By on October 13, 2016

Dodge Challenger crash test

Once again, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has handed the Dodge Challenger a five-star safety rating in its annual crash tests.

Shelf space at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles headquarters must be at a premium thanks to all those awards, but does the NHTSA safety rating tell the whole story?

In short — no, it doesn’t.

The NHTSA assigns the 2017 Challenger the same ratings as last year for frontal and side impacts, as well as rollover protection. Not surprising, as the model hasn’t changed in any significant way.

For frontal impacts, the Challenger’s crash performance rates a four out of five, as does its rollover performance. Side impact testing returns a five out of five score. Couple those results with available safety technology and restraints, and the overall score would please any automaker — a boastworthy five out of five stars. You’d go and see a five-star movie, right?

Unfortunately for occupants, the Challenger’s perceived safety depends more on the test than the car. The NHTSA’s frontal test involves a vehicle running straight into a flat barrier at 35 miles per hour. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, on the other hand, goes a step further, and the results aren’t good for the Challenger or its front seat occupants.

Earlier this year, the IIHS showed just how bad the 2016 Challenger performed in its dreaded small overlap test. In this test, only 25 percent of a vehicle’s frontal area hits a rigid barrier at 40 mph. The result? A second-worst “marginal” rating, and certain hobbling for the driver or passenger in a real-world crash.

“During the crash, the Challenger’s front wheel was forced rearward into the occupant compartment, and the footwell intrusion trapped the dummy’s left foot and deformed its ankle,” IIHS president Adrian Lund said in a statement.

“Our technicians had to unbolt the dummy’s foot from its leg in order to free it. Entrapment is pretty rare. That’s only happened five other times in a small overlap test.”

The federal government’s side impact test involves both a pole and a ram that mimics another vehicle. Both that test and the independent IIHS test gave the Challenger’s side impact protection top marks. In its moderate overlap frontal test, the Challenger still came out on top. A roof strength test came back as “acceptable,” so not far off from the NHTSA’s four out of five stars.

While the Challenger performs decently in most respects, the NHTSA’s limited testing hides a serious safety issue. Until a small overlap test becomes standard, the five stars results will continue to roll in as IIHS shouts from the sidelines. The NHTSA last updated its ratings in 2010.

With the advent of the small overlap test, criticism of the government’s tests grew. Consumer Reports calls out the frontal test, claiming, “Some automotive experts have criticized NHTSA’s full-frontal, rigid-barrier test as unrealistic because such head-on crashes into a flat, solid wall are relatively rare.”

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65 Comments on “Is This What a Five-Star Safety Rating Looks Like?...”


  • avatar
    pdl2dmtl

    Where’s BTSR defending his Hellcat…

  • avatar
    mmreeses

    99% of cars get a 4 or 5 star rating. and 5 stars still means an up to 10% chance of injury.

    Lake Woebegone baby!

    A 6-star system should be started…..with anything <5% chance of injury being 6 stars but doubt that'll happen.

    (Charger doesn't really count as you don't buy a Charger if your number 1 priority is safety)

    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-safe-is-that-car-with-the-5-star-crash-test-rating/

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      That’s “Wobegon.” And on that topic, I’m incredibly hyped for this Saturday’s first APHC with Chris Thile hosting.

    • 0 avatar
      Deontologist

      “99% of cars get a 4 or 5 star rating. and 5 stars still means an up to 10% chance of injury.”

      Not anymore. Cars are ranked relative to each other after 2011. Five stars for a car means it protects its occupants better than most other cars in its class. So like an A student. Three stars means the car is about average in terms of occupant protection for its class. So like a C student. One star, F student.

  • avatar
    SC5door

    And the small overlap test shows that manufacturers game the system as well on that, just like using the NHTSA rating in their marketing. “Good” is only for the driver, the front passengers typically don’t see that protection.

    http://www.iihs.org/iihs/news/desktopnews/vehicles-with-good-driver-side-protection-may-leave-passengers-at-risk

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      In fairness, a moving car always has a driver but frequently doesn’t have a passenger. Thus, from a purely logical standpoing, the integrity of the driver’s compartment really is more important.

      • 0 avatar
        WRohrl

        I’m sure your wife/husband/friend/child/other will be pleased to hear that. Or yourself if you ever are a passenger in anyone else’s car.

        It’s just as easy to clip a parked car or have someone pull slightly out of a driveway as it is to cross the centerline etc if not even more so.

