By on September 19, 2019

Tesla scored its first big win with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) this week after the group graced the 2019 Model 3 with its coveted Top Safety Pick+ award. “Vehicles with alternative powertrains have come into their own,” IIHS Chief Research Officer David Zuby said. “There’s no need to trade away safety for a lower carbon footprint when choosing a vehicle.”

The Audi e-Tron and hydrogen-powered Hyundai Nexo also qualified. But Tesla’s position as North America’s electric vehicle sales leader is held by a wide margin, making its crash-test results a tad more noteworthy. 

According to the IIHS, Tesla’s most affordable model earned good ratings across the board for crashworthiness. Standard frontal crash prevention systems garnered a superior rating, avoiding collisions in both the 12 mph and 25 mph tests, and its only available headlights earn a good rating. It also held up structurally, including in the aftermath of the dreaded driver-side small overlap crash test. The IIHS noted 8 inches of intrusion along the lower door-hinge pillar, which it claimed posed a moderate risk of injury to a driver’s legs. Upon inspecting the vehicle and dummy, the research group recorded no other injuries.

Considering the amount of media attention thrown at the brand’s optional Autopilot system, with some accusing it of being unsafe and dependent upon misleading marketing tactics, we expected the IIHS to weigh in on the Model 3’s semi-autonomous features. But its assessment was not required to earn the unit a Top Safety Pick+ denotation. While crash avoidance systems were tested, performing well, Autopilot was not mentioned once by the outlet. Braking distance, which has also proven to be a contentious issue, went similarly unmentioned.

Honestly, it seems like an oversight. One bad headlight ranking is enough to dump a vehicle off its podium at the IIHS. In fact, Chevrolet’s Bolt received no special awards due to its lackluster headlamp performance. But it was already off pace to be considered for the group’s top honor.

From the IIHS:

The Bolt, a small car, also performed well in the IIHS crashworthiness tests. It earns good ratings in all of them except for the passenger-side small overlap test, in which it rates acceptable.

In that test, the passenger dummy’s movement was less than ideal. After hitting the frontal airbag during the test, the dummy’s head moved toward the gap between the frontal and side airbags, leaving it vulnerable to contact with hard parts of the vehicle interior.

The acceptable passenger-side rating would have been enough for the Bolt to earn a TOP SAFETY PICK award when equipped with optional front crash prevention, but the Bolt’s only available headlights earn a poor rating, primarily because of excessive glare to oncoming drivers.

Other vehicles have also been prohibited from receiving awards due to imperfect headlamps, making us feel like the IIHS should go bananas with its testing requirements (incorporating every aspect possible) or create a separate category for prevention/visibility. We know it’s a lot to ask for in exchange for a smidgen of clarity, but it would go a long way to distinguish physical crash performance from preventative safety.

Curious consumers can still do the research themselves, however. By hitting up the IIHS webpage and examining vehicles individually, web surfers will notice each category is broken down into “good,” “acceptable,” “marginal” or “poor” rankings. In the case of the Model 3, that will still showcase enviable results — with the only dark smudge being an acceptable rating for child seat ease of use.


[Images: IIHS]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!


26 Comments on “2019 Tesla Model 3 Crashes Like a Dream, IIHS Says...”

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    There’s a lot of bend in the A pillar. The Legacy crashes better than that.

    • 0 avatar

      The crash forces on a modern Subaru run through the bottom part of the frame; on the global platform it’s two curved beams running from front to back to distribute the force. On an EV, my guess is that they have to direct the impact force away from the battery pack, hence the A-pillar deformation: the force has to run through the periphery of the frame rather than through the center of it.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Nobody cares about A-pillars when they can walk away from a totaled car.

    • 0 avatar

      @Stanley Steamer: Who cares how Legacy looks after crash – it still looks ugly before crash and after crash. And it will be totaled anyway. Yeah, A pillar will look better in junk yard.

  • avatar

    Did they try painting that barrier to resemble a fire truck and re-run the test?

    I’d imagine it really crashes then.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    How can someone working at the IIHS not know how to pronounce “Hyundai”?


    On another note, those idiots at Tesla ought to hire some people from “real” car companies to show them how it’s done.

    • 0 avatar

      In fact the IIHS guy did pronounce Hyundai correctly. The “Hunday” pronunciation was developed strictly for U.S. marketing purposes, originally for the “Cars that make sense” ad campaign featuring the voice of Fred Gwynne. I believe the reason was that they were afraid of the name potentially sounding too much like Honda, which the “Hunday” pronunciation avoids.

