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SUVs are generally safe due to the bigger size and higher center of gravity. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety updated one of its recent essential tests to improve front and rear passenger safety. Only four unlikely midsize SUVs passed this test, while nine failed to provide excellent protection. Ford, Tesla, and Subaru offered the best protection for drivers and passengers in the updated test.

Two unlikely midsize SUVs earned excellent scores on the new IIHS test

Every year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety updates its tests to ensure vehicles are getting safer. In 2023, the organization updated many facets of the test, including an updated moderate overlap front test. Out of 13 midsize SUVs tested, the IIHS says only four unlikely midsize SUVs achieved the highest score of “good.”

Two safe new SUVS from Ford passed the test, the 2023 Ford Explorer and the 2023 Ford Mustang Mach-E. The Ford Explorer earned high marks on most of the crashworthiness tests. The Explorer performed well in crash avoidance and mitigation but could use better headlights. Either way, the Explorer earned this year’s Top Safety Pick award.

The 2023 Ford Mustang Mach-E also performed well on the new moderate overlap front test. Ford’s popular electric SUV actually earned the highest score of “good” on all 10 of the subtests in this segment. One area that held the Mach-E back was the headlights. The LED projector headlights on the Premium and GT trim performed the best during testing. The LED reflector headlights could be improved on the Select and California Route 1 trims.

Two unlikely midsize SUVs from Tesla and Subaru also scored high

An unlikely midsize SUVs to pass the IIHS test includes this 2023 Ford Explorer in white
A 2023 Ford Explorer | Ford

To earn the best score, these unlikely midsize SUVs had to protect the rear-seat passenger as well as it did the driver. The IIHS used sensors in the second-row dummy to measure the movements and help gauge the risk of injury. These safe new SUVs below and the two Fords protected the rear passengers best.

For the following two unlikely SUVs, the 2023 Subaru Ascent and the 2023 Tesla Model Y were the only other options to pass the updated moderate overlap front test. Subaru is known for its safe sport utility vehicles but usually has more company from the segment. Either way, the Ascent protected the driver and rear passengers during testing. It was enough to earn this year’s Top Safety Pick Plus award.

The 2023 Tesla Model Y performed well in all of the segments on the updated test. It protected the driver and rear passengers well during testing and earned high marks on the new front crash prevention tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety prefers the LED projector headlights on the Performance trim over the LED reflector headlights on the Long Range trim.

Six SUVs earned a score of “poor” on the updated test

Some other midsize SUVs earned a lesser score of “marginal.” These include the 2023 Chevrolet Traverse, the 2023 Toyota Highlander, and the 2023 Volkswagen Atlas. Testing indicated the rear passenger’s risk of head or neck injuries was higher in these options. The seat belt tension was too high in the Traverse and Atlas, increasing the risk of chest injury.

Six midsize SUVs did not protect the rear passengers enough. The 2023 Honda Pilot, 2023 Hyundai Palisade, 2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee, 2023 Jeep Wrangler 4-door, 2023 Mazda CX-9, and 2023 Nissan Murano earned “poor” scores.

The good news is that most automakers move to improve safety quickly after receiving a negative score like this from the IIHS. While some of these SUVs did not offer enough protection at this time, most brands will move to add additional safety measures to protect rear-seat passengers. For now, the four unlikely midsize SUVs from Ford, Tesla, and Subaru offer the best protection in this segment.


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