By on June 12, 2018

Image: IIHS/YouTube

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety never rests, always thinking up new ways to expose flaws in contemporary passenger vehicles. Lately, the IIHS has begun applying the dreaded small overlap front crash test to the passenger side of new models. There’s a seat on that side for a reason, and it’s not inconceivable that a roadside utility pole or obstruction could take out that corner of the vehicle.

The latest IIHS test put popular midsize crossovers through their paces, exposing serious safety concerns in two models.

Of the eight midsizers tested, six earned a “good” or “acceptable” rating in the passenger-side small overlap crash. Two rated a “poor” based on the performance of the body structure, passenger restraints, and the likelihood of injuries.

The good utility vehicles include the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas and GMC Acadia, as well as the 2019 Kia Sorento. Top marks all around, though the Acadia gets dinged in the passenger restraint category. During the test, the dummy’s head slid off the side of the airbag, exposing it to potential injury. Otherwise, the vehicle held together as designed.

The acceptable category includes the 2018 Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and Nissan Pathfinder, though the vehicles arrived at their final score in different ways. The Pilot’s structure didn’t deforn in a serious manner, but its passenger restraints scored a second-from-bottom “marginal” after the dummy’s head slid off the airbag and hit the dashboard. The Pathfinder and Highlander reversed this result, scoring “good” for passenger restraints but only marginal for body integrity.

Image: IIHS/YouTube

No vehicles involved in the test scored “marginal” as an overall rating, which makes the performance of the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee all the more glaring. Both models appeared for the 2011 model year, making them the oldest in the test. And both limped away with a “poor” rating.

According to the IIHS, the Explorer’s structure “was seriously compromised.”

“Intrusion reached 15 inches at the lower door hinge pillar and 13 inches at the upper door hinge pillar and the dashboard,” the organization stated. “The door sill was pushed in 6 inches toward the dummy. Measures taken from the dummy showed a high likelihood of injuries to the right hip in a real-world crash of the same severity, as well as a possibility of left lower leg injuries.”

This result is similar to the model’s driver-side small overlap test. Of the eight vehicles, the Explorer was the only vehicle to garner a “poor” rating for structural integrity, and the low score for hip and thigh injuries pushed its overall score to the lowest rung.

While the Grand Cherokee rates a “marginal” for structural integrity, poor passenger restraint performance and the likelihood of lower extremity injuries placed it in the same overall category as the Explorer. The organization said the Grand Cherokee saw a “maximum intrusion of 10 inches at the lower door hinge pillar.”

“More alarming was what happened to the passenger dummy’s head,” the IIHS report stated. “It hit the dashboard hard through the front airbag and then, because the side curtain airbag didn’t deploy and the door opened, it moved outside the vehicle during rebound. Measures from the dummy indicated that right leg injuries would be likely in a crash of this severity and a head injury would be possible.”

It’s a black eye for two strong-selling models, but because of their age, these results likely won’t stand for long. Both the Explorer and Grand Cherokee stand to see a full redesign for the 2020 model year, with the vehicles hitting dealers sometime in 2019.

[Images: IIHS/YouTube]

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55 Comments on “Two Aging Midsize SUVs Fail Latest Round of Crash Tests...”

  • avatar



    • 0 avatar

      Every time I see these crash tests, I’m reminded of a 2009 head-on collision between an MG and a Grand Cherokee where the MG driver survived.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      I’m sure my 4Runner would biff this test as well. Didn’t do so hot on the driver side. Can’t win them all.

      The Wrangler’s performance in the driver side small overlap test is thoroughly amusing. The inward taper of the front end allows most of the vehicle’s structure to miss the barrier and it just glances off and continues on its way, sans wheel and with a misaligned door.

      • 0 avatar

        “I’m sure my 4Runner would biff this test as well. ”

        Which brings up the question of: Why don’t they test all of the largest selling vehicles in each segment? Toyota sells about 130,000 4Runners each year. Not an insignificant amount. IIHS gets its money from insurance companies – I’m sure they could afford it.

        I have often thought that this kind of “selective enforcement” is more about making headlines then giving people useful information.

        Skeptical Me also wonders if their are backroom deals to keep certain models out of the testing regime.

  • avatar

    Vince and Larry must have stratospheric auto insurance premiums, they’ve been involved in thousands of personal injury accidents. I don’t even think the General would carry those two lead foots.

