There's any number of reasons why someone might choose a crossover or SUV, but one is the perception of being safer driving them than smaller passenger vehicles. That may not always be the case, but at least one model has earned a higher rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety thanks to some effective upgrades for the 2019 model year.
The institute has awarded the 2019 Jeep Cherokee with a Top Safety Pick rating, which is still short of the Top Safety Pick + award, but better than the current KL-generation model has performed since receiving the same rating upon its debut for the 2014 model year when there were different, less strict criteria. In fact, it’s the first time Jeep has received the designation on any vehicle it sells since the Compass in 2017.
The institute notes that while “earlier [Cherokee] models earned only a marginal rating in the driver-side small overlap front test and were never evaluated in the passenger-side test,” Jeep improved the 2019 model with better A-pillars, front door hinges, door sills, and driver's seat belt “to provide better protection in moderate and small overlap crashes.”
The Top Safety Pick applies only to 2019 Cherokees built since April and equipped with the optional high-beam assist feature.
Unlike other organizations, the IIHS doesn't rank vehicles, but either awards them with a Top Safety Pick award (with or without the “plus”) or doesn't. To qualify as a Top Safety Pick, the organization says, “a vehicle has to earn good ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, as well as an acceptable or good rating in the passenger-side small overlap front test. It must also earn an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention and be equipped with acceptable or good headlights.” It’s not easy, and the bar tends to get higher each year with IIHS making the requirements ever stricter.
The Cherokee is in good company, though. Other midsize SUVs named as Top Safety Picks for 2019 include the Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe XL, Kia Telluride, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, and Toyota Highlander. The Infiniti QX60 and Volvo XC60 and XC90 earn the same distinction in the luxury midsize SUV category. Meanwhile, the best of the best group includes the Hyundai Palisade and Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, and Subaru Ascent, which all have earned Top Safety Pick + designations, as do the more upscale Acura RDX, BMW X3 and X5, Hyundai Nexo, Lexus NX, and Mercedes-Benz GLC and GLE.