        • 0 avatar

          And a park car is more likely to be clipped at 40mph. An oncoming vehicle is more likely to be 60+ since both cars are moving. Something that I doubt any car would get 5 stars on.

          • 0 avatar
            Secondaries

            Unless you meant that both cars were moving at 60+, then that isn’t quite right. Two cars of equal weight traveling towards eachother at 30mph and colliding is like hitting a wall at 30mph, not at 60mph.

      • 0 avatar
        SC5door

        “Thus, from a purely logical standpoing, the integrity of the driver’s compartment really is more important.”

        So what you’re saying is that it’s only important to purchase a vehicle that only protects the driver. Got it.

      • 0 avatar
        namesakeone

        Also, the front seat passenger has a lot more survival space to begin with; the steering wheel is a lot closer to the driver than the dashboard is to the passenger.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      I’d also like to know how real world relevant these tests are. Testing for a small overlap collision is an obvious improvement over not doing so, but who’s to say the result isn’t extremely sensitive to the exact point of impact, how many inches from the center line or corner, the exact impact angle etc…. A random scatter of a 1000 or so collisions from all angles and at varying velocities, would give a much more reliable picture. Wouldn’t be exactly cheap to conduct, though….

      Regardless, like mileage tests, when tested on one highly specific scenario, known in advance, all you really can say for sure, is that someone did a good job gaming the test. Handing out a midterm with 20 questions unknown to the students, does give you a much better read on how strong their command is of the entire subject matter; than if you told them 3 years prior exactly which one question you were going to ask them.

      • 0 avatar
        olivebranch2006

        Volvo invented this test in the 80s based on decades of data collected on real crashes in Sweden. They still deploy crash investigation teams to collect data to this day. The small overlap crash was determined to be a considerable risk by Volvo. IIHS found similar data results showing 25% of all frontal crash deaths are due to small overlap type crashes.

        The largest issue this test confronted and forced many manufacturers to correct is this: The frontal crash safety frame was incomplete. There was a gap between the outside car edge and the safety frame. Newer designs filled in this gap for complete frontal protection, as it should have been.

        Of course Volvo already knew about this test and aced it with the old XC90 based on a design drawn up in the 90s.

      • 0 avatar
        Deontologist

        “I’d also like to know how real world relevant these tests are.”

        There’s been plenty of academic research regarding small overlap tests. They’re not exactly the most common type of crashes, but when they do occur, they cause a disproportionate amount of severe injuries.

        And as the other poster said, Volvo has noticed that lots of people die in these type of crashes since the 80s, and started designing their cars to protect their occupants in such crashes, and it’s probably not because they wanted to look good in a crash test rating 30 years in the future.

        http://www-esv.nhtsa.dot.gov/Proceedings/24/files/24ESV-000182.PDF

        http://www-esv.nhtsa.dot.gov/Proceedings/24/files/24ESV-000244.PDF

  • avatar
    Snail Kite

    Unfortunately, the reinforcement needed for the Challenger to pass the small overlap test would cause it to collapse in on itself like a dying star.

  • avatar
    NoID

    I’d like to see the results compared against other cars which had their architecture laid down prior to this test being a consideration.

    I assume it performs similarly to other cars not designed with this test in mind.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      The 2007-on Volvo S80 and 2010-on S60 got maximum scores on the small overlap test, so some pre-existing designs did well.

      The Acura TL also got a “G” rating on the first round of small-overlap tests in 2012. Mercedes, Audi and Lexus got the worst ratings out of a group of midsize luxury cars.

      • 0 avatar
        NutellaBC

        Actually, Volvo started to design for this common type of collision before the Volvo 850 was launched in 1993. The 850 was the first platform designed for what was then called the severe partial overlap collision.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Easy explanation for the Challenger’s poor small overlap test: Budget constraints.

    How else does one explain the visible, exposed bottom front corners of the rear side glass? You don’t see that on Mustang and Camaro.

    Either that or a serious lack of attention to detail.

    • 0 avatar

      Or the fact that the Challenger was engineered before small overlap. Maybe. Possibly.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        You could be right. The Challenger did predate the Camaro by a couple of model years.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Its LX platform was built partly out of the LH (which was designed in 1993), take that and slap on a few now dated Benz parts and you get the current LX.

        As far as I know the only “revision” its had over 10 years is Chrysler cheapening the structure around the jack points, which in no doubt contributes to poor overlap tests.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          LX has precisely nothing in common with LH.

