By on September 6, 2017

IIHS small truck overlap crash test

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently ran eight pickups through the small overlap front crash test, which replicates one of the most infamous and deadly of accident types — one where the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or object. The segment, which the IIHS called “small pickups,” could easily be categorized as midsize. But, with no smaller options currently available in the domestic market, their terminology works well enough.

So, how did the smaller pickups stack up when hurled toward a concrete pylon at 40 miles an hour? A little better than you might expect.

If we were absolutely forced to drive into a brick wall, we’d probably prefer to be seated in a full-size truck — specifically the Ford F-150 SuperCab. But the junior pickup group wasn’t a segment full of deathtraps. In fact, they suffered less structural deformation overall and posed less risk of injury to the lower leg region when compared to their full-size brethren. There were exceptions, however. 

Nissan’s Frontier, which is now approximately four thousand years old, performed the worst within its segment. Both the Frontier King Cab and Frontier Crew Cab earned marginal ratings. But the extensive physical deformation of the Crew Cab earned it a poor structural score, while the King Cab fared slightly better.

“This group of small pickups performed better in the small overlap front test than many of their larger pickup cousins,” explained David Zuby, the Institute’s executive vice president and chief research officer. “The exception was the Nissan Frontier, which hasn’t had a structural redesign since the 2005 model year.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t have expected the same level of crash-worthiness from a vehicle that’s been around since 2004. The good news is that the Nissans aren’t breaking in half. (They’re just allowing the footwell to buckle into the driver’s lower extremities by over 12 inches.)

IIHS small truck overlap crash test

The Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon also had issues keeping foot and leg injuries to a minimum in Extended Cab format, receiving similarly poor marks. The difference is that their structural might proved better than the Nissan’s. The pair received an adequate overall rating in Extended Cab guise and a good score when optioned as a Crew Cab.

Toyota Tacoma’s crew cab, which the automaker calls the Double Cab, was the top performer in the small overlap test. The Tacoma Double Cab earned a good rating with above-average marks for everything but lower-leg protection, which was still deemed adequate. The Access Cab model received a similar assessment but was found to be slightly less structurally sound overall. Still, the issue wasn’t serious enough to keep it from receiving a positive final score.

Despite half the segment receiving good ratings from the IIHS, none were deemed worthy of a Safety Pick award. Only models that earn good ratings in the Institute’s five crashworthiness tests and an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention (with standard or optional automatic braking), can qualify for a 2017 Top Safety Pick achievement. Vehicles with headlights earning good or acceptable ratings can also qualify for a Top Safety Pick Plus awards.

However, none of the trucks made the grade, as all were slighted for having subpar headlamps. The Institute began stressing the importance of headlights last year to encourage manufacturers to improve nighttime driving visibility and reduce glare for oncoming drivers. Every truck in the segment received a poor headlight score.

“Headlights are basic but vital safety equipment. Drivers shouldn’t have to give up the ability to see the road at night when they choose a small pickup,” Zuby said.

A breakdown of each vehicle’s performance can be found on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website, as well as additional details on the small overlap front test.

IIHS small truck overlap crash test

[Images: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety]

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20 Comments on “Smaller Pickups Outperformed the Big Boys in IIHS Overlap Crash Test...”

  • avatar

    It would be helpful to have comparison data for these trucks 1/2 ton cousins without having to look it up ourselves.

  • avatar
    Landau Calrissian

    That first paragraph addresses something that always rustles my jimmies: why do we call these mid-size pickups if they’re the smallest ones available in the US? I know they’re bigger than they used to be, but so are the Civic/Corolla/Focus/etc, and we still call those compacts. By definition, how can there be a medium if there’s only two sizes?

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Because there are other sizes available elsewhere. The midsize is not small or compact.

      If the only pickups available were fullsize, would a F150 be a compact?

  • avatar

    Listen, I’m only an amateur physicist- but it stands to reason that the harder they come, the harder they fall. A heavier vehicle has more kinetic energy when it hits that barrier, so the damage sill be more extreme. Especially in side impacts, where there’s a limited crush space.

    So many truck drivers enjoy a feeling of safety in mass. They must be thinking of potential accidents as football collisions, where the larger player “wins.” Maybe so, but that ignores the large category of one-vehicle accidents where the collision is with a pole or a tree or some other immovable object.

