Only two models out of 13 tested passed the latest ‘small overlap crash’ test.
Compact SUVs, particularly the latest car-based crossover models, are hot items these days, ranked third behind midsize and compact cars in terms of sales volume. They appeal to a wide range of buyers – from single and young families to empty nesters – as roomier and more practical alternatives to small sedans.
Unfortunately for those shopping in this highly competitive segment only two current models got passing marks in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s recently added “small overlap crash” test, which emulates hitting a tree or pole at 40 mph.
Only a single model – the Subaru Forester – earned top marks, while a second – the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport – garnered an “acceptable” rating. Combined with passing scores in the Institute’s other safety evaluations, including the standard frontal crash tests, side impact, roof-crush and rear-impact tests, these were the only two small SUVs out of 13 tested to earn the Institute’s “Top Safety Pick+” designation. Both models were recently redesigned, and apparently with the IIHS’ testing procedures in mind.
"With the redesigned Forester, Subaru's engineers set out to do well in our new test, and they succeeded," says Joe Nolan, the Institute’s vice president for vehicle research. "This is exactly how we hoped manufacturers would respond to improve protection for people in these kinds of serious frontal crashes."
On the other hand, the IIHS says two thirds of all small SUVs taking the small overlap crash test were rated poorly for structural integrity, and about half got poor or marginal scores for occupant restraint to prevent test dummies from smashing into hard interior surfaces.
For example, the IIHS reports that the front pillar of the Nissan Rogue was pushed so far into the passenger compartment when crashed it nearly smashed into the driver’s seat. The Jeep Patriot’s safety belt not only failed to restrain the test dummy properly, the side curtain airbag failed to deploy and the steering wheel moved eight inches upwards and nearly six inches to the right upon impact, causing the test dummy’s head to slide off the frontal airbag.
On the positive side, 10 small SUVs otherwise earn the Institute’s “Top Safety Pick” (without the “plus”) designations for 2013 by garnering “good” ratings across the board in its conventional front, side, rear and roof-crash tests. These include the BMW X1, Buick Encore, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tuscon, Kia Sportage, Jeep Patriot, Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV-4 and Volkswagen Tiguan. The Toyota RAV-4 reportedly won’t undergo the new test until later in the year, pending engineering changes the IIHS says should help improve its performance.
In the small overlap frontal test, cars are crashed at 40 mph with only 25 percent of a car's front end on the driver side striking a five-foot tall rigid barrier. The Institute says the test is designed to replicate what happens when the front corner of a car strikes another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole in more of glancing blow, rather than a full-frontal or offset frontal collision.
The IIHS says small overlap crashes tend to evaluate the crashworthiness of a car’s outer edges that tend not to be well protected structurally by so-called crush zones, and test a vehicle’s airbags and seatbelts in more rigorous ways that do frontal tests. Crash forces in these types of collisions go directly into the front wheel, suspension system and firewall, which the IIHS contends results in serious leg and foot injuries, though, it should be pointed out, not necessarily fatalities.
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