      • 0 avatar

        We have been told for years that it should be pronounced strangely, and almost in three syllables, but apparently the car journalists were lying to us.

        See what these ebullient Koreans have to say about it:

        To me, this sounds like “Yunday”, but with a slight “H” sound just before the “Y”. Pretty close to how it’s spelled in English, actually. Who would have thunk it?

        Interestingly, they say KIA is pronounced something like “gyah”, pretty much one syllable.

  • avatar

    Off topic, but those wheels are noteworthy – they’re actually the (very ugly) “aero” wheels that come on the basic Model 3. But those wheels have plastic inserts; remove them, and you get the nice-looking alloys shown here.

    Nice job on the crash results, BTW.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Interesting. I have been corresponding about trading the wife’s Santa Fe for a model 3 standard plus, but yes, those wheels are terrible. Not enough to make me walk away, but this is good to know. However I would need some sort of center cap and I’d imagine some solid lug nuts for it to look complete. Wonder if anyone makes the center cap.

  • avatar

    I’m sorry – the Tesla did not do as well as this agency says – the floor deformed tremendously – enough so that an ICE car would have been dinged for it and have been. Also the a-pillar deformed which shows the passenger cabin was not well protected – again an ICE car has also been dinged for this.

    Headllight glare should not determine whether the light is acceptable or not. The purpose of the light is to give the driver of that vehicle as best as it can lighting. I would contend that if the vehicle is not loaded as it was designed with a human of the same weight, then the lights will be too high causing a FALSE glare reading.

    This agency is notorious for picking winners and losers on the most specious of standards.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Passenger safety is all that matters; A-pillar deformation and floor deformation are immaterial, except when it has an effect on passenger safety. These did not.

      Headlights matter because they must be used. To answer the article’s implied question, features like Autopilot are optional use.

      And to further answer the article’s hint about the Model 3’s brakes – that issue was addressed early and fixed. But I would agree that braking distance should be a consideration in IIHS ratings.

      • 0 avatar

        Isn’t the internet an amazing place? Flyby commenters like cprescott spend a few minutes looking at test results that probably took hundreds of man-hours to put together and validate, casually declares they’re wrong, and accuses the organization of bias and “specious” standards with ZERO evidence.

        I know who I believe.

  • avatar

    Well, it needs to be safe, the way idiots drive them reading newspapers, nodding. They need all the protection they can get.

  • avatar

    Can Tesla do no wrong?

    Day 5 GM strike.

    What a disgrace!

  • avatar

    Tesla, well done!
    So what you Tesla denier troglodytes will say now?

    • 0 avatar

      Broken cars are very safe. My buddy’s Model 3 had to be flatbedded back to the mothership yet again this week. Once they get their quality and reliability act together, I will be impressed. Until then, yawn. All decent cars are more than safe enough at this point.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Denier? Why because people don’t like them? Some of you people need help.

      • 0 avatar

        Seriously, why get all worked up over Tesla? And I mean that for both Tesla fanboys and Tesla haters. They’re just products people, commodities. You buy it if it fits your needs and budget and you skip it if it doesn’t. No need to get all partisan about it.

  • avatar

    Smart people buy more Teslas and their children will survive more crashes…this is how society progresses…it is all about the flow of lives.

    TTAC can’t get hung up on prejudices and fears: it so far has not dared to descend into the depths of what is possible…

  • avatar

    Very last part of the video: Audi e-Tron has an electric-powered charging door? Boo and thumbs down. (Also opens the wrong way for snow and ice intrusion during charging.)

  • avatar

    The Mustang and Tesla are probably the best selling American cars in Europe. I mean Europeans actually want to buy them! The US industry is not a lost cause after all.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Rocket: Unless I’m mistaken, Ford fully complies with SAE J2807. They can’t artificially inflate their...
  • DenverMike: @volvo, why does it have to be balls to the wall, hit top speed, bang off the rev limiter, or not at all?...
  • mopar4wd: The rear seat room is the main reason I would want one. One of the few midsize vehicles with a rear seat...
  • JMII: “high performance”??? – most luxury SUVs can out run classic muscle cars these days. You can...
  • mopar4wd: I had a 2001 Outback that was all kinds of trouble. But since then lots of people in my family have owned...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Matthew Guy
  • Timothy Cain
  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber