Automotive safety is relative. You can have all the safety equipment you like, but if you get rear-ended by a 10-wheeled cement mixer, you’re going to have a bad time. Nevertheless, safety ratings can help point you in the right direction if automotive safety is one of your most important buying criteria. Two main rating organizations crash-test vehicles: The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). We tend to lean more heavily on the IIHS’s crash test ratings than NHTSA.
Why are IIHS Crash Tests so Important?
IIHS continuously changes its crash test rating system. On the one hand, it’s good because it constantly takes new technologies into account, like lane centering and some of the low-level autonomous features that have been proven to lower the risk of rear-end collisions, for example. On the other hand, continuous changes make it hard to evaluate the relative safety of a current model year versus one from a few years ago. But suffice it to say that cars with these technologies are safer than those without them.
The other positive thing about the IIHS’s crash test ratings is that they more closely replicate the kinds of crashes that have been proven to be most dangerous to drivers and occupants. When NHTSA performs a frontal crash test, it barrels the car straight into a solid barrier at 35 mph, with the full width of the front bumper accepting all of the crash energy. That’s an informative test, but very few people actually crash into a solid barrier at 35 mph. Instead, the IIHS’s test uses both moderate overlap crashes – where 40 percent of the car’s nose takes the hit – and small overlap crashes – where just 25 percent of the nose is subjected to impact.
Both of those crashes tend to replicate more common crash scenarios, such as when two cars collide head-on in traffic or a single vehicle hits a fixed object at the side of the road, like a telephone pole, tree, or parked vehicle. The small overlap crash, in particular, was developed to measure occupant safety when the bulk of collision forces miss the car’s crash structure entirely and concentrate it more on the corner sheet metal and suspension components.
What are the Criteria for an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ Rating?
The IIHS has two “awards” for new cars that perform well in their battery of tests: Top Safety Pick and the confusingly named “Top Safety Pick+.” Vehicles that have achieved a Top Safety Pick+ award have achieved a top “Good” rating in the driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, original side, roof strength, and head restraint tests, PLUS have an Advanced or superior rating for available front crash prevention — vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian evaluations, and finally have either acceptable or good headlights available.
Note that the headlight criterion only says that adaptive headlamps be available on that model. The manufacturer may only offer automatic dimming or adaptive headlamps that “steer around corners on its top trim level, but all of the trim levels achieve the Top Safety Pick+ rating.
Are All Top Safety Pick+ Ratings Alike?
The short answer is “no.” Some vehicles have achieved Top Safety Pick awards while scoring poorly in certain testing areas. Because the IIHS changes its criteria so frequently, it tends to “grandfather” Top Safety Pick+ ratings for vehicles that were crash tested in earlier years.
For example, the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima were both redesigned for 2019 and got “Good” crash test ratings across the board that year. But the IIHS changed the criteria in 2022 and re-tested both cars. The Accord received a few “Marginal” ratings, while the Altima got “Poor” ratings for several injuries related to side impacts.
Safest Sedans of 2022 and 2023
Just a process note here: We’re covering the cars that the IIHS declares “4-door sedans.” If they call it a 5-door hatchback, we left it off the list. Even if it looks like a sedan, the Kia K5 still qualifies as a hatchback, and we’ll cover it in a different piece.
All of these cars have achieved a Top Safety Pick+ rating for the 2022 model year or 2023, if indicated.
2022 Honda Civic 4-door sedan
MSRP: From $22,500
Redesigned for the 2022 model year, the Civic Sedan (as well as its hatchback stablemate) underwent all new testing for its latest generation. The Civic achieved top “Good” ratings in every category, except the downgraded “Acceptable” ratings for lower leg and foot injuries in the small overlap frontal crash test and an “Acceptable” rating for restraints because the crash dummy’s head “contacted the frontal airbag but nearly rolled off the right side, leaving the head vulnerable to contact with forward structure.” The test says, “additionally, the seat belt allowed excessive forward excursion of the dummy’s head and torso.”