  • avatar

    Are these new & fiendish tests based on some sort of genuine problem or just new ways to keep themselves in business?

    I’m all for safety but at some point returns start diminishing and common sense leaves the room……

    • 0 avatar

      The IIHS figured out that small-overlap tests were causing a large amount of injuries and fatalities which is what lead to this test.

      Just testing the driver’s side isn’t enough because inevitably companies will find a way to weasel out of making the passenger side as safe as the driver’s.

      • 0 avatar

        I want to believe that the IIHS is all about risk reduction. But the more specialized these tests become, the more they start looking like data porn.

        Shocking! The Top Three Most Dangerous Crossovers In Which To Spill Hot Coffee In Your Lap While Negotiating An Off-Camber Turn On A Tuesday Afternoon!

        • 0 avatar

          The small overlap test seems like it would be more common in the text-while-driving era as distracted drivers drift over just slightly into oncoming traffic.

          • 0 avatar

            “The small overlap test seems like it would be more common in the text-while-driving era as distracted drivers drift over just slightly into oncoming traffic.”

            Then they should call it that.

            “Cell phone inattention test.”

            They can also call it, “Autopilot failure test”.

            It’s all about marketing.

      • 0 avatar

        In truth, driver’s-side safety is more important because there often isn’t a passenger.

      • 0 avatar

        “Just testing the driver’s side isn’t enough because inevitably companies will find a way to weasel out of making the passenger side as safe as the driver’s.”

        Of course. That stuff costs money.

        “Hey, Bill–shouldn’t we do that to the passenger side, too??

        “Are they testing the passenger side?”


        “Then, no.” (goes off to cash bonus check)

    • 0 avatar

      Counterpoint: Volvo will beat tests the IIHS has yet to design. Their goal is zero fatalities.

      What is Ford’s goal? They should state their goal, let the public decide, and everyone can vote with their wallets.

      • 0 avatar
        cimarron typeR

        Correction … was their goal. Now , under Chinese ownership, profit is primary goal.

        • 0 avatar

          I’m pretty sure Volvo always was a for-profit company.

        • 0 avatar

          And yet their current crop of new models manage to be safer than the previous ones.

          It’s almost as if people will pay money for cars that do a better job of protecting their families. For some reason, I seem to recall that Volvo is the brand that people use as a high water mark when comparing safety.

          No matter how tempting an FCA vehicle looks, I know that they manage to care even less about safety than Ford or GM.

    • 0 avatar

      This test is designed to replicate what happens when the driver has a glancing hit to a fixed object such as a utility pole or a tree. I’m presuming that it is valid because most drivers in the moment of panic before they hit something, attempt to avoid that something. If not 100% successful, this is the type of hit that is possible to sustain.

      I think it’s also wise to consider what the overall percentage of fatalities are suffered at the occurrence of such an accident; that is, what are your chances of taking such a hit and does it justify worrying or replacing your current car?
      Borrowed from Motor Trend: Per IIHS data, of the roughly 10,000 fatalities that stemmed from frontal crashes in 2012, about 25 percent were the result of this small overlap phenomenon.
      Source: motortrend com/news/iihs-small-overlap-big-deal-the-kiinote/
      I always purchase used cars so I’ve traded a bit of my own personal safety for cost savings. While I think it’s admirable to try and continue to make cars safer, I will not be losing any sleep under the assumption that my car does not perform terribly well in this test (11 Camaro, not tested).
      When I chose my wife’s car, however, it was heavily influenced by a very poor rating for this test and I did not buy a Nissan Quest that I had planned on.

      Common sense is underrated, but to each their own.

  • avatar

    Meh, both were designed prior to the establishment of this test as a benchmark. I wouldn’t expect either to do well.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly. Not much of a shock that they flunked this test.

      • 0 avatar

        “Not much of a shock that they flunked a test invented a week ago.”

        Fixed that for you.

        And remember that sentiment ongoing, as you look at IIHS stuff.

        My new GTI has superb headlights, better than I’ve ever had. But IIHS fails them, based on a rationale they invented three months ago. IIHS fails EVERY headlight system that’s currently in place.

        It’s like IIHS is the new California.

    • 0 avatar

      The Volvo XC90 passed the small overlap test when the test was introduced, despite the vehicle basically being a decade old.

      Automakers shouldn’t try to meet the standards they are accountable today – they should be trying to design something that will still perform well when the goalposts are moved, and we all know they will move.

