Every year, the federal government and private agencies spend millions of dollars crash-testing cars to make sure the American public isn't being sold a bunch of deathtraps. That means that every car on the road today is safer than ever. But some cars are still safer than others, and advanced crash testing is one of the best ways we have to quantify just how much safer the best cars are.
To determine which are the safest used small crossovers you can buy, Instamotor has delved through all of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ awards between 2010 and 2014. Our reasoning is that if a small crossover was worthy of a Top Safety Pick award when new, it was among the safest cars of its kind in a given year—and when buying a used car, you get to select from a range of years. Some small crossovers have been on the list almost perennially; others have appeared and vanished just as quickly.
The result of our analysis is the list of used small crossovers and SUVs below, each annotated with its number of Top Safety Pick awards and some key details about the vehicle. Just because a small crossover has only won a few times doesn't necessarily mean it's less safe than one that has won four times or more—but it does mean there are fewer year models available for your used vehicle search, if you're looking to buy a small crossover that was among the safest available the year it was originally made. More vehicles in the potential pool can often mean greater availability and lower prices.
While it's not possible to say with scientific certainty, the 2010-2014 Subaru Forester is perhaps the safest used small SUV or crossover you can buy. Why? Because it has won the IIHS' Top Safety Pick award continuously since 2010, a claim no other small crossover can make, including a Top Safety Pick+ award for 2014 models. No matter which Forester you choose, you can't go wrong as far as safety is concerned.
Because of the Forester's long run at the top of the safety charts, some of the vehicles at the older end of the spectrum (2010 and 2011 models) are available at very low prices, often under $5,000. Newer examples in the 2012-2013 range frequently garner $12,000 to $15,000 on the used market, and 2014 models can go for slightly more.
With three wins to its credit, the Mazda CX-5 doesn't have as many awards as the Hyundai Tucson or Kia Sportage (see both below), but it's ranked closer to the top not just because of its three-time award winner status, but because of its 2014 Top Safety Pick+ win. The Top Safety Pick+ award adds an additional consideration for the availability of some form of front crash-prevention technology for the 2014 model year winners. Accordingly, if front crash-prevention technology is something you'd like on your car, you'll want to look for properly equipped 2014 models; otherwise, any 2012-2014 Mazda CX-5 will offer a sporty, stylish small crossover choice.
Used market pricing for the 2012-2014 Mazda CX-5 runs the gamut from $11,000 to $25,000, depending on equipment levels, optional all-wheel drive, mileage, and other factors.
While Mitsubishi's brand presence in the United States is small and seemingly shrinking, it is nonetheless building high-scoring crossovers when it comes to IIHS testing. The Outlander Sport's TSP+ award in 2014 makes it a strong value among safe used cars, as Mitsubishi's cars tend to depreciate quickly--and didn't cost that much to begin with. The 2013-2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport typically sells for $12,000-15,000 on the used market.
The Mitsubishi Outlander, like its more rakish Sport cousin is an affordable, if unexciting choice for those looking primarily for inexpensive but safe family transportation. Affordable is definitely a keyword for the 2013-14 Outlander, as even rather new, low-mileage examples sell for small fractions of their original sticker price: you can find fine examples on the used market for as little as $5,000, though more typical transaction prices will be in the $12,000-15,000 range—often for two-year-old cars with fewer than 50,000 miles.
Two cars on one line? What gives? Well, because Kia and Hyundai are separate automotive brands related at the corporate level, the Tucson and Sportage are essentially lightly differentiated versions of the same core vehicle. It's not surprising, then, that each has scored Top Safety Pick awards in the exact same years. Fortunately, it also means you can't really go wrong with either brand--it just comes down to personal preference and what's available near you. The Tucson and Sportage are both very affordable on the used market, typically selling between $6,000 and $12,000 depending on condition and equipment.
The only European vehicle to make this list, the Volkswagen Tiguan ties the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage for its number of Top Safety Pick awards, but ranks slightly lower because of its higher market price and higher maintenance costs. On the other hand, the Tiguan's exterior design, interior fit and finish, and overall street impact may justify the extra cost for some buyers. Expect to pay between $10,000 and $20,000 for a used 2010-2013 Volkswagen Tiguan, depending on features, mileage, and other factors.
The Jeep Patriot is, objectively, one of the least attractive cars sold in the America in the last decade. Aesthetics aside, however, the Patriot is a safe crossover, at least when equipped with the optional side torso airbags, which are requisite for the awards in all 2010-2013 model year vehicles. If you're looking for a Patriot, make sure it has the side torso airbags to get the safest possible vehicle for your dollar. The 2010-2013 Jeep Patriot typically ranges between $7,000 and $15,000 on the used market.
While safety is always one of the most important considerations in any vehicle purchase, it's important to keep other considerations, such as gas mileage, cargo space, passenger seating, off-road ability, and, of course, price within parameters that suit your personal use case. Once you have an idea of three or four of the safest used crossovers that might suit your needs, have a look on Instamotor to see if there are any great examples near you—you just might find your dream car.
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