2022 Honda Insight 4-door sedan
MSRP: From $25,760
2022 is the last year of Honda Insight production. It replaced the Honda Civic Hybrid and, in turn, will be replaced by a new Honda Civic Hybrid in the next year. The IIHS last crash tested the Insight in the 2019 model year, but there have been no significant changes since then. The Insight received all top “Good” ratings except for a marginal “Acceptable” rating for pelvis/torso injuries in the side crash test.
2022 Mazda 3 4-door sedan
MSRP: From $21,150
The Mazda 3 was last crash tested during its major redesign for the 2019 model year, and there have been no significant changes to the car since then. It achieved top “Good” crash test ratings for all but the torso portion of the side crash test, where it scored an “Acceptable” rating. Its headlights were also scored as a moderate “Acceptable” by the IIHS.
2022 Toyota Corolla 4-door sedan
The Corolla Sedan was redesigned for the 2020 model year. The IIHS mixes the sedan and hatchback ratings, so it’s a little challenging to determine which body style and trim level performed the best. It achieved top “Good” ratings on all aspects of its crash tests but only achieved “Acceptable” or “Marginal” ratings – depending on trim level – for the headlights. It also earned a fairly grim “Marginal” rating because it doesn’t have what the IIHS considers acceptable seatbelt reminder warnings.
2022 Honda Accord 4-door sedan
Redesigned for the 2018 model year, the Honda Accord achieved top “Good” ratings in most IIHS crash tests. In 2018, it did exceptionally well in all of the tests, but unfortunately for Honda, the test changed for the 2022 model year, and its ratings slipped. It only scored a “Marginal” rating for its overall safety cage, pelvis injuries, and driver head protection. Further, it achieved “Acceptable” ratings for torso and pelvis injuries for the driver and rear passengers.
2022 Kia K5 4-door sedan
The K5 replaced the Kia Optima for the 2021 model year and was crash-tested when it was introduced. It achieved top “Good” ratings for all of its crash tests and only received lower “Acceptable” marks for its headlamps and the ease of use of its LATCH child seat anchoring system.
2022 Nissan Altima 4-door sedan
The Altima was redesigned for the 2019 model year and was last crash-tested when it was introduced. The Altima is one of the cars we mentioned in the introduction that achieved a Top Safety Pick+ rating but performed poorly in at least one critical area. Like the Honda Accord, the downfall was the updated side crash test, where the Altima achieved the next-to-lowest “Poor” rating for the safety cage, driver injuries to the torso and pelvis. It also got a “Marginal” rating for driver head and neck injuries.
2022 Nissan Maxima 4-door sedan
The Maxima was redesigned in 2016, and then revamped with larger side curtain airbags in 2019. It achieved top “Good” ratings in almost every category, other than an “Acceptable” rating for its overall crash structure.
2022 Subaru Legacy 4-door sedan
The Legacy was all-new for the 2020 model year. It achieved a nearly perfect score in all of the IIHS’s crash ratings, including a “G+” rating for an additional LATCH child safety anchor position with a tether in the rear seat. The only area where it received an “Acceptable” rating was for passenger restraints. The report states: “The dummy’s head contacted the right side of the frontal airbag but began to move into the gap between the frontal and side curtain airbags, leaving the head vulnerable to contact with forward structure. The inflated side curtain airbag has sufficient forward coverage to protect the head from contact with side structure and outside objects.”
2022 Toyota Camry 4-door sedan
The Camry had a redesign in 2018 and, like the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima, got significantly reduced ratings when the side crash test was revamped. When it was re-tested, it achieved a “Poor” overall side crash rating, especially for pelvis injuries to rear occupants. It got “Marginal” ratings for driver head protection and driver pelvis and torso injuries.
Midsize Luxury Cars:
2022 Acura TLX 4-door sedan
The TLX was all-new for the 2021 model year. Essentially, it performed well on the IIHS’s crash test ratings, but there are two notable demerits: First, it received a “Marginal” score for driver lower leg and foot injuries in the small overlap crash test. It also achieved an “Acceptable” score for right leg and foot injuries to the driver in the moderate overlap test.
