Safety Dance: Japanese Brands Score Big in IIHS Tests

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy

Workers at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are perpetually refining the tests they hurl at new cars, finding new and creative ways to bend metal and shatter glass. This is important since it is not unheard of for a manufacturer to quickly respond with alterations to their machines after flunking a new IIHS test.

This annum, armed with fresh checklists for side impact protection and headlight performance – along with the other requirements of past years – the IIHS found fewer vehicles qualified for their top awards. Brands leading the way now include Mazda, Toyota, and Honda. 

I’m sure an SEO wonk deep within the bowels of VerticalScope would have preferred that last sentence to be written after the jump in order to force a click – but you know that’s not how we roll. If you’re reading this, thanks for clicking anyway. Bonus info for those who made the leap: 28 models earned top marks this year compared with 65 at this point last year.

"The number of winners is smaller this year because we're challenging automakers to build on the safety gains they've already achieved," IIHS President David Harkey said in a press release. "These models are true standouts in both crashworthiness and crash prevention." Per the group, the updated side crash test uses a new barrier weighing 4,200 pounds and strikes the test vehicle at 37 mph, compared with a 3,300-pound barrier traveling at 31 mph in the original evaluation.

What’s changed? This time around, greater emphasis has been placed on side impact testing and tools designed to prevent mowing down pedestrians. Specifically, vehicles must earn Good ratings in the driver- and passenger-side small overlap front tests plus the original moderate overlap front test. It must also get a Good rating in the updated side test, Good or Acceptable headlights as standard equipment, and an Advanced or Superior rating for daytime (and nighttime) vehicle-to-pedestrian front crash prevention.

Al full list of the 28 winners can be found here (or below for those who are too lazy to click) and include stalwarts like the Camry and CR-V. Notable on the list are the Rivian R1T and Tesla Model Y, answering a question some people have about crash protection in vehicles with a huge empty frunk in front of its passengers instead of an engine. The new Tundra in both Crew Cab and Extended Cab guises is the only other pickup truck to make the list. There are two minivans – Odyssey and Sienna – plus the expected smattering of crossovers and SUVs.

The IIHS constantly works to throw manufacturers a curveball in the name of safety, a challenge that is sometimes caught creatively. Recall when the small-overlap test was first introduced, it was initially only carried out on the driver’s side. Some OEMs went back to the drawing board and added bracing to pass the test – but only on that side.

When the IIHS started performing that same test on the passenger side, it didn’t take long to expose the corner cutting. Case in point: a popular Japanese crossover earned a Good rating on the driver’s small overlap but a Poor rating on the passenger side. At the time, the IIHS estimated that a passenger in a vehicle that scores “Poor” is 46 percent more likely to die in a frontal crash than a vehicle rated “Good”. Yikes.

The full list:


Acura Integra


Subaru Outback

Toyota Camry built after January 2023


Genesis G90


Honda CR-V

Honda HR-V

Lexus UX

Subaru Solterra (electric) built after October 2022


Hyundai Palisade

Kia Telluride

Nissan Pathfinder

Subaru Ascent

Toyota Highlander

Volkswagen ID.4 (electric)


Acura MDX

Acura RDX

Infiniti QX60

Lexus NX

Lexus NX Plug-in Hybrid

Lexus RX

Tesla Model Y (electric)

Volvo XC90

Volvo XC90 Recharge (plug-in hybrid)


Honda Odyssey

Toyota Sienna


Rivian R1T crew cab (electric)

Toyota Tundra crew cab

Toyota Tundra extended cab

[Image: IIHS]

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Matthew Guy
Matthew Guy

Matthew buys, sells, fixes, & races cars. As a human index of auto & auction knowledge, he is fond of making money and offering loud opinions.

More by Matthew Guy

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2 of 16 comments
  • VoGhost VoGhost on Feb 26, 2023

    So, the Rivian and the Tesla are the only Americans on the list?

  • Boomstick0 Boomstick0 on Apr 14, 2023

    This is what happens when you put tarrifs on importing raw materials. Auto manufacturers find other, cheaper and less safe alternatives while the competition can just ship it on in.