By on December 19, 2018


Despite perpetually raising the bar on what constitutes automotive safety, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety just gilded nearly five dozen models with Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick Plus awards. The metrics, which now hinge largely on a vehicle possessing crash avoidance systems and superior headlamps, require the highest rating available in passenger-side protection during its small overlap front crash to get the coveted Plus decoration — which 30 vehicles qualified for in the initial 2019 model year evaluation.

Hyundai, which managed to walk away with the most awards, swiftly issued a press release to humblebrag that it bested the competition two years running. Considering how well the Koreans performed, it was likely warranted. Automakers absolutely love this kind of stuff, so you can expect to see future references made to the awards in the next batch of car commercials. 

“To repeat with the most number of awards in the industry is a great accomplishment,” said Andy Freels, president of the Hyundai America Technical Center. “Our blend of advanced safety features and structural engineering truly offer something that our owners and new car shoppers can really appreciate.”

Kia followed Hyundai’s ten awards with eight of its own, tying with Subaru for second place. These brands were pursued by Honda, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Genesis, BMW, Mazda, Nissan, Audi, Lexus, Acura, Mitsubishi, and Chrysler — in that order.

However, taking stock of which brands made the list is less interesting than keeping track of those that did not. The IIHS failed to award a single model from General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Volvo (which hasn’t been thoroughly tested yet), Jeep, Ram, Dodge, or Tesla. But for those actively seeking a new vehicle and not interested exclusively in brand bashing/praising, the most important thing is which models made the cut. Here are the 2019 IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus honorees for each segment:

Small Cars

Honda Insight
Hyundai Elantra (assembled after September 2018)
Kia Forte
Kia Niro Hybrid
Kia Niro PHEV

Midsize Cars

Hyundai Sonata
Kia Optima
Subaru Legacy
Subaru Outback
Toyota Camry
Genesis G70
Lexus ES

Large Cars

Toyota Avalon (assembled after September 2018)
BMW 5 series
Genesis G80
Genesis G90
Mercedes-Benz E-Class (4-door sedan)

Small SUVs

Hyundai Kona
Mazda CX-5

Midsize SUVs

Hyundai Santa Fe
Kia Sorento
Subaru Ascent
Acura RDX
Mercedes-Benz GLC
Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class

You’ll notice it wasn’t a bad year for Hyundai Motor Group and and Subaru. Unlike most American brands, they’ll both crop up again in the slightly less auspicious list of Top Safety Pick awardees:


Hyundai Accent
Kia Rio (4-door sedan)

Small Cars

Hyundai Elantra GT
Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid
Hyundai Ioniq PHEV (assembled after July 2018)
Kia Soul
Nissan Kicks
Toyota Corolla (4-door hatchback)

Midsize Cars

Honda Accord
Nissan Altima
Audi A3
Audi A4
Mercedes-Benz C-Class (4-door sedan)

Large Cars

Kia Cadenza

Small SUVs

Honda CR-V
Hyundai Tucson
Mazda CX-3
Mitsubishi Outlander
Subaru Forester

Midsize SUVs

Honda Pilot
Hyundai Santa Fe XL
Mazda CX-9
Nissan Pathfinder (assembled after August 2018)
Toyota Highlander


Chrysler Pacifica
Honda Odyssey

While the Big Three clearly need to step up their game if they want to get into the institute’s good graces, keep in mind that the organization’s testing involves hurling these vehicles at a stationary object to use their own mass against them and is heavily weighted by headlight performance. The Kia Rio might have won the trophy, but we’d still rather be in a Chevrolet Suburban in a head-to-head confrontation between the two. Still, if you’re cross-shopping models in a similar segment and safety is your primary concern, you might want to see what made the above list.

“We challenged manufacturers to provide the best possible protection in a range of crash scenarios and equip vehicles with an automatic emergency braking system to avoid crashes, as well as offer headlights that give drivers confidence when traveling at night,” said IIHS-HLDI President David Harkey.

He attributed the American brands’ lackluster performance to subpar headlamp performance and fleets populated with too many older models that hadn’t been updated to ace its small overlap frontal crash test. If you want a more comprehensive breakdown as to why certain models didn’t pass muster, head over to to the IIHS’ website for a deeper dive.

[Image: Hyundai]

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19 Comments on “The 57 Models That Received IIHS Safety Awards for 2019 (Spoiler: There Aren’t Many Americans)...”

  • avatar

    So, have the MINI Countryman and BMW X1 lost their rating for 2019, or is this a curated list, featuring hand-picked favorites? X2 is here. Confused!

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      The X1 and Countryman both earned marginal headlight ratings from the IIHS, which took them both out of the running. Otherwise, they received top marks for their segment.

      • 0 avatar

        All you have to do to get past that pesky marginal headlight rating is to add “auto high beams” like Toyota did to all their cars. Doesn’t work in the real world, but it doesn’t cost any money, and it improves their safety ratings!

        It’s basically the “auto seat belt” loophole of 2018.

        • 0 avatar
          Minnesota Nice

          I’m not so sure it’s that simple. My mother’s 2017 Honda CR-V has auto high beams, but didn’t get a good score on headlight performance (they’re halogen on all trims except Touring). I don’t even think the Touring trim gets the gold star for headlight performance.

          My CX-5 GT has LED adaptive headlights with auto high beams and it was enough to win the safety pick. And I get why. These headlights are brutal to oncoming traffic.

        • 0 avatar

          No, it’s not an automatic pass — depends on how close a vehicle is to a ratings boundary.

      • 0 avatar

        And if one has the awesome auto LED headlamps option?

      • 0 avatar

        Well, their halogens are terrible, but fortunately I have the awesome LED headlamps, with the Auto function.

  • avatar

    Went to the IIHS website to find out about Mazda6. Gets all greens in crash test categories, but no overall rating. That’s because, apparently, this subject article grand list doesn’t include every vehicle, nor does every vehicle qualify for top safety pick anyway, and it will updated throughout the year. Or not. Bureaucracy exists in the private sector too.

  • avatar

    How about a more realistic set of crash tests than using the vehicle’s own weight against a solid object?
    Take, say, the top five most common accident scenarios and run the test using those.
    For example – drive the test vehicle at 25 MPH into the back of a jacked-up Ford F250 with a three-ball trailer hitch.
    T-bone it with a Monte Carlo driven by a drunk at 40 MPH.
    Drive it at 45 around a wet corner from which it slides into a pine tree.
    If you think you will someday hit a concrete block with the driver’s corner of your car, buy a 2019 Hyundai Elantra. If you expect to get rear-ended while stopped at a red light (which has happened to me three times), you’re probably best off in a pickup truck.

  • avatar

    On American cars for some reason crash avoidance and other safety systems are still optional while in Asians – standard.

  • avatar

    Timely and good to know as my sister looks to replace her 2011 Explorer with either a Subaru Ascent or Toyota Highlander. One more data point for her to consider.

  • avatar

    How many of these are built in North American plants? Obviously, none from the closing GM plants. How long would it take GM to have an upgraded vehicle, available for assembly in any of these plants? Could they ‘wait’ closing? They shouldn’t expect to make ‘non-desired sales. (Nor should the workers).

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