With conventional passenger-car sales now accounting for only around 30 percent of the new-vehicle market, shoppers of all stripes are flocking instead to the sport-utility side of the showroom. Published reports indicate SUVs and crossovers now account for more than 60 percent of all luxury-brand vehicles sold.
It’s easy to see why tall-roofed upscale people movers – especially car-based crossovers – are so popular these days. Luxury models give up nothing in the way of sheer elegance or advanced features, they afford an upright driving position with good outward visibility, and they’re generally roomier and easier to enter and exit than comparable cars. Some of them are even downright sporty.
They seem to be sturdily built rides, but as it turns out some fare better than others in terms of occupant protection and accident avoidance. We combed through safety ratings provided by both the industry-supported Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), based on crash tests and other evaluations. We managed to cull the crop of upscale SUVs and crossovers down to what data suggests are the nine safest models, which we’re featuring in the above slideshow. All but one of them are from European luxury brands.
All of our picks earned either Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ honors from the IIHS. Where tested, each also received perfect five-star rankings for occupant protection in NHTSA’s crash tests.
To receive the IIHS’ Top Safety Pick designation, a vehicle must earn Good ratings in the organization’s driver-side small overlap frontal, moderate overlap frontal, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, as well as a good or acceptable rating in the recently added passenger-side small overlap frontal test. Also, a vehicle’s standard or optional forward autonomous braking system must achieve an Advanced or Superior rating for crash avoidance to earn TSP status, and must also receive a Good or Acceptable rating for headlamp performance to help prevent nighttime crashes.
To achieve a Top Safety Pick+ rating a vehicle must receive Good ratings for both passenger-side crash protection and for its headlamps. Note that headlamp performance can vary significantly within a given model line depending on its standard and optional illumination systems. For example, the IIHS says XC40 earns a good rating for its available curve-adaptive LED reflector headlights, which qualifies it for TSP+ status. But its base LED headlights only earn a “Poor” rating, due largely to excessive glare from the low beams.
Unfortunately, neither the IIHS nor NHTSA rates all new vehicles sold in the U.S. For starters it may take a few months for either entity to keep up with recently introduced models. In fact, NHTSA has yet to issue crash-test results for three of the models on our list, which we’ve noted.
What’s more, the priciest luxury vehicles and other low-volume models are typically excluded. It should be mentioned, however, that while the IIHS does not provide safety ratings for the pricey full-electric Tesla Model X sport-utility, it received the highest scores among all SUVs for occupant protection from NHTSA. Not only does it gets top marks in the Administration’s frontal and side-impact crash tests, it’s the only SUV of any kind to get a perfect five out of five stars for rollover protection, due largely to its sizeable battery pack enabling a relatively low center of gravity.