IIHS Throws Another Hurdle at Automakers: The Passenger-side Small Overlap Crash Test

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Danio3834 Danio3834 on Oct 19, 2017

    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.

    • Sgeffe Sgeffe on Oct 20, 2017

      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!

  • Speedlaw Speedlaw on Oct 20, 2017

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

  • GregLocock Not interested at all. Apparently I've got Apple car play but I've never used it in 3 years. The built in nav is ok.
  • Corey Lewis Probably worth about what they're asking, given its condition. The color combo isn't a desirable one, they look sharper in non-beige shades. Like two-tone green, maroon, navy, or gray. The end of the time when MB built its cars properly. No shame in turning up in a clean W126, they'll always command respect.
  • Lou_BC Another way to look at this is the upgrading of hardware and software. ...............The average length of car ownership is 10 - 12 years ....................The average lifetime ownership of a cell phone is 2.5 years. ................................................................... My phone will remain up to date, my vehicle won't. Especially if you buy a new "end of run" model.
  • TheEndlessEnigma "...we could be seeing a foundational shift in how Americans and car buyers see Stellantis products." yeah, I view Stellantis products as being off the cross-shop list. Stellantis is doing an excellent job of killing the Chrysler and Dodge brands and turning Jeep into something it isn't.
  • 2manyvettes 495 hp in a base C8 is more than enough. 800+ hp in a ZR1 is not worth the extra $60k (plus dealer markups). Unless the buyer is going for bragging rights. I remember when the C7 Grand Sport came out, and a reviewer got his hands on one and put it on the track at Lime Rock. His conclusion? Save yourself $15k and skip the Z06 and get a Grand Sport.