By on July 6, 2017


Like the rest of North America’s passenger car market, full-size sedan sales are waning. While luxury vehicles haven’t taken quite the same hit as more affordable models, big cars are not in fashion for 2017. However, some buyers still prefer the distinction and mass that only a full-size automobile can provide. They want a luxurious, low-slung ride and, if possible, an equally elegant crash experience.

While big cars tend to perform better in accidents than the majority of their petite contemporaries, very few vehicles do well in the small overlap crash test. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently took six of its favorite picks from the segment to evaluate side impact crashes, roof strength, protection from head restraints, moderate overlap front crashes, and the dreaded small overlap front impact.

“This group of large cars includes some with stellar ratings, but our small overlap front test remains a hurdle for some vehicles,” explained David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer. 

Due to the massive amount of force focused on the narrow area directly in front of the driver, the IIHS believes small overlap wrecks account for at least one-quarter of the fatalities and serious injuries sustained in frontal impacts. Of the six cars, only the Lincoln Continental, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and the Toyota Avalon earned a Top Safety Pick+ award.

While the Tesla Model S, Chevrolet Impala, and Ford Taurus all earned an acceptable rating for the front overlap test, they were already ineligible for Top Safety Pick+ honors due to their poor headlight ratings — something the IIHS has increasingly concerned itself with in recent years.

Meanwhile, E-Class and Continental both yielded a good headlight rating while the Avalon was deemed to have acceptable illumination. All the cars have been updated for the 2017 model year, except for the Continental, which is replacing the Lincoln MKS. The three sedans were also praised for their crash prevention systems.

However, that shouldn’t be taken as a slight to the Taurus, Impala, or Model S — all of which performed amicably but lacked in forward illumination and didn’t fare quite as well in the small overlap tests. The Ford’s absence of some modern crash avoidance technology was also a factor in keeping it from achieving top marks, primarily due it not possessing automatic emergency braking.


[Images: IIHS]

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24 Comments on “These Large Cars Offer the Most Luxurious Crash Experience...”

  • avatar

    It amazes me that with all the technology we have today, automotive headlights seem to be such poor performers on the whole.

    Is it antiquated US lighting regulations holding things back? Cost? Crash test regulations?

    I don’t know anything about lighting design, but I find it curious that in 2017 crappy headlights remain a bugaboo to such an extent.

    • 0 avatar

      Its because of the lack of care by customers and until recently the safety watchdogs.

      People don’t generally test drive cars at night or in bad weather, so they never see how well the headlights work before purchasing the car. With few exceptions, people don’t generally complain about their headlights on a regular basis, or consider them when searching for new cars.

      Because of that rather than spending all their effort on ensuring the headlights work well (by design) and are properly calibrated when they leave the factory, the automakers just design them to look cool and be eye catching.

      • 0 avatar

        Not sure I buy this.

        It’s true that when looking for a new /different/ car, it’s hard to gauge headlights because it’s sunny when you test-drive.

        But when considering replacing a car with a newer model of the same, all those bugaboos come back. When I replaced my Mazda 3 years back, the rattles that I didn’t notice during the original test-drive steered me away from Mazda.

        When I replaced my Ford pickup a few years back, the abysmal Sync radio had me looking at makers other than Ford.

        Headlights should be the same. If I were constantly annoyed by how bad my headlights were (I’m not), I’d sure consider that when it comes time to buy a new car.

      • 0 avatar

        Ooh! The headlights look like an Audi!

    • 0 avatar

      Especially when you consider that a set of e-codes, circa 1975, are more than acceptable.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      I think it is perhaps the ancient USDOT regulations, originally designed to keep Citroen out of our market and then never updated. :)

    • 0 avatar

      It is a bit of everything.

      A vehicle can provide great forward visibility, but still get a poor rating if it blinds oncoming drivers (Tesla I’m turning my head slightly right to find the ghost line and squinting at you).

      Headlight regulations are antiquated. Some manufacturers do a really crappy job of designing their headlights. Some headlights are on paper well designed but use poor quality materials for reflectors and/or lens. Some headlights are a case of form over function. Many headlights are badly aimed from the factory, meaning design and technology are irrelevant. If an owner does customization such as putting a lift kit on a truck, but doesn’t realign the headlights, the low beans now shine into oncoming cars and the high beams point to outer space – none of that the fault of the OEMs.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Denver

      I think it’s the opposite of regulations. Back in the day, all cars had the exact same “sealed beam” headlights and they were pretty good (and very cheap and easy to replace). And being made of glass, they never got scratched or yellow from age or sunlight (and if they broke, it only cost a couple of bucks and you got a whole new assembly – the bulb and reflector and lens, the whole shebang for a few pennies because they were standardized and made by the millions). But the auto makers wanted more styling freedom. Not only is the light often inferior but you have to do bulb changes from inside the engine compartment where there is often very little room to work. Every car that I’ve ever had with modern headlights, it’s a pain in the ass to change the headlight bulb which is connected with a flimsy harness with burnt contacts and a clip made out of paperclip gauge baling wire. And if something happens to the lens, its big $ to replace.

