By on October 19, 2017

IIHS crash test, Image: IIHS/YouTube

First, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety bagan irking the automotive industry by performing crash tests. Then it devised more. Eventually, the IIHS ratcheted the bar up to a previously unseen height, demanding vehicles undergo the dreaded small overlap front crash test — a 2012 addition to its testing regimen. Covering just 25 percent of the frontal area of the car, the test mimics a not-quite-glancing-enough head-on collision, or perhaps an impact with a tree or utility pole.

New vehicles failed the test in droves. Firewalls were deformed. Dummies’ legs exited the vehicles in mangled fashion. The Dodge Challenger got a black eye. In response, the industry raced to beef up its front ends, eager for a marketable high crash test score.

Now, a year after becoming concerned that automakers were focusing efforts on only the driver’s side of the vehicle, IIHS is turning its attention to the passenger side. A new crash test is born. But how did the first crop of vehicles — 13 midsize cars — fare in this new test?

Quite well, actually.

“The midsize cars we tested didn’t have any glaring structural deficiencies on the right side,” said IIHS Senior Research Engineer Becky Mueller in a statement. “Optimizing airbags and safety belts to provide better head protection for front-seat passengers appears to be the most urgent task now.”

None of the vehicles tested showed a poor or marginal structural rating, the nonprofit safety organization claims. That’s quite a change from the crop of vehicles (small SUVs) IIHS tested for research purposes. In that provisional test, only two models — the 2016 Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, both structurally identical — received a “good” rating.

The passenger-side small overlap tests changes little from the earlier test; engineers just add a second dummy to the passenger seat, and reverse which side of the car takes the brunt of the 40 mph impact. Last year’s publication of research tests apparently tipped off the industry that a new test was on the way.

“Clearly, some manufacturers were paying attention,” Mueller said. “Many of the cars in this group are equipped with improved passenger airbags that appear to be designed to do well in our test and in an oblique test that the government is considering adding to its safety ratings.”

In the midsize car class, the 2018 Subaru Outback and Legacy scored top marks in the new test. In this case, the passenger-side footwell held up well, with only 4 inches of intrusion at the right edge of the toepan. Front and side airbags and the seatbelt all performed according to plan.

Also earning an overall “good” rating in the test are the Ford Fusion, Lincoln MKZ, Honda Accord, 2018 Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima and Maxima, and Mazda 6. The Mazda earned top marks despite nine inches of footwell intrusion. Still, the dummy showed no signs of injury, so the swoopy sedan earned a spot on the top podium.

Unfortunately for the Chevrolet Malibu and Volkswagen Passat, the passenger dummy’s head slid off the front airbag and hit the dashboard, leading to a potential for head injuries. It also means a “marginal” rating for both vehicles. Volkswagen’s Jetta earned a second-from-top “acceptable” rating thanks to less-than-stellar passenger restraints.

[Image: IIHS/YouTube]

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31 Comments on “IIHS Throws Another Hurdle at Automakers: The Passenger-side Small Overlap Crash Test...”


  • avatar
    jmkom

    Nice job Subaru!

    • 0 avatar
      Cactuar

      Subaru really is the new Volvo :)

      • 0 avatar
        djsyndrome

        When it came time to finally retire our old 240s we started buying Subarus, mostly due to their attention to safety. This news just reinforces that decision (the missus drives a current-gen Outback).

      • 0 avatar
        Garrett

        No it isn’t.

        The Subaru Outback only scored acceptable on small overlap in the 2013-2015 model years.

        The Volvo XC90 gets a good starting as far back as 2003, the oldest data available.

        Volvo is basically a decade ahead of the IIHS, and well more than a decade ahead of Subaru.

        • 0 avatar
          djsyndrome

          The small overlap test did not exist in 2003.

          If you look at the page for the XC90, the vehicle tested was actually a 2014 (http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/vehicle/v/volvo/xc90-4-door-suv/2003 , click the Small Overlap front: Driver Side on the left). IIHS certifies this data under the assumption that no structural improvements were made between 2003 and 2014, which may or may not be true, but it’s even a stretch for Volvo to say they made no changes at all over 11 years to the car that would have affected the test.

          You’re also comparing vehicles from two entirely different size and price classes. All else being equal, I would expect a two-ton-plus vehicle with a larger hood surface area to hold up better in most impact tests than a 3300 lb wagon priced for mass market consumption.

          Subaru will never “catch up” to Volvo because it’s not in the same class. Its vehicles are generally safer than their mass-market counterparts, and that’s what matters.

          • 0 avatar
            Deontologist

            “IIHS certifies this data under the assumption that no structural improvements were made between 2003 and 2014, which may or may not be true, but it’s even a stretch for Volvo to say they made no changes at all over 11 years to the car that would have affected the test.”

            The IIHS has engineers who review industry white papers and other publications for structural changes. It also asks the automaker whether they made significant structural changes. The IIHS isn’t operating under any “assumption” about vehicle structures. They either know something has changed and/or the manufacturer tells them something changed.

            Sure, I guess a manufacturer could try to lie, but I don’t see any benefit to lying when the IIHS regularly tears down vehicles and inspects the crash structures such as the front frame rails, bumpers, etc. There are plenty of pictures on the IIHS of brand-new, torn-down vehicles with relevant crash structures spray painted in different colors. It’s not as if the IIHS just fell off the turnip truck.

            In the case of the XC90, you can see that the IIHS has been closely tracking any changes, as the “Good” side-impact ratings don’t apply to 2003-2004 models because the early models had slightly different airbag setups. Clearly, the IIHS has been keeping up with the XC90’s evolution.

