Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Protected the Driver in Dreaded IIHS Small Overlap Test… but Repeated Rollovers Didn't Help Its Case

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
jeep wrangler unlimited protected the driver in dreaded iihs small overlap

One of the joys of watching a previous-generation JK Jeep Wrangler barrel into an obstacle at 40 mph in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s driver-side small overlap crash test was seeing the vehicle shed its front wheel and scoot away as if nothing had happened.

Well, in just-published tests of a randomly selected 2019 Wrangler Unlimited, the first half of the crash sequence occurs pretty must as it did before. The front driver’s side wheel shears off, with little to no intrusion into the driver’s footwell. Great for Jeep. It’s the second half of the test, however, that punts the model’s small overlap score from “good” to second-worse “marginal” ⁠— the Jeep careened onto its side.

Not once, but twice.

We’ve watched Astro vans play accordion and seen doors fly open before, but this is the first time a rollover has occurred during the IIHS’ crash testing process.

“In both the Institute’s tests, the vehicle tipped onto its passenger side after striking the barrier. The partial rollover presents an additional injury risk beyond what the standard criteria are intended to measure in small overlap frontal crash tests,” the IIHS said in its overview. “A vehicle tipping onto its side is not an acceptable outcome for a frontal crash and, as a result, the Wrangler’s overall rating was downgraded to marginal.”

The institute noted that three such tests were performed on the new Wrangler Unlimited: two by the IIHS, and another by Fiat Chrysler. Too bad about the IIHS rollovers, as the model was about to drive away with a good score.

“The dummy’s position in relation to the door frame, steering wheel, and instrument panel after the crash test indicates that the driver’s survival space was maintained well,” the IIHS noted, adding that the “dummy’s movement was well controlled” and the “driver’s space was maintained well, and risk of injuries to the dummy’s legs and feet was low.”

The test Jeep’s slab-sided nature prevented it from prematurely moving on to the roof strength test (which the Wrangler Unlimited aced, by the way).

Indeed, minus only this bizarre outcome and the marginal rear passenger head protection during a side impact, the new four-door Wrangler sailed through the other tests with ease. That includes the moderate overlap front test, in which the Wrangler Unlimited scored “good.”

Maybe we spoke too soon. Even if the Jeep hadn’t catapulted itself onto its side (an occurrence FCA hasn’t explained) or rattled the head of a rear-seat occupant, the JL Wrangler Unlimited still wouldn’t have found itself in line for the institute’s top safety award. Why? Another hurdle thrown up by the IIHS: headlights. Both the Jeep’s base halogen set and uplevel LED peepers rated “poor.”

The previous JK Wrangler Unlimited suffered a similar headlight score.

While one rollover during testing might seem like a fluke, two in succession is food for thought ⁠— and reason for FCA to worry. Even if the shifting of the vehicle one millimeter to the left or right before impact would change the outcome (no word that it would), the model is still left with this IIHS result on its official report card.

FCA claims its own test, as well as the model’s real-world experience, saw zero small overlap rollovers, telling Roadshow, “FCA has produced more than 500,000 of these vehicles. From this population, we are unaware of any incidents that correlate with the vehicle dynamic portion of the IIHS test result.”

If we weren’t curious to see how the JL-based (and significantly longer) Jeep Gladiator stacks up in this test, we sure are now.

[Images: IIHS]

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  • Anthony Magagnoli Anthony Magagnoli on May 08, 2020

    In an ideal world, the IIHS crash tests would correlate to real-world crash perforamnce. They have done some good. When they don't correlate, though, vehicles are designed to simply pass a test and become incrementally heavier and more expensive as a result. The whole small overlap test in itself created huge headaches and redesigns for everyone selling cars here. Now this will appear as a major stain on the safety record for the Wrangler, even if (I said IF) it does not represent any true lack of safety in the real world.

  • Whynotaztec Whynotaztec on May 08, 2020

    I would be curious about the real world stats here. According to a recent autoblog look at the NHTSA FARS records, the Wrangler is not on the list of 15 most dangerous vehicles. Most of them are either small or high performance, so certainly other factors at work in the fatality rate. I wish I had the time and ability to really dig into the NHTSA data. However I suspect that if you don't like the Wrangler, this test proves you are right, and if you do like the Wrangler, this test in inconclusive.

  • DenverMike Column shifter in all trims? Thank god someone is listening. The console shifter is just the stupidest thing ever. Frick just make the whole area useful utility. Luxury means something different in trucks. Definitely removable and I’ll make my own work station.
  • Joh65689020 1. Drape/ Masking-tape paint.2. Blue Coral (or any brand) chrome polish on PowerBall with cordless drill-driver.3. Buff lightly with microfiber towel to crystal clear finish.
  • Bullnuke "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!" - Gold Hat
  • DenverMike They seriously want to kill the auto industry.
  • Inside Looking Out I have a feeling that retracting headlights were designed by VW.