    • 0 avatar

      The headlights in my Cadillac XTS are wonderful…. except apparently for oncoming traffic. When I am driving on sparsely populated roads, I get flashed for using my high beams. When I flash the high beams to show that I am on low beams, the flasher gets a rude awakening.

  • avatar

    Replacing your kneecap with a 20″ aluminum wheel… now that’s luxury!

    • 0 avatar

      …and that first picture was the top-rated Continental! In the tests of poorly rated cars, the aluminum wheel replaces your rib cage and segments your lungs, so it’s a trade off.

  • avatar

    This is a terribly written piece that reeks of the typical motortrend garbage written by unscrupulous auto “journalists”. The IIHS said that the Tesla Model S would give the driver a serious head injury in a small overlap impact, with the driver’s head hitting the steering wheel. They repeated the test multiple times with the same results. Tesla has been claiming that the model S is the safest car ever made, and this clearly shows otherwise. How can you write this story without even mentioning this? The truth about cars is getting harder to find here every day.

    • 0 avatar

      bobdod, you might want to consider cutting back on caffeine. The story’s only mention of the Tesla was that it fell short of the top safety rating, partly because it got only an Acceptable on the small frontal crash test. I think that’s a pretty clear implication that the Tesla is 1) not a top-shelf performer on the small frontal crash test, and 2) not the safest car ever made.

      Going beyond that to make a sweeping indictment of whatever Tesla’s marketing is saying these days seems a bit beyond the scope of this story.

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Posky

        I’m not sure bashing the Model S needlessly would have been tantamount to providing “the truth about cars.”

        We’ve plenty of other articles that are highly critical of Tesla, if you’re just looking for a fix.

  • avatar

    “Due to the massive amount of force focused on the narrow area directly in front of the driver, the IIHS believes small overlap wrecks account for at least one-quarter of the fatalities and serious injuries sustained in frontal impacts.”

    I wish they’d publish raw data on this. All my stories are anecdotal but I’ve been in insurance for almost 20 years. I see hardly any wrecks that develop like a small overlap wreck test. When they do, one or both typically deflects away or one or both rotates into the other. Of all the ‘run a car on a rail into a big cement block tests’ that the IIHS does, this one seems the most artificial to me. I’ve seen accidents with left front corner impacts knocking the floorboard and firewall in breaking feet/legs/hips but I can’t recall a fatality from this. Most of the vehicle fatalities I’ve seen have been because one vehicle leaves the roadway or there’s a substantial difference in vehicle mass. High speed collisions as well but much less frequently than those other 2.

    • 0 avatar

      You really need to parse the statement by the IIHS. What they’re saying is that the small front overlap accounts for at least one quarter of fatalities AND SERIOUS INJURIES in FRONTAL IMPACTS.

      So it isn’t one quarter of fatalities in all crashes, it is one quarter of fatalities and serious injuries (a larger set of victims than just fatalities) in frontal impacts (a smaller subset of crashes).

  • avatar

    My main issue with these tests is that they’re always against an [effectively] immovable object. When cars collide, mass matters. Assuming everything else is equal, the vehicle with the greater mass will experience less deceleration than the vehicle with the lower mass.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Yup, the Ford Mustang’s crash rating has been upgraded globally.

    Has Ford fixed it?

    The Mustang is still one Star below the Chinese Foton Tunland pickup!

    3 Stars! It now has. A Fiesta or Focus is safer!

    Ford’s response, “Its safe enough”. Fnck Ford.

  • avatar

    Most of the complaints I’ve heard about headlights today has to do with the intense brightness of the projector beam style. Any rise, bump or other body movement will put the full beam into an oncoming driver’s eyes.

    • 0 avatar

      How many cars include dash mounted (or automatic) adjustments for loads in the trunk or rear seat.

      In the early 90s I was living in Europe and many very average cars included a dial similar to the one that adjusts the gauge cluster brightness.

      This dial would tilt the driver’s side headlight up or down. Maybe both sides – but I can’t be sure of that.

      Those were light cars with soft rear suspensions so having four people on board made a difference to the car’s posture.

      Maybe this would be useful in the USA too? Don’t know if Americans would care enough about the their fellow motorists to adjustment them though.

  • avatar

    “Amicably” is the wrong word. “Ford’s absence” is clumsy and wrong.

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