Buyers expect safety in a new car, especially when they’re transporting their family. That’s arguably more important in an SUV, which for so many is the default family car of the 21st century.
And while many new cars achieve a maximum five-star safety rating, others use that as a springboard to even better safety.
In recent years car makers have turned their focus to driver assist systems and active safety features that can help avoid a crash.
But the structure of a vehicle and how it protects occupants in a crash is also crucial to the safety credentials of your ride.
Since it arrived in 2016 the current Mazda CX-9 has had a long list of standard safety equipment.
As well as seatbelt warnings for all seven seats, the CX-9 was the first in its class with rear auto braking, allowing the car to automatically apply the brakes if it detected an obstacle or even a child. It’s obviously paired with front autonomous emergency braking (AEB) to help avoid crashes while driving.
The CX-9 is also one of the few seven-seat SUVs that allows a child seat to be mounted in the very back row (many seven-seaters limit child seat fitment to only the middle row). That allows more flexibility with placing children and adults around the car.
Throw in an excellent four-cylinder turbocharged engine (it’s better than many V6s, although it can be thirsty) and a quality cabin and it makes for a very convincing – and safe – SUV.
As Volvo’s largest car and a model designed to seat up to seven people it’s no surprise the XC90 has strong safety credentials. After all, Volvo is a brand that’s built so much of its reputation on safety.
Volvo was a pioneer with driver fatigue monitoring systems, for example. By monitoring driver inputs and reactions it can predict if the driver is drowsy and alert them before they doze off.
There are also seatbelt monitors for all seven positions and cameras all around to ensure good visibility. Plus the XC90 has the latest safety assist systems that can help keep the car from wandering out of its lane. Auto braking in forward and reverse can also avoid impacts
All newer Volvos (from model year 2021) come with a Care Key, which allows the owner to set a maximum speed. It’s handy for loaning the car to a novice driver.
Plus the XC90 is a classy large SUV that also drives nicely. More recent models have been powered exclusively by four-cylinder engines, but they haven’t lacked anything for performance, especially when they’re used as part of a hybrid system.
The seven-seat SUV from Kia has grown into one of the more impressive large wagons, especially in its latest iteration, which arrived in 2020. But even prior to that the Sorento has long had a generous spread of safety features. Autonomous emergency braking first appeared on some models in 2016, for example, and was commonplace by the time the model was discontinued in 2020. The Sorento has also long been available with drive fatigue monitoring, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control, the latter able to maintain a distance to the car in front.
V6 versions of the Sorento are thirsty and drive only the front wheels. So if you want all-wheel drive you’ll have to go for the 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, which doesn’t have as much power but makes up for it with more torque that makes the Sorento nicer to drive – both in the suburbs and on the open road.
Audi Q5 or Q7
The Audi Q5 has always had strong safety credentials with a well designed structure that protects occupants in a crash. It’s also been swift to adopt the latest drive assistance features, including autonomous emergency braking and blind spot warning. Check the year model of the car you’re looking at to see what it’s got.
Another handy feature are Audi’s Matrix LED headlights, which uses dozens of individual LEDs that can be activated individually. It means you can leave the high beams on all the time and let the car automatically blank out other vehicles, something that gives you better visibility, especially on country roads.
Audi invented a system called Exit Warning, which works when the car is parked and occupants are about to open their doors. Rear facing sensors can detect approaching vehicles or bikes and alert people inside the car not to open the door. The Q5 has had exit warning since the arrival of the new model in 2017. It also disables the door locking mechanism to temporarily stop the door being opened.
Throw in great driving manners and the choice of four- and six-cylinder diesel or petrol engines and the Q5 is a great luxury SUV choice.
Size can count in a crash. The more metal you’ve got around you and the additional mass you have over the other car means all else being equal, you should come out better off.
Size and kilograms are two things the Nissan Patrol is not lacking. One of the largest SUVs on the market can carry up to eight people and feels big when you’re driving it.
But there’s also plenty of tech to help with its off-road prowess. Nissan pioneered the 360-degree camera and it’s available on the Patrol. Using four external cameras, it stitches together a virtual overhead view that gives a more complete picture of what’s around the car.
The side curtain airbags – a potential life-saver in a side impact collision – also protect heads in all three rows, which isn’t always the case in the SUV market.
The Patrol is also a very serious off-roader, capable of traversing rugged tracks and trails. Its 5.6-litre V8 engine can be thirsty, but at least there’s a big fuel tank to keep you going for longer.
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