By on February 1, 2017


Tech-obsessed and financially stable Americans have an almost fanatical devotion to Tesla’s Model S. The model was deemed “Most Loved” by the Consumer Love Index two years in a row and the Tesla brand currently sits atop Consumer Report’s Owner Satisfaction Rankings.

One place it hasn’t received top marks, however, is in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s recent evaluation of electrified vehicles. The Model S failed to earn the coveted Top Safety Pick+ designation, losing out to the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius.

During the trials, the renowned Tesla only managed an “acceptable” rating in the challenging small overlap test, which simulates crashing into an overpass support beam or telephone pole.

At the moment of impact, the model’s seatbelt did not properly secure the dummy and its head managed to hit the steering wheel through the airbag. The IIHS was also critical of Tesla’s headlights, which earned a “poor” rating, and heavier variants of the Model S — the P100D, specifically — didn’t do as well in rollover testing. There were also concerns over Tesla using software to add or remove safety features on newer models, most notably the absence of brake assist.

BMW’s odd-looking i3 came much closer to earning the safety award, but fell short due to its seating and head restraints.

“BMW clearly thought a lot about safety when designing the i3,” said David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and research chief in a statement. “It’s a shame that it missed the mark on head restraints, which is something most of today’s vehicles get right. Among small cars, the i3 is the only 2017 model that doesn’t earn a good rating.”

For a vehicle to qualify for the Top Safety Pick award, it must earn “good” ratings in all five crashworthiness tests — small overlap front, moderated overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints and seats — and come with a front crash prevention system that earns an advanced or superior rating.

Tesla has said that it made changes to its production line on January 23 that altered its seat belt position, apparently resolving the problem with head contact, and plans to deliver a new vehicle for IIHS’s small overlap crash testing. It did not mention the headlight issue — a new testing criteria that has stymied many a model’s path to the coveted IIHS safety plus award. The plus is only bestowed upon vehicles that meet all the aforementioned criteria and come with a “good” or “acceptable” headlight rating.

“There’s no reason the most efficient vehicles can’t also be among the safest,” said Zuby. “We hope Tesla and BMW will continue to refine the designs of their electric models to maximize driver protection and, especially in the case of Tesla, improve their headlights.”

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11 Comments on “Tesla Misses IIHS Top Safety Pick Award While Chevrolet and Toyota Score...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Acceptable?! Shame; all children must be above average.

  • avatar

    Matt Posky writes: “It did not mention the headlight issue — a new testing criteria that has stymied many a model’s path to the coveted IIHS safety plus award.”

    That should be “criterion” if referring to a single item. “Criteria” is the plural form and does not match the rest of the sentence.

  • avatar

    “IIHS also noted that out of the vehicles tested, the Prius was the only one to experience an improvement in appearance after crash testing”

    Okay, I know that wasn’t in the report, but should have been.

  • avatar

    I would suspect the Tesla got a poor mark for headlights not for their behind the wheel brightness, but their absolute blinding qualities to oncoming traffic.

    It is like staring into a laser beam.

  • avatar
    Middle-Aged Miata Man

    That crushed Volt, complete with wheel impaled through the door skin, doesn’t exactly look like a “+” to me…

  • avatar

    After the Model S was tested by the NHTSA a few years ago, Tesla declared it, not just the highest scoring, but the safest car ever tested by the NHTSA. It also claimed the roof was so extraordinarily strong that it broke the testing machine.

    Now we find out that the Model S failed to meet the IIHS Top Safety Pick standards achieved by about 90 2017 models, despite Tesla making a number of structural and other changes last year specifically for the IIHS tests. The B-pillars and roof rails were reinforced to increase roof strength, yet the Model S got only an Acceptable rating for the heavier P100D model and just squeaked out a Good rating for the lighter models.

    It turns out the roof strength of 19,292 lbs is well below that of several models designed before the Model S, such as the 2003 Volvo XC90(21,274), 2010 Saab 9-5(22,434) and the 2010 Mercedes GLK(26,647 lbs); and it pales in comparison to 31,545 lbs for the 2012 Mercedes M-Class.

    So much hype from Tesla!

  • avatar

    If the photo above is indicative of a top safety pick score, one would be far better off purchasing a surplus Checker cab and calling it a day.

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