Automobile

The Safest New Cars for 2021

For the 2021 model year, more than 50 vehicles won the top award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That’s the highest number of IIHS Top Safety Pick+ awards ever. IIHS, funded by the insurance industry, conducts crash tests that include driver’s-side small-overlap front, moderate-overlap front, side, roof-strength, passenger-side small-overlap test, and head restraint testing. The group’s highest award, the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ can only be earned if a vehicle scores Good ratings in all six of those tests, gets a Good or Acceptable rating for headlights, and achieves an Advanced or Superior rating for crash-prevention systems. The cars assembled in this list have all won IIHS’s Top Safety Pick+ award for 2021.

Road safety is something we should all be concerned about. According to the most recent data on traffic deaths from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the numbers seem to be heading in the right direction overall—with a 2 percent drop in 2019 alone. NHTSA says that even alcohol-impaired driving fatalities are as low as they were when NHTSA began reporting the data in 1982.

However, although overall deaths might’ve dropped, many folks used the lighter traffic during quarantine as an opportunity to drive recklessly. According to a report from October 2020, the rate of fatal crashes per mile driven in the first half of 2020 was the highest it’s been in a decade. It goes without saying that accidents still happen, and even with a 2 percent drop, 36,096 people died from traffic fatalities in 2019. The moral of the story is, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Risky behavior like speeding, operating a vehicle while under the influence, or riding without a seatbelt are all factors that influence these numbers. Automakers want to be sure that, in the event their vehicle is involved in an accident either with another car or with a pedestrian, serious injury or death is avoided. New tech such as automated crash mitigation systems helps with that. From curtain airbags to headlights that follow the car’s steering angle, cars today are packed with modern driver-assistance features that have all made an impact, but some are far more effective than others.

Be safe out there.

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Acura TLX

The 2021 Acura TLX is fully redesigned, and, unlike the previous generation, finds itself among 20 other cars as an IIHS Top Safety Pick+. The IIHS safety results showed Good and Superior marks throughout each test. Every TLX comes standard with LED low- and high-beam projector headlamps, and IIHS testing showed that the low beam pattern was never too bright for oncoming traffic, and the high-beam assist helped boost output while driving. The TLX comes standard with driver-assistant technology, such as forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitor, and rear cross-traffic alert. The TLX also features traffic sign recognition and an awareness monitor that will alert you if it senses you driving distracted.

TLX TESTED | TLX INFO | TLX SPECS

Audi A6 and A6 Allroad

The comfortable riding, Audi A6 and its Allroad wagon counterpart earned a spot on our 2021 Editor’s Choice list this year because of their smooth powertrain and high-tech cabin. Turns out, they’re pretty darn safe too. The A6 Allroad scored slightly higher than the regular A6 sedan in headlight testing, but the rest of the results were nearly identical. The A6 Premium received an acceptable rating because its LED headlights weren’t as powerful. During roof strength testing, the IIHS applied 22,702 pounds to the roof of the A6 to get it to crush the standard five inches. This is exceptional, and means the A6 and A6 Allroad have a strength-to-weight ratio of 5.39 for its roof. Standard driver-assistant features include automated emergency braking, lane departure warning, with available adaptive cruise control and a system that watches for traffic when you exit the vehicle.

A6 ALLROAD TESTED | A6 TESTED | A6 SPECS

Audi A7

The Audi A7 is a little like the A6, only it’s bigger, quicker, and its hatchback rear lid makes it a more useful luxury four-door. The A7 scored Good and Superior ratings on almost all IIHS testing, with an Acceptable rating for headlights. Although every A7 comes with low- and high-beam LED projectors, the lights emitted some glare that kept it from receiving a Good rating. The 2019 A7 we last tested weighed 4377 pounds, could get to 60 mph from a stop in just 4.4 seconds, and could come to a stop from 70 mph in just 157 feet. Not only did the over two-ton luxury sedan avoid a collision at 25 mph, the Audi Pre Sense technology slowed it by 36 mph in 2.3 seconds before impacting a test dummy during the 37-mph IIHS parallel adult test.

A7 TESTED | A7 INFO | A7 SPECS

Genesis G70

Skeptical of the low-cost luxury sports sedan from Genesis? Maybe the G70’s IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award will put those worries on ice. The G70 received Good and Superior ratings on all crash tests and headlight measurements, but came up short on the somewhat difficult to use child-seat latches. The IIHS said the lower anchors were too deep in the seat, and it made maneuvering around them difficult. We’ve noted several times that rear seat space is tight on the G70, but its balanced chassis and driving feel at a base price of $37,000 is an unbeatable deal. The G70 comes with more standard driver-assist technology than many of its rivals. Automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control are all standard. The G70 avoided all IIHS vehicle-to-vehicle front crashes, as well as 12- and 25-mph vehicle-to-pedestrian impacts. During the 37 mph vehicle-to-pedestrian test, the G70 dropped to just 4 mph in under a second. The brake force is strong with this one.

G70 TESTED | G70 INFO | G70 SPECS

Genesis G90

Like the entry-level luxury G70, the Genesis G90 is plush option aiming at a spot alongside Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Audi A8, and BMW 7-series. All of which are absent from this year’s list. The G90 received top marks for crashworthiness, crash avoidance and mitigation. Like the G70, it received an Acceptable rating for its somewhat difficult to use child-seat anchors. During front-crash testing, front- and side-curtain airbags kept the driver’s head away from the steering wheel, glass, and other hard structures that would cause injury. The G90’s standard LED projector low- and high-beam headlights ranked Good for all four curved roadway visibility tests, despite the model not having curve-adaptive tech found on models like the Mazda 6 and S-Class. The G90 comes with blind spot detection, collision warning, and automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist.

G90 TESTED | G90 INFO | G90 SPECS

Honda Accord

We can’t mention the Honda Accord without mentioning it has received more 10Best awards than Tom Brady has won Super Bowls. For now. From 1983 to 2021 it piled up 35 wins. Other people like it too. With nearly 200,000 sold last year—during a pandemic—it’s one of the best-selling sedans in the U.S. And it’s safe. The Accord got top marks during IIHS crash tests and avoidance tests. It’s child-seat anchors earned a Good+ rating for its additional easy-to-find latch positions. Accord LX and Hybrid trims received an Acceptable headlight rating, likely because its high-beam uses a halogen reflector rather than the LED reflectors standard on all other trims. Its standard emergency braking system performed well in all tests, and during the 37-mph parallel adult test, it dropped to 1 mph in 2.3 seconds before making contact with the test dummy.

ACCORD TESTED | ACCORD INFO | ACCORD SPECS

Honda Insight

Although the Honda Insight is more Civic-like in size, it scored higher than the Accord during IIHS testing. It comes standard with automated emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control. The compact hybrid sedan achieved Good and Superior marks across every IIHS test, with a Good+ rating for easy-to-us child-seat anchors. Unlike the Accord, every Insight comes standard with LED low- and high-beam headlights. All models meet qualifications for the agencies’ awards, so buyers don’t have to pay extra for an option package to enjoy the safety and security the Insight provides. We lived with a 2019 Insight for 40,000 miles during a long-term road test.

INSIGHT TESTED | INSIGHT INFO | INSIGHT SPECS

Kia K5

Last year’s Kia Optima was a Top Safety Pick. The Optima has been replaced by the sharper-looking K5, and Kia’s mid-size sedan is safer than ever. Part of what makes the K5 safer is its added pedestrian-detection technology. Good and Superior ratings were awarded by the IIHS, but there were mixed results during headlight testing. Four different variations were tested. K5 GT-Line and GT models built after November 2020 have the best headlights with LED projectors. However, those same trims built before December 2020 received a Poor rating for inadequate visibility in all four headlight tests. The newest K5 LX, LXS, GT-Line, EX, and GT received an Acceptable rating for their shared LED reflectors.

