Luxury cars are traditionally the safest vehicles on the road. Not only are they engineered to be eminently crashworthy, but they typically offer advanced safety and driver-assist systems, as well. But as is the case with other vehicle classes, some luxury-branded models are rated more highly than others for safety.
The industry-supported Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) cited 11 luxury sedans from 2019 as the safest on the road. Each earned the organization’s highest accolade: Top Safety Pick+. And for the first time, the group includes a fully electric vehicle, the segment-leading Tesla Model 3.
To achieve this status, a vehicle must receive “Good” marks (the highest rating available) in all of the IIHS’ crashworthiness tests. These include front and side-impact crash tests, and both driver- and passenger-side small overlap frontal crash tests that replicate hitting a tree or light pole. In the real world, the IIHS says the driver of a vehicle that’s rated "Good" is 70 percent less likely to die in a left-side crash, compared with someone piloting a model graded as "Poor" in this regard.
Each top-rated model further offers a Superior-rated forward autonomous-braking system that can automatically apply the brakes if necessary to avoid a crash or, at the least, reduce a vehicle’s speed by five miles per hour or more in two tests conducted at 12 and 25 mph.
Meeting those standards is enough to earn a vehicle the IIHS’ basic Top Safety Pick designation. In order to get the “Plus,” a model must further receive top ratings for headlight performance. It should be noted that this is often limited to vehicles fitted with an optional set of headlights, which may or may not be available on all trim levels. The IIHS says that about half of all fatal crashes in the U.S. occur in the dark, and more than a quarter occur on unlit roads. Unfortunately, only 14 percent of headlight systems tested on current vehicles received a Good rating. More than half were rated Marginal or Poor because of inadequate visibility, excessive glare from low beams for oncoming drivers, or both.
However, be aware that the IIHS does not test all luxury cars. The organization focuses its efforts on the industry’s best-selling vehicles, which tends to leave out vehicles at the upper end of the price spectrum like the Audi A8, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and BMW 7 Series. It also excludes low-volume vehicles from exotic brands like Bentley and Rolls Royce. What’s more, some new or fully redesigned vehicles may not have yet been evaluated, while other models may have only been partially tested. The IIHS updates its ratings periodically over the course of the year as additional testing is conducted.
The current crop of Top Safety Pick+ designated models includes both midsize and large luxury sedans. It should be noted that frontal crash test results can only be accurately compared among same-size vehicles. This means a top-rated smaller and lighter sedan will not necessarily offer the same level of occupant protection as would a larger and heavier model in a given collision. Side-impact tests, on the other hand, can be readily compared across vehicle size and weight classifications due to the manner in which they are conducted.
We’re featuring the current crop of Top Safety Pick-designated luxury sedans in the above slideshow. We’ll look at the safest luxury sport-utility vehicles in a separate post.