IIHS Top Safety Pick Titles Go to Record 90 Vehicles for 2021

  • The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named 90 vehicles a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ for 2021, up from 64 in 2020.
  • One reason is that automakers have been improving their vehicles in the ways the IIHS tests for, including better headlights and active-safety features for crash prevention.
  • The 2021 Genesis GV80, in the news this week when golfer Tiger Woods was injured in a crash driving one, has not yet been tested, but a spokesperson said IIHS expects it to do well since the G70 and G80 are both Top Safety Pick+ winners.

    Cars are getting safer all the time. Thanks to innovations in computer modeling, metallurgy, and electronics (among many other things), we generally expect the new-car fleet to make gradual improvements in overall safety. But this year was a bigger leap than most, as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety bestowed awards on 90 vehicles. Last year, the number was 64.

    The awards in question are Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+. Getting that “+” includes an extra requirement that a vehicle offer above-standard headlights across every trim level. Forty-one Top Safety Pick and 49 Top Safety Pick+ winners were named for 2021. To score either award, a vehicle has to earn a Good rating in six different crash tests, plus a Superior or Advanced score in automated braking tests. Essentially, any car that earns an IIHS accolade has a robust structure and effective passive safety measures, plus electronic crash prevention and (probably) good headlights.

    The IIHS, if you’re unfamiliar, is not a government agency. It’s funded by the insurance industry, which has a vested interest in safer cars. The IIHS mission is twofold, really. There’s the scientific side, with its crash testing and crash-prevention assessments, and the media side to mete out public praise—or, as the situation warrants, shame. Manufacturers rue the dreaded IIHS Poor rating, because that invites attention of a most unwanted sort.

    Moving Up by Getting Better

    The Mazda CX-9 is a case in point. The 2014 Mazda CX-9 earned a Poor rating in the small-overlap test, which replicates the kind of collision where you drift out of your lane and hit an oncoming car, but not totally head on. It’s a brutal test because most of the front crash structure isn’t engaged when only a corner of the car makes impact. In the CX-9’s case, the A-pillar folded and the dashboard deformed such that the steering wheel ended up somewhere between the front seats. Mazda took the situation to heart—the IIHS putting the destroyed CX-9 carcass on display might’ve helped—and the redesigned CX-9 addressed its predecessor’s structural issues. In fact, the 2021 CX-9 is a Top Safety Pick+ recipient.

    The 2014 Mazda CX-9 wore its Poor rating in the IIHS hall of shame.

    Car and Driver

    Sometimes manufacturers move to improve a model even before a redesign. In 2017, the Chrysler Pacifica was brand-new when an IIHS test prompted Fiat Chrysler to modify the front door structure. Again, the small overlap test was the cause. Now, the IIHS assessment of the Pacifica notes: “Two tests of the Pacifica were conducted because the driver door was torn off its hinges in the first test. As a result, Fiat Chrysler strengthened the upper hinge and reinforced the joint between the door hinge pillar and inner body panel in front of the pillar. In the second test, the upper hinge held and the door stayed shut.” After that modification, the Pacifica earned across-the-board Good scores on all six crash tests. Thanks, IIHS.

    Genesis Tests Coming Soon

    This year’s plaudits are spread across a wide range of companies, but you may notice a few absences. Like, what, is a Bentley Bentayga not safe? What about the Genesis GV80, lately in the news for its crashworthiness? Both are absent from the list, though for different reasons. To conduct its tests, IIHS either buys a given car or gets reimbursed for it by a manufacturer that wants to prove the mettle of a given model. So they’re not going to go spend $183,425 on a Bentley (or Bentleys) to run into a wall. And neither has Bentley seen fit to gift them any crash-test vehicles, evidently.

    And the Genesis just hasn’t been in production long enough for IIHS to complete its testing. As the IIHS director of media relations, Joe Young, told us: “Tests of the 2021 GV80, and the 2021 G80, are underway now, and we expect to have results out in the second half of March. These vehicles are simply too new and we weren’t able to get testing completed in time for this release. The G70 and G90 both earn Top Safety Pick+ awards, and we expect the GV80 to perform well in our tests as it’s a brand-new model and Hyundai Motor Group has a solid track record of performing well in our crashworthiness, crash avoidance, and headlight evaluations.”

    While the Top Safety Pick glory will surely be amplified by the winners, it’s up to the IIHS to scorn the losers. Mitsubishi, step right up! The agency notes that 2021 extends Mitsubishi’s unprecedented streak of never winning a single award. Also, “The low number of awards for General Motors is striking for such a large manufacturer.” GM earned a single Top Safety Pick+ and one more regular Top Safety Pick, for the Cadillac XT6 and Chevy Equinox, respectively.

    2016 honda pilot crash test

    The Honda Pilot is one the vehicles that narrowly misses an IIHS Top Safety Pick. It aced the driver-side small overlap test, but needs improvement on the passenger side.

    Ezra DyerCar and Driver

    Perhaps the most encouraging thing about IIHS’s 2021 report is that many more vehicles almost made the list, but came up short in a single category. There were 12 more vehicles that aced every criteria except headlights, and seven fell short on pedestrian crash prevention. Only five cars missed the cut solely because of crash-test shortcomings, and in all five cases the passenger-side small overlap test was the culprit. (If you’re wondering: Toyota Prius, Toyota Prius Prime, Volkswagen GTI, Audi A5 coupe, and Chevy Traverse.)

    As the IIHS data shows, cars are safer than ever. If only the same could be said for drivers.

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