Vehicle safety has come a long way in just the past decade. With the proliferation of active safety technology like automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assist, we now not only look at how vehicles will perform in the event of a crash, but how they work to keep us from getting into an accident to begin with.
Luckily, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests both passive and active safety features on most new vehicles sold today.
There are four testing categories. The category most of us are probably familiar with is "crashworthiness," for which the Institute crashes an actual vehicle into a barrier and evaluates how well the body structure protects the crash dummy inside. There are six "crashworthiness" subcategories: driver’s side small-overlap front crash test, passenger side small front overlap, moderate-overlap front crash test, side, roof, and head restraints and seats. Each gets its own separate test. The second category evaluates the vehicle’s front crash prevention system, including whether or not the vehicle offers automatic emergency braking, whether or not it comes standard, and if it works as intended.
There’s also a new "headlights" category that has proven to be the downfall for many 2019 model year vehicles. It evaluates things like illumination, distance and glare. Finally, a LATCH ease-of-use category evaluates how easy it is to install a child seat using the vehicle’s included attachment points.
Given that they represent ideals, it’s important to look at these ratings in comparison to one another, which is easy to do here.
Here are our favorite midsize sedans that also earn a coveted IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating.
Subaru Legacy — Top Safety Pick+ (with specific headlights)
The 2019 Subaru Legacy is at the top of the list of vehicles that received an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating. The Legacy earns scores of Good in all collision-related categories, a 3/3 for standard front crash protection equipment and a score of Good+ for LATCH system ease of use. In what will be a recurring theme for this list, the Legacy’s only significant shortcoming is with its headlights. While the LED headlights on the Limited trim earn a score of Good, headlights on lesser trims earn only a score of Marginal, which is one up from the bottom. As a result, only the Legacy Limited earns a Top Safety Pick+ rating. Either way, though, it’s still safe to say that any Legacy is one of the safest midsize sedans on the road with its perfect crashworthiness scores.
An all-new Legacy will go on sale soon for the 2020 model year, but it’s yet to be crash-tested by the IIHS. We expect that when it is, it will do even better than the outgoing Legacy’s already impressive score. Find Subaru Legacy for sale
Toyota Camry — Top Safety Pick + (with specific headlights)
Just like the Legacy, the Camry earns perfect marks for crashworthiness, standard active safety technology and LATCH system ease-of-use, but only the headlights offered on the top-spec XLE Hybrid model earn a score of Good with the headlights on all other trims earning a score of Acceptable, which is one down from Good.
Toyota brands its suite of active safety features as Toyota Safety Sense. In IIHS testing, the Camry’s pre-collision system successfully avoided a collision in both the institute’s 12 and 25 mph test, which is necessary to receive a perfect 3/3 score. Find Toyota Camry for sale
Kia Optima — Top Safety Pick + (with specific headlights)
Like every other vehicle that appears on this list, the Optima earns scores of Good across the board in all crashworthiness tests and a perfect score for its standard front crash prevention system. However, only the top-of-the-line SX model earns a score of Good for headlights. The lower-end lights on the LX, S and EX trims earn a Poor, with the IIHS saying excessive glare was a main contributor to the poor score. For what it’s worth, LATCH ease-of-use earned an Acceptable. Find Kia Optima for sale
Hyundai Sonata — Top Safety Pick + (with specific headlights)
The last 2019 model-year vehicle to earn a Top Safety Pick+ award is the Hyundai Sonata. Given that Hyundai and Kia are sister companies, the Optima and the Sonata are built on the same platform and therefore perform similarly in crash testing. Crashworthiness scores for the Sonata come in at Good across the board and the vehicle earns top marks for its standard front crash prevention system (i.e. IIHS testing revealed that the car’s automatic emergency braking system worked exactly how it’s supposed to). When equipped with LED headlights, which are found on the Limited trims, the Sonata earns top marks for headlight performance, although all other trims score poorly due to the short projection distance of the Sonata’s halogen headlights. Oddly, the Sonata was not evaluated for LATCH ease-of-use. Find Hyundai Sonata for sale
Honda Accord – Top Safety Pick (with specific headlights)
The Accord earns top marks in all crashworthiness categories and a perfect score for its front crash prevention system, which comes standard on all trims. The Accord also earns a score of Good+ for LATCH ease-of-use. Headlights are what keep the Accord from a Top Safety Pick+ rating, as none of the Accord’s available lamps earn top marks. Surprisingly, the high-end fully-LED headlights on the top-spec Touring trim actually score lower than the lights found on other trims, with the Touring headlights earning a rather weak score of Marginal and all others earning a rating of Acceptable. Find a Honda Accord for sale
Mazda6 – Top Safety Pick+ (with specific headlights)
The Mazda6 earns the exact same scores as the Accord in all categories. It scored high marks in all crash-related categories, including a 3/3 for front crash prevention technology, a Good+ for LATCH ease of use and scores of Acceptable and Marginal for headlights. Unlike on the Accord, the headlights found on the Mazda6’s Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trims earn the better Acceptable score, while the lights on the lower Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims earn the Marginal score after demonstrating what the IIHS found to be an insufficient illumination distance. Find a Mazda6 for sale
Nissan Altima – Top Safety Pick+ (with specific headlights)
The seventh and final midsize sedan to earn a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for the 2019 model year is the Nissan Altima, which was fully redesigned for 2019. The new Altima earns scores of good across the board except for in, you guessed it, the headlights category. In its base S trim without the Driver Assist Package, the Altima’s headlights earn a score of Marginal. With the Driver Assist Package, this becomes an Acceptable, as the high-beam assist feature included in the Driver Assist Package compensates for the weak low-beams on the base Altima’s halogen lights. The Altima’s LEDs, offered on all other trim levels, still only earn an Acceptable. Find a Nissan Altima for sale