The Best Small SUVs for Teenage Drivers You Can’t Ignore

These days SUVs are much more than cargo haulers, they’re family haulers. Today’s SUVs are smaller and more efficient than ever before, but also safer and more technologically advanced. And if you’re looking for an SUV for your teen driver, safety may be the largest deciding factor in your purchase. 

Lucky for today’s parents, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) evaluates every new model to test its safety, providing a guide to the safest vehicles of the year. And according to the IIHS’s findings, these are the latest and safest small SUVs for your teen driver.

The Mazda CX-3 and CX-5 SUVs

The 2020 Mazda CX-3 is the smallest crossover SUV in the brand’s arsenal but comes loaded with an array of standard safety features, such as automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and more. Additional safety equipment is also available, like adaptive headlights and a head-up display. The CX-5 is the CX-3’s bigger brother, offering the same standard safety equipment, more cargo capacity, and the option of all-wheel drive.

According to the IIHS’s safety testing, both the 2020 Mazda CX-3 and CX-5 earned the highest possible scores in all crash categories (when equipped with adaptive headlights) and are also named Top Safety Pick+ award winners. 

The Subaru Forester

The Subaru brand is committed to safety, offering standard all-wheel drive (and better traction control) on all new Forester SUVs. While the 2020 Subaru Forester comes standard with a variety of driver-assist features like forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning, new owners can opt for even more safety tech, like reverse automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and a camera that monitor’s the driver’s focus.

The Subaru Forester also received the highest possible scores in IIHS testing when equipped with optional adaptive/LED headlights, earning a Top Safety Pick+ title.

The Chevrolet Equinox

The 2020 Chevrolet Equinox performed well on all IIHS testing, but only the LT trim, with HID projector headlights, earned an “Acceptable” rating and the title of Top Safety Pick. All other trims only earned “Marginal” scoring in the headlights evaluation. Aside from its average headlight performance, the Equinox offers plenty of family safety.

In addition to standard safety features like forward automatic emergency braking, collision warning, lane-keeping assist, pedestrian detection, and a rearview camera, new owners can also take advantage of an array of additional features like a surround-view parking camera system, rear parking sensors, and more. The 2020 Chevrolet Equinox also comes standard with Chevy’s Teen Driver system, which allows parents to monitor teens’ driving and pre-set speed and volume limits.

The Honda CR-V midsize SUV

According to U.S. News, the 2020 Honda CR-V now comes standard with the Honda Sensing suite of safety tech on all trims, which includes a variety of features like road departure warning, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, and a collision mitigation braking system. Also included are a standard rearview camera and automatic high-beams.

While the 2020 Honda CR-V can be found in a variety of trims, only Touring and Hybrid trim levels earn “Top Safety Pick” status. The LED reflector headlights performed “Good” or “Acceptable” in testing, while all others only receive “Marginal” scores. All trims, however, received top scores in all crashworthiness tests.

The Lexus UX luxury SUV

The 2020 Lexus UX is the only luxury SUV to make the IIHS’s shortlist as it earned a Top Safety Pick designation for receiving the best possible scores in all crashworthiness and crash-prevention testing. But the small UX’s standard-issued LED headlights received “Poor” scores in testing. Only the available Triple-Beam LED headlights performed “Good” in testing.

The Lexus Safety System+ comes standard on all new Lexus UX SUVs. This suite of safety tech includes adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, a rearview camera, lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking, and lane-trace assist. This feature helps keep the vehicle always centered in its lane. Blind-spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, as well as a head-up display are also available.

The Kia Sportage

The 2020 Kia Sportage performed impressively on all crashworthiness tests by the IIHS, but it failed to earn a “Good” rating for any of its new-model headlights. The SX Turbo trim alone earned a score of “Acceptable,” while all others earned a score of “Poor.” The top-of-the-line Sportage SX Turbo is a Top Safety Pick, with a variety of standard safety features like forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist, pedestrian detection, and even a driver attention monitor.

The Toyota RAV4


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Just like the other Top Safety Picks on the list, the Toyota RAV4 performed well on all of the IIHS’s crash testing. Unfortunately for most of the 2020 Toyota RAV4 models, however, the headlights did not perform sufficiently enough to earn above a “Marginal” scoring. But the RAV4 Hybrid Limited trim, with the Adaptive Front Headlight system, received a rating of “Good.”

Regardless of trim, all new RAV4s come with the Toyota Safety Sense suite of technologies. This includes automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, pre-collision warning, lane-trace assist, and more. Additional available safety features include a surround-view parking camera, reverse automatic emergency braking, and a rearview mirror camera.