Safest 2017 Family Vehicles with Three Rows of Seating
Are safety and seating more than a couple kids your top considerations in selecting a new vehicle? You aren’t alone! The winner for the last two years, the 2014-2016 Acura MDX, is still a contender to retain its title for 2017.
For 2017, the IIHS not only requires a “Good” result in the newer small overlap crash test to qualify for a Top Safety Pick+ rating, but now also requires at least an “Acceptable” headlight rating. 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 the “TSP+” award, an auto-brake system with an “Advanced” or “Superior” rating is still required.
The NHTSA ratings remain the same, but they no longer allow consumers to see the five individual crash test results for each vehicle. Instead, you may now only see the overall rating and a composite frontal (driver and passenger tests) and side rating (driver, passenger and rear pole impact tests).
There are plenty of very safe vehicles. Most midsize crossover SUVs and minivans provide excellent protection for occupants, likely better than anything on the road 15 years ago. Side curtain airbags and stability control are now standard features. In addition to frontal crash protection systems, advanced safety features like emergency crash notification, lane departure warning, cross traffic warning and blind spot warning systems are becoming more common on non-luxury models. A lot of very save models just miss the cut! If your car is not on the list, that doesn’t mean it is unsafe! Requirements:
So how do we filter the list of so many family vehicles that have earned safety awards? It’s pretty easy:
- Must qualify as an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ for 2016 or 2017
- Must have an NHTSA 5-star overall rating
- No individual NHTSA crash ratings of 3-stars or less
- Must have at least 6 passenger seats
What vehicles make the cut? At least 10 so far, an improvement from last year as a few more manufacturers have added active front crash protection systems in this segment. Models that lack complete NHTSA testing but may be added to this list later include the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe and 2017 GMC Acadia. As a testament to how safe all these vehicles are for families, with one exception, we recommend all of the the 2017 qualifiers:
- 2014-2017 Acura MDX
- 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
- 2016-2017 Honda Pilot
- 2016-2017 Infiniti QX60*
- 2017 Kia Sorento*
- 2017 Kia Sedona*
- 2014-2017 Mitsubishi Outlander
- 2017 Nissan Pathfinder*
- 2014-2017 Toyota Highlander*
- 2017 Volvo XC90*
*We include some models that qualified or would have qualified for a Top Safety Pick+ award in 2016. They do not meet the IIHS requirements for the 2017 award only due to marginal, poor or untested headlights.
And the Safest 2017 3-row Family Vehicle is:
2014-2017 Acura MDX. What’s not to like, yet again? It not only received an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ with the optional Advance Package, but it also received a “Good” result in every single IIHS test AND sub-category of each test. Very impressive. Its frontal crash mitigation system earned an “Advanced” frontal crash protection rating from the IIHS as well, but you must opt for the pricey MDX Advance Package to get a full set of advanced safety features. In every trim are four full LATCH seating positions for carseats, plus a 5th top tether anchor, an area where many SUVs and minivans skimp.
In the NHTSA testing, it not only received a 5-star overall rating, but also received 5-stars in each of the five individual crash tests at Safercar.gov (For 2017, the NHSTA no longer shows sub-category test results). Also very impressive! At 4,300 lbs., the MDX is going to have an advantage over many vehicles in a frontal crash. Despite the weight, it is among the better handling midsize SUVs on the market and has received high praise from many automobile and consumer publications. The main drawback is the price tag near $55,000 with the Advance Package. Premium fuel is required, but thankfully fuel economy increased considerably, from 16 city, 21 highway in 2013 up to 18 city, 27 highway for AWD trim in 2014-2016. Perfection is the key for this winner, barely edging the great field of runners-up.
2016-2017 Honda Pilot. For those not willing to spend over $50K on an MDX, the Pilot is almost as outstanding in terms of safety, can technically fit one more occupant and has slightly better fuel economy on regular gas. Not surprisingly, this one shares some design elements of its Acura sibling. Models with the optional Honda Sensing system earn a “Superior” front crash prevention rating and Top Safety Pick+ award. It also received a 5-star overall rating from the NHTSA, though was slightly blemished with a 4-star frontal crash rating, keeping it from our top award. Its 4-star rollover rating was the same as the MDX.
Thankfully, the Honda Sensing package with collision mitigation braking is optional starting on the mid-range EX trim for $34,000, qualifying it as a Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS. The EX trim is nicely equipped with handy safety features like LaneWatch and HondaLink Assist for automatic crash notification to emergency services. Honda Sensing is a very reasonably priced $1000 option that also gives you Lane Keeping Assist, Lane Departure Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control. Bluetooth hands-free and a backup camera are standard on all trims. Fuel economy is quite good for an 8-passenger vehicle at 19 city, 27 highway in 2WD trim. The Pilot does have a full array of lower anchors and top tethers, unmatched by any other SUV.
