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2021 Subaru Ascent’s Higher-Rated Standard Headlights Light the Way to Top Safety Rating

2021 Subaru Ascent driving around a bend in front of a sunset 2021 Subaru Ascent | Manufacturer image

The three-row 2021 Ascent, Subaru’s largest SUV, earned a 2020 Top Safety Pick Plus from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety after the 2020 Ascent’s optional curve-adaptive LED headlights were made standard for the 2021 model year. Top Safety Pick Plus is IIHS’ highest safety designation.

Related: Subaru Ascent: Which Should You Buy, 2020 or 2021?

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To earn a 2020 Top Safety Pick Plus, a vehicle needs to earn a score of good (on a scale of good, acceptable, marginal and poor)  in six crashworthiness tests: driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints.

Additionally, a vehicle must offer an available front crash prevention system — that is, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking — for both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian collisions that is rated superior or advanced (on a scale of superior, advanced, basic or none). IIHS rates the Ascent’s front crash prevention system, part of a standard batch of crash-avoidance technologies that Subaru calls EyeSight, as superior.

Lastly, a qualifying vehicle needs a score of good or acceptable for all sets of available headlights for Top Safety Pick Plus. For the 2021 model year, the Ascent’s standard curve-adaptive LED headlights earned a good rating. The 2020 Ascent only offered those headlights as an option on the top Touring and Limited trims; standard halogen headlights for model-year 2020 base and Premium trims earned a poor rating.

The 2020 Mazda CX-9 also earned a Top Safety Pick Plus designation, while competitors like the 2020 Hyundai Palisade, 2020 Kia Telluride and 2020 Toyota Highlander are all Top Safety Pick designees, the second-highest IIHS rating.

2020 Awards for a 2021 Model?

IIHS’ Top Safety Pick (no “Plus”) designation has identical criteria to the Top Safety Pick Plus award, save one aspect: TSP models for 2020 can have well-rated headlights in some configurations but lower-rated lights elsewhere. As such, the 2020 Ascent remains a 2020 Top Safety Pick, while the 2021 Ascent is a 2020 Top Safety Pick Plus. If that seems inconsistent with the agency’s long-standing practice against giving both awards in the same year to the same car, it’s because the SUVs carry different model years.

Confused? We don’t blame you. It’s because IIHS awards follow a calendar year that usually, but not always, coincides with model years. It remains to be seen whether the 2021 Ascent will qualify for IIHS’ 2021 Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick Plus criteria — the agency typically ratchets up award requirements each year — but with its top ratings across the board, such designation for the SUV seems likely.

IIHS admits that the inconsistency between model and calendar years can be confusing, but the agency has defended the practice as necessary because of the uncertain timing of next-model-year introductions.

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