Despite perpetually raising the bar on what constitutes automotive safety, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety just gilded nearly five dozen models with Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick Plus awards. The metrics, which now hinge largely on a vehicle possessing crash avoidance systems and superior headlamps, require the highest rating available in passenger-side protection during its small overlap front crash to get the coveted Plus decoration — which 30 vehicles qualified for in the initial 2019 model year evaluation.
Hyundai, which managed to walk away with the most awards, swiftly issued a press release to humblebrag that it bested the competition two years running. Considering how well the Koreans performed, it was likely warranted. Automakers absolutely love this kind of stuff, so you can expect to see future references made to the awards in the next batch of car commercials.
“To repeat with the most number of awards in the industry is a great accomplishment,” said Andy Freels, president of the Hyundai America Technical Center. “Our blend of advanced safety features and structural engineering truly offer something that our owners and new car shoppers can really appreciate.”
Kia followed Hyundai’s ten awards with eight of its own, tying with Subaru for second place. These brands were pursued by Honda, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Genesis, BMW, Mazda, Nissan, Audi, Lexus, Acura, Mitsubishi, and Chrysler — in that order.
However, taking stock of which brands made the list is less interesting than keeping track of those that did not. The IIHS failed to award a single model from General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Volvo (which hasn’t been thoroughly tested yet), Jeep, Ram, Dodge, or Tesla. But for those actively seeking a new vehicle and not interested exclusively in brand bashing/praising, the most important thing is which models made the cut. Here are the 2019 IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus honorees for each segment:
Hyundai Elantra (assembled after September 2018)
Kia Niro Hybrid
Kia Niro PHEV
Toyota Avalon (assembled after September 2018)
BMW 5 series
Mercedes-Benz E-Class (4-door sedan)
Hyundai Santa Fe
You’ll notice it wasn’t a bad year for Hyundai Motor Group and and Subaru. Unlike most American brands, they’ll both crop up again in the slightly less auspicious list of Top Safety Pick awardees:
Kia Rio (4-door sedan)
Hyundai Elantra GT
Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid
Hyundai Ioniq PHEV (assembled after July 2018)
Toyota Corolla (4-door hatchback)
Mercedes-Benz C-Class (4-door sedan)
Hyundai Santa Fe XL
Nissan Pathfinder (assembled after August 2018)
While the Big Three clearly need to step up their game if they want to get into the institute’s good graces, keep in mind that the organization’s testing involves hurling these vehicles at a stationary object to use their own mass against them and is heavily weighted by headlight performance. The Kia Rio might have won the trophy, but we’d still rather be in a Chevrolet Suburban in a head-to-head confrontation between the two. Still, if you’re cross-shopping models in a similar segment and safety is your primary concern, you might want to see what made the above list.
“We challenged manufacturers to provide the best possible protection in a range of crash scenarios and equip vehicles with an automatic emergency braking system to avoid crashes, as well as offer headlights that give drivers confidence when traveling at night,” said IIHS-HLDI President David Harkey.
He attributed the American brands’ lackluster performance to subpar headlamp performance and fleets populated with too many older models that hadn’t been updated to ace its small overlap frontal crash test. If you want a more comprehensive breakdown as to why certain models didn’t pass muster, head over to to the IIHS’ website for a deeper dive.