Cars From Ford, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota Top CR's Rear-Seat Safety Tests

Research shows that new safety technology in the front seat has not kept pace in the back

three kids of various ages wearing seatbelts in backseat of car Photo: iStock

For years, car buyers have been using safety ratings to determine what level of protection a vehicle offers its occupants in a crash. But those ratings have largely focused on the people sitting up front.

Now, Consumer Reports is providing safety ratings for the rear seat, so car buyers can compare rear-seat safety across 35 popular new vehicles. Our new Rear-Seat Safety Score is designed for occupants of all ages, and is based on the results of our child safety tests as well as the presence of key safety technology that helps protect both adults and kids. As we collect more data, our ratings will expand to include more vehicles.

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“The rear seat has to take into account all kinds of passengers who sit there, from infants and teens to adults and ride-sharing passengers of all ages,” says Emily Thomas, PhD, automotive safety engineer at Consumer Reports. “But our analysis shows that many automakers don’t put the same safety features in the rear that they do in the front.”

For example, seat-belt pretensioners and load-limiters are two technologies that are proven to reduce injuries and save lives in a crash. However, although nearly all new vehicles have these technologies up front, based on our tally of 2021 model year vehicles from the SaferCar database maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) only about 40 percent of mainstream models have pretensioners and load-limiters in the back seat. A little over 25 percent of vehicles have side airbags that are specifically designed to protect the pelvis and torso of rear occupants. And nearly 30 percent of vehicles have seat-belt reminders for rear seat occupants even though research suggests that passengers are less likely to buckle up in the back seat.

But information about safety features in the back seat is often difficult—if not impossible—for consumers to find, says Thomas. So she and other engineers at CR’s Auto Test Center performed detailed evaluations, examined various data sources, and worked with automakers to find exactly what cars had which safety features.

“The message from our new rear-seat safety testing is not that vehicles with lower scores are unsafe, but that they do not offer the same comparative margin of protection as those vehicles that earn higher marks. For consumers who are regularly shuttling around passengers of all ages, our evaluations can make a big difference,” she says.

What We Test

Our new score takes into account those specific safety concerns that are unique to back-seat passengers. For instance, kids 12 and younger should always be in the back seat, so we pay special attention to child safety. But we also look for proven safety features that can protect older kids and adult occupants as well. 

Here’s what goes into the new rear-seat safety score:

Car-seat fit: An improperly installed car seat may not fully protect your little one. That’s why we rate every vehicle we test on how easy it is to properly install child seats. We install infant, convertible, and high-back booster seats, check LATCH accessibility, and find out how many seats you can fit across the second row. And we also evaluate the vehicle owner’s manual to ensure key information is available and easy to follow.

Booster seat use: We also evaluate how easy it is to fit a booster seat, including whether it blocks access to the belt in an adjacent seat, whether it stays in place, how easy it is for kids to buckle themselves in, and whether the rear head restraint interferes with installation.

Rear occupant alert: On average, 38 children die each year in hot cars, according to data collected by the advocacy group kidsandcars.org. Many newer cars have systems to help prevent these deaths, and we started rating them when they first appeared on the market in 2016. Some systems simply remind drivers that a rear door has been opened prior to, or during  a trip, while others can actually sense the presence of someone in the rear seat when the car is locked.

Rear belt minders: Nearly all new cars will remind front-seat occupants to buckle up, but only some provide that same warning and show exactly which seats have unbuckled passengers to encourage rear belt use. We give the most points to systems that don’t shut off until a belt is buckled, and that start to chime if a passenger unbuckles during a trip. 

Advanced rear restraints: Many recent safety advances designed to protect those up front aren’t yet available in the rear seat. As a result, belted rear passengers may be at a higher risk of fatal injury in a crash than belted front passengers, especially if they are over age 55. We give points to cars that have rear-seat-belt pretensioners, which pull the seat belt tighter at the beginning of a crash, and load-limiters, which let the seat belt spool out a little bit of slack to reduce the force the belt applies to the occupant’s chest. Both systems are proven to reduce injuries and save lives for front passengers. People are more likely to wear a belt if it’s comfortable, so we also give points for belts with height-adjustable upper anchors.

We also award points to vehicles with airbags that offer side-impact torso and pelvis protection to rear occupants. Today, these technologies only exist on about a quarter of new vehicles. Looking to the future, our ratings will also include point additions for airbags designed for frontal impacts or that protect rear occupants seated on the side of the vehicle opposite of where it is hit—a feature that is only currently available for front-seat passengers.