2017 Toyota Highlander. Like the Pilot, the 2016-2017 Highlander received a 5-star overall rating from the NHTSA, with 5-stars in all but one of the five government crash tests. This blemish keeps it from being our top award winner. The 2017 model is not only an IIHS Top Safety Pick+, but it is the only model on our list to earn this designation with STANDARD features! Toyota’s Safety Sense P is included on all trim levels, including the LE version starting at just over $30,000. This also makes it the least expensive of our winners and since it is standard, it is easy to find a model with all the necessary safety features on a dealer’s lot. BIG Kudos to Toyota for being the first manufacturer to finally make all these critical safety features standard on a 3-row family vehicle. No more arriving at a dealership with the intent to buy the necessary trim level or options package and being swayed into another version that would not earn top IIHS ratings! (2016 models did not have the necessary features standard, requiring consumers to buy the Limited trim with Technology Package for over $43,000)
2017 Kia Sedona. The Sedona finally added a front crash prevention system for 2017, and it earned a top IIHS rating by avoiding crashes in both tests. While it earns an IIHS Top Safety Pick award for 2017, it failed to earn the “plus” designation only because of a poor headlight evaluation. That alone keeps it from being tied with the Acura MDX as our winner, though it matches the MDX in IIHS and NHTSA crash testing. It’s also relatively friendly for carseats and children in back, making it a great choice overall for keeping your precious cargo safe.
Perhaps the best part of the new Sedona is that it earns the IIHS Top Safety Pick award at a relative bargain price, because Kia wisely opted to make the Advanced Technology Package with Autonomous Emergency Braking as an option even on the LX and EX trim levels! So, a 2017 Sedona LX with the Premium and Advanced Tech packages costs around $34,000. Along with the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, that makes it a reasonable choice for more families.
2016-2017 Volvo XC90 T6. The XC90 T6 7-Passenger SUV earned the highest results in every test and qualifies as an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (2016) with STANDARD equipment, unusual even for luxury vehicles. It matches the the Acura MDX, Kia Sedona and Chrysler Pacifics for overall crash safety. At just over $50,000 with AWD, that makes it much less expensive than other luxury models on this list like the MDX or QX60 that also have top rated frontal crash avoidance systems. Only a “Marginal” headlight rating keeps it from an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award for 2017. The lack of top tether anchors for carseats in the third row is another notable omission. These minor drawbacks just barely keep it from tying the MDX as a winner in this category.
2017 Chrysler Pacifica. The Pacifica is a love-hate relationship. There is no question that it’s a big improvement over the Town & County minivan in almost every way. In terms of flexible family seating, the Stow ‘n Go feature is great. It’s also the only minivan to earn the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award for 2017 and it aced every crash test from both the IIHS and NHTSA, including an optional front crash prevention system that avoided a crash in both IIHS tests. In terms of overall safety, it’s a clear winner.
In terms of carseats, it’s a mixed bag. Various issues can make installing carseats and seating children somewhat more difficult than other minivans, especially in the third row. While it’s still an improvement over the T&C or Grand Caravan overall, it’s still not as passenger/carseat friendly as the Honda Odyssey or our other minivan runner-up, the 2017 Kia Sedona. Another big issue is that to qualify for the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award, you must include the optional Advanced Safety Tec package. This isn’t available on the Touring or Touring L models, so you have to step up to the Touring L Plus to get it. Before incentives, this drives the price up to over $40,000.
2016-2017 Infiniti QX60 and 2017 Nissan Pathfinder. These standouts only miss an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award due to poorly rated headlights in IIHS testing. Like every other qualifier this year, they are both extremely safe vehicles overall. The base Infiniti QX60 requires the $7,000 Deluxe Technology Package with Forward Emergency Braking to qualify for the IIHS Top Safety Pick rating. This package also requires the Premium and Premium Plus package, driving the price to over $55,000 with 2WD. The Pathfinder only qualifies as an IIHS Top Safety Pick in Platinum Trim, the only one where the Forward Emergency Braking trim is available, but thankfully is also standard. Unfortunately, this drives the price up to $43,000 in 2WD trim.
2017 Kia Sorento. Like the Sedona, the Sorento received a highly rated frontal crash protection system for 2017. This qualified it for a Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS, missing the “plus” designation due to a poor headlight evaluation. Otherwise, it has top crash test results from both the IIHS and NHTSA. As a bonus, Autonomous Emergency Braking system necessary to be an IIHS Top Safety Pick is available on lower trim LX and EX models. The LX with convenience package, 3rd row seating package and Advanced Technology Package starts around $33,000. It’s smaller than our other award winners and not as easy to fit a full complement of carseats, but perhaps ideal for someone looking for a slightly smaller, 7-passenger midsize vehicle.
2014-2017 Honda Odyssey. The Odyssey aced all the crash tests from the IIHS and NHTSA. It received a 5-star overall rating from the NHTSA and good crash test results in all IIHS testing. For the third year running, Honda has opted not to include a front crash prevention system. This grievous omission keeps it from earning an IIHS Top Safety Pick award and one of our top awards as well. On the other hand, there simply is no substitute for a minivan in terms of being friendly to carseats and kids in back, so this model continues to be Recommended for families. The Odyssey maintains an advantage for child seating flexibility and remains our top overall pick for being kid and carseat friendly. If only it had been offered with Honda Sensing, the Odyssey would likely be our Editors’ Pick in this category and overall.
Maybe you already have a minivan or larger SUV, or just want something smaller and easier to fit into a parking spot or garage? Or with one or two kids, you simply don’t need the extra row of seating. Our ratings of new sedans, 5-passenger SUVs and used vehicles are coming later this month.
Updated January, 2017
SafeDad writes about automobiles, carseats and traffic safety issues at CarseatBlog