SUVs have become increasingly popular over the last few decades, but they are not without their critics. While many people enjoy having a higher vantage point in the driver’s seat, this also means that the vehicle has a higher center of gravity, which can make it less safe than other body styles. But of course, there are plenty of trustworthy automakers that have worked hard to design SUVs that offer all of the benefits that drivers love in a safer package. Whether you’re browsing a lot full of new vehicles or shopping at your local used car dealership, you may well find yourself asking: What is the safest SUV to buy? Well, we are going to take a look at five dependable models that have a track record of safety and are highly rated by trusted organizations like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
#1 – Chevrolet Trailblazer
While there is an older Chevy SUV that used the name “Trailblazer,” we’re talking about the subcompact crossover that debuted for the 2021 model year. Since it’s a newer model, even the oldest Trailblazers out there come standard with driver-assistance features that can help protect drivers, passengers, and others on the road. Automated emergency braking and pedestrian detection work to prevent forward collisions with other vehicles, people crossing the street, or any other obstacles you might unexpectedly encounter while driving. Lane-keeping assist and lane-departure warnings come into play on highways and freeways, preventing the driver from drifting out of their lane.
The 2022 Trailblazer was named a Top Safety Pick+ by the IIHS, which is the Institute’s highest rating. It also earned an overall 5-star rating from the NHTSA. The vehicle got perfect scores in the categories of overall frontal barrier crash rating and overall side crash rating, meaning it has top-notch crashworthiness from multiple angles.
When it comes to little ones, Chevy has features to accommodate children young and old. For those who still need a booster seat, the Trailblazer comes standard with a LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children), which provides dedicated anchors, making securing a compatible car seat easier and more secure. Once the kids get older and start to learn to drive themselves, parents can take advantage of Teen Driver mode. This allows you to limit certain settings (like the car’s speed or the stereo’s volume) and prevent safety systems from being turned off. It also generates a “report card” that lets parents get insights into their teen’s driving habits. These settings can be linked to a particular key fob, which can come in handy for cars that are used by both adults and teens.
#2 – Subaru Forester
Since it comes standard with all-wheel drive across all trim levels and has for many years now, the Subaru Forester has good traction even when road conditions aren’t ideal. So even if the road is icy, wet, or unpaved, drivers are able to remain in control. As of 2022, the Forester has been rated either a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ by IIHS every single model year since 2007. It has also received overall 5-star ratings from NHTSA for every model year since 2014.
Subaru has a reputation for making vehicles that are meant to endure the elements and withstand off-road conditions. This means that the brand works to design vehicles that are built to last. According to data from Experian Automotive, 97% of Forester vehicles sold from 2012 to 2021 were still on the road as of December of 2021. That means that you can expect a Forester to continue to be a reliable ride for years to come, even if you’re buying one used.
#3 – Ford Explorer
The Ford Explorer has been around for decades, so it’s not hard to find on a used car lot. While newer models have the most up-to-date safety features (the 2020 to 2022 model years have all been named a Top Safety Pick+ by the IIHS), even older versions can be bought with confidence. The Explorer has earned 5-star overall ratings from NHTSA for every model year from 2013 to 2022, so it has a long history of performing well in crash tests and coming equipped with recommended safety technologies.
Ford has included its AdvanceTrac technology with Roll Stability Control as a standard feature on recent models. This feature automatically adjusts traction to help the driver stay in control, even when roads are covered in rain or ice. Some newer models also come with trailer sway control, which adjusts the brakes and engine power in order to account for the extra weight of a trailer when one is attached.
#4 – Mazda CX-5
When the Mazda CX-5 debuted for the 2013 model year, it was immediately named a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS, and from 2014 onward, it has been a Top Safety Pick+ every year. That kind of consistency makes it a solid choice for used car buyers. Though, as usual, more recent model years are more likely to have driver assistance technologies.
Starting with the 2020 model year, a wide variety of high-tech safety features have been included standard in the CX-5. Automatic emergency braking applies the brakes if it detects that a forward collision is about to occur and dynamic brake support kicks in if the driver applies the brakes but not quite hard enough, automatically supplementing the manual braking to prevent a crash. Warnings, like those for frontal collisions and lane departure, also come standard, as does adaptive cruise control, which lets the driver maintain a programmable following distance from the car in front of them rather than just maintaining a consistent speed.
#5 – Hyundai Tucson
A small SUV that’s equally adept at cruising around town and exploring the great outdoors, the Hyundai Tucson is a capable option that offers a comfortable ride. Every model year of the Tucson from 2016 to 2022 has been named either a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ by the IIHS. In addition to having a strong showing in crash tests, the Tucson has included key safety features, like automated emergency braking and lane-keeping assist, for a few years now.
Hyundai SmartSense, which comes with some recent Tuscons, is loaded with familiar features like forward collision avoidance and pedestrian detection, but it also has some less common offerings. Driver attention warnings go off when the system detects patterns that are associated with drowsiness. A surround-view monitor uses cameras on the front, sides, and rear of the vehicle to give you a full picture of the area around you on the dashboard. When your car is parked, and another vehicle is approaching from behind, the safe exit warning lets you know. These extra features cover a wider range of scenarios, giving the driver an extra layer of protection in each one.
Picking a Safe SUV
While the SUVs on this list vary when it comes to size and style, they all have a few key things in common. Most importantly, they all performed well in crash tests and received good scores from the IIHS and NHTSA. But while protecting passengers in case of a crash is vital, preventing accidents from happening in the first place can be just as important. That’s why driver-assistance features like the ones available on these SUVs are becoming more and more common. These technologies are more likely to be standard on new vehicles, but there are plenty of SUVs from the past few years that are loaded with comprehensive safety features, so keep an eye out for them when shopping for a used model. Now that you know what to look for, you should be able to browse your local dealership with confidence, knowing that you’re prepared to make a smart choice.