2023 Audi A4 4-door sedan
The A4 underwent a complete redesign in the 2017 model year. Its IIHS crash test ratings are top “Good” scores from top to bottom. The only place it faltered slightly was its headlamp performance, which achieved an overall “Acceptable” score.
2022 Lexus ES350 4-door sedan
The ES350 had a complete redesign in the 2019 model year. It’s important to note that while the ES350 achieved top “Good” ratings in every category, it has NOT been re-tested using the new side crash test the way the Toyota Camry was. These two vehicles use exactly the same platform and body structure, so it would stand to reason that the ES350 would see the same degradation as the Camry did if it was re-tested using the same criteria as the Camry was subjected to.
2022 Lexus IS 4-door sedan
The Lexus IS is an elderly car at this point, the oldest of any of the four-door sedans receiving a Top Safety Pick+ award. Its last redesign was in 2014, and it got some upgrades to the front-end structure in 2017. Its ratings have hung on for five model years now, so it’s hard to consider this car’s performance against vehicles that have been redesigned and retested for the 2021 and 2022 model years. The IS achieved all “Good” scores, except for “Acceptable” scores for the driver and passenger lower leg and foot in the small overlap crash test, on either side of the vehicle.
2022 Tesla Model 3 4-door sedan
The Model 3 was introduced in 2017. It achieved top “Good” ratings in all crash test categories. The only lower “Acceptable” score it received was for the ease of use of the LATCH child seat anchors.
2022 Volvo S60 4-door sedan
The Volvo S60 was redesigned for the 2019 model year. The IIHS splits off the Volvo S60 Recharge plug-in hybrid into a separate model, but the ratings for both are the same. All of its crash tests were awarded a “Good” rating. The only lower “acceptable” rating it received was for the ease of use of the LATCH child seat anchors.
Large Luxury Cars:
2022 Audi A6 4-door sedan
The A6 was redesigned in the 2019 model year. It performed well in most of its crash tests, achieving top “Good” ratings for most subcategories. The only areas it faltered was in the small offset crash on the driver and passenger side, where it received an “Acceptable” rating for lower leg and foot injuries. The airbag also allowed the dummy’s head to roll slightly and make contact with the crash structure.
2022 Genesis G70 4-door sedan
The Genesis G70 was introduced in 2019. It received top “Good” ratings in all of its crash test categories but faltered on headlamps, where it received a “Marginal” rating for some trims and another “Marginal” rating for ease-of-use of the LATCH child safety anchors.
2022 Genesis G80 4-door sedan
The G80 was revamped for the 2020 model year. It achieved “Good” crash ratings in all categories but the passenger side small overlap test, where it recorded an “Acceptable” rating for lower leg and foot injuries. It also got an “Acceptable” rating for headlamp performance.
2022 Genesis G90 4-door sedan
The G90 flagship sedan was introduced in 2017. It received all “Good” crash ratings except for one “Acceptable” rating for the overall safety cage evaluation. It also received an “Acceptable” rating for the ease of use of its LATCH child safety seat anchors.
2022 Mercedes-Benz E-Class 4-door sedan
The E-Class had its last redesign in 2017. It performed admirably in all of its crash tests, receiving “Good” ratings in all but one category: An “Acceptable” score for passenger restraints where “the dummy’s head contacted the right side of the frontal airbag but began to move into the gap between the frontal and side curtain airbags, leaving the head vulnerable to contact with forward structure”
2022 Volvo S90 4-door sedan
The Volvo S90 was revamped for the 2019 model year. IIHS splits the S90 Recharge Plug-In Hybrid into its own model, but the scores are the same. The S90 receives “Good” scores in all of its crash test categories except for the side crash test, where it scored an “Acceptable” for torso injuries. It also received the same score for passenger restraints, with the comment: “The dummy’s head contacted the right side of the frontal airbag but began to move into the gap between the frontal and side curtain airbags, leaving the head vulnerable to contact with forward structure.”