The 10 Safest SUVs in Canada

By Arthur Dubois | Published on 07 Jul 2023

The 10 Safest SUVs in Canada

According to Transport Canada’s National Collision Database’s most recent figures, injuries and deaths caused by accidents on the road are on the rise. Vehicle fatalities rose to 1,768 in 2021, compared to 1,746 in 2020, and the total injuries sustained in accidents increased to 108,018 for the year, an increase of almost 4,000.

You don’t want yourself or anybody you care about to become one of those statistics. At the same time, you can’t guarantee you’ll never be in a road accident. No matter how safely you drive, you can’t account for other people, their actions, and the litany of things beyond your control on the road.

But you can control what you drive. And if you love sports utility vehicles (SUVs), you want to know what’s the safest SUV available in Canada, so you’re as protected as possible in an accident.

How We Made Our Choices

Our criteria start with the Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Every vehicle (domestic or imported) sold in Canada must meet them. If it’s available at retail in Canada, the SUVs on this list meet these standards.

But to refine our list, we dug deeper. Specifically, we followed the J.D. Power recommendations for determining car safety ratings, including the safest SUV Canada has. This, in turn, led us to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) ratings.

While both the NHTSA and IIHS are U.S.-based organizations, their ratings are the basis for as many Canadian car agencies as they are for Americans. To make our choices, we looked for each SUV’s NHTSA star rating (out of five) before digging deeper with the IIHS’s more specific ratings. We also looked specifically at impacts and the potential for rollovers, with the latter being important given that SUVs are more prone to rolling than regular cars. That gave us the following 10 SUVs.

Are safer vehicles cheaper to insure?

Intuitively, one might expect that safer vehicles would equate to lower car insurance premiums. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. Today’s cutting-edge safety features found in modern SUVs, such as rear cross traffic alert system and blind spot monitoring, undoubtedly enhance safety, but don’t render vehicles accident-proof. When collisions do happen, the advanced technology involved in these features makes them substantially more expensive to repair or replace, leading to higher insurance claims and consequently, higher premiums.

Hyundai Kona

Cute and compact, the Hyundai Kona is advertised as the perfect SUV for the city. And its solid mileage (8 litres per 100km for city driving) make it a great choice for budget-conscious consumers. It also comes with a host of safety features, with the Rear Cross Traffic Alert system (which warns drivers of reversing vehicles) becoming standard in the 2023 model.

The NHTSA has a high opinion of the vehicle, giving it five-star ratings for how it absorbs front and side crashes and a solid four-star rating for how it protects occupants if the SUV rolls over. The Kona also gets “Good” ratings from the IIHS almost across the board, with the only downside being a “Marginal” rating (i.e., not great) regarding the difficulty of accessing the child safety seat anchors.

Starting Price$22,649

NHTSA Rating5/5

Volvo XC40

The XC40 almost matches the Kona shot-for-shot on the safety scale. It also has an overall five-star rating from the NHTSA, including high marks for front and side crash protection. And like the Kona, the XC40 also gets a four-star rating for its rollover protection.

So, why does it come second on our list?

An updated test by the IIHS found that its side impact protection was “Acceptable” rather than “Good.” That overrides the better latch of the XC40 as compared to the Kona, and it suggests that it may not be quite as resilient as the Kona if your SUV gets hit from the side. Combine that with a “Marginal” rating for the safety cage, and you get a few flaws that keep it from No. 1 but still make it one of the safest SUV Canada options around.

Starting Price$42,250

NHTSA Rating5/5

Hyundai Tucson

There’s little variance in the NHTSA ratings for the Tucson. It has a five-star rating for overall safety, a four for front crashes, and five stars for side crashes if you choose the front-wheel drive (FWD) version, though the overall rating drops to four in the all-wheel-drive models (AWD).

Switching to the IIHS standards, the Tucson gets “Good” marks almost across the board, except in one important area – headlights. That’s not to say its headlights are bad. They still get an “Acceptable” rating. But those who do a lot of nighttime driving may want an SUV that has better left-curve illumination.

Starting Price$28,499

NHTSA Rating5/5 (Front-Wheel Drive Model) and 4/5 (Hybrid and Regular All-Wheel Drive Model)

Mazda CX-5

Safety-wise, there’s little difference between the Tucson and the CX-5, with the only major difference the IIHS ratings highlight being the ease of use of the seatbelt latches. They’re “Acceptable” in Mazda’s offering rather than “Good,” which is the main reason it lands slightly below the first three SUVs on the list. Still, it gets a five-star rating in everything except rollover protection from the NHTSA, matching the top three in that respect.

The i-Activesense tech built into the car is the standout safety feature. It offers brake support (invaluable in the city) as well as pedestrian detection. Combine that with blind spot monitoring, and you may have the safest SUV Canada offers from a pedestrian’s perspective.

