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Safest Used Family Cars for Under $20,000

by Autobytel Staff
February 15, 2018
6 min. Reading Time
2016 Toyota Camry hybrid at sunset ・  Photo by Toyota

2016 Toyota Camry hybrid at sunset ・ Photo by Toyota

Parents will instinctively do anything to protect their children, but many forget that not all family vehicles are created equal in terms of crash safety.

In the most basic sense, curb weight — vehicle mass — matters in terms of frontal-impact protection, with heavier vehicles doing a better job of protecting vehicle occupants. As Russ Rader, senior vice president of communications for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), told AutoWeb: “For a family prioritizing overall safety in a variety of crash scenarios, the larger, heavier car is a better choice.”

Researching curb weight isn’t difficult, and it’s not important that the consumer understand automotive engineering — more specifically, how a vehicle protects its occupants in an accident. That’s left to the IIHS and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), organizations that run dozens of vehicles through a battery of crash tests each year and then publish the results.

To come up with a list of the safest used family vehicles, we looked at curb weight and crash test scores. To qualify, each vehicle needed to weigh more than 3,000 pounds while receiving both a 5-star overall crash protection rating from the NHTSA and a “Top Safety Pick” rating from the IIHS. Then we factored in comfort, practicality, and affordability, drawing the line at $20,000 as a base price that includes an automatic (or similar) transmission.

Chrysler 200

Riding on a stretched, Alfa Romeo-based platform that is shared with the Dodge Dart, the Chrysler 200 suffers from a shrink-wrapped rear seat but otherwise serves as a credible family hauler.

This year, among numerous small changes, Chrysler makes it easier for consumers to access important safety technologies. Unfortunately, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking are available only for the most expensive 200C version of the car.

Making a “best-in-class” 295 horsepower, an optional 3.6-liter V6 engine can be paired with an available all-wheel-drive system that is perfect for managing ice and snow. Keep in mind, however, that this Chrysler’s NHTSA crash-test ratings apply only to the front-drive models.

 Photo by Chrysler

Photo by Chrysler

Honda Accord

Honda makes a number of important, safety-related changes to its popular midsize sedan, the 2016 Accord. One is the addition of HondaLink Assist service on EX, EX-L, and Touring models, which supplies automatic collision notification and SOS emergency assistance.

More important, a used Honda Sensing option package contains a forward collision warning system with automatic emergency braking, a lane departure warning system with lane keeping assist, and a lane departure mitigation system designed to prevent unintended off-roading adventures. Adaptive cruise control is also a part of this package that’s available on every trim level.

Honda’s decision to democratize this important suite of safety systems across its entire Accord lineup, and for such an affordable price, deserves commendation. Notably, this approach makes the 2016 Accord the only vehicle on our list to offer all of these systems for less than $20,000.

 Photo by Honda

Photo by Honda

Honda CR-V

Honda must have been dissatisfied with the freshened 2015 CR-V’s 4-star overall crash-test rating from the NHTSA, because the popular compact crossover suv has been re-tested for 2016, and now the CR-V gets the top 5-star rating.

This year, likely the current CR-V’s last one before a complete redesign for the 2017 model year, sees the debut of a, value-packed Special Edition trim level that costs just $25,445 new. However, it is the base LX model, the one without aluminum wheels or dark tinted rear privacy glass, which meets our price cap for this list.

Honda’s Lausedatch technology as well as HondaLink Assist with automatic collision notification and SOS emergency assistance services is available for the CR-V EX, but in order to obtain a forward collision warning system with automatic emergency braking, a lane departure warning system, and a lane keeping assist system, you must purchase the top-of-the-line Touring model.

 Photo by Ryan ZumMallen

Photo by Ryan ZumMallen

Hyundai Sonata

Hyundai redesigned the Sonata a few years back. Equipped with a more efficient powertrain, the Sonata Hybrid adds choice to a lineup that already included normally aspirated and turbocharged four-cylinder engines. A plug-in version of the Sonata Hybrid is also available.

Otherwise, Hyundai makes minor changes to its popular family car. In terms of safety, the most important upgrade pertains to a used automatic emergency braking system for vehicles equipped with forward collision warning technology. To get it, though, you must buy the most expensive Limited model and add the most expensive option package.

