A recent survey conducted by Consumer Reports concluded that safety remains a primary concern among new-vehicle buyers, and it’s easy to see why. Though today’s cars – especially those equipped with the latest accident-avoiding driver-assist systems – are safer than ever, 36,750 U.S. citizens were killed in motor vehicle crashes during 2018.
With SUVs, especially car-based crossovers, becoming the rides of choice for an ever-expanding universe of American families, picking a model that gets top safety ratings is paramount. We’re featuring the nine luxury SUVs from the 2019 model year that earned top marks in this regard from the industry-supported Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
All are awarded the IIHS’ Top Safety Pick+ designation. For starters that means each gets top "Good" scores in each of the IIHS’ stringent crash tests. These include evaluations for moderate overlap front, driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, and side collisions, and for roof strength and head restraints. Once crashed, vehicles are examined and evaluated according to its structural damage, potential occupant injuries as measured by sensor-equipped crash dummies, and the movement of the dummies when impact occurs. The IIHS says the driver of a vehicle that receives a Good rating in its moderate overlap test is 46 percent less likely to be killed in a frontal crash, the driver of a vehicle that gets a Poor rating.
In addition, the IIHS evaluates new vehicles’ forward auto-braking systems to determine their effectiveness at avoiding crashes in tests conducted at 12 and 25 miles per hour. In each, an engineer drives the vehicle straight toward a stationary inflatable target that’s designed to simulate the back of a car. Here, a vehicle’s auto-braking system must be deemed “Superior” to qualify. That means it’s able to avoid a crash or substantially reduce the vehicle’s speed in both tests.
Getting top scores in all of those tests is enough to earn a vehicle a Top Safety Pick rating, albeit without the “Plus.” To receive the Full TSP+ designation, a vehicle must either come with or offer as optional equipment headlights that get top marks in the organization’s testing. That’s a critical, but often overlooked element of auto safety. Nearly half of all fatal crashes in the U.S. occur in the dark, and more than a quarter occur on unlit roads. Despite advancements in illumination technology, the IIHS found that most new vehicles sold today have inadequate headlights.
The nine top-rated luxury SUVs for 2019 run the gamut from small to large and include one full-electric model, the Audi e-tron. Unfortunately, not all luxury SUVs from the 2019 model year have been tested. The IIHS concentrates its efforts on higher-volume models, which tends to leave out higher priced and niche models, like the Mercedes-Benz G-Class and the Maserati Levante, that sell in small numbers. It also can take some time for the IIHS to catch up with just-released or redesigned models.
One more thing: Frontal crash-test ratings can only be compared among vehicles of approximately the same size and weight. This is because a frontal crash rating into a fixed barrier represents a crash between two vehicles of the same weight. All else being equal, a larger and heavier vehicle will fare better in a collision with a smaller and lighter one. Side impact tests, however, can in fact be compared among models in varying size categories because all vehicles are hit with the same force by the same moving barrier.