Safest car on market for family of 5

Hi all! So we are buying a new car, either a 2018 or 2019. Cost not being an issue in this, what is the safest car, of any class (SUV, minican, sedan, etc) that can fit three adults and one child in a rear facing car seat in the back center seat and another car seat on one of the sides? I looked at IIHS and NHTSA, but it is hard to compare cars of different class. Any thoughts?


CPSDarren - Admin
Staff member
Hello and welcome!

In addition to driver and front seat passenger, can you please indicate how many other rear seat adults and car seats?

If you have just one adult in the rear seat plus two car seats, then you do have a lot of options. With a narrow car seat in the center seat, you might even find a midsize sedan workable. A three-row midsize SUV or full size sedan should be more flexible, with a minivan providing the most room for passengers and also for cargo.

Focus on vehicles with an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating, an NHTSA 5-star overall rating and that have standard or inexpensive active safety packages that include frontal crash avoidance with auto-braking.


CPSDarren - Admin
Staff member
If this vehicle may be used frequently for longer trips, I think you may eventually find a midsize sedan to be too small, mainly in rear seat inside width/hiproom. For around town, a midsize like a Toyota Camry with standard active safety features is a reasonable choice but may still require careful selection of narrower carseats, especially in the center. For longer or more frequent rides with three in back, I would consider a full size sedan or a 3-row midsize SUV for flexibility if a minivan isn't an option. There are so many models today that achieve an IIHS Top Safety Pick AND an NHTSA overall 5-star rating that you have plenty of choices, the difference among them isn't all that great in terms of crash-worthiness. Finding one that is equipped with standard active crash avoidance features can be more difficult. Some brands like Toyota now have this standard, while many others make it available only on pricey options packages on the most expensive trim levels.
Thank you so much for the replies.

Is there any any information available to determine if a Toyota Camry which is an IIHS Top safety pick plus or a large Honda Odyssey which is only a top safety pick (and not a plus) is safer?

Also, does anyone have thoughts on the Volvo XC90, Audi Q5, Acura RDX, BMW X3, in terms of both safety and car seats fitting?


CPSDarren - Admin
Staff member
The Honda Odyssey only misses the IIHS Top Safety Pick "Plus" award because its headlight rating is only "Acceptable", instead of "Good". In all the actual IIHS and NHTSA crash tests and crash avoidance tests, it earns top results. The added weight and larger dimensions may be an advantage in some types of crashes compared to midsize SUVs and sedans. While the Camry is an excellent choice for safety, I personally do not think a slightly better headlight rating would offset the passenger and cargo flexibility of the Odyssey for hauling families of 5 or more.

The 2019 Honda Pilot, 2019 Subaru Ascent and 2017-2019 Toyota Highlander are all excellent choices for safety as well. Along with Odyssey, they will all be award winners in our ratings of the safest 2019 3-row vehicles at CarseatBlog later this week.

Unfortunately, we no longer do similar ratings for 5-passenger sedans and SUVs, since there are just so many excellent choices in terms of safety.

My preference would be a midsize SUV or minivan that gets top marks in all the actual crash tests from the IIHS and NHTSA and has affordable active safety features to qualify it for an IIHS "Superior" frontal crash avoidance rating. The IIHS headlight ratings are of less concern to me personally. Similarly, with the advent of standard stability control and rollover protection side-curtain airbags, the NHTSA rollover rating is also of less concern to me than it was a decade ago.
Amazing response, this was so helpful. Thank you so much.

I did not know that the reason for the car not getting a plus rating was for headlights only. Now I wonder which SUVs were not plus (+) rated just because of headlights. Was there a site for IIHS where you were able to see this information? The headlights are also less of a concern for me.

Also, do all the new SUVs now have stability control and rollover protection side-curtain airbags? Or is this something only some have.

Lastly, does IIHS state anywhere you cannot compare cars in different categories to one another or is this just supposed to be obvious?
We also considered the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander but the NHTSA rated their front collision as a 4? Also, the Ascent looked great but I was told it is hard to get into the back seats with a car seat in the middle center, is this true?


CPSDarren - Admin
Staff member
The Top Safety Pick rating can be achieved with an "Acceptable" rating in either or both the newer passenger-side small offset crash result and/or the headlight rating:

The individual vehicle pages at the IIHS show all the sub-category ratings, here is the one on the Odyssey:

All vehicles have standard stability control and side curtain airbags since around 2012-2013.

In general, frontal crash tests and therefore overall crash test ratings can only be directly compared within the same vehicle class. That is because vehicles that vary significantly in height, weight or weight distribution may perform diffferently crashing head-on than they might in a head-on crash with a very similar vehicle.

For example, consider that the energy in a crash in two top rated small vehicles is rather low, and could be more easily dissipated to prevent injuries in a head-on crash of two small vehicles with excellent crash ratings.

Now, consider two large, rigid truck-based vehicles crashing head-on, the energy is higher due to much larger mass. It is feasible that passengers may not fare nearly as well when two vehicles of this type crash, especially if they have less than good crash test ratings.

Finally, consider a head-on crash between that top small car and even a poorly rated large truck based model. It's quite possible the passengers in the large vehicle might fare better in a head-on crash against a much smaller and lighter model, simply because of momentum and incompatibilty of their chassis/frames.

These are just hypotheticals, of course. The IIHS has some data showing the advantage of mass tends to become less important after 4000 lbs. or so. Weight/mass is also generally not a major factor in side impacts, though vehicle height can be a factor in dissimilar vehicles in a head-on crash.

There are obvisouly a lot of variables that aren't considered by IIHS or NHTSA ratings, so there isn't a clear way to compare vehicles across classes.


CPSDarren - Admin
Staff member
4-stars isn't as good as 5-stars in an individual crash test rating, of course, but a single crash test result of 4-stars isn't a major drawback if the overall rating is still 5-stars, in my opinion, especially if there are other factors. For example, all of these vehicles earn IIHS Top Safety Pick awards with STANDARD features on some or all trim levels for 2019, and all are at least reasonably good for flexibility with car seats, though I can't comment on the Ascent other than the IIHS rating for LATCH which is very good. About 14 vehicles qualify for our awards based on combined IIHS and NHTSA overall ratings. While we award only the top few, every qualifier and a few others are all very safe vehicles overall. Unlike a decade ago, there really aren't all that many poor choices in terms of crashworthines in 2019. There are some that have 3-star or "Marginal" crash test results, of course, and many others require you to spend a fortune on top trim levels and pricey options packages to get the desirable active safety features that are needed to earn the IIHS Top Safety Pick award.

I have not yet evaluated the Ascent in person, sorry.
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