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Top 9 Safest Used SUVs

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Used 2011 Kia Sportage EX
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Used 2011 Buick Enclave 2WD CX
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author photo by Nick Palermo February 2015

Safety is a top concern for many car buyers, whether they're shopping for a new vehicle or a used one. Passenger safety is especially important for practical vehicles like SUVs that are often used to haul that most precious of cargo: family and friends.

Automotive safety technology, along with the tests and evaluations used to measure it, are constantly changing. Today's vehicles are safer than those of a decade ago thanks to improvements in safety systems, vehicle construction materials and more stringent rules governing vehicle safety. But if you're looking for a used sport-utility vehicle, which ones are the safest? To find out, we assessed crash-test results from 2011 and 2012 model years.

We chose 2011 as a starting point, the year that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) introduced its 5-star overall safety ratings. In addition, we examined crash-test results from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an insurance industry-funded group that also conducts crash-testing and safety evaluations.

We found nine SUVs from model years 2011 and 2012 that made the cut, earning both a 5-star overall crash-test rating from NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick from IIHS.

Acura MDX

The 3-row Acura MDX boasts an impressive safety record, having scored both a 5-star overall rating from NHTSA in 2011 and a Top Safety Pick from IIHS in 2012 and 2013. Oddly, it did not earn both in the same year until 2014, when the current-generation MDX arrived. Still, the strong crash-test results prove that the MDX is a good choice for used-SUV shoppers seeking a combination of luxury and practicality.

In addition to a bevy of airbags, including curtain airbags for all three rows, Acura's largest SUV was also one of the earlier vehicles to offer an optional frontal-collision prevention system with automatic braking. IIHS now requires new vehicles to offer such technology in order to earn its highest rating.

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Buick Enclave

Like the MDX, the Enclave combines luxurious trappings, 3-row accommodations and high safety ratings. The large SUV from Buick shares a platform with two other vehicles on this list, too, and all boast strong safety credentials. The Enclave earned a Top Safety Pick from IIHS from 2011 through 2013 and a 5-star overall rating from NHTSA from 2011 through 2015.

Along with the typical list of front, side and curtain airbags, Buick offers a front-center airbag in the Enclave and added that feature as standard equipment in 2013. The airbag is designed to prevent the driver and front-seat passenger from colliding with each other in the event of a harsh side-impact crash.

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Chevrolet Traverse

A sister model to the Enclave, the Traverse matches the Buick's safety ratings while eschewing some of its luxury features in the name of value. Shoppers seeking a 3-row SUV or crossover with plenty of practicality and a reasonable price should add the Traverse to their short lists. A Top Safety Pick rating from IIHS and a 5-star overall rating from NHTSA should sweeten the deal.

Both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions of the Traverse earned NHTSA's top rating. That's not always the case; some vehicles require pricier all-wheel-drive systems to deliver the highest crash-test scores. Shoppers considering the Traverse, Enclave or GMC Acadia can choose between front- or all-wheel drive without sacrificing on safety.

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GMC Acadia

The third of three models on this list based on the GM Lambda platform is the GMC Acadia. Like the Enclave and Traverse, the Acadia is a 3-row vehicle with ample space for passengers and cargo. It scored a 5-star overall rating from NHTSA, starting with the 2011 model year, and it also bagged a Top Safety Pick from IIHS from 2011 through 2013.

Aside from price, unique styling sets the Acadia apart from the Buick Enclave and Chevy Traverse. While the Buick strikes a more elegant note and the Traverse is clean and modern, the GMC is a bit tougher and more truck-like in appearance. Because all boast impressive safety ratings, used-car shoppers can choose whichever model suits them best.

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Cadillac SRX

The GM platform, Theta, underpins a pair of vehicles on this list and has helped GM-built models to dominate among the safest used sport utility vehicles. The Cadillac SRX is a 5-passenger vehicle that earned its first 5-star overall rating from NHTSA for the 2012 model year. Its first Top Safety Pick came earlier, as a result of IIHS testing of the 2010 SRX. Subsequently, the SRX earned a Top Safety Pick every year through 2013.