Rear head restraints: Head restraints prevent whiplash and other neck injuries during rear-end collisions. Some rear head restraints can be stowed away when the rear seat is not in use to improve driver visibility or fold a seat, but rear passengers who leave their head restraints stowed are at an increased risk of injury. So we give points to vehicles that make it more difficult to sit in a rear seat without an appropriate head restraint. Federal safety standards dictate a minimum height requirement for the outboard rear seats, but many rear center seats either don’t have a head restraint, or have a head restraint that is too low. So we also give points to cars with center-seat head restraints that also meet the minimum height requirement, thereby increasing protection for center-seat passengers.

New Opportunities

So far, no new vehicles get top ratings across all our scored categories. That will likely change, says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at CR’s Auto Test Center, who oversees our rear-seat safety program. “Automakers often update their vehicles in order to meet more stringent safety evaluations,” she says. “We’ve seen this happen with crash testing, and we look forward to seeing rear-seat safety scores improve as well.”

But a few vehicles are particularly lacking. One notable outlier is the Genesis brand. Although the GV70 SUV features a first-of-its-kind radar-based rear occupant alert, all of the brand’s vehicles lag behind their peers when it comes to rear occupant protection. For example, no Genesis sedan or SUV has advanced rear restraints. Other family-friendly vehicles that scored poorly include the Jeep Grand Cherokee L, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Hyundai Tucson SUVs, and the Kia Carnival minivan. None of these newly redesigned vehicles have advanced rear restraint systems, nor do they have rear belt minders, even though they are designed to comfortably seat rear passengers.

more on rear-seat safety

A spokesman for Hyundai/Genesis told CR that advanced rear restraints on their models are currently being reviewed and that they “are committed to making these features standard.” Spokespeople for Jeep and Kia said their companies could not discuss future plans for their cars.

On the other hand, some affordable vehicles of all shapes and sizes score well. The Toyota Sienna minivan, Nissan Rogue, Nissan Pathfinder, and Ford Bronco Sport SUVs, and Honda Civic sedan all get very good Overall Scores. So does the popular Ford F-150 XLT pickup truck.

Other safety organizations are paying attention to the rear seat as well. For example, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is currently performing frontal crash tests on new vehicles with a dummy in the back seat. A spokesman for the IIHS says he expects rear-seat frontal crash test ratings will be available this winter.

Regardless of how a vehicle scores in our evaluations, rear passengers should always wear their seat belts, even on short trips and in ride-hailing vehicles like Uber and Lyft.

“All the safety technology in the world is useless if you don’t buckle up,” says Thomas.

Rear-seat safety scores are available for CR-tested vehicles from the 2021 and newer model years. If the vehicle you’re interested in isn’t included, check back later. We will continue adding ratings for new vehicles as we test them.

2021 Models
CR Rear-Seat Safety Scores
Child Seat Fit
Booster Use
Rear Occupant Alert
Belt Reminder
Advanced Restraints
Head Restraints
   Rear Seat Safety Score
Child Safety
Rear Occupant Protection
Toyota Sienna
69
Nissan Rogue
66
Ford Bronco Sport
61
Cadillac Escalade
61
Ford F-150 XLT
61
Ford Mustang Mach-E
61
Toyota Venza
57
Toyota RAV4 Prime
50
Lexus IS300
48
Chevrolet Tahoe
47
Chevrolet Suburban
46
Chevrolet Trailblazer
43
KIA K5
42
Kia Sorento
41
Buick Envision
41
Polestar 2
41
Genesis GV80
41
Jeep Grand Cherokee L
40
Hyundai Santa Fe
38
Kia Seltos
35
Mercedes-Benz GLA
32
Hyundai Elantra
31
Hyundai Ioniq
30
Acura TLX
28
Genesis G80
24
2022 Models
CR Rear-Seat Safety Scores
Child Seat Fit
Booster Use
Rear Occupant Alert
Belt Reminder
Advanced Restraints
Head Restraints
   Rear-Seat Safety Score
Child Safety
Rear Occupant Protection
Nissan Pathfinder
66
Honda Civic
66
Mitsubishi Outlander
52
Acura MDX
48
Kia Carnival
38
Chevrolet Bolt EUV
36
Genesis GV70
35
Hyundai Tucson
33
Hyundai Santa Cruz
32
Volkswagen Taos
31

Head shot photo of CRO Cars CIA editor Keith Barry

Keith Barry

Despite my love for quirky, old European sedans like the Renault Medallion, it's my passion to help others find a safe, reliable car that still puts a smile on their face—even if they're stuck in traffic. When I'm not behind the wheel or the keyboard, you can find me exploring a new city on foot or planning my next trip.