K5 TESTED | K5 INFO | K5 SPECS

Lexus IS

Models are usually updated throughout a generation. Better headlights, different bumpers, wheels, and colors are added. Obviously some of those changes are more significant than others. The Lexus IS received a big safety update for models built after June 2017. Lexus modified the footwell and reinforced the front of the car and its doors. These changes translated to Good IIHS crash-test ratings across the board. Oddly enough, the standard headlights on base IS300 were given a higher rating than IS300 equipped with the $1295 Premium Triple-Beam LED projector headlights. According to the headlight distances measured by the IIHS, the triple beams output wasn’t great. Another improvement for 2021 models improved detection of pedestrians and bicyclists in low-light conditions. Every IS comes with automated emergency braking, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control.

IS350 TESTED | IS INFO | IS SPECS

Mazda 3 Sedan and Hatchback

The Mazda CX-5 sells three times as many units as the fun-to-drive Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback, but comparing IIHS ratings reveals the Mazda 3 is actually marginally safer than its larger crossover family member. The Mazda 3 matched CX-5 with Good and Superior ratings in every crash test, but scored higher in front-crash prevention and child-seat anchors. The pedestrian detection avoidance system in the Mazda 3 avoided collision in every test, where the CX-5 slowed its speed significantly, but struck the test dummy in four of the five tests. Every Mazda 3 has automatic high beams, automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping, with optional adaptive cruise control.

MAZDA 3 TESTED | MAZDA 3 INFO | MAZDA 3 SPECS

Mazda 6

In addition to its knockout looks and eager driving dynamics, the Mazda 6 family sedan is also one of the safest choices in its class. It earned its Top Safety Pick+ designation easily, with Good crash test scores, a score of Superior for its standard driver-assistance features, and an Acceptable rating for its standard headlamps. Opting for the 6’s LED projector headlamps bumps that last score up to Good, but that feature is reserved for Grand Touring Reserve, Signature, or Blackout Edition trim levels. Non-premium models with LED projectors don’t have curve adaptive equipment, and earned an Acceptable rating instead. You get what you pay for.

MAZDA 6 TESTED | MAZDA 6 INFO | MAZDA 6 SPECS

Nissan Altima

When Nissan redesigned its midsize sedan for the 2019 model year, the Altima grew up. Sleeker headlights, 19-inch wheels, and a tech package aimed at making the Zoji La Pass feel as safe as driving through Ohio. People renting cars from Hertz will be comforted knowing the IIHS-confirmed testing on base S models for crash tests. The only area the Altima didn’t receive top marks was for headlight output. Base Altimas still use the old halogen projectors for headlights, and even on other trims with LED projectors for low- and high-beam headlights, it scored an Acceptable rating for inadequate visibility on curves. Every Altima comes with high-beam assist, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and forward-collision warning. Every model above the base S trim gets rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot warning, and rear automatic braking standard. There’s also Nissan’s semi-autonomous drive mode, ProPilot Assist for top SL and Platinum trims.

ALTIMA TESTED | ALTIMA INFO | ALTIMA SPECS

Nissan Maxima

The Nissan Maxima just celebrated its 40th anniversary with a special edition model. The Maxima is no longer offered with halogen bulb headlights like it was in 2018, and its now standard LED reflectors have raised its IIHS headlight rating from Marginal to Acceptable across all trims. Nissan’s automatic emergency braking system worked as intended during every IIHS test, and stopped in time to avoid vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian collisions. In the 37 mph parallel adult test, the Maxima detected the pedestrian and stopped in under two seconds. Like other Nissans, the Maxima comes standard with automated emergency braking, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, rear-cross-traffic warning and automatic braking, and adaptive cruise control.

