Is Kia’s safety rating on small SUVs better than BMW’s?

Kia and BMW both took home safety honors from the IIHS in 2017, but Kia rated higher overall. Safety features may lower your auto insurance rates by up to 8%.

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Mathew B. Sims is Editor-in-Chief and has authored, edited, and contributed to several books. He has been working in the insurance industry ensuring content is accurate for consumers who are searching for the best policies and rates...

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Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years (BBB A+). He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance...

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Reviewed byDaniel Walker
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UPDATED: Apr 21, 2020

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Things to remember...
  • Kia was once an economy car automaker but has become the fifth most reliable brand within the last year
  • When you’re comparing two different small SUVs, it’s always wise to consider the vehicle’s IIHS safety ratings
  • Consumers interested in small SUVs will be happy to learn that the 2017 Kia Sportage is a Top Safety Pick
  • The latest Sportage was tested by the IIHS and earned a ‘Good’ rating in each and every crash tests
  • If you compare Kia’s small SUV to a similar model from BMW, the Kia has the higher safety ratings

Kia Motors was founded in 1944 and is the largest automaker in Korea. While the company first specialized in manufacturing bikes and parts, it began to shift focus to the automotive industry in 1973.

Just a year later, the giant car maker decided to design a light pickup as well.

While Kia initially made economy cars like the Brisa and the Bongo van, which were affordable models that were sold to younger consumers, the brand has progressed over time.

Just a decade ago, if you were to mention the Kia brand you’d never expect that it would have the reputation it does today.

Seemingly overnight, Kia improved its shaky reputation in the United States. In fact, the Kia brand went from being on the bottom of the list of reliable automakers to fifth in the world ranked close to Honda and Toyota.

It seems like this all happened in the blink of an eye, but in actuality, Kia took time to improve designs, frames, technology, and warranties to earn the trust of buyers.

As one of the fastest-growing brands in the nation, Kia has managed to win awards for its full-size sedans. Now, as more and more consumers are shopping for compact SUVs, Kia is putting much of its focus into the design of the Kia Sportage.

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If you’re interested in buying a Sportage and you want to see if it’s as safer as a similar model from a car maker like BMW, here’s what you should know.

Understanding IIHS Safety Ratings

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is an educational organization that operates just to keep consumers, automakers, and insurance companies informed.

Part of the organization is responsible for review accident data and highway safety laws to suggest new legislation. Another part of the organization focuses entirely on vehicle safety and crash tests.

As a consumer who’s looking for the safest possible small SUV, you need to access reliable information that educates you on the pros and the cons of buying a specific vehicle.

Small SUVs may be larger than sedans, but they are still built on the same frames a majority of the time.

That’s why they might not always perform great in the IIHS tests performed. These tests include:

  • Small overlap front
  • Moderate overlap front
  • Side strength
  • Roof strength
  • Head restraints & seats
  • Front crash prevention
  • Headlight visibility and glare
  • Child seat anchor and latch ease of use

Even though the IIHS has been around since the 1950s, the organization didn’t start to develop a center where vehicles would be tested until the 1990s.

In 1995, the Vehicle Research Center that was paid for by the IIHS was officially used to crash cars, take measures, and establish ratings.

Now, all vehicles are given crash test ratings and mitigation ratings. The rating system used today is as follows:

  • Good
  • Acceptable
  • Marginal
  • Poor
  • Frontal Crash Prevention and Crash Avoidance – Superior, Advanced, or Basic

If you want to know whether or not a Kia is safer than a BMW, you’ll have to look at specific vehicles in the small SUV class of the market that were both released in the same year.

This is how all consumers can do effective safety comparisons that relate to the tests performed in that year.

Here’s what you should know about the Kia Sportage and the BMW X1:

Safety Ratings for the 2017 Kia Sportage

  • Small overlap front crash  Good
  • Moderate overlap front crash Good
  • Roof strength Good
  • Side Good
  • Head Restraints Good
  • Front Crash Mitigation and Prevention Superior (with optional equipment)
  • Headlight Evaluation Poor
  • Child Seat Tether and Anchor Ease of Use Acceptable

The Kia Sportage debuted all the way back in 1998. At this time, vehicle crash test ratings had just been developed 3 years before. That explains a major reason why the Sportage earned only ‘Marginal’ grades in Moderate Overlap Front crash tests until 2002.

As more tests were developed, Sportages continued to receive low scores until 2017.

The 2017 Kia Sportage didn’t just have a safer redesign, it became an award-winner in safety. This new model year earned ‘Good’ ratings in front, side, roof strength, seats, and headrests.

It also earned a 6 out of 6 points for the Front Crash Prevention system installed in the EX Trim with Technology Package for a ‘Superior’ rating.

The only area where the Sportage fails to compete is in the headlight rating. Even the highest trim level on the lot earned a ‘Poor’ headlight rating.

It was mainly because of the excessive glare and visibility around curves. This is the one factor that was holding the car back from earning a Top Safety Pick+ award.

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Safety Ratings for the 2017 BMW X1

  • Small overlap front crash Acceptable
  • Moderate overlap front crash Good
  • Roof strength Good
  • Side Good
  • Head Restraints  Good
  • Front Crash Prevention System Advanced 4 out of 6 points(with optional equipment)
  • Headlight Evaluation Marginal (with optional equipment)
  • Child Seat Tether Ease of Use Acceptable

You would imagine that a luxury brand like BMW would perform above all non-luxury brands when it comes to safety. Unfortunately, sometimes automakers focus less on safety and more on the bells and whistles.

This could be the case with the BMW X1, which failed to earn a ‘Superior’ crash prevention score like the Kia and only scored 4 out of 6 on the test.

The BMW may have earned all ‘Good’ ratings in crash tests, but it was not tested on the passenger side so that makes it hard to compare.

The X1 did, however, earn a better headlight score with a ‘Marginal’ rating as opposed to a ‘Poor’ one. The X1 ratings over the last 5 years have improved but not like the scores of the Kia.

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Top Safety Pick

Kia has made the list of Top Safety Pick award-winning makes for compact SUVs along with 3 other brands. The 2018 model even earned a Top Safety Pick+ award for making more improvements after June of 2017.

The crashworthiness scores are to thank for the best-in-class award.

BMW also managed to pull in a Top Safety Pick award but failed to impress with crash prevention features.

Does Kia make a safer small SUV than BMW?

The 2017 Kia Sportage and the 2017 BMW X1 both earned similar awards but in the end, the Sportage received the all-around better ratings. Once the 2018 BMW ratings come out it will be easier to see how the latest models stack up.

If you’re going to buy a Kia or any other small SUV, make sure to figure out the trust cost of ownership.

As you compare Kia and BMW, you can get auto insurance quotes and see how much you’ll spend monthly. Getting online quotes instantly and you’ll be able to see how safety records affect premiums.

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