Early SRX models include the typical array of front, side and curtain airbags but have no advanced safety technology such as a frontal-collision prevention system. If that equipment is on your must-have list, you can find it included as an option on 2013 and later SRX models.

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Saab 9-4X

Oddly, the fifth and final GM-built vehicle on this list wears a badge from Swedish automaker Saab. The 9-4X isn't Swedish, though; it was built by GM on the same Theta platform used for the SRX. As a result, it too earned a 5-star overall rating from NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick from IIHS. With only scant production before GM pulled the plug, the 9-4X is a rare bird. If you do find a used 9-4X on a dealer's lot, you can rest assured that weak safety had nothing to do with the model's limited numbers.

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Honda CR-V

Today's new-vehicle shoppers understand that there's more to sport utilities and crossovers than just size. The popularity of more compact SUV models reflects drivers' interest in balancing practicality with efficiency and an affordable price. The Honda CR-V is an excellent example of this, and its strong safety ratings add further appeal.

The 2012 model year marked the introduction of a totally redesigned CR-V, and its crash-test results reflect the model's improved safety: a Top Safety Pick from IIHS and a 5-star overall rating from NHTSA for both front- and all-wheel-drive versions. Safety equipment is par for the course, with front, side and curtain airbags. The CR-V scored above average on NHTSA crash tests, however, even among vehicles on this list. It earned five stars in each component of NHTSA testing, except for the driver frontal crash and rollover tests.

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Kia Sportage

Another compact choice with strong safety credentials is the Kia Sportage. With the introduction of a completely redesigned version in 2011, it quickly earned a Top Safety Pick from IIHS and, in 2012, a 5-star overall rating from NHTSA.

Unlike the CR-V, though, only the all-wheel-drive version of the Sportage received NHTSA's highest rating. Sportage models with front-wheel drive earned a 4-star overall rating due to a higher risk for rollover. That may not be a problem for those shopping for a Sportage on the used vehicle market, however. The premium that new-car buyers pay for all-wheel drive will likely have narrowed considerably by the time a vehicle is 3 or 4 years old.

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Volvo XC60

Volvo is known for safety, so it's no surprise when research into crash-test results reveals models such as the 5-passenger XC60 to be among the safest available. Crash-test results for the XC60 aren't perfect, however; it scored four stars in the rollover test just like every other vehicle on this list. But results from other components of NHTSA testing are the highest possible, including for both driver and passenger in frontal and side collisions. Both front- and all-wheel-drive versions earned 5-star overall ratings from NHTSA.

In IIHS testing, the Volvo is similarly impressive. Since 2010, every XC60 model has earned a Top Safety Pick or the new Top Safety Pick+ designation. If you're searching for a comfortable, well-designed 5-passenger used SUV, any XC60 model is probably a safe bet.

Statistics bear out the consistent improvements in safety resulting from newer and better safety equipment, testing and evaluations. Today's vehicles are safer than ever thanks to regulations and testing by NHTSA and IIHS, and the efforts of automakers to meet these organizations' increasingly tough standards. While the newest cars may be the safest ones on the roads, plenty of used vehicles also offer high levels of safety to protect you and your family. Consider one of these nine models and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with driving a vehicle that offers top-rated safety.

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RELATED INVENTORY
Saving this vehicle to yourMy Autotrader account
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Used 2011 Acura MDX
Used 2011 Acura MDX
$20,500
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Used 2011 Volvo XC60 2WD 3.2
Used 2011 Volvo XC60
$9,988
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Used 2011 Kia Sportage EX
Used 2011 Kia Sportage
$14,295
Saving this vehicle to yourMy Autotrader account
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Used 2011 Buick Enclave 2WD CX
Used 2011 Buick Enclave
$14,503
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Top 9 Safest Used SUVs - Autotrader