This may well be the way the local media reports it or simply a bias in perception but the IIHS data shows that bigger is safer.
These figures are in "Driver deaths per million registered passenger vehicles 1-3 years old, by crash type, 2005". They are sub-divided into multiple vehicle (MV) accident deaths, single vehicle (SV), and single vehicle rollover (SVR) deaths and the combined ALL deaths.
Here are cars compared by size.
Size MV SV SVR ALL
Mini 94 50 31 144
small 61 45 24 106
Mid 39 32 14 70
Large 43 25 11 67
Huge 27 16 7 44
The first number Multiple Vehicle (MV) has an improving trend small to large from 94 mini to 27 Huge with the only exception being the Mid is slightly better than Large.
The second number Single Vehicle (SV) also has an improving trend small to large from 50 mini to 16 huge, no exceptions this time.
The third number Single Vehicle Rollover (SVR) is the portion of the SV number that were rollovers. Again the trend improves from small to huge.
The final number combines MV and SV and indeed trends strongly in favor of larger vehicles.
A comparison of Cars vs SUV finds that SUVs result in fewer deaths than cars.
Mini MV SV SVR ALL
Car 94 50 31 144
suv no such vehicle
CAR 61 45 24 106
2WD 37 29 18 66
4wd 24 33 21 57
The smallest SUVs have less rollover deaths than small cars, but overall combined 42% less deaths. Compared to MINI small SUVs also have lower rollover and combined 134% less deaths.
CAR 39 32 14 70
2WD 28 46 34 74
4wd 17 31 21 57
Now SUVs have a much higher rollover death rate, but if you subtract the SVR from the SV it appears that people die more frequently in SV car accidents than SV SUV accidents. Cars 18, 2wd 12, 4wd 10. That would suggest that plowing into an inanimate object is safer in an SUV.
Again overall midsize SUV combined are 6% less deaths.
The growing trend is 4wd SUV is much safer tha Car or 2wd SUV.
CAR 43 25 11 67
2WD 19 33 30 52
4wd 16 28 18 45
Still bad news for SUV rollover and somehow 2wd SUV single vehicle is almost always a rollover, but still safer than a car. In all areas the Large vehicle is safer than the midsize. Similar trend, if you're going to crash into something, much safer in an SUV.
CAR 27 16 7 44
4wd 8 16 8 24
Here the single vehicle numbers are almost identical but the 4wd SUV is by far the safest vehicle of all categories. Hard for me to conclude that the biggest 4wd SUV isn't the safest vehicle on the road.
If my top concern was personal safety, I'd explore the big SUVs to find which of them was the safest.
CAR 46 33 16 79
2WD 27 39 30 66
4wd 18 31 20 49
It is often speculated here that there is no value to 4wd, yet the IIHS data shows that in every size the 4wd vs 2wd SUV shows a reduction in deaths with 4wd.
I understand that these are simply averages and individual vehicles may perform a lot worse or a lot better than the average in each class size but it seems to be undeniable that on average larger cars have fewer deaths than smaller cars and larger 4wd SUVs have few deaths than smaller 4wd SUV and similar sized or smaller cars.