    • 0 avatar

      I have to point out that Mitsubishi (everyone’s whipping boy for low quality, embarrassing cars) aced the original driver side test right out of the gate with 3 of their 4 models (the Mirage was acceptable). And we all know those were low-budget redos of older platforms from the halls of DaimlerChrysler.

      Age doesn’t excuse failure.

      There’s probably some third-world market/poor road quality experience at play for Mitsu.

  • avatar

    So I assume the Explorer test applies to it’s platform mates as well?

    (Flex and Taurus.)

    • 0 avatar

      No, you cannot make that assumption. Neither the Flex or Taurus have had the passenger side small overlap test done.

    • 0 avatar

      Many of the newer vehicles that did well, didn’t update the platform. They updated other aspects of the vehicle. It’s not reasonable to assume it’s a platform issue.

      Interestingly, the Taurus is wider and longer than the Explorer. It has more crumple space (crazy thick doors). I’d be curious to see how it’d to in such a test.

  • avatar

    To Ford’s credit, offset crash protection is equally crappy on both sides of the Explorer. Somehow it would seem worse if they’d reinforced only the driver’s side in anticipation of the test.

  • avatar

    This shows how far crash safety has progressed in recent years. The Explorer/Flex/Taurus originated in a full-size Volvo platform renowned in its era for its crash safety. Ford undoubtedly didn’t advance it much, and they may be using cheaper steels, but to be so inferior to its modern competitors speaks eloquently to the advances CAD/CAM has enabled.

    • 0 avatar

      This has nothing to do with advances in CAD/CAM, sure some new features have been added in the CAD programs recently but CAD has been considered mature for many years. This is all about “teaching to the test” and this wasn’t on the old standardized tests, so the teachers (designers) didn’t care about it. Now that it is on the IIHS standardized test they are “teaching” to that.

      • 0 avatar

        Scoutdude, if you think the state of the art hasn’t legitimately advanced since the platform that gave birth to the Explorer, watch this. It’s a crash test between two same-model vehicles, one from the year Volvo introduced that platform, the other the same model as sold today. Then tell me if you think the difference between the two can be written off as the automaker simply “teaching to the test” for the specific crash type being tested.

        • 0 avatar

          RE my reply to Scoutdude, evidently this site cuts off links. I’d attached one from the leading video site entitled “1998 Toyota Corolla vs 2015 Toyota Corolla (Auris) – Crash Test”. A quick search of that site should turn it up for you; suffice it to say it’s an eye-opener.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford deserves to have a low stock price of 12.0 USD. Hackett the hatchet-man will make things worse.

      What a disgrace!

  • avatar

    So Ford wants to cancel safe cars like the Fusion in favor of unsafe SUV’s like the Explorer.

    Ford – what a disgrace

    • 0 avatar

      Explorer is due to be replaced in 2020 with the new CD6 modular platform. Why on earth would they reinvent the wheel for one or two more model years? To get the current chassis to pass this test would require a fair if not substantial amount of reengineering.

      • 0 avatar

        Honda yanked the Fit from our market briefly after it fared poorly on crash tests.

        Maybe Ford should have the guts to do the same.

        What’s worse is that Explorers are used as police vehicles. They should be held to a higher standard.

        • 0 avatar

          “What’s worse is that Explorers are used as police vehicles. They should be held to a higher standard.”

          They’re held pretty high. Remember the Taurus and the Explorer are the only two police vehicles (to my knowledge, at least) that are rated for a 75mph (moving barrier) rear impact. That ain’t nothin.

      • 0 avatar

        Plenty of car companies were able to retrofit models for mid cycle refreshes. The 2014 Honda Odyssey comes to mind, or the 2015 Honda Crv. Look at the difference in the tests on insurance institutes website.

        • 0 avatar

          Again, why would Ford invest in a vehicle that is going to be around for one more calendar year? The current chassis is being retired and there are no mid cycle refreshes coming down the pipe.

  • avatar

    What’s the ultimate goal of continually tightening crash standards?

    A indestructible vehicle, or an unaffordable one?

  • avatar

    If I were a getaway driver I would laugh at an Explorer police cruiser following me. An Explorer simply cannot turn and burn. What a ridiculous choice for a police pursuit vehicle.

  • avatar

    I am no engineer, but I wonder if the steering column has anything to do with the results on the driver’s side as opposed to the passenger side. The need for extra components–even if the column itself is collapsible–seems like it could potentially make a difference on the driver’s side.

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