The Car Connection’s Safest New Cars of 2021

Safety might not be the sexiest attribute sought by new car shoppers, but like fuel economy, it is one of the most important. 

The Car Connection’s annual list of the safest cars includes vehicles that earn five-star ratings from the NHTSA, at least a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS, and come standard with automatic emergency braking. We also credit cars with good outward vision out the front, sides, and rear, as well as vehicles that come with good optional safety features such as surround-view camera systems. 

All of those attributes earn a vehicle a perfect 10 in our rating system. It’s a demanding scale, especially considering how the IIHS keeps raising the bar for vehicles to qualify for a TSP or TSP+ award. Only four 2021 cars scored a perfect 10 for safety, which is the same number as in 2019. But the number of cars rated at 9 jumped from 19 to 32 models in 2021. 

An emphasis on better safety reaps rewards. Traffic fatalities dropped 2% in 2019 down to 36,096 people killed by cars despite a 1% increase in miles driven, according to the NHTSA. That’s the third consecutive annual drop in fatalities, and, when factoring fatalities per miles driven, is the lowest rate since 2014. Preliminary numbers for 2020 point to a continuation of the downward trend. 

One of the reasons for that trend dates back to 2015, when every major automaker in the U.S. voluntarily committed to equip 95% of new passenger vehicles sold with automatic emergency braking (AEB) by Sept. 1, 2022. AEB systems can detect an imminent crash and automatically stop the car to mitigate or avoid the impact. 

Ten of the 20 automakers have already fulfilled that requirement; five automakers lag behind the rest when it comes to safety, according to reports issued last month by both the IIHS and the NHTSA. Hyundai, Subaru, Toyota, Mazda, and Volkswagen joined luxury makes such as BMW, Volvo, Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi in fitting nearly all models with AEB. 

All of that is to say that the safest cars for 2021 can both withstand and avoid crashes. 

Perfect 10s

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2021 Audi E-Tron

The electric crossover SUV seats five in luxury and safety. The first electric vehicle to earn a TSP+ award from the IIHS also comes with active lane control and automatic emergency braking. An available Convenience Plus package adds a surround-view camera system and adaptive cruise control that can restart from a stop in traffic jams as well as change lanes by only clicking the turn indicator. Sight lines are great over the hood, out the back, and to the side. 

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2021 Ford Escape

A TSP winner with “Superior” ratings in avoiding crashes with its standard AEB system, the compact crossover also comes with active lane control. The tall ride height provides good outward vision, and options include adaptive cruise control, a head-up display, a surround-view camera system, and automatic parking aids.

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2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Refreshed for 2021, the E-Class sedan and wagon earned five stars and have great outward vision, as does the cabriolet. With the top down. The coupe, not so much. The sedan was also a TSP winner last year that carries over this year since there were no structural changes. Standard safety features include automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, parking sensors, and a system called Pre-Safe that sounds an alert when a collision from behind is imminent; it also applies the brakes so the car doesn’t subsequently rear-end the next car in a chain reaction. The safety options are best in class.  

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2021 Subaru Legacy

The most inexpensive of the 10s, the Legacy has a broad greenhouse enabling good outward vision and is a perennial TSP+ winner. Like every Subaru with a continuously variable automatic transmission, the Legacy comes standard with automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control. Blind-spot monitors, rear automatic emergency braking, and a front-facing camera are widely available, and not too expensive. 

To the 9s

The next tier of safest cars numbers 32 models. It might be more once new or redesigned models get crash tested and low volume models might be excluded if the NHTSA and/or the IIHS don’t crash test them. 

A closer look at the ratings reveals the safest makes. Automakers such as Subaru, BMW, Audi, Honda/Acura, Toyota/Lexus, and Volvo equip their vehicles with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, automatic high beams, and in many cases, blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts and adaptive cruise control as standard equipment. More automakers are following this trend to narrow the competitive advantage.

2021 Subaru Outback

2021 Subaru Outback

Subaru (for CVT models only)

2021 Subaru Impreza

2021 Subaru WRX

2021 Subaru Forester

2021 Subaru Outback

2021 Subaru Ascent

2021 Audi Q8

2021 Audi Q8

Audi

2021 Audi A4

2021 Audi A6

2021 Audi Q3

2021 Audi Q8

2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge

2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge

Volvo

2021 Volvo S60

2021 Volvo XC40

2021 Volvo XC60

2021 Volvo XC90

BMW

2021 BMW 3-Series

2021 BMW 5-Series

2021 BMW X3

Ford/Lincoln

2021 Ford Edge

2021 Lincoln Aviator

2021 Lincoln Corsair

Honda/Acura

2021 Honda Accord

2021 Honda Insight

2021 Honda CR-V

Toyota/Lexus

2021 Lexus ES

2021 Toyota Camry

2021 Toyota Corolla

Hyundai/Kia

2021 Hyundai Kona

2021 Hyundai Palisade

2021 Kia Telluride

Mazda

2021 Mazda 3

2021 Mazda 6

Also earning nines were the Cadillac XT6 and Nissan Altima.

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