The safest cars for 2020

Since most modern cars are safe, it’s difficult to buy a newer model that isn’t. Vehicles today are much safer than vehicles built just 10 years ago, thanks to ever-improving technology. Organizations like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which rate vehicle safety, regularly increase their crash test and safety standards. To put it in perspective, if a 2010 vehicle was tested using today’s guidelines, it would perform poorly. However, even if most vehicles are safe, there are still those that stand out with high ratings from the IIHS and NHTSA. 

Below, we put together a list of the safest vehicles in each segment. The ranking is based on IIHS ratings, but NHTSA ratings are also considered. We picked the IIHS because, in addition to its six crash test ratings, they also rate crash avoidance/prevention and vehicle headlights. The IIHS also issues two awards that aren’t easy for many vehicles to win. The IIHS’ crash avoidance test is important because it rates an increasingly popular driver-assist feature, emergency automatic braking. This driver-assist feature, along with others, is now becoming standard on many new models. At the very least, most vehicles offer these features as add-ons.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind while reading: Each automaker has its own nomenclature for their driver-assist features. To simplify it below, I used a common name for each feature. Not all vehicles are tested by the IIHS or NHTSA. Many luxury models, sports cars, and large body-on-frame vehicles aren’t rated or are partially rated. 

Ratings legend

IIHS crash test and headlight ratings (best to worst): Good, Acceptable, Marginal, Poor

IIHS crash avoidance and mitigation ratings (best to worst): Superior, Advanced, Basic  

NHTSA overall safety rating: 1 to 5 stars (5 being the highest) 

Click here to see the criteria for IIHS Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ awards (the difference is the availability of headlights). Click here for the full IIHS ratings chart and an explanation of how the IIHS conducts its ratings. 

Safest subcompact car: 2020 Kia Rio (sedan and hatchback)

2020 Kia Rio front three quarter view

Crash tests usually aren’t easy for little vehicles like our winner in the subcompact car category, the Kia Rio. Due to their light weight and size, it’s hard getting a perfect score, but the tiny Rio was close and only missed a Good score in the hardest crash test to master, the small overlap passenger side. The only driver-assist features offered are forward collision alert and emergency automatic front braking in the S trim. 

IIHS

Award: None

Crash tests: Acceptable in small overlap front passenger-side test, and Good in all other tests.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Superior

Headlights: Good, Poor (varies by trim)

NHTSA

Overall rating: Not rated.

Standard driver-assist features: None (optional in S trim)

Safest compact car: 2020 Mazda 3 (sedan and hatchback)

2019 Mazda Mazda3 AWD review

The Mazda 3 beat the popular Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, getting almost perfect scores in all categories. Also, it’s offered with many standard driver-assist features, which is another great reason to buy this good looking and fun-to-drive compact car. 

IIHS

Award: Top Safety Pick+

Crash tests: Good in all.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Superior

Headlights: Good, Acceptable (varies by trim) 

NHTSA

Overall rating: 5 stars 

Standard driver-assist features: Forward collision alert, emergency automatic front braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, driver attention warning.

Safest midsize car: 2020 Subaru Legacy 

2020 Subaru Legacy Sport

Subaru’s good but not very popular Legacy sedan topped the Toyota Camry in IIHS testing and, like the Mazda 3, received an almost perfect report card. Its standard all-wheel drive system only adds more security to this very safe car. 

IIHS

Award: Top Safety Pick+

Crash tests: Good in all.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Superior

Headlights: Good, Acceptable (varies by trim)

NHTSA 

Overall rating: 5 stars 

Standard driver-assist features: Forward collision alert, emergency automatic front braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control.

Safest large car: 2020 Nissan Maxima

Nissan’s most expensive sedan also happens to be a very safe one. The only thing holding the Maxima back from a perfect score is its headlights rating. Unlike most vehicles on the list, the Maxima comes standard with emergency automatic front and rear braking and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. 

IIHS

Award: Top Safety Pick+

Crash tests: Good in all.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Superior

Headlights: Acceptable

NHTSA 

Overall rating: 5 stars

Standard driver-assist features: Forward collision alert, emergency automatic front and rear braking, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, driver attention warning.

Safest subcompact SUV: 2020 Subaru Crosstrek and Crosstrek Hybrid

Subaru’s smallest crossover is a little safety titan. If it weren’t for certain trims that didn’t perform well in headlights testing, the Crosstrek scores would have been perfect. To take advantage of driver-assist features, you must have the CVT equipped, not the manual transmission. The hybrid model comes standard with all available driver-assist features. 

