Rarely does the safety of a vehicle take top priority when shopping for new wheels. More often than not, it’s the performance, handling, cargo or stereo that get all the attention. But when it matters most — when lives are on the line — the safety of a particular make or model is all that counts. And while all vehicles have grown substantially safer over the years, some are superior over others.
In the U.S., the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) — an insurer-funded, nonprofit organization — goes well beyond the crash tests mandated by the U.S. federal government, which Canada relies on for its safety data. IIHS test results are so thorough, automakers covet the group’s top safety picks, and will engineer changes to meet its high bar. IIHS tests for two aspects of safety: crashworthiness — how well a vehicle protects its occupants in a crash; and crash avoidance and mitigation — how well a vehicle uses technology to prevent a crash or lessen its severity. IIHS then rates the vehicle good, acceptable, marginal or poor based on the vehicle’s performance in real crash tests.
Recently, the IIHS completed tests on small SUVs (CUVs), one of the fastest growing segments in the market. Here are the vehicles that earned the IIHS’s highest possible safety-plus rating — with all vehicles being equipped with the model’s optional front crash prevention system typically found in the upper (more expensive) trim lines.
2016 BMW X1
Starting at $38,800, the BMW X1 seats five and comes with all-wheel drive as standard in Canada, along with a new 228-horsepower, 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 258 pound-feet of torque. The engine is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Read the IIHS report .
2016 Fiat 500X
Applying only to vehicles built after July 2015, the top safety rating for the 500X comes in part because it offers up to 70 standard and available safety and security features, including forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and rear cross path detection. Electronic stability control with hill-start assist and electronic roll mitigation is standard on all models. The 500X starts at $21,495. Read the IIHS report .
2016 Honda CR-V
For 2016, the Honda CR-V offers “Honda Sensing technology,” which includes a suite of safety features such as lane departure warning, forward collision warning and adaptive cruise control. Starting at $26,290, the CR-V uses a 2.4-litre four-cylinder with 185 hp and 181 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a continuously variable transmission. Read the IIHS report .
2016 Hyundai Tucson
The newly designed Tucson gets a comprehensive set of safety features, including a host of optional safety aids such as autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane change assist, blind spot detection, rear parking sensors. A rear-view camera is standard. Starting at $24,399, the Tucson seats up to five. Read the IIHS report .
2017 Kia Sportage
The fourth-gen 2017 Kia Sportage gets a refreshed design, more upscale interior, and a new 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Starting at $24,795, the Sportage earns its superior rating with advanced airbags, impact sensing doors and optional aids such as autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane change assist, blind spot detection and rear parking sensors. A rear-view camera is standard. Read the IIHS report .
2016 Mazda CX-3
The new CX-3 is powered by a 146-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine sending torque to either the front wheels or through a new-generation all-wheel-drive system via a six-speed automatic transmission. The CX-3 offers a wide range of Mazda’s latest active, passive and in-car infotainment technologies and i-ActivSense advanced safety features. Pricing starts at $20,695. Read the IIHS report .
2016 Mazda CX-5
Slightly bigger than the CX-3, the CX-5 is among the most powerful non-turbocharged compact SUVs in the segment. All-wheel drive is now available on all three trim levels. Pricing starts at $22,995, but upgrades that include enhanced technology and safety packages for the GS and GT, with blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, lift the price closer to $35,000. Read the IIHS report .
2016 Mitsubishi Outlander
New for 2016, eight variants of Outlander are now available, with the base ES starting at $25,998. The top-line, all-wheel-drive GT S-AWC with Navigation Package, which is powered by a 224-hp, three-litre V6 engine, sells for $38,498. Read the IIHS report .
2016 Subaru Forester
Subaru makes a suite of active safety features available in the Forester through its EyeSight system. Base prices start at $25,995 for the 2016 Forester 2.5i, which gets all-wheel-drive and a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, along with 170 hp and 174 lb.-ft. of torque from a 2.5-litre flat-four gas engine. A number of tweaks are being made for the 2017 model year. Read the IIHS report .
2016 Toyota RAV4
Updated for 2016, the RAV4 comes in five grades: Hybrid, LE, XLE, Limited and the new SE sport model. All wear refreshed exteriors, most notably a new front fascia with available LED headlights. Pricing starts at $25,250 but climbs to over $38,000 for top line models. Built in Woodstock, Ont., the RAV4 is the No. 1 selling compact SUV in Canada so far this year. Read the IIHS report .
(Prices exclude freight and PDI.)