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.
2019 Subaru Ascent. A newcomer for this year, and if we selected a co-winner, this would be it. Its only faults? Poor headlight ratings on the Base and Premium trim levels and the fact that we have not reviewed it first hand to be able to tell you how flexible it is for families and car seats. Otherwise, in terms of safety, it’s a clear standout. It aced every single IIHS test with top ratings in every single sub-category result, both crash and non-crash evaluations. It also earned 5-stars in every NHTSA crash test rating, the lone exception being a 4-star rollover risk rating, like every SUV. The top-rated frontal crash prevention EyeSight system avoided all collisions in IIHS testing and earned the top 6-point “Superior” rating. Like the Honda Odyssey, it earned a “G+” LATCH rating for its abundant top tether anchors and extra LATCH position(s). All that with STANDARD features; no pricey top trim levels or options packages required to get top crash safety and crash avoidance ratings! Though not necessarily a crash safety feature, AWD is standard, too. All this starting around $32,000, among the least expensive of our qualifiers. The Premium package at $34,000 adds the option of a second-row bench seat with an extra middle passenger seat, the all-weather package, towing capability and the STARLINK Safety and Security system.
2019 Honda Pilot. Though not as perfect in terms of crash testing as the Subaru Ascent, the Pilot is still a solid performer overall. Not surprisingly, this one shares some design elements of its Acura MDX sibling that has won our award the past four years. Models with 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, slightly marred with a 4-star frontal crash rating for the passenger side, one reason it is a Runner-Up for 2019. The Pilot received an “Acceptable” small overlap passenger-side test result to maintain its Top Safety Pick award in 2019. Its 4-star rollover rating is similar to most midsize SUVs.
Kudos to Honda for making the great Honda Sensing active safety package STANDARD starting in 2019. That means all crash avoidance features are on every model, starting with the LX trim at under $32,000 (For 2017-2018, the Honda Sensing package with collision mitigation braking was optional starting on the mid-range EX trim). The EX trim is nicely equipped with handy safety features like Blind Spot monitoring and HondaLink Assist for automatic crash notification to emergency services starting at just over $34,000. 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 except the new Subaru Ascent. For 2019, all Pilot trim levels now receive at least an “Acceptable” headlight rating, with “Good” ratings on Touring and Elite trims. Combined with the standard Honda Sensing active safety system, this moves the 2019 Pilot from an Honorable Mention in our ratings to a solid Runner-Up for the safest 3-row vehicle.
2017-2019 Toyota Highlander. The Highlander is not only an IIHS Top Safety Pick, but earns the award with STANDARD features on ALL trim levels since 2017! It also earns a 5-star overall NHTSA safety rating. Toyota’s Safety Sense P is included on all trim levels, including the LE version starting at around $31,000. This also makes it the least expensive of our winners and because these crash avoidance features are standard, it is easy to find a model with them on a dealer’s lot. Plus, unlike most other qualifiers, the Highlander earns an “Acceptable” IIHS headlight rating on all trim levels as well. 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! Similar to the Pilot, the only marks keeping it from being our top pick are a single 4-star NHTSA frontal crash driver-side rating and an “Acceptable” result in the new IIHS small overlap passenger side crash test. With an update of the owner’s manual in 2017, the Highlander is a little more car seat friendly, though still not as flexible as models like Odyssey or Pilot.
2014-2019 Acura MDX. What’s not to like from our winner of the Safest 3-Row Family Vehicle for the previous four years? It not only received an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ for 2017-2018, 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. For 2018-2019, all trim levels have this feature standard, making it more affordable starting under $45,000 for a full suite of 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. 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. 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. Like most other qualifiers, its only blemish is an “Acceptable” headlight rating, though unlike most others, it still qualified for an IIHS Top Safety Pick on all trim levels in 2018. It has not yet been tested in the newer IIHS small offset passenger-side crash test, keeping it from being one of our award winners in 2019.
2017-2019 Chrysler Pacifica. The Pacifica is a solid performer and only blemished by “Acceptable” ratings in the newer IIHS passenger-side small overlap crash test and headlight ratings. 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 and may appeal to some buyers who find it to be more useful in their situation than Odyssey’s Magic Slide. It’s also the only minivan to earn the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award for 2017 and a Top Safety Pick award for 2018-2019, plus 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 standout among minivans.