Starting Price$31,250

NHTSA Rating5/5

Ford Bronco

Coming in at the more rugged end of the spectrum, the Ford Bronco has a five-star NHTSA rating. The only blemish from that agency is the same one affecting every SUV on this list so far – four-star rollover protection. Most of the IIHS’s tests return “Good” ratings, too, though mediocre headlights let the Bronco down in areas where other SUVs excel. As for driving features, the SUV has airbags for the driver and passengers, as well as automated stability control to help with handling.

Starting Price$47,360

NHTSA Rating5/5

Subaru Outback

Another car that can make the case of being the safest SUV Canada offers based on NHTSA ratings alone, the Outback achieves five stars across the board in everything except front passenger protection and rollover protection. But Subaru hopefully makes up for that deficiency by developing clearer sightlines through smart window design and pillar placement. Sadly, its EyeSight® and DriverFocus® tech doesn’t come as standard in the base model.

Those restrictions on tech override the SUV’s superb IIHS results. It earns “Good” ratings almost across the board, with a “Good+” for the ease of use of the seatbelt latch. The safety cage drops to an “Acceptable” rating, however. That suggests a slightly higher chance of injury in this SUV during a crash or rollover than in those with “Good” safety cages.

Starting Price$35,072

NHTSA Rating5/5

Hyundai IONIQ 5

The IONIQ 5 is a hybrid SUV, justifying its higher price tag, but it’s another that gets an overall five-star safety rating from the NHTSA. But here’s where it gets interesting – the IONIQ is the first car on the list to get five stars for rollover protection. That comes at the expense of the frontal crash rating, which only gets four stars. Given that frontal crashes are the most common types to lead to fatalities, that’s enough to drop the IONIQ lower than the previous six SUVs listed.

Solid ratings come from the IIHS. Though mostly “Good,” the IONIQ 5 falls a little with an “Acceptable” rating for its safety cage and a “Marginal” for its seat belt reminders. There’s also some variation in headlight quality, depending on the trim you select, though it doesn’t dip below “Acceptable.”

Starting Price$48,999

NHTSA Rating5/5

Lincoln Nautilus

The Nautilus delivers NHTSA five-star ratings in everything except rollover protection, and it’s a “Top Safety Pick,” according to the IIHS. Both indicate an extremely safe SUV, though variances between “Good” and “Acceptable” ratings depend on the headlights that come with your trim. The IIHS also gives the Nautilus a “Marginal” rating for its seatbelt latches. You’ll have to make manual checks to ensure everybody’s strapped in.

Therein lies the reason for the Nautilus’s lower rating. Though it’s an extremely solid and well-built SUV, the poor seatbelt latching for the rear seats is a heavy shot against it. Still, it makes up for that shortfall with a solid Pre-Collision Assist system that helps drivers avoid collisions at low speeds.

Starting Price$60,500

NHTSA Rating5/5

Audi Q3

This sleek and stylish compact SUV from Audi manages to squeak over the line with a five-star NHTSA rating. However, it only gets four stars for both rollover protection and frontal crashes, making it less protective in a collision than the other models on this list. The IIHS ratings reflect that, too, with an updated test of overlap front protection dropping from “Good” to “Marginal.”

There are other problems, too, with the headlights in the SUV’s Premium trim offering lower-than-expected visibility. Upgrading to Premium Plus fixes those issues but forces you to spend more money. It’s a very safe SUV. But that headlight issue, coupled with less extensive crash protection, are potential safety concern.

Starting Price$43,800

NHTSA Rating5/5

Ford Expedition

Interestingly, the IIHS doesn’t have ratings for any model of the Ford Expedition after 2017, meaning it’s tough to dig into the specifics of the SUV. However, the Expedition does have overall five-star ratings from the NHTSA across all its models. The only differences come in rollover protection – the rear-wheel drive models get three stars while the four-wheel drive Expeditions get four.

A tough steel frame supports the vehicle, giving you more protection if an impact occurs. And with a host of features, including blind spot detection and a pre-collision assist system, the Expedition assists you in driving safely. Unfortunately, the lack of IIHS testing is enough to keep it at the bottom of the list, though it’s still a very safe SUV.

Starting Price$74,785

NHTSA Rating5/5

Safety First With Your SUV

The best SUVs in Canada, like all SUVs, have issues with safety, particularly with rollovers. That fact is why this list focuses less on performance and more on the extent of the protection you get from these models. That makes this list ideal for the safety-first driver. If your priority is to protect yourself, your passengers, and even the car itself in collisions, all 10 of these vehicles make a case for being the safest SUV Canada offers. A simple recommendation rounds out this list. Though the ratings offered by the NHTSA and IIHS are extremely useful, they’re not the only factors to consider when buying your SUV. Think about how you drive and who uses the car. Use the ratings as a baseline before ensuring your SUV has the additional features needed to make the driving experience more comfortable.

Arthur Dubois is a personal finance writer at Hardbacon. Since relocating to Canada, he has successfully built his credit score from scratch and begun investing in the stock market. In addition to his work at Hardbacon, Arthur has contributed to Metro newspaper and several other publications