The safest small SUVs

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Best new and used small SUVs based on safety ratings and driver assist technology

(AP file/Gene J. Puskar)

Small SUVs and crossovers offer a near-perfect blend of car-like ride and handling, utility-vehicle functionality, and economy-car fuel efficiency. That’s probably why compact SUVs are some of the best-selling models on the market, and why automakers are adding advanced driver-assist technologies to these small utility vehicles to win over safety-conscious consumers.

Using a combination of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) safety ratings, averaged over model years 2015-2019, along with an analysis of available driver-assist and safety technologies on the latest models, we’ve identified the safest new and used compact SUVs you can buy. We’ve also listed the models that qualified for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ rating, which are the agency’s two highest ratings.

Finally, we’ve rolled in the iSeeCars.com Quality Score for each model, combining the small SUV’s safety score (derived directly from its NHTSA ratings) with its reliability rating and value retention score. This provides a comprehensive picture of each small SUV’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the new and used price you can expect to pay:

Safest Small SUVs – iSeeCars.com
RankVehicleNHTSA Overall Rating*IIHS Safety RatingiSeeCars Quality ScoreNew MSRP Starting PriceAverage 3-Year-Old Used Car Price
1Subaru Forester5Top Safety Pick +8.7$25,195$23,752
2Subaru Outback5Top Safety Pick +8.7$26,945$25,939
3Toyota RAV44.9Top Safety Pick8.6$26,350$23,511
4Hyundai Tucson4.9Top Safety Pick +8.3$25,350$20,668
5Honda CR-V4.8Top Safety Pick8.7$25,750$25,090
6Kia Sportage4.8Top Safety Pick8.4$24,090$20,381
7Ford Escape4.6Top Safety Pick8.2$25,555$20,407
8Mitsubishi Outlander4.6Didn’t Qualify8.1$26,095$18,677
9Mazda CX-54.4Top Safety Pick +7.6$25,370$23,772
10Chevrolet Equinox4.3Top Safety Pick7.9$23,800$21,742
11GMC Terrain4.2Didn’t Qualify7.5$27,900$24,337
12Jeep Cherokee4Didn’t Qualify7.9$28,135$22,989
13Nissan Rogue4Top Safety Pick +7.4$26,050$21,320
14Volkswagen Tiguan4Top Safety Pick6.7$25,995$22,319

*NOTE: NHTSA Rating is based on each vehicle’s NHSTA score, averaged over 2015-2019 model years. It is also used to derive the iSeeCars Safety Score for each car listed below.

It’s important to note that vehicle safety is defined by more than a crash test result or rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) notes that 36,096 traffic fatalities occurred in 2019 (the latest year for which final figures are available). We’d like to think today’s driver’s and new vehicles are getting safer, and we know the newest small SUVs offer superior driver-assist and safety technology. Yet in the first three months of 2021 NHSTA estimates over 8,700 people were killed in traffic fatalities. 

That’s a 10.5 percent increase in vehicle fatalities over the same time period in 2020, and reflects the critical role a driver plays in keeping themselves and their passengers safe. IIHS now takes standard and optional safety technology into account, along with IIHS crash test results, when awarding its Top Safety Pick winners to new cars. 

This means today’s drivers should not only practice responsible driving habits, but also understand what modern driver-assist technology can — and can not — do, and which features are available on each model. Our research confirmed you don’t need to buy a luxury SUV from a brand like BMW, or purchase a large — or even midsize — SUV to access five-star safety protection. Instead of driving a larger or more expensive SUV, simply having familiarity with these driver assist features will allow you to take a more active role in driver safety when behind the wheel. 

To aid your research in finding the safest small SUV we’ve provided a list of terms, along with brief definitions, of common safety technologies available on today’s models. Being familiar with what these terms mean, and how they contribute to accident mitigation, will help you determine which small crossover SUV is right for you.