IIHS

Award: Top Safety Pick+ (hybrid model), Top Safety Pick (non-hybrid model)

Crash tests: Good in all.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Superior

Headlights: Good, Poor (on some non-hybrid trims)

NHTSA

Overall rating: 5 stars 

Standard driver-assist features for non-hybrid models (must be equipped with the CVT transmission): Forward collision alert, emergency automatic front braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control.

Standard driver-assist features for hybrid model: Forward collision alert, emergency automatic front and rear braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert.

Safest compact SUV: 2020 Subaru Forester

2019 Subaru Forester

The third and final Subaru on the list is the brand’s popular Forester model. Like the other Subarus on the list, the headlights test kept it from perfect ratings across the board. The Forester topped rivals like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.  

IIHS

Award: Top Safety Pick+

Crash tests: Good in all.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Superior

Headlights: Good, Acceptable (varies by trim)

NHTSA 

Overall rating: 5 stars 

Standard driver-assist features: Forward collision alert, emergency automatic front braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control.

Safest midsize SUV: 2020 Mazda CX-9 

2016 Mazda CX-9

The three-row Mazda CX-9 is a stylish family hauler and a safe one, too. It received the highest score in all crash tests and comes standard with a long list of driver-assist features.

IIHS

Award: Top Safety Pick+

Crash tests: Good in all.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Advanced

Headlights: Good, Marginal (varies by trim)

NHTSA 

Overall rating: 5 stars 

Standard driver-assist features: Forward collision alert, emergency automatic front braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control.

Safest large SUV: 2020 Hyundai Palisade 

Hyundai’s largest crossover is relatively new to the market and is already flexing its safety muscles. The three-row Palisade is big and apparently very safe. Like many on the list, the headlights rating ruined its chances for perfect scores. Competitors like the Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer scored lower.

IIHS

Award: Top Safety Pick

Crash tests: Good in all.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Superior

Headlights: Good, Marginal (varies by trim)

NHTSA 

Overall rating: 5 stars 

Standard driver-assist features: Forward collision alert, emergency automatic front braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, lane centering assist, driver attention warning, adaptive cruise control.

Safest compact truck: 2020 Toyota Tacoma

The rugged Tacoma might be old but still offers lots of safety. The Toyota topped the new Ford Ranger and the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon trucks. Unlike many trucks and some vehicles on the list, the Tacoma comes standard with a nice list of driver-assist features.

IIHS

Award: Top Safety Pick (2019)

Crash tests: Acceptable in small overlap front passenger-side test, and Good in all other tests.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Not tested

Headlights: Good, Marginal (varies by trim)

NHTSA 

Overall rating: Not rated.

Standard driver-assist features: Forward collision alert, emergency automatic front braking, lane departure alert, adaptive cruise control.

Safest full size truck: 2020 Ram 1500

Getting the Good rating in all crash tests isn’t easy for large pickup trucks, but the Ram 1500 did it. Ford’s F-150 also scored Good in all crash tests but lost to the Ram because of its Poor headlight rating. Other large trucks like the Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, and Toyota Tundra failed at getting all Good crash test scores. One thing Ram needs to offer is emergency automatic braking with pedestrian detection. (Most vehicles on this list do.)

IIHS

Award: None

Crash tests: Good in all.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Not available 

Headlights: Good, Marginal (varies by trim)

NHTSA 

Overall rating: 4-5 stars (varies by body style) 

Standard driver-assist features: None (optional as stand-alone features and packages).

Safest Minivan: 2020 Honda Odyssey

Best Minivans 2018 Honda Odyssey

Honda should be proud. The Odyssey is the only minivan that received the highest score of Good in all crash tests. Rivals like the Chrysler Pacifica and Toyota Sienna got mostly Good ratings but also received Marginal and/or Acceptable ratings. Since most minivan owners have children, we should mention the LATCH ease of use test, especially since the Odyssey was the only minivan that achieved the highest score in that test.

IIHS

Award: Top Safety Pick (2019)

Crash tests: Good in all.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Not tested

Headlights: Acceptable, Marginal, Poor (varies by trim)

NHTSA 

Overall rating: 5 stars (2019 model) 

Standard driver-assist features: None (need EX trim or higher).