MAXIMA TESTED | MAXIMA INFO | MAXIMA SPECS

Subaru Legacy

The Subaru Legacy is considered one of the safest cars in America, and it’s a top seller for the brand. Even the base Legacy has features like adaptive headlights (that turn as you steer for curves), Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist, active cruise control, and lane-keeping assist. It will also alert you if someone in the second row isn’t wearing a seatbelt. Every Legacy comes with LED projector low- and high-beam headlights. While receiving Good and Superior ratings in all six crash tests and crash prevention tests, the IIHS did note that during small overlap passenger-side testing, the dummy’s head was vulnerable after slipping into the gap between the frontal and side curtain airbags. It was given an Acceptable rating for that specific evaluation.

LEGACY TESTED | LEGACY INFO | LEGACY SPECS

Tesla Model 3

Some cars do more to keep you safe than others. The Tesla Model 3 is one of those cars. A major part of the engineering behind the Model 3’s self-driving future was to keep its occupants safe, especially while they wait behind the wheel for that functionality to arrive. The Model 3 earned Good ratings for all six IIHS crash tests, with a Superior rating for vehicle-to-vehicle crash avoidance, and an Advanced rating for vehicle-to-pedestrian avoidance. It’s also safer than the Model S tested by IIHS in 2017 that received an Acceptable rating for driver-side small overlap, and a Poor rating for its inadequate headlights. Although not part of the IIHS test, Tesla’s Sentry Mode will keep an eye on bumps and bruises that might happen while you’re away.

MODEL 3 TESTED | MODEL 3 INFO | MODEL 3 SPECS

Toyota Camry

Nearing its 40th year anniversary, the Toyota Camry has been the most popular car sold in America for 19 years in a row. Today, every Camry comes with driver-assistance features like lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams, active cruise control, and forward-collision warning with automated emergency braking. The safest Camry according to the IIHS is the Hybrid XLE equipped with the $4665 Navigation Upgrade Package. The extra toppings include adaptive headlights that earned a Good rating during testing. The standard LED projectors for other trim levels received an Acceptable rating. Even the cheapest Camry earned better marks than the Honda Civic’s Poor rating for LX, Sport, EX, and EX-L models with halogen low-and high-beam headlights.

CAMRY TESTED | CAMRY INFO | CAMRY SPECS

Volvo S60 and S60 Recharge

If we could recreate how Volvo’s crane test came into existence, we think it might’ve gone something like this: Hey Lars, do you mind if we borrow your crane? We’ve got 10 new Volvos we want to drop from 100 feet because, you know, it’s our job and, well, we just really want to borrow your crane for something. It’s no surprise the S60 is rated so highly after being put to a test like that. Standard safety equipment includes forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, as well as lane-keeping assist with departure warning. The S60 and S60 Recharge scored Good and Superior ratings across the board, with an Acceptable rating for child seat anchors. The IIHS deemed the anchors for child seats to be easy to find, but also a little difficult to maneuver.

S60 TESTED | S60 INFO | S60 SPECS

Volvo S90 and S90 Recharge

The Volvo S90 is one of nine Volvo models that earned an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award this year. This award applies only to S90 and S90 Recharge models built after September 2020, as Volvo’s full-size luxury sedan received a styling update for 2021, as well as some new charging tech inside. The S90’s crash mitigation technology passed with a Superior rating, as its standard forward collision system avoided a collision in both 12- and 25-mph tests. Every S90 comes with automated emergency braking with forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control.

S90 TESTED | S90 INFO | S90 SPECS

Volvo V60 and V60 Recharge

The Volvo V60 is the wagon version of the S60, so the IIHS ratings were identical in all tests. Like the S60, every V60 and V60 Recharge come standard with forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, with lane-keeping assist and departure warning.

V60 TESTED | V60 INFO | V60 SPECS

Volvo V90 and V90 Recharge

Pile the Top Safety Pick+ award onto the mountain of reasons why wagons are awesome. The Volvo V90 and V90 Recharge received a styling update for 2021, as well as new wireless and USB-C charging features. It’s like the double-cheeseburger version of the V60, there’s more of what you want here. Same powertrain options, but more passenger and cargo room on the inside. Every V90 comes with standard driver-assistance features like automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control with semi-autonomous driving mode.

V90 TESTED | V90 INFO | V90 SPECS

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