At the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), destroying cars is part of the daily routine. We visited their impressive Virginia facility recently and watched as they crashed a $33,000 Honda Odyssey into a 320,000-pound concrete slab for their new small-offset crash test. The Institute is still tabulating the results, so we can’t announce what rating it will get, but IIHS and Honda officials were expecting it would score well.
The small-offset crash test is designed to measure how well a car would protect its driver in a front-end collision into a fixed object, such as a tree or a pole, or a glancing blow into an oncoming car. The test is particularly difficult for automakers to meet, because such crashes miss the main frame rails of the car, in many cases tearing off the suspension and channeling the forces directly into the edge of the passenger compartment. Such crashes tend to skew the dashboard and steering wheel to the right, leaving many drivers unprotected by the air bag.
Honda updated the 2014 Odyssey with reinforced structure designed to better withstand the forces in the tough, new small-offset test, adapting methods it applied to the redesigned Acura MDX. Among those enhancements are aluminum wheels that shatter on impact, preventing the wheel from pushing into the floor of the car in a crash.
In the dramatic Odyssey crash test, the front corner of the van was practically sheared off. In video footage of the event, we could see the entire side of the van flex as the force ripples down the side. As it hit the barrier, the van pitched violently to the right 90-degrees. One IIHS official commented that the impact was one of the loudest he could recall.
Only a handful of cars thus far have received Good or Acceptable ratings from the IIHS in the new small offset crash test. Automakers are working to improve the results with current models and ensure upcoming cars can meet this tough challenge. (Read: “2 Kias and a Nissan earn poor score in new IIHS test.”)
In this case, Honda requested and paid for the test, in response to an earlier, small offset test IIHS performed on a 2011 Odyssey that didn’t go well. The results from the 2011 Odyssey weren’t publicized, because the test was only performed to help develop the small-offset test and was done before the new test’s specifications were finalized. It is now part of IIHS’s regular crash regimen, with the results determining whether or not a vehicle gets the coveted Top Safety Pick+ designation. (The van had earned a Top Safety Pick designation from the Institute due to its good performance in the other IIHS crash tests.)
Our advice for now: If you’re looking for the safest minivan for your family, the 2014 Odyssey should be an improvement over previous models.
Other interesting safety insights from our visit to IIHS included surprising findings about some of the latest high-end driver aids. Notably, insurance claim rates are lower for cars with adaptive headlights, which swivel with the steering to illuminate around corners, and for cars with adaptive cruise control, which uses radar to reduce speed when slower cars appear ahead.
IIHS and its sister organization, the Highway Loss Data Institute can’t yet explain these improvements, but they’re studying both. In addition, IIHS is building a new covered track to test the effectiveness of driver aids such as lane keeping and forward-collision avoidance. And employees are driving around at night in a couple of Mazda3s, one with and one without adaptive headlights.
We don’t know what they’ll find, but we’re optimistic that IIHS will discover the reason for the reduced claims. After all, the organization has celebrated a lot of victories in auto safety.