Modern Safety Technology Terms and Definitions:

  • Automatic Emergency Braking — when forward sensors detect an imminent collision they can apply the brakes, even when the driver doesn’t, to assist with front crash prevention
  • Automatic High Beams — the vehicle can automatically switch between low beams and high beams when appropriate
  • Blind-spot Monitor — alerts the driver when another vehicle is in the blind spot to reduce the chance of a collision during a lane change 
  • Cross-Traffic Alert, Forward and Rear — sensors monitor the movement of vehicles passing in front of, or behind, a parked vehicle, alerting the driver to potential collisions
  • Driver Attention Monitoring — monitors driver behavior and creates an audible and visual warning if the driver shows signs of distraction or fatigue
  • Forward (or Pre-) Collision Warning — alerts the driver of a potential or likely collision; this system often works with Automatic Emergency Braking to improve front crash prevention
  • Lane Centering — more advanced than Lake-Keeping Assist, Lane Centering uses small steering corrections to keep a vehicle centered in its lane
  • Lane Departure Warning — alerts the driver when the vehicle begins to drift out of its lane
  • Lane-Keeping Assist — monitors the vehicle’s position in its lane and makes steering corrections if a vehicle starts to drift out of its lane
  • Parking Sensors, Front and Rear — produces audible warnings when parking a vehicle to help the driver understand how close the vehicle is to a solid object (another car, wall, etc.)
  • Pedestrian Detection — uses sensors to detect pedestrians and can apply brakes to avoid collisions or reduce vehicle speed prior to collision
  • Radar Cruise Control (also known as Smart Cruise Control or Adaptive Cruise Control) — uses sensors to maintain a set distance from vehicles traveling in front of the primary vehicle, thus reducing the need for driver input to maintain a set speed
  • Rear Seat Reminder — reminds the driver to check the rear seat area before exiting the vehicle and can sound the horn if rear-seat movement is detected after the vehicle is locked
  • Safe Exit Assist — monitors street traffic when a car is parked to reduce the likelihood of opening a door when another vehicle is approaching or passing by
  • Steering Assist — can steer the vehicle away from an imminent collision 
  • Surround View (or 360-Degree) Camera — provides an overhead view of the vehicle to see how much space is available on all sides when parking or moving at low speeds

The Safest Small SUVs

1. Subaru Forester

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.7

Reliability Score: 7.9

Retained Value Score: 8.1

Safety Score: 10.0 (normalized from NHTSA rating)

MSRP: $25,195

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $23,752

The 2022 Subaru Forester’s excellent safety scores combine with a long list of standard and optional safety technology to give it the top spot on our Safest Small SUVs list. NHTSA gives the Forester a 5-star rating for front crash protection and side impacts, and a 4-star rating for rollover resistance. Standard safety technology includes forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist, and radar/adaptive cruise control. Blind-spot detection, driver attention monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and reverse automatic emergency braking are available on higher trim versions. Finally, standard all-wheel drive means the Forester offers increased grip during inclement weather.

2. Subaru Outback

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.7

Reliability Score: 8.0

Retained Value Score: 8.1

Safety Score: 10.0 (normalized from NHTSA rating)

MSRP: $26,945

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $25,939

The 2022 Subaru Outback, which also tops the iSeeCars Rankings of Best Small SUVs, receives nearly perfect NHTSA ratings, with 5 stars for front and side impacts and 4 stars for rollover resistance. Every Subaru Outback includes forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist, and radar cruise control. Optional driver-assist technologies range from blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert to driver attention monitoring and reverse automatic emergency braking. With standard all-wheel drive providing increased grip, and excellent outward visibility from its wagon-like exterior design, the Subaru Outback makes a compelling vehicle safety statement. 

3. Toyota RAV4

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.6

Reliability Score: 7.9

Retained Value Score: 8.3

Safety Score: 9.7 (normalized from NHTSA rating)

MSRP: $26,350

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $23,511

Today’s Toyota RAV4 gets an overall 5-star safety rating from NHTSA, with a 4-star driver rating and 5-star passenger rating for front crash protection. All side impacts earn 5 stars, and rollover resistance gets 4 stars. The NHTSA ratings are complemented by standard forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist, radar cruise control, and automatic high beams. Optional safety features include blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. The Toyota RAV4 comes standard with front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available for buyers seeking increased confidence on slippery roads.