In terms of carseats, it’s a mixed bag. Various seating issues including non-removable head restraints and seatbelt/LATCH positions 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 quite as passenger/carseat friendly as the 2018 Honda Odyssey or Kia Sedona. Another big issue is that to equip a front crash prevention system to qualify for an IIHS Top Safety Pick award, you must include the optional Advanced SafetyTec package. Thankfully, for 2019, this is now available on the Touring Plus and Touring L trims, too, starting at a much more reasonable $33,000 if you can find one so equipped on a dealer’s lot. (2018 models required the Touring L Plus or Limited trims starting around $40,000)
2017-2019 Kia Sedona. The Sedona finally added a Superior-rated front crash prevention system for 2017 and it earned an IIHS Top Safety Pick award starting that year. It failed to earn an IIHS award for 2018-2019 only due to a Poor headlight rating, but it did achieve an “Acceptable” crash test result in the newer passenger-side small overlap test. To its credit, it is relatively friendly for carseats and children in back, making it a great choice overall for keeping your precious cargo safe, even though it didn’t quite meet the criteria for our top picks.
For 2019, Kia no longer offers its frontal crash avoidance system as an option on the LX trim level, so the minimum point of entry for active safety is now the EX trim with Premium package starting around $40,000. For 2017-2018, the necessary safety features could be found on LX trim levels with the Premium/Advanced Tech packages starting at $35,000. Shame on Kia for moving backward on family safety. With the higher price to get active safety features, the Sedona is no longer a good value with the Honda Odyssey EX offering superior safety at a much lower cost.
2018-2019 Kia Sorento earns a solid honorable mention this year with improved headlight ratings, qualifying it for top awards at both crash testing agencies, including an IIHS Top Safety Pick+. Like the Sedona, Hyundai also removed the option for the forward collision avoidance package on the LX trim. On the plus side, this system is now standard on the nicely equipped 2019 EX trim along with other active safety features for nearly $36,000 (For 2018, the Autonomous Emergency Braking package was available in the Advanced Technology Package on the LX trim starting under $33,000 with front crash prevention). On the downside, like various other qualifiers, it only earns a “Good” headlight rating on the SX Limited trim level with LED headlights for over $44,000. Most other trim levels have “Poor” ratings for headlights. Finally, it is the smallest of our honorable mentions, making it a little more cramped for car seats and passengers in back, especially the small third row. Because of these drawbacks, our preference would be for the Highlander, Pilot or Ascent that can all be equipped with advanced safety features for much less money and are all roomier in back as well.
The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe is an honorable mention as it received an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award with a “Good” result in the new IIHS small overlap passenger-side test. Unlike the 2018 model, it has not yet been rated by the NHTSA. The 2018 model earned a 5-star overall NHTSA safety rating, with a 4-star NHTSA government frontal crash test rating. The Santa Fe XL did earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick award with an “Acceptable” passenger-side small overlap test result and a 5-star overall NHTSA rating, despite 4-stars in both frontal crash tests. To get the active safety package and headlights to qualify for the IIHS award, you have to step up to the Limited Ultimate package at around $40,000.
The 2019 Nissan Pathfinder returns to our honorable mention list with improved headlight ratings, but only on the Platinum trim level. Active safety features are now standard on all models, earning a 5-point “Superior” rating from the IIHS. A 5-star NHTSA overall rating is marred only by a 4-star frontal crash rating for the driver. A very solid overall safety performer starting at under $32,000 for the S trim level. The SV trim adds Blind Spot and Rear Cross Traffic alerts among other features for around $34,000.
The 2019 Mazda CX-9 also appears on our Honorable Mentions list with standout IIHS results, blemished only by headlights that are “Acceptable” if you get the Touring Trim, otherwise “Marginal” or “Poor”. This goes with a 5-star NHTSA overall rating, but 4-stars in both frontal crash tests, driver and passenger. To qualify for the Top Safety Pick rating and get standard frontal crash avoidance features, you have to opt for the nicely equipped Touring trim starting at over $35,000.
This list will be updated if new crash testing results become available from the IIHS and NHTSA. Models may be moved into our out of our awards based on the listed requirements.
Updated February, 2019
SafeDad writes about automobiles, carseats and traffic safety issues at CarseatBlog