Safest Family Vehicles for 7 or 8 Passengers in 2019
Are safety and seating at least a few kids your most important considerations when selecting a new vehicle? You aren’t alone! Sure, it looks great that the model you want has an IIHS Top Safety Pick “Plus” award, but for many vehicles, this award only applies to top trim levels with options packages that may cost a fortune if you can even find one on a dealer’s lot. Plus, a top IIHS rating doesn’t always mean top crash test results from the NHTSA. SafeDad helps you shorten the list of dozens of very safe 7+ passenger vehicles to just a handful of the safest and most family friendly models for 2019. We also identify which ones can be inexpensively equipped with the necessary features to qualify for top safety awards, such that you can find one properly equipped at a local dealer.
For 2019, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety not only requires a “Good” result in the driver-side small overlap crash test to qualify for a “Top Safety Pick+” rating, but now also requires a “Good” headlight rating as well a “Good” rating in the newer passenger-side small overlap crash test. Models that earn an “Acceptable” headlight or passenger-side small overlap test rating can earn the “Top Safety Pick” rating only. The IIHS also demands a front crash prevention system. These systems are not all created equal; some are only basic warnings that no longer qualify for an award, while advanced ones can actually brake in emergency situations and some are more likely to avoid a crash than lesser systems. To earn IIHS awards, an auto-brake system with an “Advanced” or “Superior” rating is still required. The IIHS claims that most automakers have pledged to make these features standard by 2022 or earlier, though some already do.
The NHTSA ratings remain the same in 2019, with a 5-star overall rating based on two frontal crash tests, four side impact tests and a non-crash rollover risk rating. It’s not always clear how the individual crash test results affect the overall rating, so we must rely on the overall rating to separate our qualifiers from the rest of the pack.
Subaru and Honda have set a nice trend for inexpensive advanced safety feature packages available on low and mid trim levels. This year, we again recognize Toyota for making all these features standard on all trim levels of nearly all of their vehicles. That means even the least expensive Highlander and Sienna models now have advanced crash avoidance features for 2018 and 2019, making these important improvements to safety easy to find on dealer’s lots!
Many publications only use either the NHTSA crash tests OR the IIHS ratings as the basis for their recommendations, leaving an incomplete assessment of overall safety. Some are subjective and apply different standards based on personal preferences or corporate sponsors. So how do we filter the list of so many family vehicles that have earned safety awards? It’s very simple and completely objective:
- Must be at least an IIHS Top Safety Pick for 2018 or 2019
- Must have an NHTSA 5-star overall rating for 2018 or 2019
- Must have at least 7 passenger seats
What 3-row vehicles make the cut to qualify for our awards? Even with new IIHS Top Safety Pick requirements, a record 14 make the cut in this review, up from 10 in last year’s guide. Some models simply lack test results and may be added later. For example, many very safe luxury models like the Volvo XC90 have not been tested in the newer IIHS passenger-side small overlap crash test or the NHTSA crash testing. Other very safe 3-row vehicles miss our requirements simply due to a “Marginal” headlight rating that prevented them from earning an IIHS Top Safety Pick award. The Audi Q7, Volkswagen Atlas and GMC Acadia AWD would all be standout qualifiers other than this minor shortcoming. Slightly larger than many other midsize crossover SUVs, these models are all definitely worth considering as well. Our threshold for qualification is high, but based upon objective IIHS and NHTSA ratings that are well known to manufacturers.
As a testament to how safe all these vehicles are for families, we recommend nearly all of the 2019 qualifiers as well as those Honorable Mentions that fell a little short, usually only in terms of the IIHS headlight ratings. The exception is the Mitsubishi Outlander, due to its relatively small size and various restrictions that make installations of multiple carseats more difficult than the others on the list. If your vehicle is not on the list, that doesn’t mean it is unsafe! That said, here are the finalists:
- 2014-2018 Acura MDX
- 2017-2019 Chrysler Pacifica
- 2018-2019 Honda Odyssey
- 2016-2019 Honda Pilot
- 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe
- 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe XL
- 2017-2018 Kia Sedona
- 2018-2019 Kia Sorento
- 2018 Lexus RX
- 2018-2019 Mazda CX-9
- 2017-2019 Mitsubishi Outlander
- 2019 Nissan Pathfinder
- 2019 Subaru Ascent
- 2017-2019 Toyota Highlander
For our top pick, we give preference to models that have already received a “Good” result in the newer passenger side small overlap crash test. A top-rated frontal crash avoidance system that earns a 6-point “Superior” rating is also an advantage, as are STANDARD active crash avoidance features and flexible seating for passengers and car seats. For our runners-up and honorable mentions, we do not place as much emphasis on non-crash test results, such as headlight ratings.
And the Safest 2019 3-row Family Vehicle is:
2018-2019 Honda Odyssey. The 2018-19 Odyssey is among a handful of qualifiers to receive a “Good” IIHS Small Overlap frontal crash test result for both driver and passenger sides. In addition, it has stellar results in all the IIHS and NHTSA crash tests. Its long overdue “Superior” front crash prevention system avoided crashes in both IIHS tests and is STANDARD on the EX trim level and up starting in 2018. The Odyssey’s only blemish is headlight coverage that kept it from an IIHS TSP “Plus” award, as it earned an “Acceptable” rating on Touring and Elite trims only.
While the EX and EX-L trims have only a “Marginal” headlight rating, they are still an impressive value for excellent safety with standard front crash prevention and top crash test results for around $34,000. Also, in our opinion, the Magic Slide feature is very handy, and Odyssey is still the best family hauler on the market in terms of fitting multiple child safety seats. In that regard, it’s also one of the few 3-row vehicles to earn the IIHS “G+” rating for ease-of-use with its plentiful top tether and lower car seat anchors. The increased weight and larger dimensions may also be a benefit in terms of crash safety over a midsize SUV, while that added interior space makes those SUVs pale in comparison when looking at flexibility for passengers and cargo.