Small SUVs have room to improve in the IIHS's new Side-Impact Crash Test, according to the organization

  • According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), high-speed side impacts were responsible for 23 percent of all passenger vehicle occupant deaths in 2019. As a result, the nonprofit safety organization decided to update its 2003 side-impact test.
  • Rather than using a lighter barrier moving at higher speeds to strike the vehicle being tested, the IIHS is now employing a heavier barrier moving at higher speeds—resulting in an 82 percent increase in overall energy—to better represent common crashes today.
  • Only one small SUV, the Mazda CX-5 (shown above), received the highest possible Good rating, while the Honda HR-V and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross received the lowest possible Poor rating.

A recent study conducted by IIHS on 20 small SUVs revealed that they performed significantly better in a new series of more stringent crash tests designed to better simulate a high-speed side impact. There is bad news in that none of the vehicles tested in one of the most popular vehicle segments in the United States received a "good" rating, which is the highest possible rating in all categories.

By using a heavier barrier moving at a faster speed, the IIHS has changed the way it tests side impact crashes. The barrier is now 4180 pounds at 37 miles per hour, compared to 3300 pounds at 31 miles per hour in the previous test protocol, resulting in an increase of 82 percent in overall energy. This modification is intended to better simulate the not-infrequent occurrence of a mid-size SUV colliding with a small SUV.

When a vehicle collides with the new barrier, the IIHS says the honeycomb striking surface has been updated so that it "acts more like a real SUV or pickup when it hits another vehicle." According to IIHS research conducted in the real world, a strong B-pillar, which was critical for the old side-impact test, could cause the front end of the striking vehicle to bend, with the bent areas potentially intruding into the passenger compartment. According to the IIHS, automakers will most likely need to increase the strength of horizontal door beams in order to provide better occupant protection. This will also enable them to achieve higher scores on the new IIHS exam.

The Mazda CX-5, which was produced in 2021 and 2022, was the only small SUV to come close to achieving a perfect score. It excelled in all categories with the exception of the chest category for driver injuries. The CX-5 received an Acceptable rating, which was the second-highest rating. The CX-5's body structure and load paths, according to Mazda's Masaki Ueno, vice president of research and development, design, and quality assurance, were developed after the company studied real-world crashes and computer simulations, according to a statement.

Eighteen out of twenty vehicles tested received an overall Acceptable rating from the IIHS, accounting for nearly half of them: the Audi Q3, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4 and Toyota Venza, as well as the Volvo XC40. Both the Honda HR-V and the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross received poor overall ratings, with the former receiving the lowest score. All of the other eight vehicles, including the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Compass, Jeep Renegade, Kia Sportage, and Lincoln Corsair, received a Marginal rating from the NHTSA. On the IIHS website, under "Side: New Test," you can find detailed information about each vehicle's performance in all tests, including this new side-impact crash test.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, high-speed side-impact crashes are responsible for 23 percent of all passenger-vehicle occupant deaths in 2019. The IIHS wanted to know which small SUVs offer the best protection in this situation.

IIHS President David Harkey said in a statement that the new test was developed because the researchers believed there was room for improvement. "These results confirm our suspicions," Harkey said. This excellent rating demonstrates that robust side impact protection can be achieved in a more severe side collision.

According to the IIHS, the results of its tests can have an impact on how automakers design their vehicles. In 2003, the company conducted its first side-impact test, and only about 20 percent of the vehicles it tested were deemed "good" in that first year. Currently, all 20 of the vehicles that were put through this new test received "good" ratings on the original test, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety believes that most new vehicles can earn a top score on this test in the future.

Automobile manufacturers have a limited amount of time to adapt to the new test. IIHS will continue to use the original test when awarding Top Safety Pick awards for the time being, but the award criteria will be updated in 2023 to include results from the new side-impact testing procedure.

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