4. Hyundai Tucson

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.3

Reliability Score: 6.9

Retained Value Score: 8.1

Safety Score: 9.8 (normalized from NHTSA rating)

MSRP: $25,350

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $20,668

The 2022 Hyundai Tucson achieves an overall NHTSA rating of 5 stars, with 5 stars for front and side-impact collisions and 4 stars for rollover resistance. Standard driver-assist technologies consist of forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, driver attention monitoring, and rear-seat reminder. Optional features include blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, radar cruise control, lane centering, a blind-spot camera, and a surround view camera system. Front-wheel drive is standard on the Hyundai Tucson, with all-wheel drive available on most trims and standard on the hybrid model. 

5. Honda CR-V

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.7

Reliability Score: 8.2

Retained Value Score: 8.3

Safety Score: 9.6 (normalized from NHTSA rating)

MSRP: $25,750

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $25,090

The 2022 Honda CR-V scores an overall 5-star rating from NHTSA, with 5 stars for driver front crash protection and 4 stars for passenger front impact, plus 5 stars for side impacts and 4 stars for rollover resistance. Every CR-V includes Honda Sensing, which means standard forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, radar cruise control, and automatic high beams. Optional safety systems include blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. The CR-V starts with standard front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive can be added to every trim except the Touring trim, which includes all-wheel drive as standard equipment.

6. Kia Sportage

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.4

Reliability Score: 7.5

Retained Value Score: 8.1

Safety Score: 9.6 (normalized from NHTSA rating)

MSRP: $24,090 

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $20,381

The 2022 Kia Sportage earns a 5-star rating from NHTSA, representing a 4-star driver rating and 5-star passenger rating for front impacts, a 5-star rating for side impacts, and a 4-star rating for rollover resistance. Standard driver safety tech includes forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and driver attention monitoring. Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, radar cruise control, and front and rear parking sensors can be added at higher trim levels. Front-wheel drive is standard on the Sportage but all-wheel drive can be added to all trim levels.

7. Ford Escape

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.2

Reliability Score: 7.5

Retained Value Score: 8.1

Safety Score: 9.6 (normalized from NHTSA rating)

MSRP: $25,555

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $20,407

The latest Ford Escape earns a 5-star overall rating from NHTSA, with 5 stars for front and side impacts, and 4 stars for rollover resistance. The Escape offers forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert as standard equipment. Optional driver-assist features include radar/adaptive cruise control, lane centering, steering assist, and parking sensors. The Ford Escape comes standard with front-wheel drive and makes all-wheel drive available on all trims except the top-line Titanium model, which includes all-wheel drive as standard equipment.

8. Mitsubishi Outlander

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.1

Reliability Score: 7.7

Retained Value Score: 7.6

Safety Score: 9.1 (normalized from NHTSA rating)

MSRP: $26,095

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $18,677

The Mitsubishi Outlander was redesigned for 2022, and NHTSA ratings are not yet available. There was only a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) Outlander for 2021, which received an overall NHTSA rating of 5 stars, with 4 stars for the driver and front passenger in front impact testing. Side-impact tests earned 5 stars, and rollover resistance earned 4 out of 5 stars. The Outlander PHEV has standard forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping assist. It also offers standard blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. A surround view camera system, front and rear parking sensors, and radar cruise control were optional. All-wheel drive is standard.

9. Mazda CX-5

iSeeCars Quality Score: 7.6

Reliability Score: 6.1

Retained Value Score: 8.0

Safety Score: 8.8 (normalized from NHTSA rating)

MSRP: $25,370

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $23,772

The 2022 Mazda CX-5 earns a 5-star rating from NHTSA, with 5 stars for all front and side-impact testing, and a 4-star rating for rollover resistance. Standard safety technology includes forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and radar cruise control. It also comes standard with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Available safety features include a surround-view camera system, parking sensors front and rear, and rear automatic braking. Front-wheel drive is standard on the CX-5, with all-wheel drive either optional or standard, depending on which trim you choose.

10. Chevrolet Equinox

iSeeCars Quality Score: 7.9

Reliability Score: 7.6

Retained Value Score: 7.6

Safety Score: 8.5 (normalized from NHTSA rating)

MSRP: $23,800

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $21,742

The 2022 Chevrolet Equinox receives a 5-star overall rating from NHTSA, with 5 stars for all front and side impacts, and a 4-star rating for rollover resistance. Driver assistant technology included with every Equinox includes forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and rear-seat reminder. Optional safety equipment includes blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a surround-view camera system, radar cruise control, and front and rear parking sensors. Front-wheel drive is standard on the Equinox, with all-wheel drive optional.