          LX has been substantially revised over the years to the point where virtually every part has been changed or updated in some way.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            I’ll have to go with Danio on this one because (a) he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to FCA; and (b) because Ryoku’s assertions sound like nonsense.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Only one thing left for Dodge to do………..

    MOAR POWWWAAAARRRRR

  • avatar

    I’d be interested to see how the Elio trike would perform in the small overlap crash test because of its outrigger wheels. My guess is that it would just rip one of the front wheels off, leaving the passenger cell pretty much untouched.

    • 0 avatar
      WRohrl

      Or bounce it back and to the side via its attachment points right into the passenger compartment. It would be instructive to see.

    • 0 avatar
      SSJeep

      The Elio doesn’t have to be tested – for legal purposes, it is considered a motorcycle. Im not sure that a driver in an Elio would fare any better than a motorcycle rider in a serious accident.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        The problem with the Elio is the bathtub-height visibility; you won’t know when it comes.

        At least on a motorcycle, you may be able to see the upcoming mayhem from your higher perch and do something about it.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “Until a small overlap test becomes standard, the five stars results will continue to roll in as IIHS shouts from the sidelines.”

    The IIHS is conducting the test, and obviously isn’t keeping it a secret. What would be the point of having two different groups performing the exact same test? It’s good that we have both of them testing for different things so that we get more data.

    “Some automotive experts have criticized NHTSA’s full-frontal, rigid-barrier test as unrealistic because such head-on crashes into a flat, solid wall are relatively rare.”

    The wall test simulates a head-on collision with another car, not just hitting a wall. It’s surprising that CR could miss that.

    The alternative to using a wall would involve the use of some sort of other barrier that would deform, i.e. absorb more of the energy of the crash impact. In other words, the test would be easier to pass if a wall wasn’t used.

    • 0 avatar
      zipper69

      A head-on with another vehicle is NOT simulated by arriving head on into a fixed solid wall.
      Unless the “other vehicle” has been bolted to a parking place it will either being moving towards the meeting point or at minimum parked.
      In any case BOTH vehicles (unless extremely old) will have front crumple zones and breakaway engine mounts allowing the block to slide back and down under the passenger cell.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        At 35 mph (56 kph), the car runs straight into a solid concrete barrier. This is equivalent to a car moving at 35 mph hitting another car of comparable weight moving at 35 mph.

        http://auto.howstuffworks.com/car-driving-safety/accidents-hazardous-conditions/crash-test2.htm

        A solid wall transfers the crash vehicle’s energy back into it.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          Zipper69 deserves to get a break on his student loans for any physics courses he may have taken.

        • 0 avatar
          SP

          Pch101, your answer is “sorta” correct, but only in a simplified way. Zipper69 is correct that the transfer of energy between the test vehicle and the object it strikes differs somewhat depending on the qualities of the object it strikes. The total change in momentum is the same, but the maximum deceleration may vary. In fact, it may vary up and down over a very short period of time based on the exact geometry of two colliding vehicles.

          The government has studied this issue:
          http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/esv/esv17/Proceed/00031-8.pdf

          I think the best that can be said is that the effect of striking a rigid barrier is “pretty similar” to striking a vehicle of equivalent weight and velocity.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Your link is a study of pickup/SUV vs. passenger car crashes.

            It doesn’t dispute the fact that NHTSA uses a solid barrier in order to simulate a front-end collision with a head-on vehicle of similar weight, which is the very reason that NHTSA itself gives for using that test.

            Read the answer to Question 13: http://www.safercar.gov/FAQ

          • 0 avatar
            zipper69

            That was my point.

          • 0 avatar
            SP

            Yes, Pch101, I know what the link was. If you read it, there are lots of goodies about the differences between hitting a rigid barrier and a truck or a SUV. I think you can use the principles shown there to deduce that hitting a sedan of similar size is also not exactly the same as hitting a rigid barrier. I saw the FAQ PDF you sent. Frankly, I like the detailed scientific study better than the dumbed-down one-liner for public consumption with the word “equivalent” in it.

            I do think it’s a good reference point, because it is the same for all vehicles. And it has the definite advantage of costing only half as much as crashing two identical vehicles into each other.

