Small SUVs have room for improvement in new IIHS side crash test

  • High-speed side effects were responsible for 23 percent of passenger car passenger deaths in 2019, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), so the safety nonprofit decided to update its 2003 side effect test.
  • IIHS now uses a heavier fender moving at higher speeds to hit the vehicle being tested – an increase of 82 percent in total power – to better represent accidents common today.
  • Only one small SUV, the Mazda CX-5 (pictured above), received the top good rating, while the Honda HR-V and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross were rated poorly.

    The good news is that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently ran 20 small SUVs through a new series of more stringent crash tests designed to deliver a better model for high-speed side-impact. The bad news is that none of the vehicles tested in one of the most popular vehicle segments in the US scored a “good” rating, the highest possible, in all classes.

    IIHS has changed the way it tests side collisions with a heavier bulkhead moving at a higher speed—it’s now 4,180 pounds at 37 mph, compared to 3,300 pounds at 31 mph in the previous test protocol, an increase of 82 percent overall power. This change is a better simulation of the uncommon crash of a mid-size SUV hitting a small SUV.

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    IIHS said it has also updated the new fender’s honeycomb striking surface so that it “behaves more like a real SUV or pickup truck when it hits another vehicle.” In the real world, IIHS has discovered that the strong B-pillar, which was important to ancient side-impact testing, can flex the front end of the amazing car, and those curved areas can creep into the passenger compartment. IIHS said that automakers may have to improve the strength of the horizontal door beams to provide better protection for occupants. This will also allow them to get better scores on the new IIHS test.

    The only small SUV that came close to the perfect score was the 2021 and 2022 Mazda CX-5, which outperformed all but the chest class for driver injuries. There, the CX-5 is rated as Acceptable, the second-highest. Mazda’s Masaki Ueno, vice president of research and development, design and quality assurance, said in a statement that the company studied real-world crashes and computer simulations while designing the CX-5’s body structure and loading tracks.

    IIHS gave nearly half of the vehicles tested, nine out of 20, a generally accepted rating: Audi Q3, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Toyota Venza, and Volvo XC40 . Two models, the Honda HR-V and the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, have poor ratings overall. The other eight — the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Compass, Jeep Renegade, Kia Sportage, and Lincoln Corsair — had marginal ratings. Full test information, including the new side-impact test, for each vehicle is displayed on the IIHS website under the heading “Side: New Test”.

    2021 Volvo XC40, rated acceptable in this test.

    IIHS claims that high-speed side-impact collisions are behind 23 percent of passenger car occupant deaths in 2019, so it wanted to know which small SUV offers the best protection in this situation.”We developed this new test because we suspected there was room for further progress and these results confirm that,” David Harkey, president of the Institute of International Health Insurance (IIHS) said in a statement. “The CX-5’s good rating shows that robust protection can be achieved in the most severe side impacts.”

    IIHS has a case where its tests could have an impact on how automakers design cars. The company provided its first side-impact test in 2003, and only about 20 percent of the vehicles it tested rated “good” in the first year. Today, all 20 vehicles run through this new test have “good” ratings in the original test, and IIHS said most new vehicles can earn the highest score in that test.

    Car companies have a short time to adapt to the new test. For now, IIHS will continue to use the original test when handing out Top Safety Pick awards, but the award criteria will be updated in 2023 to reflect the new side test.

    iiHS side impact test chart

    Detailed test results are available at


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