Is Toyota’s safety rating for midsize SUVs better than Nissan’s?

Toyota and Nissan midsize SUVs received top awards for their safety ratings, but Toyota scored higher. Safety upgrades can lower your car insurance rates by up to 8%.

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP®

UPDATED: Sep 15, 2020

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Here's what you need to know...

  • Despite midsize SUVs possessing a reputation as a very safe type of car, some are safer than others
  • Automobiles being rated on vehicle safety are rated in various areas from Good to Acceptable to Marginal to Poor
  • When selecting a safe vehicle for your family or for your personal needs, both crashworthiness (ability to withstand a crash) and crash avoidance are relevant factors
  • The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety establishes the safest vehicles on the road each year with the Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+, requiring high marks in all areas

Midsize SUVs are well-known as being among the safer vehicles on the road, stemming largely from their increased size and high weight.

Although it’s true that these factors make midsize SUVs much safer, they can suffer in other areas – headlight effectiveness and the ability to withstand a crash vary across all makes and models.

These vehicles vary in safety ratings, with some proving very safe while others are less so.

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The main purpose of the safety rating system is to reduce the number of deaths and injuries on United States roadways. Established by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), these ratings are tested and verified scientifically using a modernized scientific approach.

While the IIHS dedicates themselves to reducing casualties through scientific study, the data for these studies is supplied by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).

Working together, these two nonprofit organizations are endorsed by both automotive manufacturers and insurance providers. The areas in which the IIHS tests each vehicle are as follows.

  • Human factors – such issues as intoxicated or inexperienced drivers, road fatigue (namely with truckers and drivers going long distances), and the usage of seat belts.
  • Vehicle research – the most core area, this tests crash avoidance and crashworthiness, analyzing automobiles based on their ability to function in a collision.
  • Environmental research – focuses on the infrastructure of the roads itself, mainly in eradicating roadside hazards and crashes that leave the road.

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Toyota vs. Nissan

In 2017, Toyota’s Highlander and 4Runner are placed in direct competition with Nissan’s Murano and Pathfinder. Vehicle safety ratings vary from Good to Poor in the area of crashworthiness and from Superior to Basic in the area of crash avoidance.

Additionally, vehicles are judged on the ease with which a child’s car seat can be buckled safely into the back seat.


The Toyota Highlander proved extremely safe in all areas of crashworthiness, taking home a Good rating in every area. Similarly, the Murano and Pathfinder received Good ratings in each area of the crash tests.

The Toyota 4Runner, however, received a Marginal rating in crashworthiness at the front of the vehicle. These ratings are based upon crash tests which require the vehicle to withstand an impact against both flexible and rigid barriers, moving at 40 miles per hour.

Crash Avoidance

The Highlander receives Superior scores in the Crash Avoidance category of testing, while the vehicle’s headlights receive an Acceptable rating.

Although the Murano and Pathfinder achieved similar scores, their headlights are rated as Marginal, making them less effective in avoiding collisions. The Toyota 4Runner lacks a definitive crash avoidance score, but the headlights are categorized as Poor. 

These ratings are based on the vehicle’s ability to stop quickly when traveling at 12 and 25 miles per hour.

Child Seat Anchors

This category, which covers the ease of installing a child’s car seat inside the vehicle, sees the Toyota Highlander taking the top rating of Good. Both Nissan models receive Acceptable ratings, while the 4Runner receives a Marginal rating with the lowest score of the four.

Top Safety Picks for 2017

The strict guidelines to qualify for either the annual Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ require the vehicle in question to receive Good ratings in all five areas of crashworthiness, as well as either Advanced or Superior ratings in crash prevention.

In order to qualify for the Top Safety Pick+, the midsize SUV must also be able to achieve a headlight score of Acceptable or better.

The Toyota Highlander took home the Top Safety Pick+ in 2017, while both the Nissan Murano and Pathfinder received the normal Top Safety Pick awards.

The Toyota 4Runner did not receive any Top Safety Pick awards in 2017.

The Toyota Highlander has been established by the IIHS as one of the safest vehicles on the road, leading ahead of both Nissan models and the Toyota 4Runner.

Notably, the 4Runner is considered the least safe of these vehicles, so the Highlander’s safety should not be considered representative of all Toyota vehicles. 

Although the Murano and Pathfinder received similar crashworthiness ratings, they received inferior scores when it came to both crash avoidance and the ease of use in installing a child’s car seat.

While midsize SUVs are still not as safe as some people consider them, Toyota’s 2017 safety ratings are at the top of the board.

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