11. GMC Terrain

iSeeCars Quality Score: 7.5

Reliability Score: 6.4

Retained Value Score: 7.6

Safety Score: 8.4 (normalized from NHTSA rating)

MSRP: $27,900

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $24,337

The 2022 GMC Terrain earns a 5-star overall rating from NHTSA, receiving 5 stars for all front and side impacts, and 4 stars for rollover resistance. Standard driver assist technology includes forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, rear-seat reminder. The Terrain can be outfitted with optional safety technology, such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a surround-view camera system, front and rear parking sensors, and radar cruise control. The Terrain comes standard with front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive optional or standard on the AT4 and Denali trims.

12. Jeep Cherokee

iSeeCars Quality Score: 7.9

Reliability Score: 7.8

Retained Value Score: 8.0

Safety Score: 8.0 (normalized from NHTSA rating)

MSRP: $28,135

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $22,989

The latest Jeep Cherokee gets a 4-star rating from NHTSA, with 4 stars for front driver impact, 5 stars for front passenger impact, 5 stars for all side impacts, and 4 stars for rollover resistance. The Cherokee now offers forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert as standard equipment. Optional safety technology includes rear automatic braking, automatic high beams, front and rear parking sensors, and radar cruise control. The Cherokee comes standard with front-wheel drive and offers all-wheel drive as an option. 

13. Nissan Rogue

iSeeCars Quality Score: 7.4

Reliability Score: 6.3

Retained Value Score: 8.0

Safety Score: 7.4 (normalized from NHTSA rating)

MSRP: $26,050

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $21,320

The latest Nissan Rogue earns a disappointing 3-star overall rating from NHTSA, reflecting its 4-star driver and 3-star front passenger rating for front impacts. Side impacts are all rated at 5 stars and rollover resistance earns 4 out of 5 stars. The Rogue does offer an impressive list of standard safety tech, including forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, driver attention monitoring, automatic high beams, rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking sensors, safe exit assist, and rear automatic braking. Optional technology includes lane-departure assist, a surround-view camera system, front parking sensors, and radar cruise control. The Rogue comes standard with front-wheel drive and offers all-wheel drive as an option.

14. Volkswagen Tiguan

iSeeCars Quality Score: 7.4

Reliability Score: 6.3

Retained Value Score: 5.9

Safety Score: 8.0 (normalized from NHTSA rating)

MSRP: $25,995

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $22,319

The current Volkswagen Tiguan has not been tested by NHTSA. The last time it was tested was the previous generation model, which ended production in 2017. That model earned an overall NHTSA rating of 4 stars, with 4 stars for the driver and 3 for the front passenger in front impacts. Side impact ratings were 5 stars, and rollover resistance was 4 stars. The 2022 Volkswagen Tiguan comes standard with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and pedestrian detection. Optional safety features include lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, front and rear parking sensors, automatic high beams, automatic reverse braking, a surround-view camera system, and radar cruise control. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional.

Bottom Line:

If you’re shopping for a small or compact SUV it’s important to keep safety in mind. Most of today’s small SUVs offer impressive safety ratings and a healthy list of standard driver-assist technology. But there remains a variation in crash-test ratings and safety features, both standard and optional, across the small SUV category. If you’re getting ready to buy, do yourself a favor and research which compact SUVs offer the best combination of active safety tech to avoid an accident, as well as strong passenger protection if an accident does occur. 

If a small SUV doesn’t fit your needs, most of these safety features are available on subcompact SUVs like the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3, or midsize SUVs like the Subaru Ascent and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Premium models like the Audi Q5, Cadillac XT5, and Volvo XC40 also offer these crash mitigation technologies, if a luxury SUV is more your style. 

More from iSeeCars.com:

If you’re in the market for a new or used family SUV , you can search over 4 million used and new cars , trucks, and SUVs with iSeeCars’ award-winning car search engine . It helps shoppers find the best car deals by providing key insights and valuable resources, like the iSeeCars VIN check report and Best Cars rankings. Filter by price, fuel economy , third-row availability, and other family-friendly parameters to narrow down your crossover or SUV search.

This article, Safest Small SUVs, originally appeared on iSeeCars.com. 

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