            I like the test. I am just saying, it’s not equivalent in a perfect sense. It’s equivalent only in a very broad-strokes kind of way.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            One more time: NHTSA uses the wall test to simulate a front-end collision with a similar vehicle, not just to test a crash into a wall as CR claimed.

            That is simply a fact. The disparity in car vs truck collisions is well known due to different weights, bumper heights, etc. but that does not negate the reason why NHTSA developed this test. You didn’t understand the study that you read.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          You really need to qualify your operational definition of “equivalent”, for this to be true. It’s really more of an extremely rough first approximation.

          As tests such as the small overlap demonstrates, the exact fashion in which a car’s crash mitigation structures engage the object in crashes into, has outsized effect on the final crash result.

          A solid, uniform wall is a pretty extreme simplification. Enough so, that I’d be curious to see if Volvo’s “acing” of the small overlap with pre test vehicles, aren’t at least in part due to Europe’s greater focus on the specifics of how cars engage each other when they lock horns at speed.

          It’s still a useful baseline test. But in the way 0-60 is a useful test of a car’s performance, rather than anything more specific.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Typically in this type of “small overlap” head-on, both cars will immediately rotate counterclockwise together (as viewed from above) then separate, each continuing their pre crash direction of travel, more or less, backwards and spinning with only about half their speed scrubbed off from impact.

            The solid barrier takes the cars down to almost complete deceleration, before they deflect off. Not much like real world.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Front-end collisions are uncommon but they have an exceptionally high fatality rate in comparison to the typical crash, which is why NHTSA took an interest in them and uses this test.

    • 0 avatar
      olivebranch2006

      The latest news is NHTSA is adding a new head-on oblique collision with a ramming cart car thing. There are youtube videos of the NHTSA test crashes for developing this new test:

      volvo s60
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMCWE57mnLg

      and ford taurus
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1NtkthVg2A

      No word on when this new test is coming out or if NHTSA has decided 100% to use it.

  • avatar
    Pinzgauer

    Who cares, the car looks damn good.

  • avatar
    Chan

    Sensationalist headline means people are going to go out screaming that the Dodge Challenger is unsafe, and that anyone buying one is going to die a horrible fiery death the next time they hit a pole at the supermarket.

    And then they get into their 1998 Ford Windstars.

    It would surprise many that the F10 BMW 5 series and the outgoing Mercedes C-Class also received Marginal ratings for the IIHS Small Overlap. These test results need to be considered in context. Unfortunately, that is lost on most vehicle buyers, but that’s OK. They make their choices based on what they know. And we enthusiasts should know better.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    We could all just drive around in M1 tanks. The 5gal/mi might get spendy, but it would be easy to get LLB’s out of your way.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Then there would have to be a tank-to-tank and offset crash test, and no fair blowing up the obstruction.

    • 0 avatar
      Deontologist

      “We could all just drive around in M1 tanks. The 5gal/mi might get spendy, but it would be easy to get LLB’s out of your way.”

      I know this is sarcasm, but the funny thing is that I read a paper about side pole collisions – in which the side of your car slides into a street light at ~20 MPH. These are **severe** crashes. If you doubt it, just look at how much intrusion there is. The pole can basically end up in your lap.

      http://www.iihs.org/media/b12dd45d-025c-46eb-940b-fcb7cbbd2b5d/VUaleA/NewsImages/1999/040699/040699_Lincoln_overhead.jpg

      The researchers found that an extra 5 kg (11 pounds) of reinforcements limited intrusion to a significant extent.

      http://www-esv.nhtsa.dot.gov/Proceedings/23/files/23ESV-000440.PDF

      So no, we don’t need tanks, we just need smartly placed pieces of metal.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    This site is really becoming a joke. They way you bag on Chrysler and anything they produce while allowing complete mediocrity slide from other manufactures is really getting old.

    I guess honest journalism is completely dead in every area of the media these days.

  • avatar
    Featherston

    “Earlier this year, the IIHS showed just how bad the 2016 Challenger performed in its dreaded small overlap test.”

    The letters L and Y are your friends, Steph. “Bad” is an adjective, not an adverb.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    I drive my Challenger every day, not worrying at all about how it will do in a wreck. I’ve been in two serious wrecks since I began driving, and both vehicles protected me well, even though they weren’t “the best” rated ones available at the time. The Challenger’s basic design is over a decade old, so I don’t really expect it to be at the top of current safety ratings. I’m planning on buying another one before the new platform is introduced a few years from now, without worrying at all about it’s safety ratings.


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