Safest Family Cars on the Market
Whether you're logging miles on a road trip or taking a quick spin around the block, you want to know your kids and spouses are safe when they're tucked into the family vehicle. Thankfully, with so many technological advances, our cars are getting more reliable every year.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) releases its initial list of safest vehicles at the turn of every year. The cars undergo tests in a variety of ways, including how they perform in crash tests and how well they avoid collisions, and then give performance ratings of good, acceptable, marginal and poor.
The organization gives the safest cars the Top Safety Pick, and from that list, the best of the best are given the Top Safety Pick+ designation. That means families can rest assured when choosing from this list of the safest cars to buy.
Important Notes About Safe Cars
The list is interactive gets updated throughout the year as companies work to improve their cars. A notable change to this year’s rankings includes stricter standards for the Top Safety Pick+ in regard to crash tests.
To earn the highest honor now, the car must get a "good" rating in the passenger-side crash test that measures how the vehicle does when the front-right corner hits something. In previous years, cars only had to earn the "acceptable" rating on this test. It’s also important to note that we did not include the small vehicles that received the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ ranking, as most families will need more space.
Now, onto the list of the safest cars for families that made the initial cut.
Note: These cars are based on the 2019 rankings.
Midsize Car: Kia Optima
We bought this model years ago, loved it, and drove it across the country multiple times. So, our family was thrilled to see that the 2019 model of the Kia Optima SX earned the highest ranking from the IIHS.
It's important to remember that the SX version earned this rating because of its LED projector headlights. So, if you're considering the Kia Optima, make sure you get the better lights that IIHS recommends. Additional safety features include standard daytime running lights, standard blind spot detection, optional lane departure warning and optional lane departure prevention.
Midsize Car: Hyundai Sonata
When considering the Hyundai Sonata, families should choose the optional front crash prevention and the LED projector headlights to boost the vehicle's overall safety.
The IIHS tests vehicles on crashworthiness, which judges how well certain parts of the car do well in a crash. The components of the car that are tested include the small overlap front on the driver and passenger sides, the moderate overlap front, the side and roof of the car, the head restraints and the seats. The Sonata received rankings of "good" for all categories under crashworthiness.
Midsize Car: Subaru Legacy
The Subaru brand did very well in the IIHS safety tests for 2019. Under midsize cars, the company had two showings. The first is the Subaru Legacy.
The Legacy also scored "good" rankings in each category under crashworthiness, which is the highest score vehicles can receive in this series of tests. The Legacy also received a "superior" ranking for front crash prevention. IIHS also noted that the car avoided a collision at 12 miles per hour and 25 mph.
Midsize Car: Subaru Outback
Next up in the midsize cars category is the Subaru Outback. The four-door wagon is possibly the brand's most famous car — especially if you live on the West Coast. And with such great safety features, it makes sense that families would love this car.
The Outback also scored "good" rankings in each category under crashworthiness and received the "superior" ranking for front crash prevention. The car also received a "good +" ranking for its latch-ease-of-use child seat anchors, which parents will surely look for when buying their new family vehicle.
Midsize Car: Toyota Camry
The Toyota Camry was the mom car to have for all families in the ’80s and early ’90s. The four-door sedan was first released in 1982 and has only improved since then.
IIHS recommends getting the Camry Hybrid XLE trim equipped with adaptive headlights if you want the version that earned their top safety seal. This option has the highest safety rating of "good." But it’s worth noting that the other versions of this model received "acceptable" ratings for their headlights.
Midsize Luxury Car: Genesis G70
The Genesis G70 is considered a midsize luxury car, which means you won't have to give up any comforts in the name of safety. In crashworthiness, the Genesis G70 received ratings of "good" in all categories. For front crash prevention, the Genesis G70 received a "superior" rating.
Like most cars, IIHS has specific recommendations for which headlights package consumers should look for when it comes to the Genesis G70. It's best to skip the 2.0T AT trim package on the Genesis G70, as it is the only version that received a "poor" rating for its headlights.
Midsize Luxury Car: Lexus ES
The Lexus ES is the last midsize car we're listing as suitable for families from the list of safest vehicles from IIHS. It's also considered a luxury car, so prepare to drive in style.
The Lexus ES received top marks in all categories for safety but one — a specific headlights package. The 350 trim, 350 F Sport trim and 300h trim all came with headlights that only received an "adequate" rating, which is one step below "good" when it comes to IIHS. Upgrade to the Premium Triple-Beam LED headlamps package, and you'll avoid the safety concerns IIHS lists out.
Large Car: Toyota Avalon
Moving right along to large cars for families, we have the Toyota Avalon. But IIHS notes that families should focus on models built after September 2018 to ensure they're getting the safest version.
"The Toyota Avalon was redesigned for the 2019 model year," IIHS noted in its full report on the car. "Beginning with 2019 models built after September 2018, the shape and vent-hole size of the passenger frontal airbag were modified to improve occupant protection in passenger-side small overlap frontal crashes." You can read more about the redesign here.
Large Luxury Car: BMW 5 Series
The BMW 5 series luxury sedan received "superior" ratings for its optional and standard front crash prevention. When it came to passenger injury measures tests, the BMW 5 series received "good" ratings for all areas of the body except one — lower leg/foot. Instead, IIHS gave them a grade of "adequate" for that section of the car.
Like many of the cars on this list, you'll want to get the best lighting package BMW offers to enhance your car's security.
Large Luxury Car: Genesis G80
Similar to the slightly smaller, midsize Genesis G70, the Genesis G80 received stellar ratings from IIHS.
It is worth noting, however, that this luxury four-door sedan only received a rating of "marginal" for the latch-ease-of-use on the child seat anchors. So, perhaps consider this car if your kids are already out of car seats. IIHS details each car's car seat anchors in its full report, which you can view here by scrolling to the bottom of the page.
