Every year, more and more car shoppers are forgoing the traditional sedan in favor of an SUV or crossover. All the major automakers have caught onto this trend and are placing their bets and resources on the SUV segment. The result is a vast sea of options to choose from in every size, brand, and price range. With so many quality SUVs on the market, narrowing down your choices can seem like a taunting task. A good place to start is to find a handful of SUVs that are equally safe and fun to drive.

How We Chose the Winners

iihs awards
The IIHS has to wreck a lot of perfectly good vehicles to get results. (image: IIHS)

The IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) conducts annual crash tests to evaluate vehicles in every segment based on their crashworthiness, or how well they protect occupants in a crash. Another category is crash avoidance and mitigation which considers front crash prevention systems and headlight safety. When comparing SUVs to passenger cars, SUVs will be safer than small cars in a crash thanks to their larger size and weight. Additionally, their higher ride height improves visibility and standard or optional AWD make SUVs a smart choice when it comes to safety.

IIHS 2018 Safety Pick+ Criteria

In order to earn the IIHS Safety Pick+ rating, a vehicle must do well in both crashworthiness and crash avoidance. It has to get 'Good' ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraint tests, as well as an 'Acceptable' or 'Good' rating in the passenger-side small overlap front test. It also must earn an 'Advanced' or 'Superior' rating for front crash prevention and a 'Good' headlight rating.

Expert Reviews 

After a busy year of testing out SUVs across all brands and sizes, we hand-picked three vehicles that were not only excellent to drive but also earned the highest possible IIHS Safety Pick+ score. You won't go wrong choosing any one of these three crossovers. Better yet, why not test drive them all to compare?

1. 2018 Mazda CX-5

Mazda CX-5

The 2018 Mazda CX-5 was one of our favorite crossovers to review in 2018, earning a 9/10 “Excellent” score. The small SUV has an improved ride quality that's smooth and great for everyday driving. It also offers precise steering thanks to Mazda's G-Vectoring Control and capable acceleration and braking. 

You'll have peace of mind knowing you're not just getting a crossover that's great to drive, but one that keeps you from getting into an accident and protects you if one occurs. The IIHS awarded the CX-5 a Top Safety Pick+ after it passed the required crash tests with flying colors. The CX-5 earned "Good" ratings in all the crashworthiness categories, a "Superior" front crash prevention score and a "Good" headlight rating. 

Starting MSRP: $24,150

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2. 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe

Hyundai Santa Fe

The 7-passenger, 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe earned an 8.3/10 "Excellent" score from us for its responsive and capable V6 engine, authoritative acceleration, and a comfortable interior. If spacious cargo and storage are must-have features, the 2018 Santa Fe is best in class, offering 80 cubic ft of cargo space with the seats folded. 

The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe is awarded an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating with "Good" grades on all crashworthiness criteria besides Small Overlap Front - Passenger Side for which it earns an "Acceptable". If it's the all-new 2019 Santa Fe you're interested in, it has recently been tested by the IIHS and joined the ranks of the 2018 model to earn a Top Safety Pick+ rating.

Starting MSRP: $30,850

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3. 2018 BMW X3


The 2018 BMW X3 M40i is an all-around winner offering up an exceptional driving experience, plus great styling and tech. We gave the luxury compact SUV an 8.5/10 "Excellent" score for its potent twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 that provides responsive acceleration and lets you feel like you're driving a sports car instead of a crossover.

The X3 doesn't just get good marks for performance, it's also a stand out in terms of safety. The IIHS gives the 2018 BMW X3 a Top Safety Pick+ award with 'Good' ratings across the board on the crashworthiness criteria, plus a 'Superior' rating for crash avoidance and mitigation.

Starting MSRP: $42,650

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