            Finally, the IIHS itself noted that Volvo has been conducting similar small-overlap crash tests since the late 1980s.

        • 0 avatar
          anomaly149

          @Garrett, I’d really hope Volvo scored well in small overlap, as far as I know it’s essentially a Volvo internal test that IIHS copied.

      • 0 avatar
        brandloyalty

        Does Volvo advertise on Fox News, as Subaru does? Given Subaru’s branding this seems a bit odd.

    • 0 avatar
      Richard Chen

      The Forester did not do so well, earning an M but better than the RAV4’s P

      http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/v/class-summary/small-suvs

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    While I applaud the effort to improve crash protection, the automakers are in a 3-way vise between the IIHS, the EPA, and the NHTSA over crash safety vs. emissions, and fuel economy.

    They’re interrelated issues that force engineers to make tradeoffs, and having three masters with exclusive concerns and separate authority prevents engineers from making those tradeoffs.

    This system seems almost designed to promote misleading headlines and provide lucrative activity for lawyers. What it doesn’t do is consider the wants/needs of car buyers, or educate them about the tradeoffs involved.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      I’m not sure I follow. I don’t know of any NHTSA and IIHS requirements that conflict. And meeting fuel economy isn’t THAT tough; smaller, less-powerful engines will do the trick just fine for quite some time. (The “slow” “underpowered” cars of today would have been considered quite quick a while ago.)

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Crash safety requires more weight, requiring bigger engines, resulting in poorer fuel economy and possible increased emissions. They’re all interrelated, requiring a balanced approach that incorporates tradeoffs. Now we have IIHS pushing the NHTSA on the crash component.

        Since NHTSE handles both fuel economy and safety, maybe the fuel economy should be jettisoned. I’d be in favor of forcing the EPA to do the legally mandated cost-benefit analysis before imposing stricter standards too. They’re chasing ever smaller improvements in air quality at ever higher cost, and have admitted in court that they’ve NEVER conducted the legally required cost-benefit analysis.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      The IIHS morbidly fascinates me. Here is an NGO that literally wields governmental power over automakers.
      I would love to hear what some of the Right Wing leaning commenters here who rail against (big bad) government regulations think about the IIHS.
      My biggest bitch with the IIHS is that they encourage repressive driving laws and law enforcement techniques.

      • 0 avatar

        They lie. They make up studies, which “prove” those lies. They then get those “studies” into every trade journal and industry think tank they can find, be it legal, insurance, or medical. They then close the circle with “a study, as featured in Really Credible Medical Journal, says….”

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Surprised turn signal output and pattern are not on the list next!

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I gotta wonder what the automakers were thinking when modifying their cars only for driver’s side protection. They should have guessed that the bar would subsequently be raised on the passenger side too.

    • 0 avatar
      Heino

      This. I wonder how many manufacturers were engineering their vehicles just to pass the current regime of tests. A very reactionary way of addressing safety.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      It doesn’t seem like it’s the structure of the car that makes the difference. It’s the airbag and seatbelt configuration. I can see why mfrs would work harder on driver protection since the car always has a driver but doesn’t always have a passenger.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      I’m not sure, but I’d wager that most of these small overlap accidents are vehicles crossing the centerline. Hence the emphasis on the driver’s side. You have to go pretty far off the road in most situations to get a tree or telephone pole that has this sort of effect on the pass. Side.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        This. The argument for the driver side small overlap crash test was that it replicates accidents that happen, as opposed to ones that almost never do. I’m surprised how little thought is evident in people’s responses to this new idiot tax.

        • 0 avatar
          brandloyalty

          You can test your claim. Take a given car model’s name and google the name and “salvage”. This will get you pictures of damaged cars. Add up the ones with right front or left front damage, and report back. I doubt examples with right front damage are almost non-existent as you claimed.

          • 0 avatar
            brandloyalty

            Hm, I just tried this for a certain suv. There were a few more with front right damage than with front left damage. “Idiot tax” case dismissed, with prejudice.

      • 0 avatar
        Garrett

        Not true.

        Cross the centerline, and catch another car head on before you can go off the other side of the road.

        It happens.

      • 0 avatar
        brandloyalty

        Given that roads are crowned for drainage, my guess is that more cars go off the right side than cross into oncoming traffic. I don’t know how to decide if oncoming cars on the left are more numerous than obstructions on the right. But you can still have a right-side overlap by crossing to the left, and vice versa.

        However to counter this argument, I believe left front body parts are harder to get from salvage yards than right front parts.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Passenger in the front do not sit as close as the driver does. This test is a ruse.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    I shortly had the same suspicion that the IIHS had, but a few seconds afterwards it occured to me that a lot of these cars are sold as RHD in countries where they drive on the wrong side of the road, so the manufacturers wouldn’t save much money on just reinforcing half the car.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    You know, you can complain all you want about cheaper interiors and hard plastics all you want, but this is the trade-off for safer vehicles.

    Between the NHTSA, the IIHS and the EPA, no wonder, they have to cut costs somewhere, and if it means a safer vehicle in a world of increasing knuckleheads and distracted driving, I’m OK with that.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    IIHS struggling for relevancy. Next up, the 6 ton steel I beam dropped on the roof test. Ooh, you scored poor there, good luck next refresh while everyone slams your vehicle as unsafe.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Steinway “B” breaks loose from crane lifting it out of the window of a fifth-floor walk-up in Greenwich Village, flattens Nissan Rogue Über Black at the curb below! (Driver had just stepped out to grab a knish at the deli across the street!) Details at 6:00!

  • avatar

    A non automotive friend, otherwise politically astute, observed that “crash testing is the ONLY time my interests and the IIHS align”.

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