Large Luxury Car: Genesis G90
If you love the Genesis brand but want a bit more room, consider the Genesis G90. It received a higher ranking for the latch-ease-of-use on the child seat anchors with an "acceptable" rating compared to the "marginal" the G80 was given.
Other than that, there isn't much of a difference between the two when it comes to safety tests from IIHS. Both received "good" and "superior" rankings in all other categories the organization measures.
Large Luxury Car: Mercedes-Benz E-Class
The last in our large section is another luxury car: the Mercedes-Benz E-Class four-door sedan. It is worth noting that it was the only four-door sedan in the E-Class that received the highest ranking from IIHS.
A quick browse of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class site, and it's pretty obvious the company has made safety a huge priority. One such innovation includes the "Car-to-X" technology, which provides "in-car updates about driving conditions before you get to them" and reports hazards to other cars where cellular and GPS satellite signals are available.
Small SUV: Hyundai Kona
Only two small SUVs earned the top rating from IIHS. The first is the Hyundai Kona, which mostly received grades of "good" from the organization. However, the care only received an "adequate" rating for the structure and safety cage on the driver-side small overlap front.
Other organization’s believe this car is a great choice for other reasons as well. It was named the North American Utility Vehicle of the Year and was named Best Buy of the Year for subcompact SUVs by Kelley Blue Book.
Small SUV: Mazda CX-5
The second small SUV to received high safety marks is the Mazda CX-5. It also mostly received ratings of "good" from IHSS. Though the organization didn't love the latch-ease-of-use on the child seat anchors and awarded it an "adequate" rating.
In regard to style, it has all the bells and whistles families need. "The styling would suit a luxury vehicle, the cabin is similarly upmarket, and fuel economy is remarkable," according to Kelley Blue Book.
Midsize SUV: Hyundai Santa Fe
The Hyundai Santa Fe replaces the Santa Fe Sport, which was sold during the 2013-18 model years, according to IIHS. And, as a result, it’s become more roomy for families. “The redesigned Santa Fe is larger than a typical compact SUV,” Kelley Blue Book said. “Spacious and quiet, the interior is user-friendly and loaded with features.”
The midsize SUV received mostly ratings of “good,” except for its passenger injury measures in the head and neck category, in which the IIHS gave it an "adequate" ranking. The SUV did receive a “superior” rating for its standard Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist, which falls under the front crash prevention category with IHSS.
Midsize SUV: Kia Sorento
The Kia Sorento is another four-door midsize SUV with pretty great safety features. Based on the rating of "poor" from IHSS, though, it is best to avoid the headlights in the following trim levels: L, LX, LX V6, EX V6 and SX. Opt instead for the SX trim, equipped with SX Touring package and the SXL trim, and you'll have headlights that earned the highest rating from IHSS.
The Kia Sorento also comes available with lane-keeping assist, wireless charging and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Plus, it offers families a spacious three rows and seven seats.
Midsize SUV: Subaru Ascent
From the inside, the Subaru Ascent could probably pass as a luxury SUV. The second row of captain's chair, leather seats and panoramic moonroof provide a fancy feel.
The SUV can also tow up to 5,000 pounds, which is good for families with extra stuff to haul. From IIHS, the Subaru Ascent received the highest rating for its front crash prevention. The organization also noted the "driver's survival space was maintained very well" following the crash test. It was also listed in "12 Best Family Cars of 2019" by Kelley Blue Book.
Midsize Luxury SUV: Acura RDX
The Acura RDX is a four-door midsize luxury SUV that was named one of the best Luxury Compact SUVs for 2019 by U.S. News and World Report. More importantly, it won Best Luxury Compact SUV for Families from the organization.
The Acura RDX received the highest possible ranking from IIHS in almost every category. The only thing worth noting is in regard to the advance trim headlight option, which was only awarded an "adequate" ranking. IIHS did note that "high-beam assist compensates for some limitations of this vehicle's low beams on the straightaway and on the gradual left curve."
Midsize Luxury SUV: BMW X3
If you upgrade from the standard model, the BMW X3 scores pretty high on the safety scale. The Driving Assistance Plus and Driving Assistance Package both received "superior" ratings from IIHS. You'll also want to add on the xDrive 30i trim via the Executive Package for the safest headlights from BMW. The company also has optional tech enhancements like the new intuitive interface, which responds to touch, voice and gestures.
Plus, every BMW comes with “near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution,” according to the company. This lets drivers “maneuver quickly and confidently in emergency situations.”
Midsize Luxury SUV: Mercedes-Benz GLC
Rounding out our list of midsize SUVs are two four-door luxury cars from Mercedes-Benz. The first is the Mercedes-Benz GLC. Both of its front crash prevention options — the standard and the upgrade — were given "superior" ratings from IIHS.
However, only the car’s GLC 300 trim headlight package via the Advanced Lighting package received top marks. The other options received "marginal" and "adequate" ratings from the safety organization. So, if you're looking for your safest option, go for the optional add-ons. "A team of standard and optional systems can monitor all around you, alert you, help you brake, and even respond on your behalf to help reduce collisions," according to the company.
Midsize Luxury SUV: Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class
The key difference between the Mercedes-Benz GLC and Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class is size. The GLC is 56.5 cubic feet total, while the GLE is 80.3 cubic feet total. Both SUVs also have high-performance AMG engines and systems, 273 pound-foot of torque from their engines, the Mercedes-Benz COMAND infotainment system, and various luxury items like wood trim, leather upholstery, and heated and cooled seats.
For the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, only the upgrade option for front crash prevention was tested, which received a "superior" rating from IIHS. And both its Premium 2 and Premium 3 headlight packages received top safety marks.