    • 0 avatar

      I choose to respectfully challenge your conclusions.

      The issue is that they’re comparing smaller vehicles against immovable objects and larger vehicles against immovable objects. When going against an immovable object, mass does not help. You may be correct, there’s more energy to combat. You also have more room to combat it, so it might be a wash.

      Accidents don’t typically involve immovable objects. In fact the test this article focuses on (small overlap), is intended to simulate vehicle vs vehicle. In this case, mass does matter. The vehicle with more mass will typically force the lower massed vehicle to absorb more than 50% of the energy of the crash, as it pushes the smaller vehicle backwards (more Gs for the small vehicle, fewer Gs for the larger vehicle).

      If it’s vehicle vs vehicle and all else is equal, mass helps.

    • 0 avatar

      Any poles or pillars near the road that aren’t designed to collapse will typically be shielded by a guard rail. Trees are rarely close to high speed roads. It usually takes extreme negligence to reach an immovable object at fatal speeds.

      My favorite article on the subject:

      “For every pickup truck driver killed in a side impact, 25 were killed in a car . . .”

      “At the University of Buffalo, medical researchers found when an SUV hits a car, even if the car has a better crash test rating, its driver was still four times more likely to wind up dead in the collision.”

      “In Montreal, scientists sifted through data on three million Canadian crashes and found driving an SUV instead of a car makes a driver 224 per cent more likely to cause a fatal crash.”

      “In just one of the years studied, 1997, 5,373 Americans were killed in a crash between a van or truck. Of those, an incredible 81 per cent had been car passengers.”

      “A study from the University of California, San Diego, meanwhile, found every life saved in a large vehicle came at the expense of 4.3 dead pedestrians, motorcyclists and car drivers.”

      ““In frontal crashes, SUVs tend to ride over shorter passenger vehicles … crushing the occupant of the passenger car” . . . This helps explains how cars that consistently pass crash tests with flying colours, such as the Honda Civic and the Nissan Cube, are some of the deadliest on the road.”

      It’s an arms race.

  • avatar

    OK, so now drive a large pickup into a small pickup at 40 miles per hour, and let us know if the small guys still outperformed…

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly. See my post above.

      It puzzles me why they don’t perform the test you describe.

      • 0 avatar

        There are two real classes of crash data. Instrumented single vehicle crashes like this test. The beauty of this kind of test is you are really testing the crash-worthiness of the design with the elimination of the human factor, and other factors such as ride height. Repeatable, and very valuable. No surprise that weight in this test is irrelevant. Crash performance can be outstanding without all that lard; design is the story here.

        The other, real world data takes into account design, plus every variable you can throw into the mix. Here, weight disparity is a big factor in survival, as is ride height. Physics is physics (it was a warm summer night in ancient Greece). A big pickup with a poor rating will demolish a midsize car with top safety scores. But the better handling vehicle might prevent the accident in the first place. So, it is an arms race; buy what you think will be better for you. I’ll take maneuverability over mindless mass, but you have a choice.

    • 0 avatar

      Crash test dummies are simply too expensive to turn into mush for the sake of your amusement!

  • avatar

    No matter what I hope my Takata airbags work, cause that’s gonna hurt no matter what.

  • avatar

    Finally a crash test where an FCA product isn’t bringing up the rear…although if they actually had a product in this segment, I’m sure it would perform in an unsatisfactory manner.

  • avatar

    Why didnt they test the Ridgeline. What a diss. I bet it would have had top scores.

    • 0 avatar

      Why don’t they test a lot of things? It drives me crazy. They’ll release a “top picks” in a category without performing all tests on all vehicles. If they don’t bother to do one test on a particular vehicle, that vehicle is out of the running, even though it may be superior to others.

      I get that you may not be able to test every vehicle out there, but don’t release a “top picks”, which marketers love, when you neglect major players.

    • 0 avatar

      They did. Just not in the same press release. It’s a top safety pick+.

  • avatar

    Mass does not equal safety. If mass were the most important thing, a Cadillac from the 80s would be a very safe car today.

    That said, I am replacing my Golf TDI with an F-150.

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