Despite more stringent standards, a number of electric cars and plug-in hybrids were recognized with Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick awards for 2023.

The IIHS strengthened requirements in a number of areas in 2023, and as a result only 48 models received awards, compared to 65 for 2022 (including eight EVs). Of that group, 28 earned the highest Top Safety Pick+ and 20 earned Top Safety Pick awards.

Among the Top Safety Pick+ winners were the all-electric Rivian R1T, Subaru Solterra, Tesla Model Y, and Volkswagen ID.4, as well as the Lexus NX 450h+ and Volvo XC90 Recharge plug-in hybrids. Another plug-in hybrid, the Toyota RAV4 Prime, earned a Top Safety Pick award, missing out on the "+" due to its side-impact crash test results.

2023 Tesla Model Y in the IIHS side impact test

2023 Tesla Model Y in the IIHS side impact test

The updated side-impact test, which the IIHS says involves 82% more energy than the original test, is the biggest change for 2023. Vehicles must earn an "Acceptable" or the top "Good" score for the Top Safety Pick award; only a "Good" score merits the "+" addition.

Headlight standards have also become more stringent. Previously, headlights earning an "Acceptable" or "Good" rating only needed to be available on one trim level, but now they must be standard on all trim levels to earn an award.

As before, vehicles must also earn "Good" scores in the driver-side and passenger-side small overlap front and moderate overlap front crash tests. However, the roof-strength, head restraint, and vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention tests are no longer part of the Top Safety Pick criteria. 

This year saw some repeat winners with the reshuffled criteria, including the VW ID.4 and Tesla Model Y. Other previous winners, such as the Hyundai Ioniq 5, didn't pass muster this time, but the IIHS expects automakers to take the new criteria into account going forward.

“It’s exciting that these manufacturers have been so swift to implement the substantial design changes and technological advancements that these new requirements demand,” IIHS president David Harkey said in a statement. “We’re confident that the number of winners will continue to grow throughout the year.”

For EVs, extra weight versus internal-combustion vehicles has some safety experts concerned. Adding more weight is sometimes the result of a downward spiral to add more range and then correct for the additional body strength needed to support that weight (and keep occupants safe), something Mercedes-Benz has tried to counter with technologies previewed in its Vision EQXX concept.