 Photo by Hyundai

Photo by Hyundai

Hyundai Tucson

Redesigned in 2016; the Hyundai Tucson is a safe, stylish, and affordable 5-passenger compact crossover suv. Bigger inside than the vehicle it replaces, yet remaining on the smaller side of the scale in terms of cargo capacity, the Tucson is offered in SE, Eco, Sport, and Limited trim levels.

Structurally, the Tucson is engineered to get top crash-test ratings. Beyond this, Hyundai offers a forward collision warning system with pedestrian detection capability and automatic emergency braking, a blind spot warning system with lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert, and a lane departure warning system. To obtain any of these technologies, though, you must choose the more expensive Sport or Limited trim levels.

Blue Link subscription services are also available for the used Tucson, equipping the crossover with automatic collision notification, SOS emergency assistance, and a variety of programmable features that help to encourage safe driving from teenagers. This, too, is reserved for the Tucson Limited.


Mazda Mazda6

Subtle styling and interior updates accompany the svelte Mazda Mazda6. Re-tested by the IIHS, the latest rendition of Mazda’s attractive midsize sedan earns top marks in the small overlap frontal-impact test, an improvement over the previous model.

Additionally, a Technology Package is available for the most expensive Grand Touring trim level. It contains an upgraded version of Mazda’s automatic emergency braking system, adding an audible forward collision warning notification and expanding the range of operation beyond city speeds. This usystem nets the car a “Superior” rating for front crash prevention, according to the IIHS.


Subaru Crosstrek

Take one Subaru Impreza 5-door hatchback. Raise the ride height enough to provide a whopping 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Add rugged styling cues. Give it a name reflective of an active lifestyle. Call it a crossover SUV. Watch sales soar.

That’s the philosophy behind the Subaru Crosstrek, which competes, and quite handily, against a slew of used subcompact, city-sized crossover suvs. With standard all-wheel drive, lots of ground clearance, and a decent amount of space for four people and their cargo, the Crosstrek is a big hit for Subaru.

Subaru offers its EyeSight forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking technology on all but the base version of the Crosstrek, helping to make safety more affordable.Starlink Safety Plus service is included with the upgrade version of the Crosstrek’s used infotainment technology. Safety Plus generously supplies free automatic collision notification and SOS emergency assistance for the first five years of ownership.

 Photo by Subaru

Photo by Subaru

Subaru Forester

Subaru’s most popular model is the Forester, a compact crossover suv that shares its platform with the smaller Crosstrek model but uses the engine from the larger Outback model. Exclusive to the Forester, a de-tuned version of the turbocharged four-cylinder engine employed by the WRX sport sedan gives the sporty 2.0XT variant a big performance boost.

Subaru makes a couple of safety improvements to the Forester. First, a used Starlink Safety Plus service package provides automatic collision notification and SOS emergency assistance, and at no extra cost for the first five years of ownership. The only requirement is an upgrade to the more expensive of two used Starlink infotainment systems.

Additionally, the optional EyeSight option package, which is available for all but the base trim level and includes a forward collision warning system with automatic emergency braking, adds this year steering responsive fog lights, which better illuminate corners in the dark.

 Photo by Subaru

Photo by Subaru

Subaru Impreza

Equipped with standard all-wheel drive and offered as a 4-door sedan or a 5-door hatchback, the Subaru Impreza is one of two compact cars that weighs enough to make our list of the safest used family cars under $20,000.

The upgraded version of the Impreza’s Starlink infotainment technology gains Safety Plus service, which is free for the first five years of ownership. It provides the peace of mind associated with having automatic collision notification, SOS emergency assistance, and one-touch access to roadside assistance.

 Photo by Subaru

Photo by Subaru

Subaru Legacy

Equipped with standard all-wheel drive, a roomy and comfortable interior, and a base price well below our $20,000 threshold, the Subaru Legacy is a safe and reliable choice in a midsize family sedan.

Starlink Safety Plus service, is available for the upgraded version of the Legacy’s infotainment system. It provides free access to automatic collision warning and SOS emergency assistance for the first five years of ownership. Additionally, the Legacy’s EyeSight safety technology package adds a lane keeping assist function. Subaru offers EyeSight on all but the base version of the Legacy.

 Photo by Subaru

Photo by Subaru


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