013, and for 2020 the off-road wagon continues to score the highest marks in all tests. Standard on all Outbacks is Subaru’s innovative EyeSight system, which includes automatic emergency braking as well as an advanced adaptive cruise control with lane centering and the new DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System, which uses both audio and visual alerts if the drive appears to be fatigued or simply not paying attention.
As the model that earned Tesla its first Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS for 2019, the Model 3 is the eponymous third model of the innovative U.S. automaker’s electric vehicle lineup, and it happens to be the entry-level offering. The Model 3 comes well equipped with upscale features including power heated front seats, a premium audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, docking stations for two smartphones and multiple USB ports. The 2020 Model 3 also comes with a range of advanced safety features as standard equipment, including forward collision avoidance, lane-keeping assist and lane departure warning.
The Toyota Camry was all new for the 2018 model year, built using a new global architecture with updated styling, a line of more powerful and efficient engines and the latest in advanced safety technology. Toyota has made Toyota Safety Sense P standard on the Camry, which includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist and automatic high beams. This system allowed the Camry to completely avoid a collision in both low- and high-speed IIHS autobrake tests. With its available LED projector headlights, Camry earns the rating of Top Safety Pick+ for the sixth year in a row.