Safest electric vehicle (EV): 2020 Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model 3

Since most EVs haven’t been crash-tested yet, it might not be fair to rank this Tesla ahead of them. However, we must include the Model 3 because it performed very well in IIHS testing. If the vehicle-to-pedestrian rating was Superior, the EV would have a perfect report card. The Model 3 even got a Good rating for headlights, something that almost seems impossible on all trims.

IIHS

Award: Top Safety Pick+

Crash tests: Good in all.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Advanced

Headlights: Good

NHTSA 

Overall rating: 5 stars 

Standard driver-assist features: Forward collision alert, emergency automatic front braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, lane centering, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control.

Safest hybrid car: 2020 Honda Insight

The Honda Insight is one of two vehicles on this list with perfect scores across the board (the other is the Lexus NX). If we hadn’t created a hybrid category, this would have beat the Mazda 3 in the compact car category. The most popular hybrid car, the Toyota Prius, failed to get perfect crash test scores. Also, the Honda Insight comes standard with a nice suite of driver-assist features.

IIHS 

Award: Top Safety Pick+

Crash tests: Good in all.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Superior

Headlights: Good

NHTSA 

Overall rating: 5 stars 

Standard safety features: Forward collision alert, emergency automatic front braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, lane centering, adaptive cruise control.

Safest midsize luxury car: 2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

2019 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

The first of two Mercedes-Benz models on this list is the long-running C-Class. If you option a C-Class with the top LED headlights and all the driver-assist features available, it will score perfectly. That’s not the case if you don’t and opt for the lesser headlights and the regular emergency automatic braking system. The top, optional driver-assist features offered in the C-Class are some of the most advanced on this list.

IIHS

Award: Top Safety Pick+

Crash tests: Good in all.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Basic (standard system), Superior (optional system) 

Headlights: Good, Acceptable (varies by trim) 

NHTSA 

Overall rating: Not rated.

Standard driver-assist features: Forward collision alert, emergency automatic front braking, blind spot monitoring, driver attention warning.

Safest large luxury car: 2020 Audi A6

2020 Audi S6

Audi’s A6 is know for tech, and that includes safety tech. Its perfect score was ruined by the headlights rating on one trim level. However, this big German cruiser performed very well in all other categories. The luxury sedan doesn’t come standard with many driver-assist features, but some of the most advanced features on the market are available for extra.

IIHS

Award: Top Safety Pick+

Crash tests: Good in all.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Superior

Headlights: Good, Acceptable (varies by trim) 

NHTSA 

Overall rating: Not rated.

Standard driver-assist features: Forward collision alert, emergency automatic front braking, lane departure warning.

Safest compact luxury SUV: 2020 Lexus NX

2018 Lexus NX 300h

The Lexus NX crossover is the only other vehicle on this list that gets perfect scores in all categories, even in the difficult headlights test (the Honda Insight is the other). Standard driver-assist features are also generous.

IIHS

Award: Top Safety Pick+

Crash tests: Good in all.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Superior

Headlights: Good

NHTSA

Overall rating: 5 stars 

Standard driver-assist features: Forward collision alert, emergency automatic front braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, lane centering, adaptive cruise control.

Safest midsize luxury SUV: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE

Mercedes-Benz GLE

Like with the C-Class, you can option the GLE with very advanced driver-assist features that can achieve perfect IIHS scores, but you need to pay for it. The standard driver-assist features have some drawbacks, as seen in the vehicle-to-pedestrian rating.

IIHS

Award: Top Safety Pick+

Crash tests: Good in all.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Basic (standard system), Superior (optional system) 

Headlights: Good, Acceptable (varies by trim) 

NHTSA 

Overall rating: Not rated.

Standard driver-assist features: Forward collision alert, emergency automatic front braking, blind spot monitoring, driver attention alert.

Safest large luxury SUV: 2020 Cadillac XT6

2020 Cadillac XT6

Cadillac’s XT6 is an all-new model that’s already making a scene in the safety world. Besides almost perfect ratings, the XT6 also comes standard with plenty of driver-assist features, including blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.

IIHS

Award: Top Safety Pick+

Crash tests: Good in all.

Crash avoidance and mitigation:

  • Vehicle-to-vehicle: Superior
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Superior

Headlights: Acceptable 

NHTSA

Overall rating: 5 stars 

Standard driver-assist features: Forward collision alert, emergency automatic front braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert.

Editors' Recommendations