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

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
iihs throws another hurdle at automakers the passenger side small overlap crash test

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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  • 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".

  • MrIcky I would like to compare the answers here against the answers in the recent civil forfeiture article- but I won't because research is hard. It's true though that currently a ticket has no punitive value on those with means and maybe an outsized punitive value on those without. That's not communism, that's just the way it is. Speeding tickets are too arbitrary anyway though: officer discretion, speed trap towns, excessively low speed zones in areas to increase ticket revenue instead of safety, etc. I could clearly see a case where expensive cars are selectively enforced over cheap cars because you only have so much time in a day to up the revenue. It's a gray rainy crap morning and I'm sure the government will do it wrong.
  • 28-Cars-Later Feels a bit high but then again... forget it Jake, its Clown World.In 2021 someone in Sewickley had an MY01 soft top in a manual with 54K otc which I am fairly certain was a 996 and not a Boxster - $20K. I already had my C70 at the shop being reborn and could have done the $20K but it would have been tight and just didn't make sense. Still...
  • SCE to AUX Q: Should Speeding Fines Be Based on Income?A: Yes. Rich people (the guy with $1 more than you) should pay less, because giving his income to the government means he has to lay off a worker at his business.Laws are for poor people./s
  • SCE to AUX "Volvo has suggested it’s capable of yielding 275 miles of range"Every non-US car's range estimate is based on WLTP - worth mentioning.EPA range never 'backs up' WLTP; it's always about 15% lower - so figure maybe 234 miles. Not great, except as a commuter.As for the interior - it's obviously a Model 3 clone, but the screen is substantially smaller. Incidentally, I suspect Tesla made the Model 3/Y interior so minimalist to save money - not just to be different. When you're trying to become profitable on EVs, every dollar counts.
  • SCE to AUX "there haven’t been a lot of good examples hitting the market recently. Most models are aimed at the affluent, resulting in 9,000-pound behemoths with six-figure price tags"I hope you were joking, because that is blatantly false.