What do an all-new minivan, an all-new luxury crossover, and a high-efficiency electric car have in common? Well, in the case of the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica, Cadillac XT5 and Chevrolet Volt, that would be Top Safety Pick+ recognition from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). All three passed IIHS testing in September, with the Pacifica setting a new benchmark in the process: It became the first minivan sold in the United States to earn the Top Safety Pick+ award under the newest IIHS requirements.
As for the requirements themselves, they’re broken down into two basic aspects of occupant protection. First, there are five tests for physical “crashworthiness,” including for small overlap front impacts, moderate overlap front impacts, side impacts, roof strength and performance of head restraints and seats. And with the rise of automotive technology, the IIHS also evaluates a vehicle’s front crash-prevention measures for avoiding accidents in the first place. Vehicles must achieve the highest-possible Good score in the crashworthiness tests, as well as Advanced or Superior ratings for front crash prevention in order to qualify for 2016 Top Safety Pick+ recognition.
2017 Chrysler Pacifica
Now, to be sure, the IIHS has awarded Top Safety Pick+ status to previous minivans, such as the Honda Odyssey. But that was before the Institute tightened the criteria for front crash mitigation technology. In the current analysis, since the 2016 Odyssey only offers forward collision warning, not automatic braking, it only qualifies as a “regular” Top Safety Pick. It’s a similar story with the 2016 Kia Sedona, the one other current minivan with that slightly lesser honor.
That means the difference-maker for the Pacifica is its available “Forward Collision Warning-Plus” system, which scored a superior grade for its ability to automatically slow the minivan in separate IIHS tests at 12 and 25 mph. With that setup, the Pacifica is backed by front-facing cameras and radar – not one or the other, as in minivan rivals – and the Chrysler further relies on “sensor-fusion” technology that combines data from both. Both then have to detect a potential frontal impact for the system to kick in.
Chrysler also points to the Pacifica’s body structure as an important part of the vehicle’s IIHS performance. More specifically, some 27 percent of that hardware is made of “advanced high-strength steel.” It’s 300 percent stronger than the usual stuff, yet also light enough that the new minivan weighs about 250 pounds less than the Chrysler Town & Country it replaces.
2017 Cadillac XT5
For midsize luxury crossovers like the 2017 Cadillac XT5, a Top Safety Pick+ honor is merely the price of admission to the segment. After all, rivals like the 2016 Acura RDX, Audi Q5, Infiniti QX60, Lexus RX, Lincoln MKX and Volvo XC60 all have earned that recognition. Which makes sense, since customers that can afford these vehicles usually can afford the added cost of advanced safety technology, too.
Just be aware that the XT5 actually offers two levels of front-collision tech. When the vehicle is equipped with automatic braking for low-speed conditions, with a dedicated pedestrian-detection feature, its technology received a lower Advanced ranking. Still, that score is high enough for a full Top Safety Pick+ award for the XT5 as a whole. Moreover, the XT5’s available Driver Assistance package serves up high-speed automatic braking through its adaptive cruise control technology, and that configuration does bring in a Superior IIHS score.
The XT5 also has a unique safety advantage that’s missing from its competition so far: a sophisticated rearview camera system that not only replaces traditional mirrors but also enhances rear visibility by 300 percent (according to Cadillac). To do so, XT5 engineers deployed a camera-shaped video screen where a rearview mirror would normally be, then installed a rear-facing camera to provide data for the display. A significant advantage is that the vehicle’s software can digitally eliminate the things that normally obstruct the driver’s sightlines, delivering a clear rearward view without the roof, roof pillars, back seat passengers or cargo getting in the way.
2017 Chevrolet Volt
Although the car is more well known for its electrified powertrain, the Chevy Volt has a fairly long history of success with the IIHS. Thus, along with a Top Safety Pick+ rating for the 2017 model, the Volt also received the IIHS’ highest award in 2014, while being certified at the Top Safety Pick level in 2011-13 and 2015.
The 2017 Chevrolet Volt additionally had the highest possible crashworthiness and front crash-prevention grades from the IIHS, just like the Chrysler Pacifica and Cadillac XT5. That said, the Volt follows the lead of the other General Motors product, the Cadillac, with two available front crash-mitigation systems: a low-speed system for an Advanced grade and low- and high-speed technology to reach the Superior level.
It’s also worth noting that the 2017 Volt scored a Good grade in the new IIHS headlight test (when equipped with available LED projector-beam low-beam headlights and halogen high beams). These results aren’t being factored into the Top Safety Pick qualification process at this time, but they do create a distinct competitive benefit for the Volt. Consider: of the 31 midsize cars tested this spring during the first round of headlight evaluations, only the Toyota Prius v garnered the same score. During this summer’s group test of SUV headlights, none of the 21 vehicles involved—despite supplying 47 headlight combinations—were able to bring home Good grades. Indeed, at this point in the testing calendar, even Acceptable headlight ratings are hard to find.